It's come to the time where my 128GB Samsung Micro SD has only 1% of its capacity left. Given I'm going travelling this summer, I need more memory to shoot.

Is it better for me to buy a USB 1TB HDD, transferring all my photos onto that (they're also stored on my PC so that'll just be a backup) and leaving it to gather dust until my PC dies or my SD card fills up again. I'll format my SD card and use it as new.

...Or should I buy a new 128GB SD card and just use that?

The HDD is only £20 more than the SD card yet is 10 times the capacity. My only worry is if formatting the SD card will shorten it's lifespan or reduce its write speed (my 1300D has a bad enough buffer already!).


  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ Are you saying that the card is failing such that its empty capacity is only 1% of the original? Or do you mean that you've never reformatted the card or otherwise deleted images from it, and now it's full? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 7, 2018 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of How often should memory cards be formatted? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 7, 2018 at 10:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ No matter what you choose, always backup anything you do not want to lose. Always. No exceptions, no "later". Later you might regret not doing it sooner. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    May 7, 2018 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I hear that washing clothes reduces their lifetime. Given the embarrassment of a wardrobe malfunction, I always buy new clothes instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carsten S
    May 7, 2018 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ And using a car reduces its lifetime. That's why I trade cars once a day. Too bad I don't have time to do anything else but shop for cars, but that's a small price to pay. :-D But seriously, remember the rule of three: if you don't have at least three copies of a file, it doesn't exist. \$\endgroup\$
    – dgatwood
    May 8, 2018 at 21:03

3 Answers 3


I'm assuming that the card is just full and you're concerned about the impact of reformatting it and reusing — not that it's failing to the point where the maximum free space is 1% of what it used to be.

Don't worry about formatting. The card is meant for reuse, and even cheap SD cards can go through hundreds of write/erase cycles, with higher-end cards rated for many times that. Especially if this is only the first time you've ever filled the card, reformatting and reusing is very, very tiny amount of wear.

You note that you're transferring the photos to your PC, you have a backup there — you should also make sure you back up those photos from your PC to an off-site location. (Some cloud storage, say.) I'd be a lot more worried about that than about reusing the card.

If you have taken many months to fill up that one card, you could decide to just keep it as yet another backup, buy another, and fill it up too. But that's a relatively expensive way to get backups and not necessarily one I'd particularly trust for long-term anyway. Better off reusing the card (as it is designed for) and putting the money towards online backup.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see why it needs reformatting, either. Just literally delete all the files. This is a trivial filesystem-level operation and takes like 2 seconds. I feel like I must be missing something with this question as it appears to equate to "should I wash this dirty plate, or buy another one?" \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2018 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ On "format or delete?", see this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 7, 2018 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user71659 Citation needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 7, 2018 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Panasonic (in Japanese, see the chart or click the plus by red 1) claims 250 cycles for normal consumer TLC cards, and 2,000 for professional MLC. This agrees with Sandisk, who rates their industrial MLC cards for 2k cycles, but as far as I can see, will not disclose a number for their consumer line. Working out numbers, consumer SSD are ~700. \$\endgroup\$
    – user71659
    May 7, 2018 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Panasonic in English (top of page 3) \$\endgroup\$
    – user71659
    May 7, 2018 at 19:32

It is all a matter of what you need. If it takes a 'long' time to fill up the 128Gb SD card then you might buy a new SD card. If you fill it up quickly then the USB HDD is the way to go.

But consider this. If something happens to your camera or SD card then you lose all your pictures. In my opinion you better copy the pictures to a HDD so that they are 'safe' and empty your SD card (you can also put a back-up of important files from your PC on it). It is cheaper and you have your pictures 'outside' your camera. I do not know the price of a 128Gb SD card but I think that it will be more then £20.

  • \$\begingroup\$ More than £20, from a good brand yes. But not by much. Think £30. \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2018 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Always have more than one copy of something, preferably in different continents. Personally, I upload a low res version to google photos, a high res version to flickr and the raw files to backblaze. The first two are free (up to 1tb for flickr) and backblaze costs cents. Last bill was less than 1$/month for almost 200Gb of CR2s. \$\endgroup\$ May 8, 2018 at 14:38

It depends on your workflow. Here's how I'd do it.

  • I'd get an USB HDD anyways, to keep a backup of the originals of my SD card(s) pictures. When travelling, I like to backup on the the photos I shot at the end of the day, and to do it I use a WD My Passport Pro disk, since it has an SD card slot, and it can copy new photos on itself with the push of a single button, without any computer.
  • Later on I download the photos on my laptop or on my desktop computer for archiving and editing. This way I always have three copies of my shots: one "temporary" on the SD card, one "permanent" on the USB disk, and the one I'm working on on my computer. I don't consider my SD card as a permanent storage device, but just a place where picture stay while they're waiting to be copied to the backup drive and the computer, so I don't need big cards - I use 32 GB cards because I do time lapses, but 16 GB cards would fit nicely in my workflow.
  • When I fill roughly 60%-75% of the SD card, and I've already downloaded the pictures on both the HDD and the computer, I format the SD card from my camera. There are two things to keep in mind:
    • When you fill any storage more than 80% it may become slower, at least until you free up some space. I want to avoid this.
    • Actually "basic" formatting writes only a small portion of the storage - it just tells the drive that any memory cell that was previously assigned to data can be used again to store data. You can safely reformat any SD card hundreds of time without any noticeable loss of performance.
  • I usually keep at least 2 SD cards - as I remove one for copying, I put the other one in the camera. This way there will always be one SD card in you camera, and you won't miss any shot because you forgot to put back in camera the SD card after you put it in your computer reader. It seems a silly problem, but it happens quite often.

One last tip - if I understand it, you are using a micro SD card on a Canon 1300D camera, a camera that fits "full size", normal, SD cards, so I guess you are using an adapter.

Often writing or reading cards in adapters is slower compared to the same operation without any adapter.

You can get a lot better read/write performance from you camera using regular SD cards (they're cheaper too!). Just give them a try.


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