How To Recover Photos From a Corrupt Memory Card

Compact Flash Memory CardAlthough there are ways to reduce the risk of memory card problems, you can never escape them completely.

Sooner or later, you’re going to come home from a wonderful day in the wilderness with a memory card loaded with great photos, but when you try to download those shots to your computer, your memory card will fail for whatever reason.

Well, when your memory card decides to stop cooperating with you, here are a few things you can try to save your photos:

#1 – Try another memory card reader

This should always be the first thing you try, because it will not affect the card itself in any way. Sometimes certain combinations of memory cards, readers, computers, and operating systems don’t work well together, so you may be able to save your photos by simply using another card reader, connecting your camera directly to your computer, or trying another computer.

Even if your memory card has always worked with your current configuration of computer, operating system, etc, you should still try this.

#2 – Skip over problematic images

Have you ever started downloading photos from your memory card and everything is going well until it gets to a specific photo, and then the download process just completely stalls?

Maybe you tried canceling it, then started the download over again, but it still stalled–at the same photo?

This is a common problem that, luckily, has a simple solution: manually copy all the photos before this “problem photo” and then manually copy all the photos after this problem photo.

Somehow when taking the photo, your camera corrupted this problem photo, so your reader will stall whenever you try to access it. Of course, you’ll end up losing this problem photo, but this is just another reason why you should always take lots and lots of photos :)

#3 – Try using recovery software

Many of the memory card manufacturers have their own software for recovering images, so check their website. Personally, I’ve had good success with Lexar’s recovery software (I was able to recover some hummingbird photos I shot).

You can also try one of these free programs, which seem to work well from the research I’ve done:

PhotoRec – works on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc), but not very user-friendly. You may want to get some help from one of your computer friends, or check out this tutorial.

EXIF Untrasher – only available for Mac, and only recovers photos you accidentally deleted (or if you accidentally formatted your memory card).

I haven’t used either of these programs, but I promise the next time I run into a corrupt memory card I’ll check these out and write a good report about my experience.

When you’re done, format the card and test it

Assuming your recovery succeeded, you should now reformat the card (while it’s in your camera), take a few shots, and try downloading these images to your computer. This process will just verify that your card is okay, and doesn’t have a serious problem that will linger on for your next photo trip.

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.

Comments

  1. Good information for John Q. Public Steve!

  2. Gloria Rose says:

    Thank you for the wonderful articles. I am so happy to receive them and you are very generous to share your knowledge. I find the information so interesting, it gives me insight so I am not just shooting pictures blindly but have a purpose. I have become a more responsible photographer. Hope you have much to be thankful for at Thanksgiving. Cheers, Gloria

  3. Thanks so much for your nice comment, Gloria! It’s comments like yours that make me want to continue this blog forever :) I’m so glad you’re finding the posts useful! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving as well!

    Steve

  4. Great advice, Steve. Thanks! I meet so many novices that only have one card and they shoot until it’s full. Memory is so cheap now there really isn’t a good excuse not to have 3 or 4 cards on hand at any given time.

  5. Thanks, Nothing worse than that feeling of oncoming panic. At least I know all may not be lost.

  6. Really a helpful post. I have a corrupt memory card, Will try to retrieve data from it.

  7. Great post and a great site! Thanks!

  8. Helpful tips indeed. I’ve had very few memory card problems, but during those rare occasions, Sandisk RecoveryPro software has always worked for me.

  9. hai sir,,,,,,,,,,,i recoverd some photo’s ….it’s shows in thumnail but didn’t show in preview please help me………………pls give the solution to my mail surya.surya.72@gmail.com

  10. Recovery software coun’t not support with my memery card that reason was memerycard ic problem then why do the get the images pls reply me

  11. Steve,

    yesterday I formatted a memory card after importing them onto my laptop. Too late I found out that the import had failed. All pictures seemed lost. So, I googeled, found tons of “find-your-pictures-for-free-but-pay-to-recover-them-tools”. Luckily, I then this website.

    I have tried Exif Untrasher and PhotoRec. The Exiv Untrasher did not work for me unfortunately, but PhotoRec did a marvellous job of recovering everything that went missing. PhotoRec is a semi-commandline tool. But what it lacks in terms of a nice interface in definitely makes up for by just painlessly recovering your pictures – and for free!

    I ran this on a Mac (10.8) and a 16GB SanDisk SD card. The recovered images were raw Nikon NEFs, but it also found tons of older jpegs.

    So, I strongly recommend giving PhotoRec a try should anybody ever run into a similar situation. Don’t be afraid of the command line!

    Thanks for posting this!

    PS: PhotoRec needs to know the file system of your card. At least for my Nikon D7000 it is FAT.

  12. Sweetiedianey says:

    hai sir,,,,,,,,,,,i recoverd some photo’s ….it’s shows in thumnail but didn’t show in preview please help me its seams its corrupted also im very sad coz more of our vication pictures with my family cant find it………………pls give the solution to my mail ortiguero_beyondlimits@yahoo.com

  13. There are dozens of recovery programs.
    I am using this one:

    http://tinyurl.com/njuwqm8

    and never had any issues.
    Problem is when you need to recover files, it is always urgent. People spend very little time googling and they often use program that actually makes things worse.

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