Today’s Question: I saw an article that said there was no need to use the “Safely Remove” option [or Eject on Macintosh] as long as you made sure you weren’t writing data to a media card before ejecting it. Is this true?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I strongly recommend that photographers stay in the habit of using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option in their operating system (Windows versus Macintosh, respectively) to help ensure it is safe to actually remove the media card from the card reader. Ignoring this step can lead to corruption of data on removable media cards.
More Detail: Admittedly, in many cases it would be perfectly safe to simply remove a media card from a card reader (or from your camera) without going through a special process to confirm it is safe to remove the card. However, skipping this step does increase the risk of corruption of the data on your removable media cards.
As long as no data is actively being written to a media card, it is generally safe to simply remove the card without using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option in your computer’s operating system. The problem is that you can’t ever be totally sure that no data is being written to the card.
If you remove a card while data is being written to the card, data on the card may be corrupted to the point of a complete loss of that data. This applies both to your camera and to your computer.
Most cameras include a small light that flashes when data is being written to the card. As long as this light is not illuminated, it is generally safe to remove the media card from the camera. I actually recommend going a step further, and turning off the power for the camera before removing a media card. Most (I’m sure all) cameras include a feature where the power won’t actually be completely turned off until data is no longer being written to the card. Thus, if the camera turns off completely (and the light indicating data is being written is no longer flashing) you can remove the media card from your camera.
On the computer I recommend getting in the practice of always using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option to confirm it is safe to remove the media card from the card reader. Even if you were only downloading data from the card (and not writing any new data to the card), this is still a good habit that can help ensure you don’t experience data corruption issues on your media.
Frankly, in my opinion anyone who suggests you should not use the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” feature before removing a media card is giving bad advice.