How to Format an SD Card for Your Camera

Use a PC, Mac, or even your camera

After a while, the SD card in your camera may become filled with photos and videos, its file system may become corrupted, or the SD card may get infected with a virus. It's easy to fix these issues when you know how to format an SD card to remove the files and start with a fresh SD card for your camera.

When to Format and When to Reformat

In everyday terms, format and reformat mean the same things. The difference is "format" refers to the first time an SD card is formatted, while "reformat" refers to the subsequent times the SD card is formatted.

In technology terms, format and reformat have slightly different meanings.

SD cards, like all types of removable disks and other media, need to be formatted before they'll work as a form of storage. This formatting process creates a file system, or directory structure, to store files. When the SD card is formatted a second time, the formatting uses the same file system but deletes the files.

SD cards are reformatted to change the type of file system used by the card. For example, an SD card from a Windows PC needs to be reformatted to work on a Mac computer. 

Close up of SD card with computer and camera in background
MarkSwallow/Getty Images

Here’s when you should consider formatting or reformatting an SD card:

  • If you take a lot of pictures and regularly delete or transfer these images to your computer, format the SD card once a month or so. Regular formatting keeps your SD card operating at peak performance and reduces the chance of your files becoming corrupted.
  • If you encounter a problem or receive an error message when using the SD card, the SD card may have a corrupted file system or a computer virus. Format the SD card to restore it to its original state.
  • If you want to give the SD card to someone else, format it twice and be sure your files cannot be recovered. Format the SD card, fill it with public domain images, and format it again. Or reformat the SD card if the other person uses a different operating system.

Formatting an SD card doesn't completely delete the files; formatting only removes the reference to the files. If you accidentally format an SD card, you may be able to use a data recovery software tool to recover the files.

How to Format Camera SD Card

The most efficient way to format the camera SD card is with your camera. The camera’s formatting process minimizes the chance of errors.

The steps to format a camera SD card vary depending on the camera brand. Look in the camera’s instruction manual or manufacturer website to find information on how to use the camera to format the SD card.

  1. Back up the files on the SD card to your computer or cloud storage service.

  2. Make sure the camera battery is fully charged.

  3. Turn off the camera and insert the SD card into the proper slot.

  4. Turn on the camera.

  5. On the camera, select Menu.

    Rear view of a digital SLR camera showing the Menu button
    Creative Crop / Getty Images
  6. In the camera display, select the Setup menu and choose Format, Format Memory Card, or something similar.

  7. On the camera, select OK.

  8. Wait while the camera formats the SD card. It may take a few minutes to format the card.

  9. When the SD card is formatted, turn off the camera.

How to Format the SD Card in Your Android

Many Android phones, tablets, and cameras have a microSD card. If the SD card shows signs of problems, format the SD card with your Android device.

Before you begin, back up the files on the SD card.

  1. Go to Settings > Device care.

  2. Tap Storage.

  3. Tap Advanced.

    Navigating to advanced storage settings on Android.
  4. Under Portable storage, select your SD card.

  5. Tap Format.

  6. Tap Format SD card.

    Formatting an SD card on Android Device.

How to Reformat SD Card Using Windows

When you want to reformat an SD card to change the file system type, insert the SD card into your Windows computer and perform a high-level format.

Using a computer to format the SD card is faster than using the camera to format the SD card. However, camera formatting optimizes the file system for the camera.

  1. Insert the SD card into the SD card slot on your PC or laptop.

  2. Open Windows File Explorer.

  3. In the Folder pane, select This PC.

    In older versions of Windows, select My Computer.

    Selecting This PC in Windows.
  4. Select the SD card.

    The SD card is highlighted in Windows Explorer.
  5. Select Manage.

    Selecting Manage in Windows Explorer.
  6. Select Format.

    Formatting an SD card in Windows.
  7. In the Format SD Card dialog box, select the File System dropdown arrow and choose FAT32.

    format options for an SD card using Windows
  8. Either select the Quick Format checkbox if you’ve formatted the SD card before, or clear the Quick Format checkbox to format the SD Card for the first time.

    Selecting Quick Format.
  9. Select Start.

    Selecting Start.
  10. In the Warning dialog box, select OK.

  11. Select OK.

How to Format an SD Card on Mac

  1. Insert the SD card into the SD card slot.

  2. Open Finder.

  3. Click Go and choose Utilities.

    Selecting Utilities.
  4. Double-click Disk Utility.

    Opening Disk Utility.
  5. Select the SD card.

    Selecting the SD card.
  6. Click the Erase tab.

    Selecting Erase.
  7. Click the Format dropdown arrow and choose ExFat to format the SD Card so it works on Windows and Mac.

    Selecting ExFAT format.
  8. In the Erase dialog box, click Erase.

    Selecting Erase.
  • How do I move apps to an SD card?

    To move an app to an SD card on Android 7.0 and higher, open the device's Settings and go to Apps. Select the app > Storage > Change > SD Card.

  • How do I transfer photos to an SD card?

    To transfer files (including photos) to an SD card on Android 7.0 and higher, open the My Files app. Tap Internal Storage and find the files you want to move. Tap the three dots in the upper-right corner > Edit > select the files you want to transfer > tap the three dots > Move > SD card > Done.

  • How do you fix a corrupted SD card?

    In many cases, straightforward troubleshooting restores access to the card. To fix a corrupted SD card, reinsert the card, look for a lock switch, inspect the card for damage, or reformat it.

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