How to Recover Lost Files from a Memory Card

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Whether you’re a novice or veteran photographer, chances are you’ve experienced a moment of dread when you thought all of your precious photos were lost forever. Maybe you damaged a SD or CF card, or accidentally formatted a card before offloading your images. As long as your memory card can still be plugged in to, and recognized by your computer, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to salvage your photos, even if you did an accidental deletion. Sometimes you can achieve this all by yourself, and recover your lost files.

There are many programs and apps that can help you recover data from a memory card, but the one I’m going to introduce you to is SanDisk RescuePRO. Created by the same folks who produce trusty SanDisk memory cards, RescuePRO has in my experienced maintained the same reliability and quality that one can expect from SanDisk products. Their recovery program is straightforward, easy to use, and does a great job at recovering lost photos. So before you make an appointment with an IT professional, give this memory card recovery method a try.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

About SanDisk RescuePRO

RescuePRO is a downloadable, data recovery program available for Mac or Windows. Using proprietary media recovery algorithms, RescuePro will scan your memory card and display previews of any recoverable data such as photos (JPG and most RAW formats), video, and audio. The software will work with most brands of digital cameras and memory card types including; SD, SDHC, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, CDs, and DVDs.

There are two versions of RescuePRO, regular and deluxe, with the main difference other than price being in the extra formats of photos and video/audio that deluxe promises to recover. RescuePRO has a fee of $39.99 for the regular version and $59.99 for deluxe, but they do offer a free evaluation so you can verify if the program will work with your memory card before you purchase. Payment buys you a one year subscription, which must be renewed annually to continue using the service. But on the bright side, this is a small price to pay if you stand to recover important photos or videos.

How RescuePRO Works

1. After you buy a subscription, download the RescuePRO program to your desktop computer. Insert your memory card into your computer and launch RescuePRO. The below menu will pop up on your screen, and you’ll want to select the option that’s relevant to your needs: either Recover Photos, Recover Video/Audio, or Recover All Files.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

2. After you select your desired outcome, the below screen will prompt you to select the memory card in question. Be sure you have your memory card connected to the computer. Select your card and hit the green Start button.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

3. Now it’s time to sit tight and let the program do its thing. Feel free to pull up an Internet browser or Photoshop and multitask as you wait. Data recovery from your memory card can take a bit of time depending on how many files there are to be retrieved. In this particular instance, I had 927 files to recover from my CF card and it took about 30 minutes.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

4. When the program is done recovering data, it unfortunately doesn’t do a great job at alerting you. There’s no fanfare, but you’ll know the recovery process is done when you see the bottom portion of the screen filled with recovered files. To verify what content the program has recovered, click on each individual file name and a preview will appear. In this particular instance, the previewed images were showing up tinted in pink, but the actual recovered images were just fine without any distortions.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

5. Once you verify that your files have indeed been saved, it’s time to locate them on your computer. The great part about RescuePRO’s long recovery process is that it includes saving the files on your device automatically. As a result, all you have to do to find the desktop folder full of your recovered images is click on the giant Output Folder button. The program should then pull up a desktop window like the one below, showing you a folder full of recovered data. Also, notice in the preview below that the recovered image does indeed, not carry over the extra coloring that RescuePRO’s software assigned to it in the preview.

SanDisk Recovery PRO memory card recovery

There you have it; a relatively simple, low cost way, to potentially get back precious photos that you thought were lost. Either way, do yourself a favor and remember to always format your memory card in your camera (not your computer) after every use; doing this will keep your memory card up to speed, and lessen the chance of it becoming corrupt over time.

Since this is one of many options, let me know in the comments below if you have a preferred method or program for recovering lost images.

Read more from our Post Production category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • Mike

    I’d recommend Piriform’s Recuva or CGSecurity’s PhotoRec – both are free, easy to use, and do a great job recovering photos (or any deleted file) from a memory card (or any kind of disk). Both have a portable version that can be carried around on a thumb drive for quick recovery at, say, an internet cafe or hotel courtesy computer. Recuva is Windows-only; PhotoRec runs Windows, Mac, Linux and a few others.

  • cde

    Honestly, this is a completely unnecessary expense.

    You can use PhotoRec for free, on almost any operating system in current use, to recover just about any file format that exists.

    Get it from http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec

    Check what it can recover here http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/File_Formats_Recovered_By_PhotoRec

    Yes, the list includes RAW images. Formats supported: Canon .cr2 and .crw, Adobe’s widely-used .dng, plus proprietary formats from Nikon, Kodak, Sony, Minolta, Pentax, Sigma, Panasonic, Leica…

    Don’t waste your money. The price of the software in this article could go towards a spare memory card or a “big enough” portable hard drive.

  • cde

    Glad to see I’m not the only one thinking this – we were both fervently typing at the same time it seems! 🙂

  • Nizmo

    PhotoRec thumbs up or if you botched whole partition TestDisk from the same crowd

  • Michael O

    I agree. Although DPS is a great learning site, these articles about products are from the writers own experiences, and nothing else. There are many free recovery tools that do just as good a job as this, the same with the Photoshop/Lightroom plugins that get articles written about them.

    It’s where dps lets itself down imo.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    D810 is the worst, some Raw files are just half damaged..

  • Bruno Henrique

    “Recuva” mandou um abraço.

  • stavros55

    Can images be recovered from a mobile phone?

  • Thanks for sharing the resource! I didn’t know about PhotoRec. RescuePro was a recommendation from some of my fellow photographers when I was flipping out on Facebook about corrupting my memory card. It’s worked well the few times I’ve (sadly) had to use it and has to me been worth the annual expense, but I’ll definitely try a free resource. Thanks again!

  • Gary

    Photo Recovery what if you have formated memory card and your files were lost on a laptop that crashed and was reconfigure before you could back up raw files

  • lbrilliant

    In all memory devices, files are written in chunks called ‘sectors.’ Each sector that a file is written to contains an ID for that file. When you format a card (or hard drive) the camera/computer does not overwrite the file sectors, it only writes a ‘clean’ directory to the same sectors as the old one. So no files are lost, just organizational info. Software can reconstruct the files from the IDs but file info such as date taken and the true file name are lost. Once you start to put new photos on a card, the old file data is overwritten and previous contents lost. So this only works immediately after formatting the card. This is also true of a computer or laptop hard drive. Sorry, your files are probably gone forever. Remember: BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP!

  • Michael O

    If you see your phon under ‘my computer’ as like any other removable media inserted, then yeah you can run recovery software on it. (Not on it directly, I mean the software on your pc/Mac will search it).

  • Michael O

    What type of nonsensical comment is this choo? Is that all you do? Post crap?

  • Peter

    Hi All

    If you are in Australia and have a failed/unreadable Sandisk card with valuable images on it you can call a local Hard drive company called Payam. Call sandisk first for the warranty & then call Payam as they are able to disassemble the card & recover the data without voiding your Sandisk warranty. My sons CF card failed while on a Steam Train trip (single card in camera), all files recovered to his backup drive & a replacement new card sent out by Sandisk. Payam will give you documentation to support your Sandisk claim. For accidently deleted files or reformats some of the free programs will work, sometimes better to boot PC from a Linux CD as sometimes Windows won’t let you see the card or hard drive. And as Ibrilliant says BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP, hard drives are cheap but redoing a wedding!! or your holiday or even that trip down the coast would cost you more.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    That means you need the rescuePro for D810 than entry level camera..like D5100. Have u ever use D810?

  • Michael O

    What’s that got to do with anything? Storage on cards and their recovery has nothing to do with model of camera. :/

  • Gary

    Thanks lbriliant that is what I presumed!

  • All anyone can do is write from their own experiences. Our writers do their best to cover a variety of topics and options.

  • Try with this Data Recovery, it enables you to recover lost photos,
    videos, documents and more other files from Memory card
    http://t.co/IRVeusio2J

  • If the memory card is not recognized in the PC or it is impossible to access the data on it, the controller on the card is damaged. There is only one way to get the data back, digital media recovery and directly access their raw data with a programmable Recover Data Digital Media Recovery Tool.

  • Kumar

    I have a intex aqua 3G mobile. I click reboot option then sd card will be apeared as ‘Damaged sd card, try reformatting’. But it cannot format suggest me it is possible for recovery. I need all documents my memory card.

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  • Monica Bartels-Crable

    Julie Meridan,
    That is exactly my situation. The PC does not recongize the memory card at all. What tool do you recommend?

  • Monica Bartels-Crable

    I tried this and it says my PC does not support the software? Any suggestions??

  • cde

    Depends on your operating system – are you using Win/Mac/Linux, and what version? Also depending on your security settings (UAC on windows) you might have to run the program as an administrator.

  • Hi Monica,
    I would like to suggest you Recover Data for Digital Media Recovery Tool. With the help of this tool you can easily and comfortably recover your memory card data.

  • stephanic

    The avove article is great. It seems this product is set for giving out all its peers a
    tough competition. I have checked many free recovery software but found
    out paid Software are better. Even you can card data recovery which is also recovery software fro memory card.
    http://www.carddata-recovery.com/blog/recover-document-files-from-memory-card

  • Carlos Samey

    Very informative! Thanks for showing clearly how to recover deleted files from memory card. I’d also recommend Acethinker Disk Recovery which I have been using for many years. It can easily recover your lost photos for free. Works on computer, SD card, USB drive and many other devices. Share it here as an alternative to RescuePRO.

  • KC

    Many card vendors have a free basic recovery program, and they do work. But, test them out before you have to use one.

    I can go deep into the tech on this, but it’s a dull topic. Some cameras get a bit too aggressive with deleting files from a card, almost a high level format. That’s great for speed and efficiency, but makes recovery a bit more tricky.

    Try a few of these programs out. It’s a good thing to know how they work before you need to use them to solve a problem.

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