Thursday, May 24, 2007

Recovering Deleted and Formatted Photos from CompactFlash and other Camera Cards

Last week my neigbour accidently pressed the format button on her camera. After all, format usually means something quite different in non-computing language. To her horror, her camera quickly counted up percentages and then responded with "Card is Empty". She had not backed up any of her photos and was quite upset because the manual said that they were gone forever.

Now I had heard that it was possible to unerase files on these cards, but I wasn't so sure about formatting but I tried a few things and presto.. well, actually quite a while later because recovery of over 1000 images took almost 3 hours, the photos came back.

Here's how to do it...

A Few Important Notes

1. Get yourself a card reader.
This is really important, Stop connecting your camera to your computer. Those USB cables carry POWER as well as data. You don't really want to be putting power in places where you camera doesn't expect it do you? The USB card readers are about $20 these days and well worth it for the time they save (much faster via the card than via the camera). Also, you can't perform these recovery steps with the camera.

2. Delete Less and Archive More
NEVER Delete photos that you want to keep, even if you've already printed them. Set up a place on your hard drive where you can store these photos and save them there regularly. You should also burn them to non-erasable media such as CD-R, on a regular basis.

You should try not to delete any photos, even those horrid blurry ones unless you have to. It's best to start deleting from End to End (ie: Fill the card with 800 photos then delete the first 100 to make room, or copy the whole lot elsewhere and reformat the card). Deleting files in the middle tends to reduce the recoverability chances.

Ok Now onto Recovery.

1. Obtain and install this fantastic software - it's free and it's easy to use.
Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery

2. Run the Software and Select Digital Camera Card (the card needs to be in a card reader and addressable as a drive letter).

3. Wait - There's three passes;
a A Detect Data Pass, which looks at the entire card and locates all "used" blocks of data. This looks pretty much like the defragmentation screens of yesteryear.

b. A Locate Photos phase, where I think the software looks at the blocks of data and tries to identify headers for pictures.
c. A recovery phase, where the software starts creating files.

I'd suggest that you DONT restore to your camera card - instead, you should restore to an alternative location such as your hard drive.

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