Recovering lost images from a flash card

There are a lot of expensive recovery methods to restore images off of a camera’s flash card and they all work (in their own way).  However, this is really not something you need to be paying for, unless there is something horribly wrong with the card (physically damaged or very very old).

There are many situations that can cause a card, or even a portion of a card, to become unreadable.  Some of which are:

  • Corrupt block written to the directory.
  • Camera corrupted a single image.

There are many schools of thought as to the reasoning behind any corruption, but the general rule of thumb (aka: “Best Practice”) is to never delete individual images from the card.  There is the temptation, while taking pictures (and the card is in the camera), to delete a bad  (blurry, shot of the floor, etc) image from the card in order to regain that space.  Resist that temptation!  Cameras are good at taking pictures and storing them.  If you delete an image, you are now freeing up previously written blocks in the middle of a section of used blocks.  You an now asking the camera to do block-level file management.  Don’t do it.  Leave those bad images there, and, when you are ready, copy the entire card locally to your machine.  Then, delete the bad images from your local copy, and when you need to re-use the card, reformat the card.

Directory corruption is the one that usually causes the most panic, since the symptom is that you cannot access any of the contents of the card.  Don’t give up and simply reformat the card!!  This is actually an easy one to get out of.

Use the Windows tool called Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery.  I have attached the free standalone verion (Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery) of their image recovery tool here, but it looks like they have now integrated it in to their ZAR 8.0 tool, which does a heck of a lot more.  ZAR 8.0 is not free, but the digital image recovery portion of ZAR 8.0 is.

I have had a lot of success with the free standalone tool and see no reason to use anything else.  Feel free to give it a try.  Your mileage may vary.

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