In case of emergency and how to avoid it – the story of a suddenly blank memory card

The cover photo was taken with the X-T3 and the Fujinon 56mm f/1.2.

Last weekend we went to my parents’ RV. I brought my gear but didn’t take many photos. The few I did manage to take were pretty important to me though, especially one of my mother. She’s not fond of being photographed and slips away like a mountain lion each time I bring the camera out. So I knew I got a few good images and when I came home I popped out the memory card and put it into a memory card reader attached to my android pad. I was just going to send one of the photos to my son and was only going to use the jpeg. Just quick – in and out, before I put the card into my main memory card reader attached to my computer. Usually, I just import the photos from the card into a Capture One session on my computer, but for some reason, I started messing around with the pad and that other card reader. And this is where things got a little hazy. I cannot remember exactly what happened, but I didn’t find any photos on the memory card. I put it back into the camera, and nothing there either. I had just watched the photos on the back of the camera just moments before so I knew they had been there. But now they were gone, all of them.

I’ve only had an SD card break one time and that was a long time ago. When I use my X-T3 I have two 128GB cards in it, photos going to one card, movies to another. I hardly make any videos so that will change. More on that later.

I started sweating, because, as I said earlier, I had a few shots of my elusive mother I was very happy with on that card. Putting it in the card reader using the computer didn’t help either. Still blank. I stared into the air for a few seconds before typing into google “recover deleted photos from sd cards”. Several results popped up, with several seemingly good tutorials on how to recover your photos. After downloading a trial version I tested it on my card and it found my images! Great, now to restore them I only had to pay like $50-70 per month for the most recommend one, the one I’d tested. Strange business plan to pay monthly for such a piece of software, but I guess that’s what all the big boys do at the moment, so I wasn’t surprised. After a few more refined google searches, I came across PhotoRec, which promised me a lackluster user interface experience according to the tutorial I found, but it was free and had good reviews, although a steep learning curve. It has both a command-line based and a graphical user interface. Here’s a nice tutorial using the graphical user interface. I got all my photos back and even some from before my last format of the card. Powerful stuff.

Read this tutorial on how to recover lost photos from SD cards.

I won’t repeat the entire process here, but instead, focus on how to avoid this problem in the first place. To be honest, I’ve been pretty ignorant when it comes to my SD cards. I’ve always bought cards with good reviews, but haven’t given it much thought after that. After putting two into the X-T3 I’ve just focused on not running out of space, not on backup. I even bought a Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro 1TB (review coming soon) to offload photos when traveling, so I had a backup there, but I hadn’t backed up these photos. This incident made me think this over and I’ve decided to use the X-T3 function where each photo is written to each card. How to set this up is described in the user manual, but a quick overview goes like this:

Go to the SETUP menu item:

Select “CARD SLOT SETTING” and select BACKUP. This requires two cards of course. Now you’ll always have a second copy on the second memory card.

Better safe than sorry. You’ll never know when you get that one shot, that special photo of a soaring eagle, that fabulous sunset or, in my case, that rare photo of your mother. Here’s one of the recovered photos, one of my dad. He’s not that camera shy.

My dad gutting a fish. X-T3 & Fujinon 35mm f/2.

Now, if I could dream of a better solution, I’d want my camera to appear as a file share on my local network when I turn it on. Or somehow give me access to my photos without moving my memory cards in and out of my camera into different memory card readers. Better yet, I wish I could just turn on my computer which had a service running, just turn on my camera and those two, my camera and pc, could import my newest photos automatically. And make a copy in the cloud. Or perhaps my NAS could do it, no PC had to be involved. Just turn on the camera, press a dedicated function button and the files would be copied to the NAS via wifi. That would be awesome.

Why are we still doing this tedious, possibly error-prone, and time-consuming process of taking out those memory cards all the time? Seriously.