BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: What's Wrong With My Photographic Technique? : Problems with Photo Equipment - Tips & Tricks : Digital Storage Issues

Photography Question 
Brinn MacDougall
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/2/2002

Shelf Life of Smart-Media, Compact Flash Cards

Is there a shelf life of Compact Flash or Smart-Media cards? How many times can I use these cards before they lose "memory," or do they? I always re-format before using, but can they become degraded like VCR tapes? Thank you for your time.

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4/21/2004 1:21:27 PM

Chris L. Hurtt   I don't know of any shelf life. They are not like tapes ... audio/video tapes and hard drives are all magnetic and require some type of movement (motor) to read/write. Flash memory involves chips with no moving parts.

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4/21/2004 10:42:37 PM

Dave Cross   Hi Brinn. Flash memory does not have a "shelf life" as such (actually it does, but it's reckoned to be 100 years plus). Flash DOES have a rewrite life, I think it's in the region of 5,000 cycles (depends on a lot of factors), but even when this is exceeded it doesn't just "stop working," and the error correction system will mask these failures for a long time. Quick answer: Don't worry, and yes, re-format every time you empty your card :-)
WARNING. These figures do NOT apply to the "Microdrive" technology; these are real mechanical drives with much shorter life. Cheers.

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4/22/2004 3:21:34 AM

Scott Pedersen   No Brinn, there is no shelf life on a flash card or media card. However, don't use them as permanent storage. Over time they will lose their data. If you leave it for a couple of years maybe even less it will happen. These are made to write to/read on a regular basis. Burn what you want to keep to a CD. It's also a good plan to back up your card to your computer hard drive or a CDRW. Hope that helps.

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4/27/2004 4:34:29 AM

Gail Cimino   Reading this thread has raised a question for me, since I didn't know about re-formatting the memory card. Can someone tell me how to do it, or is this something that should be in my user manual? (I have a Kodak EasyShare DX6490). Thanks!

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5/5/2004 2:20:50 PM

Peter K. Burian
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/8/2004
  Gail: Yes, you should frequently re-format any memory card ... using the camera NOT your computer while downloading images. Your owner's manual will tell you how to do that. I re-format whenever re-loading a memory card (after downloading images to my PC) to be absolutely safe. See:


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5/9/2004 8:38:54 AM

John Byers   Flash memory cells have a lifespan rating for the number of erase/write cycles: approximately 10,000 to 300,000, depending on semiconductor gate type [NOR or NAND]. Think of it as a piece of paper on which you write using a pencil, then erase, then write, then erase... Eventually, you will dig a hole in the page. If a 256MB card can typically store 250 pictures from a 4-megapixel camera (a conservative estimate), a 10,000 cycle rating combined with wear-leveling algorithms in the controller will enable the user to store and/or view approximately 2.5 million pictures within the expected useful life of the card. That number is far beyond the average number of photos taken by the typical user.

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10/28/2004 9:41:53 AM

Brinn MacDougall
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/2/2002
  Thank you all for the seems to me like the quality goes down after many uses. Maybe it's just there a way to clean them? Pulling them in and out of the camera, they appear to have scratching...thanks again!!

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10/28/2004 3:28:50 PM

Pat Worster
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/21/2004
  I talked with the repair service about my Olympus c4000 and Smart Media card and he told me to use a pencil eraser to clean the cards. I have had no problems with my older cards since doing that.

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1/13/2005 6:57:42 PM

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