Prepare Yourself for Storage Failure in the Field

Recently I had a very expensive 128 GB SanDisk C-Fast card fail on me in the field in Iceland when I was between Winter workshops. This was the first time in well over a decade of digital photography that I have personally had a card fail in a manner that was completely unrecoverable. I have on several occasions seen other brands of card fail and have several times been able to rescue files from cards that had been accidentally erased by clients in the field (using SanDisk’s excellent Rescue Pro software).  In this case however, the card had become completely corrupt with absolutely nothing recoverable. In fact, inserting the card into the camera would actually cause the camera to refuse to even turn on (same result in different cameras).  Trying to read the card in any computer would simply show either no files, or a drive that would not mount. Trying to run Rescue Pro (or SanDisk’s other ‘clear format’ software) resulted in ‘Drive not available’ errors. In short, my expensive card had become completely corrupt.

Of course, the first thing I did when I had access to the internet was to contact SanDisk (a painful process) and lodge a ticket for a faulty card. I had to supply photographs of the card (front and back), describe the failure in excruciating detail via several emails and provide proof of purchase via a photograph of the original purchase receipt. The entire process was exceptionally painful and longwinded and had the card not been worth around $500 I probably would have just thrown my hands up, thrown the faulty card in the bin and ordered another. Given the cost however, I decided to persevere and see it through to a resolution.

What caused this card to fail so catastrophically I cannot say for certain, although I have my suspicions it was caused by turning the camera on and off very quickly (hint – don’t do this). Irrespective of the cause, what is important to note is that I was not able to recover any of the photographs on this card – zero. To SanDisk’s credit they did replace the card (although it took over a month); although they offered zero viable options to recover any files outside of sending the card at my own significant expense to a third party data recovery company. Had the images on the card been really important to me I would have proceeded down this path; but given there were just a few landscape images I shot between workshops on the card I decided to save the expense and consign any potentially recoverable files to the digital gods. It was made crystal clear by SanDisk as a matter of policy that they take no responsibility for any lost data under any circumstances (interesting policy from a storage company – what exactly do they take any responsibility for then?).

The net result of this card failure was a bunch of lost photographs and a month without a replacement card (no big deal). What the experience taught me above all is the importance of being able to shoot to dual cards simultaneously in the field to avoid this sort of potential tragedy. Shooting to dual cards was something I always did with the previous generation Canon EOS 1DX camera. However, its a practice I subsequently dropped with the release of the Canon EOS 1DX MKII since the cameras frame rate slows down too much when shooting to both the CFast and CF card (and Canon in their wisdom and effort to be backward tech friendly did not give us dual CFast slots). Now, on the eve of the Canon EOS 1DX MKIII I find myself praying that the good people at Canon will PLEASE give us dual CFast slots on the new body when it is announced later this year.

As card storage sizes have continued to increase with every generation released the chance for failure of a card that holds an entire trip or holidays work becomes greater and greater. Imagine loosing your entire next workshops work because you were shooting to one of the huge 512GB+ cards that subsequently critically failed. Cards of this size mean that you could shoot for days (or even weeks) before you had the need to download and empty onto a hard drive. Thats a huge amount of work to be stored on a card that is not backed up and that ‘might’ fail at any time. Something to think about the next time you are preparing to go out and shoot in the field. There just might be method in the madness of shooting either to dual cards where possible, or to multiple smaller cards instead of one gigantic card.

2 thoughts on “Prepare Yourself for Storage Failure in the Field

  1. I have my doubts the III will be CFast at all. If they are sensible they will have dual CFexpress slots. CFast seems to be dead in the water as a standard, and CFexpress is both faster and physically smaller.

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