Few things are more terrifying than a corrupted or accidentally formatted memory card. When that recently happened to me, I hastily hopped on the Internet to find memory card recovery software. After several hours of searching, I came across an obscure but free tool, and a few hours later, all my images and videos were safely and securely transferred to my hard drive.
My girlfriend works as a marketing director, and part of her job involves taking shots of products and events for her company. Recently, she came home with an almost full 32 GB memory from an industry event, and while she was casually browsing through the photos and videos, I heard her exclaim: "oh no!" The card had been accidentally formatted and now showed nothing. Unfortunately, she was shooting with an 80D, so that one card slot meant there was no backup waiting to save the day.
I told her to turn off the camera and let me have the memory card, then hopped on to Google to find some memory card recovery software for my Mac. I found about five different applications and downloaded them all. Three found nothing on the card, one found about 100 images and videos, and one application managed to find all 3,000 images and videos. However, like most memory card software, every application would allow you to recover a small amount of data (normally between 500 MB and 1 GB) and would then charge you the full application price to recover the rest. In the case of the one application that found all the missing files, it would be $89. While this price is certainly worth it to some people who need this sort of utility more often, all my cameras have dual card slots, and it was such a random mistake that caused the files to be lost that I highly doubted I would need it more than once, so I set out to find any free software I could.
It turns out that there are a few options for Windows users, but I work exclusively on Macs, and thus, it seemed like I was stuck with paying. That was when I stumbled upon two applications called TestDisk and PhotoRec. TestDisk is a data recovery tool designed for lost partitions and non-bootable disks caused by bad software, viruses, or human error. PhotoRec is a companion app designed specifically for photo and video files.
PhotoRec specifically ignores the file system on whatever media it is examining, allowing it to still recover files even if the file system is badly damaged or has been reformatted. It can recover files from media formatted for FAT, NTFS, exFAT, ext2, ext3, ext4, HFS+, and others. It runs on DOS, Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. PhotoRec can recover over 480 different types of files, including every common raw file type and JPEGs.
The one drawback is that PhotoRec works only on command line; it does not have a graphical user interface. If you are not comfortable with computers, this might be a bit of an impediment, but that being said, the instructions in the command line interface are perfectly clear and the process is very straightforward. Furthermore, when it comes to a program I was hoping would save 30 GB of images that did not cost me a penny, the last thing I cared about was how good it looked in the process.
To begin, I simply extracted the PhotoRec/TestDisk folder and ran the PhotoRec application (you may have to allow unidentified applications in security preferences).
Next, PhotoRec will ask you what kind of file system the memory card has. Generally, you can select "other." Then, PhotoRec will ask if you want to scan unallocated space or the entire partition. I simply scanned the entire partition. Lastly, you simply select where you want the program to deposit any recovered files.
Once I set PhotoRec loose on the memory card, it took about three hours to run its magic. Lo and behold, it found and successfully recovered all 3,000 images and videos and neatly deposited them in the destination folder. It also provided a statistical breakdown of how many of each file type it recovered, making it easy to quickly see that it had gotten everything back. All in all, it was a tremendously straightforward and simple process, and it brought back every file that had gone missing. From there, I simply copied the recovered files onto a thumb drive and handed them off to my girlfriend.
One thing to note: I am currently running a beta version of MacOS Catalina, and it seems PhotoRec will not run on it, not without some extra tinkering, at least. It is not clear if it will run on the final version when it is released or if the application will need an update, but this is just something to be aware of.
What I Liked
- Powerful and effective
What I Didn't Like
- Not much. The lack of a graphical interface might be a drawback for some, but the text-based interface is very straightforward and easy to navigate.
PhotoRec is a great option for anyone who needs to recover files from a corrupted or formatted memory card; it worked both quickly and effectively for me. TestDisk and PhotoRec are donationware, so if you like them, please consider thanking the developer with a donation. You can download them here.