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Wise Tech Tips

Recover Photos from a Corrupted Memory Card

By James Wise
web posted August 24, 2009
WISE TECH TIPS – A digital camera is a great thing to have. You can take lots of photos without having to purchase and deal with film. You can use your photos in a variety of ways including printing them, showing them on your computer, TV, or digital picture frame, sharing them with friends and family over the Internet, etc… You can also edit pictures and delete pictures you may not want. While digital photos are generally very reliable and trouble free, there are some times when disaster strikes. If you have a problem with your memory card OR accidently delete pictures off of it, today’s tip could be a real lifesaver.

Recently, a reader wrote in with a problem. She had over 1000 pictures on her camera’s memory card and was in the process of deleting some of them when her camera suddenly froze and then gave a “memory card error.” At that point, she tried reading the card from her computer but it couldn’t open the card. She took her card to a local camera shop and they tried to recover her images but were unable to do so. She asked if I might have some suggestions.

I had a similar incident myself several years ago when my family and I visited Disney World. We had taken a number of pictures and then suddenly our camera stopped working. We had a lot of pictures from that trip that we almost lost.

First, let me offer some advice for minimizing risk. I would suggest that when practical, you copy all the images from your card to your computer. I personally do that just about every time I come back home after taking pictures. You should also have a backup in place for that computer (if you need some advice on a backup, see http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips062209.html). If you are going to be taking a lot of pictures and won’t be able to copy them to a computer very often, then you might want to consider using a number of smaller memory cards instead of one very large card.

Still, accidents happen. A card could fail or you could mistakenly delete a photo. As this reader tried, one option might be to take your card to a photo shop. Photo shops might have software or tools that could help. Another option (and the one that worked for this reader) was a free software program called “Zero Assumption Recovery.”

You can read about the program and download it from: http://www.z-a-recovery.com/digital-image-recovery.htm. Simply install it like any other program. To recover images off a card, use the following steps:
1)    Insert your card into a card reader connected to your computer (just as you would to copy the pictures off the card)
2)    Run the ZAR program (start, all programs, ZAR, Zero Assumption Recovery)
3)    Click Close for the anti-virus warning (if you have problems with the program, you might want to TEMPORARILY disable your anti-virus software)
4)    Click Next
5)    Select “Reconstruct images from the digital memory card” and click Next
6)    Click the disk in question (the memory card) and click Next. The program will analyze the card. This step could take a few minutes or even more than one hour but be patient.

When the scan is completed, you’ll see a list of all the pictures the program was able to find. If you click on a picture, a preview window is shown. Select the pictures you would like to recover by clicking the check box in front of the file name. To recover ALL the found images, click the “ROOT” box. Click Next.

7)    Enter the location where you want the recovered files saved (type the directory in or use the “…” button to select it) and click Start copying the selected files.
8)    Click Exit when the process is complete

There are many other programs like this. In fact, the program I used previously with my own card trouble was a different one called Photo Rescue (http://www.datarescue.com/photorescue/v3/index.htm). You can download that program for free and try it to see if it will recover your pictures but you must pay for it ($30) to actually complete the recovery process. Personally, that cost was worth it to me and it did a good job. However, that program didn’t work for this reader’s card and that’s when I found ZAR. My point here is that there are a number of different programs available so if one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up because there are other options.

After you have verified that you have all your pictures, you can try formatting the card. I would generally suggest doing this by placing it in the camera and using the camera’s format option. In most cases, I believe that this will allow the card to work again for future pictures. However, be cautious, especially at first. I would take a few test pictures and make sure you can get them off the card just to be sure.

Another lesson to learn from this is that just because you delete a file, that doesn’t mean it’s really gone. That can be helpful for accidental deletion but it’s something to remember if you really want to get rid of a file (like if you are donating an old computer to someone). You might think of the delete button like this: “Don’t show me this file anymore and the place on the disk where it was can be overwritten as needed”. Until the place where that file was has been overwritten by something though, the old file is actually still there for programs that know where to look. In a future tip, we will discuss how to make sure a file is really gone.

If you have any questions or problems, just send me an email (edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com) and I’ll do my best to help. I’m also more than happy to try recovering photos myself for any readers.

For all past articles please visit our Archives

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