Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Don't Panic! - Memory Disasters
When the unthinkable happens and your memory card becomes corrupt, it's important that you keep calm and apply the right tool
Care Of A Card
With the notable exception of the Microdrive, all D-SLR memory cards are solid-state; that is, they have no moving parts. Naturally, this makes the cards both reliable and durable. Some manufacturers produce cards that are designed to perform in challenging environments such as extreme heat or cold. While these cards cost more, they're well worth it if you're going to be in such an environment.
Because all memory cards are so small and carry so much critical data, there's a natural tendency to treat them gingerly. Various manufacturers produce a variety of memory card vaults, cases and pockets that are armored, padded and reinforced to seal the card in a protective cocoon. You don't want to abuse your memory cards, but for most situations, the protection offered by these products is overkill. Memory cards are incredibly durable. They stand up to the elements, impact and most other hazards you can throw their way.
The Microdrive is different from solid-state media. It's actually a tiny hard drive within a CF Type II case. The Microdrive is quite rugged, but it does require more care than a solid-state card. In addition to being impact-sensitive (try not to drop one), the Microdrive also is a magnetic storage device and can be damaged by strong magnetic fields. We're not trying to imply that the Microdrive needs to be babied because it doesn't; however, a little extra care will ensure that your Microdrive doesn't fail.
Unreadable Optical Media
As mentioned earlier, long-term storage of images on optical media requires some special precautions. Optical media (CDs and DVDs) stores data by “burning” small divots in the disc's reflective layer. Many people think the disc's main vulnerability comes from the possibility of scratches on the bottom side (non-label side) of the disc. Of course, you should always take care not to scratch any part of a disc, but particular care should be taken with the label side because a deep scratch on that side will go through to the reflective layer and render the disc unreadable.
With proper care, scratches can be avoided, but there are more insidious and less obvious ways that a CD or DVD can be destroyed. Most of us use a Sharpie to label a disc—they can color-code, they're instantly drying and, of course, quite permanent. The downside is that Sharpie ink is acidic and over time the acid will leak into the substrate and eventually render the disc unreadable. Some stick-on labels are made with adhesives that contain acid as well. Those labels will eventually leak enough acid into the disc to make it unreadable.
Following the theory that the best defense is a good offense, always take care to use acid-free materials on optical discs that are used for archival storage. Specially made CD/DVD markers are marketed by a number of companies. The ink in these markers is pH-neutral and won't harm the disc. We also suggest that you keep the discs in sleeves or cases that are designed for long-term storage. It's a bad idea to store the discs on a spindle over the long haul. Jewel cases are good, but bulky. Archival sleeves and a sturdy binder are an efficient, safe combination.
Okay—so you've done everything right and you store the discs properly. The Nike agency calls and wants one of your images from a shoot you did four years ago. They're willing to pay handsomely and ask you to please send the image by the end of the week. You go to the CD archive—and wham! The disc is corrupt. It's your only copy. Now what? In this case, memory card recovery software isn't going to help. You need some heavy-lifting.
The good news is that digital data is much harder to get rid of than you think. The sinking feeling you get in your gut when you see an error message indicating that your image files are gone often is unwarranted. Not that it's a comfortable feeling to discover that your images seem to be lost, but if you collect your wits and apply the right tool, you'll usually be able to recover the files and move on with your life.
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