Formatting a CompactFlash card to 2 Gb for a camera

30th March 2009

I have a Nikon Coolpix 4500 camera, which I use for all my specimen photography, and which serves me really well. The lens is good, which means I can actually make use of those 4 megapixels, in stark contrast to all those 12 megapixel camaras which are used to take photographs so blurry that maybe 10% of the nominal resolution carries any actual information. You should get one.

I bought it a few years ago, when a 128 Mb CompactFlash card was pretty big, and indeed it holds a little over a hundred photographs. That's probably enough for a single session if you're photographing family holidays and suchlike. But when I spend all day down in some museum basement photographing sauropod vertebrae in poor light, I often fill up the card. So I have to take my laptop with me just so I can dump the camera onto it and start again -- sometimes two or more times in a day.

So last week I bought a new and much bigger CompactFlash card for the camera. At the moment, 4 Gb seems to be the best price/capacity tradeoff point: I got 32 times my old card's capacity for 10, and felt stupid for not having done it ages ago.

Then I felt stupid again when I found that it didn't work. I put the new card in the camera and turned it on; the camera noted that the card was not formatted and offered to format it for me; I agreed, and it did so ... and then it claimed it was out of memory.

Some poking around on Google showed what the problem was: the FAT16 filesystem that this camera uses is not capable of addressing more then 2 Gb. When formatting the card, the camera built a filesystem that it couldn't read!

The solution was to put a 2 Gb filesystem on the card instead, which I was able to do after a little experimentation, on my Linux box. Here's what to do.

Feedback to <mike@miketaylor.org.uk> is welcome!