Today’s Question: Could you please address best practices with SD media cards? After every shoot I download my images then re-format the card in camera. Does this somehow wear out or damage the card over time? How hardy are they? When should they be replaced?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Flash-based storage devices, such as SD cards, do wear out over time and can be damaged if not handled properly. I recommend using care when handling these cards and replacing them on a periodic basis.
More Detail: Flash-based media does wear out over time, so I don’t recommend trusting these media cards indefinitely. They can also be damaged, including with extremes of heat and moisture, so you’ll want to handle them with care.
In general, I recommend keeping media cards physically safe from damage, avoid letting them get wet, and keeping them in a moderate temperature range as much as possible. In other words, treat your media cards with the same type of care you would give to your other camera gear.
While media cards do wear out over time, they are also designed to last for extended periods of time. It is generally estimated that a media card could last for ten years. So, this doesn’t need to be a major source of concern for the photographer. However, I do recommend replacing your media cards every couple of years or so.
I find that most photographers don’t need to think too much about replacing their media cards periodically, because they replace them often enough in order to get a higher capacity card or a faster card (or both). But if it has been a more than a couple of years and you use your media cards regularly, you may want to consider replacing them.
Obviously, media cards can fail for a variety of reasons, including manufacturing defects. But in general, these cards are highly reliable and not something you need to worry about too much. Still, taking care to protect your media cards and replacing them periodically can help ensure greater overall reliability.