Rescuing data from defective flash cards


If you’ve ever lost all your images of a memory card, due to failure, or by accidentally formatting it, you know how horrible it is. Back in the day, when you lose a roll of film to an accident, at least you can console yourself that you only lost up to 36 photos. Now, if you lose a large memorycard, you can lose hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos. Not very nice.

Luckily, your memory card is likely to not lose all of the images, even if some were to become erased or corrupted… 


If you have an accident where you believe you may have lost some images, do the following:

  1. Don’t use the memory card any more. Don’t take any photos. Don’t try to format it. Don’t do anything that might write to the card.
  2. Take it out of the camera.
  3. Insert your memory card into a card reader
  4. Rescue your images!

Of course, the rescuing bit is the most tricky. Luckily, there are lots of services and software out there that can help.

If you use Linux, you could go the hardcore, manual way of recovering your photos, using Sleuthkit. If you don’t feel that confident or hardcore, Lexar bundles an application with its memory cards called ImageRescue. If you don’t have this piece of software (it’s for both Windows and OS X), it’s worth buying a Lexar memory card just for the software. Alternatively, you could buy it online for $30. A cheap price to pay, if you ask me, for a piece of software that could save your irreplacable photos.

Of course, there are loads of other software out there. I haven’t tried anything but Lexar’s software (why would I? It works :), but I’ve heard good things about CardRecovery ( (£22.80, US$39.95), Media Recover (US$30), and Photos Recover (US$30) PhotoOne Recover ($25) as well.

When you have recovered your photos, I would suggest testing the memory card thoroughly. If it never fails again, it may have been a freak one-off accident. If it ever does it again, take it back to the store you purchased it, and demand a replacement. Don’t jeopardise your cherished memories.


If your pictures are a matter of life and death

If your photos are so important to you that they cannot possibly be replaced, it may be worth getting professionals involved. Professional data recovery services cost an arm and both legs, but these guys really know what they are doing – using clean-rooms, and disassembling the memory card for you, if necessary, to ensure they can recover as much of the data as possible. There is a lot of variation between the success rates of professional services, so ring around and don’t commit until you are sure you have a service you trust. There are dozens of big data recovery firms around, and I’ve never used any, so I’d be hesitant to recommend anybody, but a quick search for Data Recovery in Google should bring up the companies relevant to your area.

Good luck!

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