Securely Managing Your Digital Media (SD, CF, SSD, and Beyond)

Managing digital media safely is important for all photographers and videographers. At, we take media security very seriously, with dozens of rented memory cards, hard drives, and other data devices returned to our facility every day. All our media is monitored with each rental customer.

Most of the cards returned to us in rental shipments have not been properly repaired and erased, so clearing all data of returned media is part of our normal service to protect each client’s identity and digital assets.

We are very good at the routine of storing data and format storage devices for our customers to ensure that our media has a long life and remains free of corruption. Before we get involved in our process of making digital media safe, we must first talk on the basics.

Difference between digital media erasure and correction

When you insert a card into the camera, you are given two options, either erase the card or format the card. There is a significant difference between the two. Deleting images from the card is just that – erasing them. That’s it. This field specifies the data available for writing as the card is occupied and confirms to you that the data has been deleted.

The word erased here is a bit misleading. The underlying data, 1 and 0 that have been recorded on the media, are still there. What actually happens is that the address table of the drive is changed to show that the space occupied by the previous file is available for new data.

This is why simply erasing a file does not safely delete it. Data recovery software can be used to recover that old data until it has been overwritten with new data.

The formatting goes ahead. When you format a drive or memory card, all files are erased (even files you designate as “protected”) and usually add a file system.

This is a more efficient way to delete all data on the drive because all the space already partitioned for specific files has a brand new structure that is unencumbered by whatever size files were previously stored. Be aware, however, that it is possible to retrieve old data even after one format.

Whether this can happen depends on the formatting method and whether the new data has overwritten what was previously stored.

To ensure that old data cannot be recovered, a safe erase goes further. Instead of simply designing data to be overwritten with new data, a secure erase writes a random selection of 1s and 0s to the disk to ensure that old data is no longer available. It takes longer and costs more tax on the card because the data is being overwritten rather than just deleted.

Always format a card for the camera you are going to use

If you have ever tried to use the same memory card on different formats of cameras, without formatting it, you may have noticed problems with data files appearing. Each camera system handles its file structure slightly differently.

For this reason it is advisable to format the card for the specific camera you use. If this is not done, there is a risk of corrupting the data on the card.

Our process for data security

Our inspection process for recording media depends on what kind of card we are inspecting. For standardized media such as SD cards or compact flash cards, we use a bus card reader to format the card into XFat. This is done in Disk Utility on the Apple MacBook which we release to each of our video technicians.

We use XFat exclusively because it is recognizable on just about every device. Since these cards are used in a wide variety of different cameras, recorders, and accessories, and we have no way of knowing at the point of inspection what equipment they will be used with, we have to choose a format Which will allow any camera to recognize the card.

While our client may still have to format a card in the camera for file structure purposes, the card will at least always be formatted in a way that the camera can detect.

For proprietary media – things like REDMAGs, SxS and other cards that we know will only be used in a particular camera – we use cameras to do the formatting. While the XFat system will technically work, a camera-specific erase and format process saves the customer a step and allows us to check media ports on our cameras more regularly.

In fact, we actually format these cards twice at the time of inspection. First, the technician erases the card to remove any customer footage that may have been left on it.

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