How to Unlock an SD Card that’s Write Protected

If your camera is showing an error that the SD card is write protected or locked, there’s usually a very simple solution. Here’s how.

SD Card Write Protected Locked
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If your camera is showing an error that the SD card is write protected or locked, there’s usually a very simple fix.

TL;DR: How to Unlock a Write Protected SD Card

  1. Locate the small switch on the side of the SD card
  2. Slide the switch up towards the end with the notch to unlock it. (You can also slide the card down to lock it.)

Write Protecting with the SD Card Lock

SD cards have a switch lock on them. When it’s engaged, you won’t be able to modify or delete the contents of the card. And when you insert the card you’ll probably get an error message from your camera saying something along the lines that it can’t write to the SD card or that the SD card is locked. More than once I’ve been traveling with people who have been thrown into a minor panic when they realize that they won’t be able to take any more photos of their trip. Thankfully, it’s often quick and easy to solve.

SD Card Memory Card Locked Error

It’s not always obvious and is easy to overlook, but many SD cards have a tiny switch lock on the side. It’s there in case you want to prevent data from being written onto the card or accidentally deletion of images or videos. Unlike some types of file protection, this one locks the entire card–it’s not doing it on an individual file or folder basis. Many users will never intentionally use the lock, bbt it’s surprisingly easy to unintentionally use it just in normal handling of the card, such as removing the card from the camera or inserting it into the slot. A little knock or nudge can engage it.

If you run into the problem of a write protected SD card, look for the small sliding switch on the side. If that has inadvertently been moved down towards the bottom of the card, it will lock the card. This is what it looks like when it’s locked:

SD Card Write Protected Locked
This is locked.

To unlock the card, slide that switch up all the way towards the top of the card–that is, the end with the corner notch. This is what it looks like when the SD card is unlocked:

SD Card Write Protected Unlocked
This is unlocked.

The switch isn’t complicated or sophisticated and relies on friction to stay in place. But it’s quite possible for it to loosen so that it switches from unlocked to locked too easily when you’re insert the SD card into your camera or card reader. If you’re finding that happening often, it’s probably time to look at replacing the card. In that case, you can, of course, just buy a new one. But it’s also worth investigating whether the manufacturer will cover it under warranty–many SD cards come with warranties of several years or maybe even the product’s lifetime–and it’s possible they might consider it a covered issue.

Write Protected microSD Card

The larger SD cards have the write protection switch. MicroSD cards don’t have it.

But there is a case where you can run into this same issue with the switch. If you’re using a microSD to SD adapter cartridge, those also have a write protection switch. They work the same way as on a full-sized SD card.

If That Doesn’t Work

If the locking switch isn’t the culprit, there are some other ways that the data on SD cards can be locked. They’re much less likely to happen by accident, but it’s still possible.

One thing to check is whether your camera has locked the image or images as read-only. It’s a safety precaution that some cameras have that safeguards specific images from deletion. Most cameras will only let you do this by selecting files individually rather than as a blanket setting. The process for unprotecting images varies by camera, but look for some kind of “protected images” option or folder. Some cameras will also make a distinction between deleting an SD card (which might wipe everything except protected images) and formatting (which will wipe all data on the card).

As a technical matter, it is possible to write protect the data on SD cards in other ways, but that’s not something that is easy to do accidentally or that you’re likely to run into in day-to-day use when using the card in a camera. Like other computer storage, you can use a computer to change file permissions or lock the files or folders to make them read-only, but that’s something you’ll have to proactively do–it’s not something that’s likely to happen by accident. If you’re running in to this issue, here’s a pretty comprehensive rundown of various scripts, commands, and software tools that can help.

David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

15 thoughts on “How to Unlock an SD Card that’s Write Protected”

  1. I’m having an issue with a padlock icon showing up in my folders on Adobe Bridge. I’ve opened explorer and gone through the properties, unchecked “read-only” (which I don’t know why it switched randomly to that) and hit apply. Scanned everything after I hit Ignore All on some files that aren’t even on the SD card. I go back into properties and it’s checked again.

    This all started when culling the images through Bridge, I noticed the rating and labeling weren’t working. I did however notice that on previous images that were already edited – it worked. Which brought me to the whole open explorer – properties – read only – etc. I have no idea what to do, as I can’t find anything similar on google or YouTube. The images were shot on a Sony a6000 and the SD card is a SanDisk 128GB Ultra 80MB if that has anything to do with it.

    I’m SO stuck and have no idea what to do!

  2. Hoping you can advise! I have a 64GB ‘Rugged’ SD card. The small black switch is missing and shows as being Protected when in my DC TZ90. Is there any when around this? TIA Reg

    • When you say “missing”, do you mean that it’s broken off or that it never had one? Some cards don’t have one. If it’s broken off, sounds like it’s time for a new card. If it was designed without one, the first thing I’d try is formatting it a computer (assuming you’ve downloaded the images off it first) using the SD Card Formatter App. If that works, you can try formatting in your camera again. If that works, you should be good to go. If it won’t reformat in either step, it seems time for a new card.

  3. If someone ave problem with microsd locker you can use buying with similar size and do a clone section by section with whatever partition tool i use AOEMI partition tools greetings and good luck

  4. I made sure the switch is in the up position and — no luck. It says Memory Card Error. I purchased a new card and still says Memory Card Error. I can’t access the Format function so ????? I don’t know where to go from here. Hope you can help. Camera is a Canon SD630. Thanks.

    • I haven’t used that camera, and it could be a few things, but the first that comes to mind is that you might be using a newer card that exceeds the capabilities of that camera (I believe it’s a circa-2006 model?). The manual and specs are light on details but only mention SD cards. Usually if they support the newer and larger SDHC and SDXC cards they specify that (here larger refers to storage capacity, not physical size). So if you’re putting in a 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB card, for example, the camera might not be able to deal with it because those are technically SDHC and SDXC cards. It’s quite possible that camera can only support true SD spec cards, which are below 4GB in storage size, such as this one. Without having it front of me to try, I’m mostly guessing, but that would be my top guess. It’s possible to have two faulty memory cards in a row, but the odds on that are pretty long. Or it could be a problem in the camera’s memory card slot or firmware.

      • OK- thanks,. Yes, it had an 8GB card which worked well. I had taken that card and put it in my wildlife camera (I’m not a hunter-just love seeing what’s out behind the garage) and then put it back in the camera. Perhaps I changed something unknowingly and now can’t get it back. You’re probably right, I probably messed up something internally in the camera. The new card I purchased is a 16 GB so maybe that’s the problem. I’ll keep trying to figure it our. Still love the camera. Thanks for your help. Brian

    • I had a problem with my card though unlocked saying, its locked. I moved the lock button almost to the middle way & that allowed me to format my sd card . Im using
      a Sandisk Ultra 64GB class 10 Sd card & , my camera is Nikon D7000.
      Hope that helps .

  5. I am having that challenge, I shared my SD card with My friend while in the,since then it can read in the computer but when you try inserting it in Camera,it indicates Right protected. I am so confused. It’s a 32gb card.
    Please help me

  6. Sometimes the write protect error comes from a pin being out of place on the device. This video shows how to fix this error:


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