Delete or Format? Understanding your Camera’s Erase Functions | Light Stalking

Delete or Format? Understanding your Camera’s Erase Functions

By Jason Row / October 21, 2015

One of the huge advantages of digital photography is that we can re-use memory cards. Some of us will fill our cards to the max before downloading them to a computer and some will fastidiously download after each and every shoot. But what about getting rid of the photos that you have downloaded from the card? What is the best option for deleting unwanted shots, or clearing a whole card?
Today we are going to take a brief look at option for deleting images and dos and don’ts.
Before we get into it, my opinion is that you should never delete anything until you have downloaded it. That blurry shot that looks awful on your camera’s LCD may well end up being a surreal keeper. Unless you have run out of space keep all your shots.
Your camera may have several ways of deleting images from your card. The two main options will be delete or format. They will be found in different parts of the camera menu system. The delete function will often have a dedicated button on the camera body. This will work when you are in your camera’s review mode, i.e. viewing photos, either immediately after taking or by after pressing the review button. You will be given the option to delete single images, a selection of images or all images.

Wait until you get home to delete images, you might find something you like, by David Minty

If you only have a few shots on the card then deleting all may be the quickest option to get a card ready for shooting. However, in general to prepare a card you should use the format option.
The format option on most cameras is found right at the bottom of the settings menu. It is put here deliberately so as to make it hard to accidentally delete all of your images. On some more expensive cameras you will also find that you can press a combination of buttons to format your card.
So why format and not delete all? 
Before we go any further let’s explode a popular myth. Deleting or even formatting a card does not remove the images. What is does is remove any reference to the images so that the camera or computer cannot see them. The images are only lost when another new image is written over the top of the old one. So if you have formatted or deleted all images from a card, it is possible, with some commercially available software to recover those shots.

It's generally best to format rather than delete, by Paul Hudson

Formatting a card, in camera, is nearly always the best option for deleting all files. The first and foremost reason is that it helps to keep the file structure on the card healthy. Like computer hard drives, files on memory cards can become unlinked and you end up with a corrupted card. Formatting completely removes and replaces the old file/folder structure with a new one and like defragging on older hard drives means that all the images will written to the card more efficiently and retrieved quicker.
Secondly, many of us own more than one camera and interchange the cards between the them. Even cameras from the same manufacturer, create different folder/file structures so by not formatting and using the card in a different camera, you are increasing the risk of corruption.
Some cameras will also include an option to Low Level Format. Unlike the regular format, this is a more powerful option that will not only delete and replace the file structure, but also wipe out any residual information on the card. In other words, where as regular format only removes references to images, low level format replaces those images with 1 and 0s and thus making it nearly impossible to recover anything from that card. This is really only an option that is required when shooting sensitive material.

Looking after your memory cards can reduce potential image corruption, by stallio

Lets look at some dos and don’ts of memory cards and formatting
Firstly, don’t format the card on your computer. Even if you choose the right formatting option (FAT32) it still does not write the correct folder structure to the card.
Secondly try not to fill the card to full every time. There is anecdotal evidence that this can be detrimental to the card.
Next, if your battery is getting low, replace it before shooting. If it dies whilst writing, you could loose the shot and corrupt the card. Similarly never remove the card whilst the camera is writing to it, again this can cause problems.
Deleting and erasing on your camera is a fairly simple task but doing it the wrong way can have some significant ramifications. By following these simple tips above, you will reduce the risk of card corruption and the ensuing loss of precious images.

About the author

Jason Row

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here

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