Recover Deleted Photos from Your Digital Camera's Memory Card

by Tom Harrison in photography

Accidentally deleted photos? There’s a chance you can get them back. Stop now, but that memory card away, and try one of these image recovery programs when you get back to a computer.

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I accidentally deleted the photos that were stored on my digital camera’s memory card before I got a chance to import them. Is there any way to get them back?

There is a chance that you will be able to get back some or all of your digital photos. At the time you realize pictures may have been lost, stop using the memory card and tuck it away for safe keeping. Don’t use it to snap any more shots.

Contents

We’ve got three options here: two for Windows and one for Mac.

Windows: PC Inspector Smart Recovery

Quick Internet searches will reveal a tremendous number of programs that advertise lost data recovery, and most of them cost between $25 – $40. Thankfully, the folks at CONVAR have a program called PC Inspector Smart Recovery that does the very same job for free. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Download and install PC Inspector Smart Recovery.
  2. With the memory card inserted, connect your digital camera to your computer. Under “My Computer”, note the drive letter assigned to your camera’s memory card (usually E: or F:).
  3. Start PC Inspector Smart Recover and when it loads, set up your data recovery by:
  4. Selecting the drive letter to recover files from.
  5. Selecting a folder on your computer where the recovered files are to be saved.
  6. Now, click the “Start” button and let PC Inspector Smarty Recovery work its magic.
  7. Browse to the folder you chose in step 3b and check out the results of the recovery.

PC Inspector Smart Recovery may take a long time to process depending on the size of the memory card you’re scanning, but the results are worth the wait. We were able to resurrect 100% of the photos that were accidentally deleted from a 1 GB memory card. Other people have left praise on Smart Recovery’s website for locating missing files in similar situations.

Windows: Recuva

Recuva by Piriform is another free undeleter. It lets you select the target drive from a drop down menu, which means you can look for deleted files on any drive or card that has a drive letter.

  1. Download and install Recuva.
  2. Pick your memory card’s drive letter from the “Select drive” drop down box.
  3. Click “Scan”.
  4. Be patient while Recuva looks for deleted files, this can take a while.
  5. In the list of found files, check off the ones you want to save and click “Recover”.

Mac OS X: Exif Untrasher

Finding a good free undeleter for OS X is a little more challenging than Windows. There are a lot of programs that claim to be free, but only let you see a list of your deleted files. Want to actually recover them? There’s a fee for that.

Exif Untrasher is a good option for Mac users. It only works on external volumes (not your internal drive) and only scans for JPEGs (no RAW files) but that’s still better than nothing. Here are the steps to using the application:

  1. Download and install Exif Untrasher.
  2. Next to the “Source” field, click Choose button.
  3. Select your memory card from the list of storage volumes and hit the OK button.
  4. Exif Trasher will advise that you need an amount of free space on your computer equal to the capacity of the memory card. Make sure you have enough space and click OK.
  5. Choose a location to save the disk image and hit the Save button.
  6. Be patient while the application does its thing.
  7. Click the Choose button next to the destination field and pick a location to save the recovered files. Make a new folder if you like.
  8. Click Start data recovery and wait while Untrasher looks for deleted JPEG files.

The program will show a running count of JPEGs found, and pop open a Finder window containing the results when it’s done.

Why This Works

“Deleted” doesn’t always mean “gone forever” due to the way in which operating systems manage files. Think of a memory card or hard drive as a book with a table of contents. When a new file is saved, the system checks the table of contents for a blank page. When the system finds one, the file is written there and then the table of contents is updated to show that page is now used.

Deleting or trashing a file doesn’t necessarily mean it’s erased from the book. In some instances, the system will simply remove its entry from the table of contents. It’s still written in the book, but we no longer know its page number. An “undelete” program can traverse through the book page by page looking for old files not listed in the table of contents.

The point at which new files are saved or photos are taken is when a deleted file’s contents may be lost. Since it no longer exists in the table of contents, there is a chance its page may be given to the OS as a blank spot for a new file at which time the old one gets overwritten. This is why it’s very important to stop using your memory card if you need to recover a deleted picture… the lost file may still be present, but can be overwritten if you take a new picture.

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