Why Your CF Card MIGHT Fail at Your Next Shoot

If you bought a CF card a few years back and have been shooting away on it over, and over, and over, and over again, then you MIGHT want to re-consider EVER using it again. And here is why.




Having a hard time recognizing this strange looking image thing? It is actually a photo from a portrait shoot from a friend of mine. And no, he was NOT able to recover these images from this CF card.


A few years back, Jody and I were lucky to be able to join the Sandisk Extreme Team and work a little more closely with the company that invented Compact Flash technology.

What many photographers (including us, before we joined the team), didn’t understand about CF cards was that essentially, they are a computer. And computers break.

CF cards actually have 3 “parts” that help them function. They have a reader (that reads data from your specific camera), a writer (that writes that data from your cameras buffer to the card), and a CPU that processes that information. Each time you shoot images on a CF card, and then “format” it, it actually doesn’t even erase the images (unless you do a low-level format). The images are not erased until you shoot a new image over the old one. So, if you once filled up that CF card to the max, but never did it again, you could potentially have images still on that card from that REALLY old shoot.


Because the cards do these complex data transfers, they of course, eventually ALL go bad. WHEN that happens is of not really known until it happens to you.


“OK Zach, so when should I replace my cards?”


Sandisk recommends every single year! And that is from the horses mouth. Now, of course they also SELL those cards and want you to get new ones, but even in light of that, consider this; cameras get updated and changed (just like your computer or iPhone is constantly being updated), and if the card and camera don’t “match” with how they read and write, you could have an issue. (By the way, be sure to update your cameras!!). You also are working a CF card hard (especially when shooting weddings) for HOURS on end in extreme conditions. You card is hot, then cold, damp and then dry and the list goes on. That wears them out!




“So, if I DO have some old cards that I think I might replace, what cards should I get?”


Glad you asked. :) If you buy a Lexar (or any other non-Sandisk) card, Sandisk is happy because since they created and own the patent for CF cards, they get paid by Lexar each time you buy one of their cards. But, think of purchasing cards the way (most of) you do when buying a computer.


PC vs Mac:

(EDIT/Update from original post): PC is lots of companies using software from Microsoft and adding a bunch of third part junk to bring the price down. Less control and less quality.

Mac builds their own software and keep it proprietary and therefore has more control and higher quality (this is coming from a PC user myself).


Sandisk is the Mac of the memory business. (Tweet this out)


Sandisk has the MOST money, the best hardware and software and the most innovative products, and they build it all themselves. They literally own around 80% of the WORLD-WIDE CF market share! Why? Because they are the best. They also have the LOWEST failure rate in the industry!


When we are photographing something that may ONLY happen once, and that memory is held on a CF card, who are YOU going to trust to preserve it?


This is one of MANY Sandisk stories, but check out this shot from Petra Hall whos camera was melted, but the Sandisk CF card still had all the images on it!



We recommend replacing the CF cards after 2 years or so, depending on how many images you have shot on them and how big the CF card is.


Do you have a crazy CF card story? Share it with us below and start the conversation about how to best preserve our clients memories!


(PS and sidenote – MOST of the reasons cards fail is NOT because of the actual card having an issue. It happens many times because of something ELSE that it interacts with like a bad card reader or camera, or it breaks being inserted imporperly into something. The SAFEST way to shoot is to use a camera that can handle two cards – like the 5d3 with SD and CF – and then shoot each image to BOTH cards so you have an automatic back-up while you shoot).