We’ve all bought the lesser brand before, saving money on various items like cheap CDs and DVDs, or inexpensive headphones, no frills lollies, and the home brand milk. But one area you shouldn’t cut down on costs is memory for your digital camera.

Last weekend, a friend of the family dropped by after their trip to Europe and said their memory card didn’t work. The story they recanted basically went along the lines of this:

They had been on vacation, snapping photos here and there on their new digital camera, and after filling the card, they wanted to take the images off and upload them to a computer or tablet.

Back at the hotel, there was a problem, with the card reader reporting that there was nothing on the memory. Two thousand images gone, just like that.

They took the card out of the reader and put it back in, but still nothing, resigning themselves to the fact that the images may be lost forever, and waiting until they returned to Australia where a person familiar with fixing tech problems could take a look at the problem.

Any memory card can fail, but you can usually expect it from brands you've never heard of.

So why did this happen?

There are lots of reasons why memory cards can fail, with some of them stemming from quick removal of cards, poorly made card readers, and even low grade memory used in the production of cheaper cards. Ultimately, you should back up the images as soon as you can, not leaving the card to be the sole place where the pictures reside.

Unfortunately, quite a few of these cards come from brands with little or no history in the storage space, grabbing excess memory wafer and producing them at a cost to try to undercut the big names.

“Brands are able to offer these products at a discount because they generally do not provide the support that the major brands do,” said Richard Clarke, Sales Manager for Lexar Media in the Australia and New Zealand region.

“We’re not about to put anything but the best components in our drives and cards, and are very passionate about being able to produce world leading products on an ongoing basis.”

Without a support mechanism, you may find it next to impossible to recover images on a decaying card, with no software provided by the company you bought the card from.

But it’s more than just poor support that can stop a card from surviving, with memory testing going on at the major manufacturers.

“SanDisk conducts rigorous testing on its products,” said SanDisk’s George Saad, Country Manager for SanDisk ANZ. “The cards are waterproof, temperature proof, X-Ray proof, and shock and vibration proof.”

If your card hasn’t been tested for these conditions, it’s possible that moisture, cold, or excess shock could have killed the card, causing the memory to weaken and your images to disappear.

So the obvious question is once it’s happened, how do you fix it?

The first thing you need to do is stop using the card. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not under any circumstances write more information to the card.

Take it out, place it somewhere safe (like the case it came in), and don’t use it until you’re near a computer.

You'll want to use a card reader when you're trying to salvage a card.

When you eventually get to a Windows or Mac computer that you can use for a long period of time, grab a card reader and plug it in. If your computer doesn’t recognise the card, ignore it. Don’t format or write anything to the card, and instead, find some software that can actually assist you by scanning beyond the surface of the memory.

Lexar’s own tool “Image Rescue” is one such option, offering a trial for both its Windows and Mac versions of the software, and even including a license for the application with some of its memory cards.

Other applications may do a better job depending on what has happened, with success found in free tools from PC Inspector and Zero Assumption Recovery, or paid apps Recuva and CardRecovery.

The downside of having memory die is that there’s no guarantee available here, and no sure fire way for someone to say “yes, we can save the photos on your card”. You just have to run the apps and hope for the best.