August 23, 2022

Why do Sony cameras destroy the file system when formatting the cards?

For Photographers

For Photographers

Story time! In May, I had a fairy session in Seattle for a repeat client. I shot the session, then went to do a class and another session the following day. I downloaded the class images and the second session, but I somehow failed to download the first session before reformatting that card. When I realized it the following day, I naturally thought that my current recovery software has worked so well in the past for me when I was shooting Canon or Nikon cameras would work just as well to recover the images on that card. Four hours later, after lots of panic and tears, and 13 recovery software downloads… I learned that I was wrong. When reformatting the cards, Sony destroys the entire file system and nukes all the image data. I had to call the client back and beg her to come back for a reshoot before I left town the next morning. It very nearly could have been a really really terrible thing. What if that had been a wedding? What if it had been a birth?

Two months later in August, I was teaching a class in Cleveland. I had an audience of 10 other photographers for my family and kids’ master class. I was teaching how to manage to get authentic expressions on children by un-posing them and playing stupid games. I had a family with seven children modeling for me, so keeping the pictures moving quickly was a priority. I had one card in the first slot of my camera, and another card in the second slot of my camera. When the first card was full, I swapped them and formatted the first slot again, so that I could shoot on it. Somehow I ended up formatting the second one instead. The images I had just taken for this class in front of the students. I didn’t realize this until I had gotten back to the classroom and attempted to pull the images off that card. It was empty, as if I had never taken a single picture on it ever in its life. It didn’t even have a folder where the images would go. Here I am as an instructor in a master class and I have no images to present to the students. I had to do the same thing, calling back the family and re-shooting everything in 20 minutes. My students thought that my mistake made me seem more human. One even commented that “if not for the look of panic on your face, I would have thought you had orchestrated this to show us how to deal with the problem if it ever comes up for us.” No no, that was real.

A little research online shows me that this is a function of how Sony formats the cards. Sony uses a formatting option called low-level format. Think of it like an apartment building. Canon and Nikon use a high-level format that simply replaces the windows and doors but leaves the structure in place. Sony uses low-level format which basically takes the building down to the ground and rebuilds it empty.

So, the question is… why did Sony choose to do this with their cameras? Instead of simply reallocating the data to be written and keeping the images on the card, why did they choose to low level format and wipe everything, making it impossible for those images to be recovered? You would think this would be a terrible idea for professional photographers. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you it is a terrible thing, twice! Surely I can’t be the only one who has lost images like this. This had to be a conscious decision and yet…. Dear Sony, why would you do that to your customer base?

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We are a luxury portrait studio based in Athens, GA specializing in creating unique and vibrant images that capture the feeling of magic for women and girls of all ages. 

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