Digital Photographer ALERT: Watch Out for File Corruption

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Consumer digital images are in danger of being damaged, but they don't have to be. Images stored on the camera's memory card can be corrupted, but there are ways to prevent losing those images. According to the 2008 PMA U.S. Consumer Photo Buying Report by PMA Marketing Research, the typical digital camera user owns an average of 1.5 memory cards per household, with 42 percent of those cards being 1GB or higher, which equals a high potential for image corruption on consumer memory cards.

Excellent image quality and the ability to print only selected images helped make digital cameras among the hottest products this past holiday season. These digital camera users own an average of 1.5 memory cards per household, with 42 percent of those cards being 1GB or higher, according to the 2008 PMA U.S. Consumer Photo Buying Report by PMA Marketing Research, and users storing their images on high capacity memory cards might not be aware that these devices are susceptible to a situation known as memory card corruption.

After users repeatedly shooting photos, erasing a few, shooting more photos, erasing a few - the user ends up with lots of small amounts of information spread around the flash memory card. At some point, the information may be so spread out the camera or computer will not be able to re-assemble the photos. This error, which sometimes is shown as "Cannot Read Card" error, is the sign of a corrupted card.

The consumer needs to be proactive and periodically copy all of their images from their camera to the computer, according to Mike Woodland, co-owner of Dan's Camera City, Allentown, Pa., and U.S. national chairperson, PMA. This is especially true in today's era of multi-gigabyte memory cards, which can store hundreds of pictures and videos.

"You need to organize them as you wish and back them up either to a second hard drive, online storage site , or removable storage such as a DVD," suggests Woodland. "After ensuring you have copied off all of your images, and successfully backed them up, use a feature in your camera called 'Format.' This function erases all the information on the card, and resets the electronics on the card."

Woodland is quick to point out, once the user formats a card, they have most likely permanently erased those images. "Formatting is different than erasing selected photos, and even different from choosing an option some cameras have called Erase All," he said. "When you format a card, you also reset the electronic controller, or brain, on the card itself. "

Other advice to consumers, from Woodland, in dealing with corrupted digital image files includes:

When corruption occurs, remove the card from the camera and do not try to use it. There are several options to attempt to recover your photos. All of the options have a cost, so on the off -chance the only images on the card are not important, you can skip trying to rescue them.

To recover the images from the card you need to rebuild the data on the card, or fix the electronic controller, depending which is the cause of the corruption. This is done using specific software. Your choice becomes installing this software on your computer, taking the card to a local photo expert, or sending the card to a service provider.

There are no guarantees a corrupted memory card can be recovered. And there is often no way to predict the likelihood of success. This means you will have to try to see if it is possible. Even when successful, there is also the chance not all of the images will be recoverable, or the images themselves may only be partial photos, not the whole picture. The good news is the vast majority of cards are fully recoverable when done correctly.

Woodland also pointed out a big advantage in going to a local photo retailer to do the recovery process - they can likely also test the card to let you know if it is safe to use it again, or if you should purchase a new one.

"The best choice of all is to be sure to practice the good habit of backing up your images, and then formatting the card," he added. "This greatly reduces the chances of an issue occurring."

About PMA - The Worldwide Community of Imaging Associations
As a professional trade association, PMA® helps the worldwide photo imaging community achieve business success and adapt to new technologies. Its commitment to its members in 100-plus countries is part of an 84-year legacy that connects business owners to a network of knowledge and support. PMA furthers this purpose through the development of educational programs and business services, marketing research, publications, and trade shows. As a nonprofit organization, any success enjoyed by PMA in its endeavors directly benefits the industry, allowing PMA to provide continual services and activities for members.

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Tom Crawford
PMA
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