Formatting your SD card before use is an important step for all photographers. In this post, you’ll learn how to format an SD card and avoid corrupt and half-full cards before a shoot. We cover formatting in Windows, Mac, in-camera (GoPro and DSLR), and using CMD.
5 Ways to Format an SD Card
Here are the specific steps for formatting your SD card in these different methods.
Can you just delete the files instead of reformatting the card? Yes. But I don’t recommend it. See more about the delete vs reformat debate at the end of the post.
First Step: Upload Your Files
You’re not going to want to forget this step. If you just jump into the guides below and forget this step, you’ll lose all your photos and videos.
Please remember once you reformat an SD card, all your media will be permanently gone.
Okay, with this reminder out of the way, let’s get on to successfully scrubbing your SD cards.
1. How to Format an SD Card on Windows
Here’s how to format your SD card in your computer running Windows. It’s a simple process.
First, here’s what you’ll need:
- Computer running Windows 10
- Micro SD card adapter / USB micro SD card reader (If using microSD card): To enable your computer to read your memory card, you’ll need an adapter (that will allow you to insert an SD card port in your computer) or a microSD card reader (that can be inserted in your USB port on your computer).
- SD card port (built-in) or SD card reader: If using a standard-size SD card, you’ll need a port in your computer or a USB card reader.
- Insert your SD card into your computer using either the SD card slot or USB port (with a reader). If the card isn’t recognized automatically, press Window Key + E. This will open File Explorer.
- Navigate to “This PC” in the left sidebar. Your SD card should be visible under this header.
- Right-click on your SD card and select “Format”.
- You can add “Volume Label” and give a name to your SD card. (Optional)
- You’ll see a warning message (Formatting will erase ALL data). Click OK (if you already backed up your photos and videos). Once it completes formatting, you’ll see the “Format Complete” window. Click OK to close the window.
Screenshot from step 3: Right-click and click Format.
Screenshot from step 4: Customize settings and add Volume Label
This is the success message you’ll see once the card has been successfully formatted.
You have now successfully formatted your SD card using your Windows 10 computer. And you’re ready to head out on your next adventure with a fresh memory card.
You can also select “Restore Device Defaults” to factory reset the card to its original settings.
2. How to Format an SD Card on Mac
Here’s how to format your SD card on your Mac computer. It’s also a straightforward process.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Mac computer
- SD card reader: If using a standard-size SD card, you’ll need a USB SD card reader. If using a microSD card you will need either a MicroSD card adapter or a USB microSD card reader.
- Insert your SD card into your computer using your external card reader.
- Open Disk Utility. Navigate to your SD card. If it is a new card, it will probably be named “untitled” or “no name.”
- Click the “Erase” tab. Then select “Format.” Choose MS-DOS (FAT32) if your card is 32GB or smaller. Select exFAT if your card is 64GB or larger.
- You’ll see a confirmation message: “Are you sure you want to erase the partition “[your card name]?” Click “Erase.”
You have now successfully formatted your SD card on your Mac. See more on FAT32 / exFAT setting at the end of the post.
3. How to Format an SD Card on GoPro Camera
It’s my preference to format SD cards inside of the camera. I feel more confident that they are set up correctly for that model.
GoPro cameras add a basic file structure when the card is formatted in-camera.
Unlike the first two options, you don’t need any additional gear. You already own the camera and microSD card.
Here’s how to do it.
If you’re familiar with your camera, here’s how to format the card: Menu > Preferences > Reset > Format SD Card
Here are the step-by-step instructions.
These instructions are for the current models (Hero12 back to Hero8), and will work almost identically for the previous models.
- With the camera on, swipe down to view Menu.
- Tap Preferences.
- Scroll to the bottom and tap Reset
- Tap Format SD Card (Top option)
- Tap Format (confirming that you’ll delete all your files and reformat the card).
Congratulations! You just formatted your microSD card with your GoPro camera.
Need more help? See our full guide: How to Format Your GoPro SD Card.
Here are four ways to delete GoPro videos.
4. How to Format an SD Card on a Canon DSLR
I prefer this method for formatting SD cards for my DSLR. Because it is formatted inside the camera, I feel it will be less glitchy. And so far, so good!
And just like the previous method, you don’t need any additional gear. You already own the camera and SD card.
Here’s how to do it on a Canon DSLR. The settings for Nikon and other DSLR cameras will be very similar.
If you’re familiar with your Canon camera, here’s how to format the card: Menu > Camera Settings 1 tab > Format
- With the camera on, press Menu button.
- Navigate to the Camera Settings 1 tab.
- Select Format
- Select OK to format your card.
And there you have it. You have successfully formatted your SD card in your DSLR camera.
5. How to Format an SD card Using CMD (Windows)
This method is beyond my skill level. I haven’t done this, but I know lots of people like this option.
Here are the seven steps to format an SD card using CMD in Windows 10/8/7.
- Type cmd in the search box in Windows 10, and then you’ll get the best match Command Prompt. Right-click on it and choose “Run as administrator.”
- In the command prompt, type diskpart and press “Enter.”
- Type list disk to list all the available drives and press “Enter.”
- Type select disk + disk number ( for example, select disk 2) to select the SD card you want to format and press “Enter.”
- Type list volume and press “Enter.”
- Type select volume + volume number (or example, select volume 10) and press “Enter.”
- Type format fs=ntfs (or format fs=exfat) and press “Enter” to format the drive with NTFS or exFAT.
These steps are by the experts over at EaseUS.
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure why anyone would use this method. It is slower and more complicated than any of the other methods. But now I need to give it a try. It’s been many years since I ran Command Prompt for any reason.
Deleting vs Formatting: 3 Factors
It can be tempting to delete a few files and then put it right back into your camera. But you shouldn’t.
- Deleting individual files is slow and inefficient. And it doesn’t free up much space.
- Increased chance of corrupted data. Increased file movement and operations will increase the chance of your data being corrupted (and lost).
- Deleting files doesn’t recreate the DCIM file structure correctly. This can lead to lost data. And a serious headache.
Instead of deleting individual files, it’s better to upload the photos and videos you want to save. And then format the whole card.
Rule of thumb: Never shoot with an unformatted SD card in your camera.
If you have ever lost your data from a shoot, you’ll know the pain caused by skipping this simple step.
4 Reasons to Format Your SD Card
Here are four reasons you might want to format your SD card.
- Brand new card: You should always format your card the first time you use it.
- Avoid corrupt cards – and lost footage. If you don’t know the last time it was formatted, just format it again. A corrupt card can cause your camera to freeze.
- More space: Instead of just removing a few photos and video files at a time, just upload the data and reformat. It’s always better to start a shoot with an empty card.
- Prepare your card for another camera. File structure and type vary from one camera to the next. Avoid unnecessary glitches when switching cameras by reformatting.
More reading: 4 Reasons to Format an SD Card
Which File System is best for high-capacity memory cards?
- FAT32: This is the recommended file system for SD and SDHC memory cards. It is limited to a 4GB size for individual files.
- exFAT: This file system replaces FAT32 and is an acronym for Extended File Allocation Table. This system allows for individual files larger than 4GB. And for larger SD cards, this is the default file system. This is the recommended file system for SDXC memory cards.
Given the video capability of digital cameras, it doesn’t take long to create a single video file larger than 4GB. Especially if shot in 4K with a high bitrate.
More reading: How to choose the best microSD card for your GoPro
Still need help? Check out these 5 Ways to Reset Your GoPro
Have a question about one of these methods for formatting SD cards? Or have a tip to make it better? Or maybe another method? Join me below!
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is co-founder and blogger on Storyteller Tech. We cover action cameras and outdoor photography with a focus on GoPro cameras.
He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.