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Home arrow Photography Tips arrow Recovering Lost Image Files
Photography Tips For Recovering Lost Image Files
Photography Tip Courtesy Photo Review magazine

Although flash memory cards are, in general, sturdy and reliable, there are times when it becomes difficult for digital camera owners to retrieve images from their camera’s memory card because the card has been corrupted in some way or because they have accidentally deleted a wanted image.

Why files get lost
Most problems are caused when the card is ejected during writing or the battery fails during writing.  Other times the people accidentally delete or reformat their card. Although in some cases the damage caused by interrupting the writing process is temporary and the card can be restored to normal operability by reformatting it, permanent damage may result, making image files non-recoverable.

What can be recovered
In most – but, unfortunately not all – cases data can be recovered, sometimes even after a card has been formatted.

What you need
The basic tools of the trade for recovering images are fairly simple and include:

A six-in-one (multi-card) flash memory card reader connected to a PC or Mac computer (a PC is preferable as any PDA and image files are more easily recovered using Windows-based software).  This allows you to access any card. Note: a USB or Firewire reader is recommended because, although you may be able to access the card from the camera, you may not be able to use all recovery functions (see below).  Recommended operating systems are Windows 2000 and XP and Mac OS X 10.1.3.

Data recovery software (see list below).

Make sure you know what is on the card; how many files it contains and what type of  image file (JPEG, TIFF or RAW). Other data on the card (such as firmware updates or specific camera data) can be ignored.

Inserting the card in the reader should bring it up as an extra drive in the My Computer menu on a PC. When this happens, use the 'explore' function to find out what’s on the card. Some better quality readers will show files that the customer has been unable to access via their camera.
It is usually best to start by using your data recovery application to create an image of the card before progressing further. This is an option in some software offerings.

Then run the software in its default mode to discover what files are on the card. If the computer locks up during this stage, it is probably because the card suffers from physical damage and should be replaced. (See the “Care of Cards” guidelines attached so you know how to avoid damaging other cards.)

If you suspect there are files on the card that haven’t been revealed, select the “Graph the Input” option in the software (if available). This will give you a graphical display of what’s on the card. With Photorescue, a totally black screen means there’s no recoverable data on the card, while a striped green and black screen indicates either a driver or hardware failure that is preventing data from being read. A green screen shows the card contains data.

If your file recovery software can’t preview or recover any data you need to switch to using DOS or other hard disk utilities. The best approach is usually to run a simple chkdsk (via DOS), treating the card as a normal IDE hard disk with FAT partition. If all these attempts to recover the files fail, the data is lost!  Reformat the card using a FAT partition (512 byte sectors), not FAT32.

An alternative approach
While a data recovery application will normally make file recovery easy and straightforward, it’s not the only option available. You may prefer to recover “lost” files by using your computer’s disk utilities or chkdsk directly. In many cases, this will be as successful. 

Reformat failure
If all of the above strategies have been tried, and reformatting in the camera also fails, then it is likely to be a hardware related problem caused during a writing cycle. This normally happens when the camera is repeatedly powered down during writing phases.
Wait until image data has been saved before turning the power switch on the digital camera off.

File Recovery Software

Datarescue’s Photorescue file recovery software is available for both PC and Mac operating systems and can be purchased online from datarescue.com for around $50. An evaluation version can be downloaded from the site so you can try it out before you buy (Note: it won’t allow you to save recovered image files).

File Rescue Plus has developed for Windows PCs and runs on all operating systems from Windows 95 onwards. It can recover files from all types of media, including hard disks, digital cameras, floppy, Zip & Jaz drives and flash memory cards. Selling for $US29.95 it's available from softwareshelf.com

Lexar Media’s Image Rescue software is designed to let users recover image files from Lexar Media USB-Enabled CompactFlash memory cards. It can be used with both Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP and Mac OS X computers. Details are available from digitalfilm.com or local distributor, Maxwell Optical Industries. Phone: 02 9390 0200 or visit maxwell.com.au

Photorecovery for Digital Media is a Windows-only application that used to be available as freeware but now sells for between $US39.95 and $49.95 (depending on how you purchase it). A trial download and further product detaisl are available at lc-tech.com

Care of Cards
Digital “film” (in other words a camera memory card) is expensive to replace so it’s worthwhile knowing how to look after your card so you can get the most out of it in terms of longevity and reliable operation.
To get the best from your flash memory card, always:

Use the correct memory card for the camera and follow the manufacturer’s insertion instructions. Cards should slip in neatly if they are correctly orientated. Never force a card into a slot. Note: a few recently-released digital cameras can accept two different types of cards, giving you a choice as to what to buy. Most such cameras let you transfer files from one card to the other.

Make sure the connectors are properly engaged when inserting the card in its slot before closing the card door (you may need to check that the card lifting tab is right down first!).

Make sure the card slot cover is properly closed before turning the camera on. Some cameras provide a warning beep if users attempt to switch the power on while the card slot door is ajar.

Never open the card door while the camera is writing data to the card. Some cameras have indicator lights that come on while this happening; others blank out the LED monitor. If you stop data writing too soon, you’ll corrupt the image files and may permanently damage the card.

Look after your cards. Although fairly robust, they can be damaged by incorrect handling. Keep cards in a dust- and moisture-free container and away from direct sunlight and heat sources when they’re not in use. Dust and moisture can affect connections between the card and the camera, preventing data from being transferred properly.

Format cards before use and whenever you experience data transfer problems. Note: this will erase ALL data on the card and should therefore only be done when necessary.
 
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