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Thread: High or Low Level Formatting ?

  1. #1

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    High or Low Level Formatting ?

    I just read an article on this subject.
    So to formatting a memory card, we shall go high-level or low-level?
    What about the camera's (Nikon) default formatting system? Is it high or low?
    How shall we go for this and for that?

    Any advice and comments ?

    Cheers.

  2. #2
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    In general there is no particular reason to do low level forrmatting and I'm quite certain that cameras do not have this functionality. The general recommendation has always been to format cards using your camera rather than your computer as doing so also sets up the appropriate directory and file structure on your disk. Your computer will not do so automatically, and you will have to set do this manually.

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Albert Sim View Post
    I just read an article on this subject.
    So to formatting a memory card, we shall go high-level or low-level?
    What about the camera's (Nikon) default formatting system? Is it high or low?
    How shall we go for this and for that?

    Any advice and comments ?

    Cheers.
    Format the memory card in the camera. Let the camera take care of the details.

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    I always reformat my card in my camera after I am sure that I have downloaded the images succesfully.

    I have a routine in which after every shoot, I download my images, reformat the cards, recharge the battery and then... I reinsert both battery and fresh card back into the camera.

    That way, I am always ready for a shot if the opportunity arises. Since, I share my home with numerous dogs, both our own and fosters, there are frequently opportunities for grab shots like this one of my Goldendoodle on the lawn covered with purple Jacaranda blossoms.

    High or Low Level Formatting ?

    In that respect, I always have my camera out and handy for shooting...

    Additionally, having a 16GB card in my camera and a fresh battery would prevent my ever arriving at a shoot minus a battery or memory card. That happened to me once and I decided that it would never happen again.

    BTW: A 16GB card will give me room for a lot of images, even when shooting RAW with my 7D. I don't expect ever again to forget either memory card or battery but, having them installed in the camera is one sure way to be safe...

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    High and low-level formats as executed in your camera are probably similar to deleting versus formatting the data on a hard drive. A high-level format probably erases the headers on each image file, essentially removing the piece of data that tells your camera or computer that the data following the header is an image. A low-level format probably deletes the header and the data for each image, over-writing it with either random bits or a pre-defined pattern. Deleted data can sometimes be recovered. Formatted data cannot. Functionally, they're essentially identical, but a high-level format is much faster.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by RustBeltRaw View Post
    High and low-level formats as executed in your camera are probably similar to deleting versus formatting the data on a hard drive. A high-level format probably erases the headers on each image file, essentially removing the piece of data that tells your camera or computer that the data following the header is an image. A low-level format probably deletes the header and the data for each image, over-writing it with either random bits or a pre-defined pattern. Deleted data can sometimes be recovered. Formatted data cannot. Functionally, they're essentially identical, but a high-level format is much faster.
    Lex - I don't think you have it quite right.

    I don't think I've done a low-level format on a drive in about 20 years. At one point I remember having to set up hard drives outside of the operating system using software supplied by the drive manufacturer and setting up block size, etc. In one case I remember having to manually type in all of the bad blocks that were identified on the hard drive label (both Priam and MiniScribe went broke decades ago, so perhaps this technology went down with them... Maxtor, another drive manufacturer from those days was bought out). Then sometime in the 1990s the hard disks started to arrive in a condition where all this had been done at the factory and arrive set up and pre-formatted. All one had to do was to set up the partitions and initialize the disk using the OS. In fact, I'm not sure that one can actually do a "true" low-level format on a disk any more.

    High level formating uses the Operating System (OS) file functions and quick formating just resets the File Allocation Table (FAT) without writing new data onto the disk. I believe a regular format will overwrite the entire block with zeros on top of resetting the FAT. When it comes to memory cards and their limited number of write cycles, we certainly don't want to write data needlessly.

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Some Canon cameras offer low level format, for instance my S100 dos. From what Canon say about this does not really explain exactly what it does so the rest of my posting is a suposition really.

    I imagine deleting an image removes the header of the file so it cannot be read by the camera or recognised as occupied space. Formatting does this and creates a sub file the camera understands to be it's own type and it will make best use of the whole card and low level I can only surmise is the complete removal of all data and the installation of of that sub file?

    I know that constant deleting of data tends to upset cards, especially SD cards, and the low level format probably restores order by re-writing to 'as new' file structure. Canon's guide suggests to do low level if card runs slow or card error comes up on the camera screen.

  8. #8

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Steve and Manfred have got the essence of it.

    Regular formatting is fast (it only has to blat the FATs) (there are two of them) and reset the directory -- leaving the actual image data intact -- so it's fast, but not secure (imagine someone shooting something sensitive - formatting the card - and then giving someone else access to the card ... not a good thing.

    Low-level formatting on the other hand over-writes the data area and also "tests" the sectors to make sure they haven't gone bad (I put tests in speech marks because there's actually a controller on the card that operates at a lower level again and moves things around so that the same areas don't get hammered again and again so what a low-level format thinks is "bad" may be a different physical location once the controller on the card has finished with it).

    In summary, stick to normal formatting, unless you have something to hide; it's faster and not as hard on the card (although the latter isn't really the issue that it's made out to be).

  9. #9
    RustBeltRaw's Avatar
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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Lex - I don't think you have it quite right.
    I defer to your superior experience. Cheers for the correction - I hadn't considered the effect write cycle limitations would have on flash write strategies.

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Wikipedia "Current cards using NAND flash are rated for 1,000,000 writes per block before hard failure" Somewhere else I read 2,000,000. Wikipedia quoted Samsung as the source but the link is broken.

    I cannot seem to find reliable info on read/write cycles before failure?

  11. #11
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveF View Post
    Wikipedia "Current cards using NAND flash are rated for 1,000,000 writes per block before hard failure" Somewhere else I read 2,000,000. Wikipedia quoted Samsung as the source but the link is broken.

    I cannot seem to find reliable info on read/write cycles before failure?

    I had a SD card fail recently after a couple of years of moderate use; probably somewhere around 10,000 15,000 image captures. The problem with any of these ratings is that they are statistical averages and is not a guarantee, and like anything else, there are outliers in any sample size. I thought that these devices are rate in the 50K - 100K write cycle range, nowhere near as high as you have listed.

  12. #12

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Just to make you aware of the maverick opinion ....The only time I format my cards, some Cf and some SD, is on the rare occasions that I have a a problem with them... I am not sure if these problems came from my normal practice of not formatting cards until I have a problem or whatever.

    I use Windows XP and prior to that W2K and on returning to base I first copy the files to an archive folder on my second hard drive ... having established that 'back-up' I then move the files into an appropriate 'working folder' based on content. The card is then empty apart from a small build-up of 'junk' on CF cards, no build-up on my SD cards the card is empty and goes back into the camera and all is ready for the next shoot. [ I charge up the camera battery too

    I am guessing that the reason for formating cards by DSLR users is that they in the main use CF cards and with professional or large use the build-up might get serious but for a small user such as myself it has worked well over the years. These days I have stopped bothering about the build up and using SDHC cards have established to my own satisfaction there is no build up to be worried about.

    But as I said this is a maverick opinion and practice.
    It has caused discussion in the past but save your fingers becuase I have no intention of changing my practice until maybe I have to use W7 or worse a later programme instead of XP

  13. #13

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Duplicate post ... computer took so long I thought it had lost the fisrt copy

  14. #14

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I thought that these devices are rate in the 50K - 100K write cycle range, nowhere near as high as you have listed.
    The figures supposedly quoted by Samsung did surprise me too. Whilst I cannot recall a card failure I have so many now I doubt if any will get to 50,000 read/write cycles even tho I shoot about 70,000 images a year.

    Having said this I am finding a couple are taking a lot longer to write than they used to do and I'm shooting jpegs. I might try a low level format on them in my P&S cameras and see what happens.

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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by jcuknz View Post
    But as I said this is a maverick opinion and practice.
    It has caused discussion in the past but save your fingers becuase I have no intention of changing my practice until maybe I have to use W7 or worse a later programme instead of XP
    I have some 10yr old dSLRs and they don't like cards used and contents deleted by another body so this is where I started the practise of formatting before use, this is in the body of choice for that occasion.

    Sometimes I've heard that video is upset by a card that hasn't been formatted and leads to jerky playback. This didn't, apparently, affect it's recording tho which I presume the buffer catered for.

  16. #16
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    Re: High or Low Level Formatting ?

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveF View Post
    I have some 10yr old dSLRs and they don't like cards used and contents deleted by another body so this is where I started the practise of formatting before use, this is in the body of choice for that occasion.
    I ran into this same problem on a relatively newer DSLR (Pentax K-r). I deleted an image on the card using card reader/Windows. After that the camera would not write an image to the card until the card was reformatted by the camera. Then camera was happy with the card.

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