How to Recover Photos From a Compact Flash Card

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How to Recover Photos From a Compact Flash Card

For those who enjoy digital photography, there are few things worse than a message warning that data saved to a compact flash (CF) card has been lost or corrupted. The prospect of losing dozens, if not hundreds, of shots can cause any photographer to panic. However, for those who are confronted with this problem, there is still hope. It is entirely possible to recover data from a corrupted CF card and thereby save photos or video which might have been thought lost.


Staying Calm

It is important to remain calm; if the user starts to panic and randomly click different options, it is likely that the data saved to the CF card will suffer greater damage and may be unsalvageable. The first thing for the user to try is to simply remove the CF card and put in a different camera. This may seem like a long shot, but it is possible that the images may still be readable on a different camera, thus offering some measure of reassurance. Regardless, the card should not be used again until a computer can effectively read it.


In Front of the Computer

At this point, the user should try to insert the card into a USB reader and open the card in a normal manner. It is likely that the computer will not be able to recognise the card and will ask if the user would like to format the card. The card absolutely should not be formatted, as this will make data recovery impossible.

Avoiding Formatting

When a card becomes corrupted, the data is still saved to the card. It is the file system used to organise the images and present them in an order readable by the computer which has failed. The computer, unable to find any recognisable file format on the card, will simply regard it as unreadable, even though the data itself is still intact. Reformatting can completely alter the specifications on the files, rendering them unreadable.

Back Up the Data Before Accessing It

After maintaining the original formatting on the CF, the user will need a freeware program known as 'DD by DataRescue'. This is a program designed specifically to recover data from corrupted storage devices, including CF cards, and different versions are available dependent on which operating system the user runs on his computer, such as Windows, Mac iOS, or Linux. The program works by essentially making a perfect copy of all of the data on the storage device and saving it to a single file. This provides a perfect duplicate of the original files as a backup.


The Real Work: Photo Recovery

The next thing that the user needs to do is to download a photo recovery program. As with the data backup, he has the option of using one of several different freeware or paid services, and while the programs for which he must pay tend to be of better quality, 'Digital Image Recovery' by Zero Assumption Recovery is a popular freeware option. However, as most paid programs will also offer a free trial, it is possible to try a range of different options so the user might find the program which is best tailored toward his personal preference. It is important to note that many of the free trials will recover and allow the user to view photos but must be purchased before the photos can actually be saved.

What the recovery program does is analyse all of the data saved to the card and reassemble all of the files, piece by piece, using a series of algorithms. The computer reviews the data in parallel and, when it finds something it believes is an image, it will ask if the user wishes to recover the file. This process can take a while, as a single card can hold quite a lot of data. The larger the number of gigabytes a card can hold, the more images it can store.

The more data filling the card, the longer it takes to approve the recovery. A user should plan to work for several hours to go through the files. Recovered files can be saved directly to the computer desktop.


How to Buy a CF Card on eBay

When shopping for a CF card on eBay, consider your specific needs. How much data will you store? If you plan to take professional-quality photos with a digital camera using a lossless raw format, a higher capacity card is recommended. However, if you are just an amateur or a hobbyist and work with compressed JPEG files, a relatively small card is adequate. Begin your search with terms such as 'compact flash card' or '64-GB CF card to quickly narrow down your search, and you'll be on your way to storing precious memories.

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