The “No Memory Card” Gotcha

The Problem

A while back I had mentioned to a friend about how dangerous I thought it was that Nikon and Canon were selling cameras with the ability to shoot images without any memory card in the camera. Not only that, but the cameras will display a picture on the LCD because the image is actually stored in the buffer. I realize that one of the reasons they do this is for people to test the camera and demonstrate the cameras functionality. What I really don’t understand is why the cameras are set this was as a default.

Canon is actually much better at alerting you to the No Card status by showing a large banner across the LCD when there has been a photo taken without a card.

Nikon, on the other hand, just puts a little Demo icon in the upper left-hand corner of the LCD which is easily missed if you are shooting up a storm.

The other difference is that Nikon allows you to go back and look at previous images as well as changing the display properties to see the histogram, highlight warnings, and other usual information that you might review when out shooting.  This can further fool you into thinking that you are looking at images that are stored on a card, not in the camera buffer.  Canon does not allow you to review more than the image that was just taken.  Also, once it is gone from the LCD, there is no calling it back up by pressing the Image Display button.

The Solution

Turning off this little annoying feature can be easy or challenging, depending on which camera system you are using.  For you Canon users out there, just turn on your menu and look to the first Menu screen to the left.  Look for the Shoot w/o memory card option and set it to Off.

For Nikon D3 and D300 users, it’s a little bit harder to find the setting.  First, open the menu and the scroll to the Custom Settings menu (it is the one that has the pencil icon).  Then scroll to F menu labeled Controls.

Then choose the No memory card? setting.

Then select LOCK Release locked and press the OK button.

This will keep the camera from firing without a memory card.

I know this sounds like a silly little thing but there is no worse feeling than discovering that you wasted a day of shooting and came home with nothing.  Much like my friend that returned from a shoot and asked me how to turn off that stupid function.  It seems as though she had spent the day shooting without her card.


  1. I knew that was going to be a problem when I got my Nikon. I had a friend shoot almost 50 images before he realized that he hadn’t put FILM in his camera. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake, so that was the very first custom setting I adjusted.

    The default should disallow and only by editing the setting should it be enabled, in my opinion.

  2. I’m guessing that one of the reasons Canon and Nikon have the configuration defaulting to allow photos to be taken with out a memory card is to ensure that prospective buyers can take photos in camera stores without having a memory card in the camera.

    This was one of the first settings I changed when I buy a new DSLR, as I would hate to be in a situation where I was inadvertently taking photos without a memory card in the camera!

  3. Never, ever have I picked up a camera and started shooting without looking to see if a card was inserted. Just looking at the LCD, there is a big “E” meaning that no card is present, even when the camera is turned off.

    There are a couple of lines in the users manaul, on the first page no less, that reads “Read this manual thoroughly before use, and keep it handy when using this product. Please be sure to read all instructions thoroughly to get the most from the camera.”

    They even ask politely!

  4. I think the point is well taken, but no need to bash the camera companies for this one, since in fact the option to lock the camera when o card present is there. *But* good that you alerted people to this. I got burned on this on the original Canon D30 many years ago, but Canon then put in the option on later models.

  5. Just to make clear, I don’t necessarily think the feature is stupid but I do disagree with setting it as a default setting.

  6. Although basic stuff, I’m this info sure will prove valuable to many of your readers. Let me also mention, great job on the photos showing the camera screens. How many strobes and what kind of modifiers?

    Alan B.

  7. This is weird – back when there was actual film in the camera we would look at the top to see the number of exposures left. Now that we’re digital we can’t notice the -E- at the top to let us know that we don’t have a card inserted? (Speaking from a Nikon perspective, I don’t know what Canon does)

    I always look for the -E- on my display. If I have anything other than that I can work with it (delete images, shoot jpeg, etc) but if I’m at -E- then I know I’m screwed. It’s a quick check before heading out the door.

    How did going to digital change this?

    Agreed – change the default setting to make it NOT take a picture and toss in a 128MB (or whatever’s cheaper) for the camera store display models. But, isn’t this the way it was with film? I remember shooting without film… good days.

  8. Thanks Alan,
    My lighting setup was pretty basic. I used one Nikon SB-800 shooting through a white Westcott diffusion panel that was placed to the front right of the camera. I used a second flash, an SB600, with a dome modifier that was placed to the front left of the camera being photographed. I controlled the whole thing from the built in flash on a Nikon D300. I had the main flash set to +1 and the fill (SB600) set to -1 1/3. I shot on a white paper surface with a white fabric background. I then took the shots into Lightroom, adjusted the exposure for the camera, opened the image in Photoshop, used Fluid Mask to knock out the camera and put it on a new background. I added a gradient to the background and a little shadow for the camera and presto, a nice little product shot.

  9. Mike Nelson Pedde says:

    Reminds me of a day back about 26 years ago when I made some absolutely fantastic images of a white-tailed deer doe, several songbirds, etc. and realized about 3:00 p.m. I was shooting without film in the camera. No warning for that one…


  10. I can’t speak to the other Nikon models, but the D90 ships with the “No Memory Card?” setting at “Release locked” by default – if you want to shoot that camera without a card, you have to go to the effort of setting that up yourself.

  11. Thanks a lot! 😉

  12. Brandon Lunday says:

    Thanks alot Nikon for something I had no use for unless I was in the store looking at buying your camera. Canons looking pretty good right now except they have the same feature.
    I was shooting a patient in a hospital and actually showed them the photos when I was done. Now they will have to come back so I can shoot again. I have never heard of this until now.

  13. Controls > F8 “Slot empty release lock” needs to be locked for D7000 to prevent demo shots. Super cryptic. 🙁

  14. OMG_is there no way to retrieve photos when you forgot to insert memory card?

    • photowalkpro says:

      No Donna, there is no way to download because the buffer isn’t really meant to store images. Once you take another picture or turn off the camera the picture is gone.


  1. […] Revell (from did a nice piece recently called “The No Memory Card Gotcha,” and he used photos of both Canon and Nikon cameras in the piece. I remember thinking, “Man, […]

  2. […] ¶One thing you can do with your DSLR (probably) is you can actually fire the shutter without having a memory card in the camera. And you can generally do it over and over thinking you have a card in place. The camera holds the image in its buffer long enough for you to see the image on the back of the camera. Fortunately, most camera makers give you little clues that you don’t have the card in place. Hopefully this will keep you from making a very large mistake. Jeff Revell walks you through the process of locking yourself out if you don’t have a card in place. […]

  3. […] PhotoWalkPro has a warning about the “No Memory Card” Gotcha. […]

Speak Your Mind