Never Shoot Without Dual Card Slots

Never Shoot Without Dual Card Slots

In the past few weeks, Nikon and Canon have released their new mirrorless offerings, the Z7 and R, to much fanfare. Despite the great specs and form factor, I won't buy either for one simple reason: neither one has dual card slots. I never shoot anything without dual card slots, and neither should you.

When shooting for clients, shooting for myself, or just casually taking a few pictures of my kids, I always shoot with two camera card slots. I am fanatic about not losing any files, be it for clients or just myself. If it is worth shooting, it is worth protecting those files.

In the time between starting this article and finishing it, I had two photoshoots. In the second one, a compact flash card actually corrupted and was not recoverable. I tried several different software solutions, but all of them failed to recover the images on the card. 

Screenshot of Image Rescue Software for memory card recovery

Image Rescue was unable to recover my corrupted memory card


Even though that card corrupted during the shoot, I didn't lose a single file because I shot everything to two memory cards. I wouldn't have even tried to recover the files if I was not in the middle of writing this article because every image was safely on my other card. 

My clients pay me to deliver, and I sure couldn't ask them to redo a wedding because the kiss didn't save to my memory card correctly. 

Constant improvement by card manufacturers have led to fewer card failures, but they still happen. I'm not exactly smart enough to explain how flash cards work or what makes them fail, but I do know someone who is smart enough to understand them. Jeff Wischkaemper is a research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University. Dr. Wischkaemper also happens to be a talented amateur photographer, so he understands the importance of memory cards to photographers.

"We used CF cards in an industrial product for over a decade. This was not a photographic application, but the primary function of the of the cards was to store files of similar size and composition to images. The CF cards were, without question, the weakest part of the system. Virtually all cards experienced some data corruption after years of use - many of them experienced complete corruption of the entire card, to the extent that no data could be read or written," Dr. Wischkaemper said.

I am all about minimizing risk and there are several ways you can do that. You can minimize risk by buying good memory cards from authorized retailers. I have less failures in my Lexars and Sandisks bought from an authorized retailer such as B&H than I have had with other brands bought in other places. I don't even want to know how many counterfeit memory cards I have used over the years because I didn't buy exclusively from authorized retailers. 

Another way you can minimize risk is changing out memory cards before they fail. As Dr. Wischkaemper said, eventually they all cards he used suffered some corruption or data loss. Replace the cards before they corrupt. Sell them or keep them as emergency backup. You can also do what I do and have a bowl of old cards on a shelf for no particular reason other than I might one day use that 1GIG 80x card from 2005.

In addition to both those ways, you should always shoot dual card slots. I only use new cards purchased from authorized retailers and I change them out regularly. But cards can still corrupt at any given moment, so every time I take a picture, it is written to card slot A and card slot B.

I choose to use raw to card A and JPEG card slot B for a couple reasons, but the main reason is when I shot Canon, I noticed that sometimes the raw file would corrupt when I was hitting the buffer, which was often on the horrible buffer and slow write speeds of the 5D Mark III. But while the raw file would be corrupted, the JPEG file on the other card slot would be unaffected and could be edited normally.

More likely than a card corruption problem, though, is human error. I've heard countless stories of camera bags being stolen, memory cards falling out of pockets, or photographers thinking they backed up the card, then shooting over it without getting all the files.

A lot of photographers suggest using smaller cards and changing them out more frequently. Delkin recently announced three new XQD cards and the smallest size was 64GB. At the time of writing this, B&H didn't offer any XQD memory cards smaller than the Sony 32GB. XQD is the only card format in the new Nikon Z7.

I actually think shooting with smaller cards and switching them out will make you more prone to lose images, because I think the more likely event is human error than card corruption. 

Large cards are all I use — large enough where I do not need to switch out cards during a shoot. I know cards aren't going to fall out of my camera and because I use two cards, I know that me losing my cards is much more likely than both cards being corrupted and unable to recover any files. My cards are only formatted at home, placed in my camera, and only come out when it is time to ingest. Never will I format a card during a shoot.

When you have formatted cards for years, it becomes a habit you can do without thinking and so if you never format during a shoot, you will never format the wrong card out of habit. After a shoot, my used primary cards go into a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket and that stays tethered to me. My secondary cards stay in the cameras. If someone steals all my gear after a shoot, I still have the primary images.

I am really excited to see what my friends, colleagues, and sworn enemies do with these new Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras. With the great EVF and cool new features, I think we are going to see a lot of great stuff that had not been done with DSLRs. But you won't see it from me. I won't take the risk. I may fall behind the times on this new technology but the risk of losing irreplaceable images for a client is going to be substantially lower.

For years, photographers shot single images on single frames of film. If you ruined the film by not properly rewinding it or in the development process, it was gone and there was nothing you could do. Luckily, times have changed and technology has advanced.

I'll bet you Robert Capa wishes he had a second copy of all the images he shot as he landed with Company E on Omaha Beach for the first wave of attacks on D-Day. Of 106 frames Capa took on D-Day, only 8 were salvaged after the darkroom assistant turned on too much heat while drying the film.

If I lost 94% of my clients files from a wedding or portrait shoot, I doubt they would be comforted much to know that Robert Capa's film was melted almost 75 years ago so no big deal. It happens, right? It doesn't have to happen. We have the technology to do better and our clients deserve better than for us to risk their files with one card slot when there is an option for two.

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172 Comments

Rob Davis's picture

Here we go.

Carson F.'s picture

I can't even start down this rabbit hole

Really, do you not even consider the physical characteristics of a card to see how reliable they will be? To place all cards in the same category and say they are all the same is ludicrous.

SD cards have exposed pins and are flimsy built. CF cards and CFast cards have tiny pins that bend. XQD cards do not have the same physical limitations of both SD and CF cards.

To shoot a wedding with a single camera is reckless, cameras also fail no matter how many slots they may have.

More is not always better.

Christian Durand's picture

so , nobody shot wedding with film or when the cameras only had one card ...Really ?

Jonathan Brady's picture

I take it you skipped the last sentence of the article?

Yea, you're right..... So I should take all 5 of my cameras that I use to shoot seniors and underclass pictures and buy new ones at an average price of $2000 each..... Got cha"

"People died for decades in cars without ABS, why should we start using it now? It's not like it prevented us from using cars duh"

CFast doesn't have flimsy pins like compact flash. It's more of a circuit board like connector that is much sturdier than pins. FYI

Matei Horvath's picture

XQD cards break too. I've had two (since the first Nikon D4) that died on me.

Tom Weis's picture

"To place all cards in the same category and say they are all the same is ludicrous"... well yes and no. Of course not all cards are the same, but all cards have some potential for failure.

CF pins only bend if the photographer jams a CF card into a camera with some reckless force. I've never bent a pin... been using CF since the Nikon D2x.

"To shoot a wedding with a single camera is reckless..." Yep. That was true in the film days and true now. Two is one and one is none. I took 3 film bodies to weddings, and I take 3 DSLRs to weddings now (each with 2 card slots).

I mean...all points made are valid. But a good takeaway from this is to rotate or transition to new cards periodically to avoid even having the possibility of corruption. I run two SD's but the second lives for overflow, and saying as each are 128...I really don't need it but you never know if you run out of space. I don't see two slots as a necessity saying as plenty of people were perfectly fine without it before it was a thing. And I'm sure D-Day would've wreaked havoc on the camera no matter what; it's war after all.

Motti Bembaron's picture

It's not always a function of time. and what time frame or "period" is good to change cards. One of my card was bought in December and stopped working about four months later.

Why take a chance?

I had cards fail on me twice -- one was well used, second card bought the week prior the failure. Both from reputable brands and retailers. Being brand new is no guarantee of anything. I don't shoot weddings and don't obsess over it but all my cameras do have dual cards slots as the author said, if it is worth shooting, it is worth protecting the images.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Personally, I make a point to never shoot without two rolls of film loaded into my F100.

Michael Jin's picture

Strawman...

Besides, if you're shooting with an F100, I'd wager that your film is probably more reliable than the camera at this point.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Jokes aren't strawmen.

They're jokes.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Not everything on the internet needs to be an argument. Sometimes we can just have fun.

Sometimes.

Michael Jin's picture

A weakness of text as a mode of communication, I suppose.

Color Thief's picture

I don't think this is a straw man at all — but we should be thankful of the ability not to depend on a single point of failure if we don't have to. In the film days, the lab (even a pro lab) was less reliable than a modern card. We accepted (and were often terrified by) the risk. I once shot an important job for a big client on 35mm transparency film. The lab (a well-regarded lab in a big city) processed the film fine, but when they mounted the slides, someone screwed something up and cut all the image in half. Each mounted slide was half of the previous image and half of the next. This stuff happened. If I could have simultaneously shot two rolls at a time, I would have.

Michael Aubrey's picture

One of my early memories at my grandparents' home was all of my aunts & uncles coming for a reunion. They hired a photographer for photos of all ~30 of us together and went through some poses until the photographer had done through 36 shots and realized that he had never loaded film into the camera. The idea of corralling children again to repeat the same groups as before resulted in a set of photos where everyone just looks angry and frustrated.

Gabriel Aponte's picture

I agree totally with you, Never a analog photographer shoot with two rolls.

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And of course nobody took photos for money back before there were two card slots, or even cards - it was just too risky! I know I still like to load two rolls of film into my 35mm when I shoot, just in case i mess up a roll.

Motti Bembaron's picture

In the 70's we drove without seat belts on, would you do the same today? If you have the choice of being safer wouldn't you take it??

How many photographers wished they had a copy of a roll of film that came out like shit because it was defected or old?

My friend owned a lab from 1987 till 2010, he can tell you lots of stories regarding films gone bad.

With digital medium we have the choice to avoid those mishaps.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Another wannabe-snarky commenter who didn't read the last sentence of the article.

Michael Jin's picture

Times change and if it was possible to load up a 35mm camera with two rolls of film at once, you'd be damned sure tons of professional photographers back in the day would have taken advantage of it.

There's a difference between making do because you have no choice and purposely ignoring safeguards that are readily available.

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