When it comes to running trail cameras, typically most folks talk about strategy. How to be more efficient, how to get better photos and videos, how to use them to become a better deer hunter etc...All of that is great conversation, but when the very basics are overlooked, those higher-level conversations and topics often become less fruitful and often frustrating. Best practices for SD cards falls into that "Trail Camera Basics" category and if you're not familiar with these best practices at some point you are likely falling into the other side of "frustrations".
Below we outlined the 5 most common mistakes we see folks make with how they are using their SD cards with their trail cameras.
1. Using Cards With Multiple Devices
Without a doubt this is the most common mistake we see trail camera users make. And while it's not a guarantee that this habit will result in issues every time, it is overall the worst practice a trail camera user can do over time. Best practice with standard SD card trail cameras, is to simply have 2 dedicated cards married to each of your cameras. To go a step further you can label each camera and both associated SD cards to be sure there is no confusion on which device the cards belong too. If you do have camera problems, this practice solves the basic problem of being able to identify whether the problem lies with the camera or the SD card. It also prevents corrupt files from spreading to other devices.
2. Not Formatting SD Cards on a PC/Mac
While most modern trail cameras have the ability to perform an "in device" format it's still best practice to hard format your cards on a computer at least once per year. "In device" formats are similar to a quick format on your pc, just deleting old files and ensuring proper file structure. It does not remove any possible partitions or walls the card. Nor do "in device" formats give you the available capacity on the card even though your camera may give you photo count. Knowing the available capacity vs the advertise capacity becomes important over use due to the possibility of having cookies or hidden and/or corrupt files attached to the card. For that reason alone, it's best practice to use a computer and execute hard formats at least once per year.
3. Purchasing Large Capacity Cards w/Ultra Fast Writing Speeds
As men, we think bigger is better. We think faster is better. While that is true, even with SD cards, when they are paired with trail cameras those statements become void. Large capacity cards with fast writing speeds were made to use with high end photography equipment not trail cameras. And in comparison trail cameras write smaller files at a much slower rate then high end DSLR, mirrorless, and video cameras. So, in short, you are not getting any noticeable performance advantages considering the added cost of these cards. Follow your manufacturer's recommendation for the specific model for best practice and suitable SD cards.
4. Using Micro SD Cards
Media devices are becoming smaller and smaller. With those housing designs, companies are forced to save every centimeter on PCBs, which ultimately leads to the use of micro SD card sockets. There is absolutely nothing wrong with micro SD cards. In fact, they function in the same manner as a regular size card. However, when you start to use micro SD cards in a device with a regular sized socket you then have to use an adapter. Using that adapter doubles the contact points thus doubling the failure points. Using the correct size SD card for your device is best practice.
5. Not Replacing SD Cards
SD cards are not made to last forever. In fact, pending the specific brand each card will have an associate expected life span. Solid state flash memory devices can only be written on, erased, and rewritten on so many times. In addition to those points, often the contacts on the back of the cards can become worn which will ultimately lead to data transfer issues. It's best to replace cards every couple years or when significant wear/damage is noticeable.
Don't feel bad if you've made these mistakes, we've all been in a pinch and had to do whatever was neccesary at the time to get our cameras to work. Moving forward keep these 5 things in mind, get disciplined with a routine of best practices, and you will surely find yourself talk about more big bucks and trail camera successes than trail cam woes.