Oh! You just accidentally formatted your digital camera’s memory card and now all your pictures are gone! Or maybe your card has deteriorated and the pictures are no longer readable? Unfortunately, losing or deleting images from a memory card is a very common problem simply because sometimes people just press the wrong buttons on the camera!
Fortunately, there are many software applications that can help you recover your lost digital photos. Images can be recovered because deleting a photo from the memory card removes the link to the photo, but not the data itself.
You can think of it this way: you go to the library and search for a book in the database, but you don’t find any information. The book may have been new and not yet added to their online system, but the physical book is still in the library, just not easy to find.
Photo recovery software ignores the link, reads all the books in the library and just puts them back to you. They usually work very well unless your card has been seriously damaged. In this article, I’m going to mention a couple of programs that I used on a test dataset and show you how well they work. Also watch our YouTube video above which explains some of the methods for recovering data from SD card.
I basically copied a couple of image folders to a memory stick and then deleted the photos using Windows. Then I tried each program to see how many photos they can recover.
Note. If you just want to know which programs work best, skip to the conclusion and read the section about that particular program and how to use it.
The programs I am going to mention here are best used to recover data from an SD memory card or from a flash memory device such as a USB stick. If you want to recover files from your computer hard drive, check out my previous post about recovering accidentally deleted files using another program.
Pandora Recovery has a free photo recovery tool that can be used to recover photos from various devices. Download and install it. Once you open it, you will see a wizard automatically pop up. Uncheck the box next to the wizard, then you will be taken to the main interface.
Click on your storage device on the left and it will automatically start scanning. If you’re lucky, the top field will start filling up with the names of the images that have been deleted. In my test, I deleted about 105 images from the memory card, but it turned out to be 128!
You can click on the files at the top and it will show you a preview of the image if it can be recovered. Now, to restore the photos, use the SHIFT key to select all the photos in the top box and then click the “Restore” button, which is a little orange trash can icon. A restore dialog box will open.
Select the folder where you want to store the recovered files and click “Recover Now”. Make sure that the location of the recovered files does not match the location of the deleted files. Wait a moment and you will see your images are being restored!
Finished, which took about 10 minutes, I got back about 80 of the 105 images that were originally stored on the card. Not so bad, but I was hoping for more. In fact, more pictures were restored, but the rest for some reason did not open. Let’s try another program.
Recover the zero assumption
ZAR (Zero Assurance Recovery) is also free for photo recovery. You still need to download the trial version, but for some reason they made part of the image recovery software free. After installation and launch, you will see the main interface.
Click the Image Recovery (Free) button to start. It will list the devices connected to your computer, so select your storage device and click Next.
Now you will see a nice little map of your disk with a breakdown of the data sectors. As the program scans the disk, it highlights sectors in color according to data chunks, nothing of interest, file system structures and bad sectors.
At this point, you just need to sit down and wait. ZAR took about 20 minutes, twice as long as Pandora. Upon completion, you will receive a list of photos that can be recovered. Go ahead and check the box in the root box so that all images are checked as well.
Click the “Next” button in the lower right corner (not the “Save” button under the list of files) and select a destination for the recovered images. Then click the Start Copying Selected Files button.
Once complete, check the folder and hopefully you will be as happy as I am. The program was able to recover all 105 images out of 105! The program took longer, but it was worth the wait! So far ZAR, my little test showed 100% recovery. Let’s try other programs.
Undelete 360 ??is our third photo recovery test program, so let’s move on to it. After installation and launch, click the “Search” button at the top, select the drive from which you want to recover data, and then click “Start”.
In just a few seconds, the program informed me that 105 files needed to be restored, and even assigned me the status “Very good”. The only annoying thing about the free version is that it forces you to select each file individually, so if you need to recover a lot of images, you will have to click on them for a while unless you buy the paid version. In any case, after selecting, click “Restore”.
Select the location where you want to save the recovered files and click the “Start” button. I didn’t select any of the options just because I wanted to get as much image data as possible, and I didn’t care about everything else.
So what were the results? Well, they were just like Pandora. Undelete 360 ??only recovered 80 images out of 105, and the unrecoverable ones were the same as for Pandora. So it looks like there was some issue with those 25 images, but Zero Assurance Recovery was able to get them back with a slow and steady recovery. Undelete 360 ??only took about 5 minutes to complete, so this is the fastest, but not the best result. Let’s take a look at other programs.
PhotoRec is an interesting free photo recovery tool because it has a command line version as well as a graphical version, but this version only works on 64 bit Windows. Also, the GUI has fewer features, so you should try using the command line version. In my tests, the command line version also restored more of my images. I don’t know what the difference is, but it is significant.
When you go to the download page, make sure you are downloading from a link that only lists Windows and not 64-bit.
Once downloaded, unzip it and click the photorec app in the testdisk-7.0-WIP folder. Please note that this is version 7.0, which is still in beta testing, but I really liked it.
Now comes the fun part. As soon as the command window appears, it will instantly display a list of drives on your computer. You need to choose the one that suits your memory stick or USB stick. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move up and down and press Enter to select. The interface looks a little intimidating, but it’s not all bad. In addition, he was able to recover all 105 photos in just a few minutes.
As you can see above, my 8GB USB drive is called PNY USB 2.0, which is why I chose this. On the next screen, I’m a little confused myself. It looks like you need to choose the one that says FAT32 or FAT16 or whatever string is in the file format for the disk. In my case, it was FAT32, so I chose it over the “No” section above it.
On the next screen, this is a little confusing because you have to select the file system type, but I tried all the time to go right and select FAT / NTFS, etc., but it didn’t work. Then I realized that there are two options: [ext2 / ext3] and [other]. If the drive is in FAT or NTFS format, be sure to select Other. If you don’t know for sure, it will probably be Other, so just pick it.
You will now be asked if you want to scan free space or the entire disk. I would just choose Whole so I don’t run the program again. You can just as well get everything, and then just leave what you need.
On this final screen, you have to choose a destination for the recovered files. By default, it launches you in the directory where the program itself is installed. To navigate, go to the directory with [.] AND [.] in the title. One dot is the current directory, so if you want to store the files in it, you highlight it and then press C. The two dots will move you one directory up. Then you can select any folder and press C.
It’s a little confusing, but when you understand how it works, it makes sense. Now the program will start and you will hopefully see the number of recovered photos increase!
As I mentioned earlier, the command line version was able to restore all 105 of the 105 images in just a few minutes. So it was the fastest and was able to recover 100% of the images. Definitely a good choice, but wish the GUI version could do the same as the DOS version. Now for the last program.
I left EaseUs Data Recovery for last, because even though it’s free, it only allows you to recover up to 1GB of data for free. All other programs allow you to recover an unlimited amount of data, which is really nice. After installation, you will notice that the interface has changed slightly.
First, you choose what types of files you want to recover. By default, they are all selected, but since I only had images on disk, I chose Graphics. Then you need to select the drive that you want to scan.
Click the “Scan” button and the program will start recovering deleted photos. You will see them appear in the list on the right. Go ahead and check the box at the very top to select all files and then click “Recover”. As you can see, he said that 105 images were found, now let’s see if he can recover all of them.
Unfortunately, EaseUs was also able to recover only 80 images out of 105. The remaining 25 images were in the folder again, but they could not be opened. So these are 5 free photo recovery software! Let’s summarize.
So, with this simple test, we can quickly see which photo recovery software worked best. It seems that out of 5, only 2 were able to completely restore all 105 images that were originally on the disk.
Pandora Recovery – 80 images out of 105 – 10 minutes
Zero guess recovery – 105 images out of 105 – 20 minutes
Undo deletion 360 – 80 images out of 105 – 5 minutes
PhotoRec – 105 images out of 105 – 5 minutes
EaseUs Data Recovery – 80 images out of 105 – 3 minutes
So, your best bet is to try Zero Assuming Recovery first, as it has a nice GUI, albeit a bit slow. Then it is PhotoRec with maximum reliability and speed. If you have a large SD card or USB stick, I would recommend PhotoRec as it will probably save you a lot of time. If you have any questions about any of the programs, leave a comment below. Enjoy!