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Photography Question 
Richard Jackson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/8/2000

Compact Flash Card: Formatting

After shooting in the film-based arena for five years, I have finally jumped on the Digital band wagon. I have a Nikon D-100, and I purchased a 256MB card to start with. I think my camera manual says that the card has to be "formatted" first. The manual shows how to do this, but is this a function that must be done each time with a new card? I plan to get more cards, of course, but is there a limit to the number of times a card can be used?
Thanks in advance for any reply!!

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4/21/2005 8:27:55 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Format it when you first use it. Format it each time you download/delete everything off it. Use them over and over. They should have a long life. But like any computerized thing, sometimes you may get one that needs to be replaced. And format with the camera, not the computer.

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4/22/2005 12:18:05 AM

Michael H. Cothran   I formatted my 1 GB IBM micro drive card when I first bought it (for a Fuji S2), and have never reformatted it since. I have shot thousands of pictures on it with no problem. By the way, I would opt for a larger card rather than carry around several smaller cards as you mentioned. Prices have dropped so drastically that a 1 gig card today costs what a 256 did a couple of years ago. These cards should have long lives, and you should not have to worry about them for the normal life of your camera.
Michael H. Cothran

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4/22/2005 5:28:43 AM

Scott Pedersen   Do like Gregory says.

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4/27/2005 4:17:14 AM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  I too have a 1Gig card, however it's not a microdrive. I opted for a Lexar 80x pro card because of the speed that I found on several online speed comparison charts. The speed differences are minimal sometimes, but a second is a second when I'm bursting.

As for price, I got my 1G card from an eBay seller new in package for $70. I'm sure everyone would agree to stick with eBay for these as most retailers are more than double the price of any eBay seller for almost ANY size card. Previously I bought a 512 typical speed card for $30 from an eBay seller when they were $70 at wal-mart.

I format my card also after I copy off images. It's the easiest way to reset the file numbers if nothing else. If you simply delete the pictures and don't also delete any hidden files the camera puts on the card, then you might not reset the file numbers.

That may or may not matter to you, but it's convienient for me.

As far as how long a compact flash card will last, it's similar to a re-writable CD. There is a number, but in 90% of cases that number is far beyond what you will ever use before moving on for another reason.

I found several articles online one the subject and this is a quote from one of them:

Individual flash memory cells have a limited lifespan. That's the bad news. The good news is that their lifespan is measured in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of erase/write cycles, and that the better controller designs utilize an algorithm that's designed to balance the wear across the entire card's cells.

CompactFlash cards are designed to automatically and transparently map out memory cells that go bad, or in some cases when they reach a predefined limit, i.e. 300,000 erase/write cycles (note that this figure is just an example; manufacturers may use a different figure). Cards should continue to function long after a few cells have expired, since even the busiest photographer's flash memory card won't start turning off a significant number of memory cells until after many years of service.

I did find interesting though, that this article was written this year, yet the writer mentions that he things SD cards will take over CF cards for pro digital SLR cameras. Anyone out there ever heard that? I couldn't see that happening myself, but what do I know...?

The last thing I'll mention, is speed. All CF cards are NOT equal. If the card doesn't mention a speed, then it's most likely a 4x card. It might be an 8x card, but many of those are labeled.

My card is an 80x card. The speed difference is SIGNIFICANT when you are using a digital SLR camera where pictures may be up to 8 megs or larger each.

Cards are available in several speeds, such as 16x, 20x, 40x, and 80x to mention a few of the common ones. The speeds are similar to CD read/write speeds at 150k per X number. So my 80x card is rated at aprox. 12 megs per second. In reality I would guess I get about 3 - 5 megs per second based on it taking less than a second to write a typical picture at high quality with my Digital Rebel. Of course, the Digital Rebel has a buffer in it so I don't have to wait to take the next picture even if it takes longer, so that helps.

In contrast, the older 512 card I mentioned takes about 4 seconds to write each image at high quality.

Your camera, and the quality size of images you choose, will be what determines just how fast a card will end up taking for you though.

My recomendation is to buy the fastest card you can afford so that if/when you upgrade cameras you won't be crying with a slow card trying to write an 8 meg image in 10 seconds. My card only cost me $70 (the 1G 80x lexar card) so it's quite reasonable to get a fast card these days.

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4/27/2005 5:49:57 AM

Vincent Lowe   There's endless debates on photographic forums as to whether it's best to carry one large CF card or several smaller ones, the argument for the latter being that if you do have a card failure you haven't lost as many pictures. Having said that, I've never had any problems with my any of my cards. I carry a mixture - a 1gb, 2x 512mb and 2x 256mb. The 256 cards were left over from my previous camera.

As to speed - again a mixture. The 1gb and one 512 are high speed but the others are slow. The slow ones are fine for landscapes and the like when speed is not important.

I always first copy the images to my hard drive, check to make sure they're ok, then copy them to an external hard drive for initial backup. Then, and only then, do I delete them from the card, and the quickest way to do this is by formatting (always in the camera).

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4/27/2005 8:36:49 AM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  A side note, that recently I've been experimenting with my Digital Rebel and the software the came with it and discoverd that I don't even need a card in say a studio setting.

The camera comes with a software program called remote capture that uses the usb connection to the camera to control it.

As long as the dial on the camera is in the right position, I can control every setting on the camera from my laptop and even trip the shutter with the click of the mouse.

With that program, I can opt to save pictures to the card and my computer, or only to my computer. It is a little slow though, but in a studio setting, it may not be that bad. The speed I'm talking about is about 30 to 60 seconds to transfer a picture after tripping the shutter.

The advantage is a full screen preview vs the tiny LCD. Many times I find myself taking a picture and I'm happy with the LCD preview, only to find later that the image has a focus or exposure problem that wasn't evident in the preview.

Not that it's all that relevent I guess, but there it is anyway.

As to whether to go with one big card or several smaller cards, I think your budget and typical shooting time will make that desicion for you.

My 1G card only cost $70 (lexar 80x pro) and I could get another if I needed at that price pretty easily. Maybe the same is true for you. If not, that's that.

I think it comes down to whether you typically shoot 100 pictures or 1000 pictures between times when computer is convieniently available to transfer pictures off.

I have a laptop and take it with me with a PCMCIA compact flash adapter so one card is perfectly fine for me. I can dump pictures off at any time easily. If for some reason I wasn't going to have my laptop with me, yet I was going to be camping on a mountain for 3 days, then I'd definately want at least one more 1G card. I can't get enough of mountain views.

A pro though, one a specific shoot, probably wouldn't take 500 pictures. They'd probably take 10 or 20 of the subject the went out there for. So one card would be enough.

It all depends on how much shooting you do between dumps and how much disposible income you have. For some $70 - $100 is no big thing, so get an extra just to have it. If it's more of a big deal, then just get as big of a card as you can afford and pace yourself.

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4/27/2005 9:01:36 AM

Terry  R. Hatfield
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2003
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  Formatting A Card Each Time Is Not Necessary As Michael Said I Formatted My Card Once In The Camera When I Got It And It Hasent Been Done Since After About 5500 Pics.No Problems Has Occured Most Problems Occur From User Error, ie Removing Card While It Is Being Wrote To Or Removing And Or Changing A Card With The Camera Power Turned On..Do Not Format The Card In The Computer For Sure!!
With That Patricular Camera The Files Arent Real Big I Use 1GIG Cards They Have Came Down In Price Quiet A Bit And Im Sure The 2Gig Cards Are Cheaper Now Too,If Your Future Plans Are To Upgrade To A Camera With Double The File Size Then Go With The 4 And 6 Gig Cards If Your Getting 130 Pics Now On A 1gig Card That Would Be Cut In Half With The Newer Cameras With Mucho Mega Pixels!!

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4/27/2005 9:59:25 AM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  FYI, with my Digital Rebel I get just over 300 pictures on a 1G card with the quality set at the highest JPG level.

In RAW mode, it's between 250 and 300.

Really, if the situation is one where one might run out of space before you could get back to a computer, then you might be much better off looking at a handheld storage device.

When shopping for a new mp3 player several months ago, I ran across several handheld devices for just that purpose. Like a 40 Gig hard drive / card reader device the size of an old walkman for under $300.

I almost bought it myself, but like I said I have my laptop with me 99% of the time so I've already got 60G with me. (and a large screen if I choose to preview them).

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4/27/2005 10:27:34 AM

Richard Jackson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/8/2000
  Thank's guys for the excellent feedback on using CF Cards.
The speed of the card was something that I wasn't aware of
also; such as,20x 40x and 80x.
That will come in handy, because besides my landscape photography, I also shoot parties, reunions, anniversaries,etc.
Thanks much once again for the sharing.

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4/27/2005 12:59:44 PM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  Do keep in mind that the speed rating doesn't mean much unless your camera can take advantage of it. I found a site on DP Review that is pretty extensive on the subject, although their prices are WAY off because it's a dated article and they only used retail prices anyway.

All the other information there is good though, just ignore the prices. You'll see what I mean about your camera making a difference.

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4/27/2005 3:35:26 PM

Terry  R. Hatfield
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2003
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  Hi Again!Shawn I Guess Your FYI Was Directed Toward Me:-)
First Off Richard Is Talking About A D100 Nikon And Cf Cards Not A Digital Rebel!
The 300 Pics Your Talking About In jpegs Are Only 3.1mb Each So That Is Beleivable, The Trouble Im Having Is The 250-300 In Raw Mode Unless These Are Really Compressed! With A 6mb File It Isnt Happening I Would Guess That To Be Around 165 Pics With The embedded jpeg On A 1 Gig Card
Those Storage Drives Your Talking About Are Paper Weights On Professional Photographers Shelfs They Are Ever So SLOOOOOOWWW.
The D100 Does Shoot Nef Files (Raw) Around 7.7mb About The Same As my D1X So I Would Have To Say about 128pics On A 1gig Card:-)

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4/27/2005 4:27:26 PM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  I might take care to proof my post a little better before I submit it...

My RAW numbers should have bee 150-200, not 250-300. My RAW shots are in the 7 Meg range depending on content.

Wow, that was a stretch huh?

I haven't ever used one of the storage drives myself, but having a 40G deposit that small I would think would be worth it even if you had saw 2 CF cards and shoot one while you wait for the other to dump off?

You could shoot one card, then start it dumping and throw it in your camera bag while you shoot the other, then switch.

Using the PCMCIA CF adapter is quite slow, but I don't need it to be fast really. I don't fill up the card and then need to shoot more. Say on a weekend outing, I shoot a couple hundred pictures and dump them in the evening, then start over the next day with an empty card back up to a couple hundred.

If I wanted to spend the time processing them ALL RAW, then I might run into a space issue, but if I was processing them all manually like that then I wouldn't be taking a couple hundred, that's for sure. Unless I was on a paid shoot say of a national park or something I guess.

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4/27/2005 5:46:27 PM

I Format my cards after every use.
I work as a contract photographer in Yuma AZ. I also teach Photography at our local college.I was Combat Photographer in the Marines.
I have over 30 years of experience.
I have been shooting Digital since 1993.
I have used both Scandisk, and Lexar Compact flash cards.They are both good.
As for fast cards - you only need them if your camera has the ability to use them - otherwise your wasting your $$$
unless you plan to upgrade soon.
The one thing I can tell you for sure is stay away from Microdrives.
We bought over 20 when they first came out. They stopped working in a less than 2 years. I think their is one survier. But they are not good for any type of Aerial photography, or in high Temps.
A for large cards . I like a good variety, and am one who does not like to have all my eggs ( photos ) in one basket ( card ). I usually have a couple of 1 Gig cards, about 4 - 6 512's and 4 256 cards on me.
Ps Anything photographed for the Army - it is required you format your cards.
It's a good habit to get into.
Anytime you move photos to a harddrive it's a good idea to copy - not move them
to your hard drive. Burn a CD of all your files before you edit them. Only after you have them in at least two places Format your cards.
Best of luck

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4/30/2005 10:06:44 PM

Bianca Thomas
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2005
  What software can u use to transfer NEF nikon files to CD???????????????
I dont wanna have to have 100 cards in my pocket storing immages...i need to store them on CD...
I worked 2 days in wee hours on this project..I use nikon and I shoot in RAW format ...file names NEF....i tried and tried bought several different programs among NERO,picstocd,droptocd,CDblaster and such and spend lotsa dollars to solve this problems...What I am trying to do is to cut CD..i use CD_WR memorex and I have memorex CD writter...i also have toshiba internal writer and neither one of those with all thse programs will put on CD nef will do one time and next time freeze my computer and I have 512 RAM....i can do fine with there a program that will do what I need it done..simple english I am trying to copy raw files on CD and store it away...or is there any other way of doing it...I appreciated all the help I can get...thank u all
Bianca Thomas

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6/19/2005 10:21:01 AM

Vincent Lowe   I use Nero and have had no problems whatsoever copying NEFs, or anything else for that matter. I suspect there is something else wrong here - I don't think it's a software problem. I don't understand why copying NEFs should be any different from copying jpegs. You say you are using CD-WR - do you mean re-writable? If so, I've found these to be very unreliable and don't use them at all now.

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6/19/2005 11:39:15 AM

Bianca Thomas
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2005
  When I try to upgrade NERO and paid extra 55 dollars to them..i will get error such as CSC or CSR error...and it wont upgrade...and company itself is giving me run around...I have checked web for NERO comments and lots of people have problem with first I used to get error such as this version of windows is compatable with this I dont get that anymore but cant upgrade and paid for ULTRA NERO....and they just keep telling me download again...i think after 11 d/l try I have had enough of NERO and I did reinstall nero from a disk...I installed 4 other programs in alst 2 days and didnt have a problem with d/l lol.....on the other hand what kind a CD or DVD u use if not re-writable?????????????????????????????????????????Thanks again

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6/19/2005 11:54:17 AM

Bianca Thomas
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2005
  BTW someone suggested to save NEF files into TIFF files that are just as good if not problem is that NIKON CAPTURE works fully only on NEF...and not on any others when it comes to I am stuck.........

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6/19/2005 11:56:02 AM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  I also use Nero and haven't ever had a problem. The only time I've personally had a problem is when a friend downloaded a cracked 'free' copy and then tried to upgrade it.

If I were you, I would do an un-install of everything Nero, then go remove any folders on your computer named 'ahead' or 'nero'. Then reboot. Then try to install again.

Start with a fresh download (yeah, I know it'll be 12 times...) and only try the re-install after the re-boot.

As for the actual burning - I've used so many different brands it's un-countable. They have all worked great. I have a Sony writer though and they are known for their ability to do that. Some more common brands like Acer, Cyberlink, and AOpen, aren't as good at using off brand blank media.

The only way to know what your writer will like is to actually try it. Shop only online (I use and buy 10 or 25 packs to test different brands. Start with the cheapest and if that works for you then go with it.

My Sony writer by the way, was $30 (plus $5 for a 2 year warranty and $2 shipping) at It's a CD and DVD writer and Dual Layer capable too. Great place to get hardware.

As for file formats... I would keep the files in the most basic format from your camera. In your case NEF. If you do that, you can always process them to JPG or TIFF later with your software. If you're using a DVD, you might as well convert them to a JPG as well and keep both the original and a quick processed copy for ease of use later.

My two cents.

That's how I archive mine. For most stuff I just shoot high quality JPG, but for weddings and such I shoot RAW+JPG and burn them all to DVD as well as keeping them on my HD. Hard drives are cheep and I have about 400Gigs free so I'd rather have multiple copies than loose a picture.

Good luck!

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6/19/2005 1:21:14 PM

Vincent Lowe   "on the other hand what kind a CD or DVD u use if not re-writable"

What I meant was are you using CD-RW disks or CD-R disks?. CD-RW can be erased, can be written on more than once, and can be formatted to work just like a hard drive. That's the theory anyway - I've found them not to be very reliable. CD-R disks are the normal disks that can't be erased or used again once full.

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6/19/2005 1:56:14 PM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  Yeah, I didn't really address that part - sorry.

I personally don't use RW disks at all. Well, I use DVD RW disks when testing a movie, but I only have 5 RWs and that's their sole purpose.

Single write disks are so cheap, it's just not really worth trying to save money with RWs like it used to be when single write disks were a dollar each. Now at 10 cents or less per disk, the single writes are the way to go.

I personally haven't had any reliability issues with RWs, but every so often I find a CD drive that won't read one. I've never run into that with the single writes.

One last thought, some people don't realize that you can add to a single write if you don't fill it up. In fact, as long as you don't check the box (in most programs anyway) to finalize the disk, then most programs will leave it un-finalized and you can freely add to it.

There are a couple ways to do that, depending on your software. But if you choose in Nero the 'multi-session' project type, then you can add a new session to a disk and add to it just like you would a floppy.

In a single session mode, you have to decide if you want to old data by 'importing the session' and the disk will be smaller and smaller, but you can still add to it and keep the old data if you so choose.

Unless I have a CD with just a few megs used on it, I typically just throw them out when I'm done. I know it's 10 cents wasted, but I'm the guy who gives away his change because it bothers me to have change in my pocket...

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6/19/2005 2:11:30 PM

Bianca Thomas
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2005
  Thank u both for suggestions..I will re-install u said...I think after a scienic drive with my camera in a shop and frustrated for that...i thought about it and I thunk maybe my best bet will be a PCMCIA storage device...i think they call them optical drives...that way I wont need CD burner I am just fed up...I am all in favor to keep my NEF files instead of TIFF...Thank u all

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6/19/2005 5:31:20 PM

Shawn Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2005
  Well, 'optical' drives in general refers to things that use light (ie. a laser) in their operation.

So an optical drive would include CDs, DVDs, and a long forgotten magneto-optical drive.

If you're looking for an out-of-computer storage device and I assume you are working on a laptop from your PCMCIA comment... then you should really look for a USB(2.0) device. Whether that's an external hard drive or otherwise, you'll find the speed of USB(even 1.1) is far faster than PCMCIA.

I use a PCMCIA compact flash adapter to pull my images onto my laptop from my card while I'm on the road and it's painfully slower than my card reader, but it's quite convienient to have a compact flash reader right there in my laptop.

At home, I use my card reader via USB(2.0). It's well over 10 times faster... although that's just a guess. If I were to time it I'd probably find it's much faster than that even. When you're pulling a full gig of images off of a card, it's undescribably faster via USB.

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6/19/2005 5:46:32 PM

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