Photo Recovery – How to undelete data from erased or formated camera card

How to undelete/recover/restore photos from memory card, hard disk and usb stick

We all get to situation when we are sure that we copied images from our card to our computer, but then we realize that we didn’t copy all and in the meantime we erased or formatted our card. Don’t worry, it happens and there is “undo button" solution. The only thing I really hope, that you realized it fast enough, knowing that you are missing photos and yet taking plenty of photos on that same card (media) will make this procedure somewhat harder and with less success rate. The faster you realize, better results will be.

5D Mark II Menu – Format option
EOS 5D Menu Erase
5D Mark II Menu – Erase option

Which program to choose?

There are plenty of programs that could help you recover your precious photos and data, but after testing couple, one stands out: PhotoRec from cgsecurity. It is free and simple to use. You can download it for MAC or PC here: Test Disk & PhotoRec

If you have Kingston Flash Cards you could try their Media Recover software.

Their description:

MediaRECOVER™ is a complete digital image and file recovery utility. The program recovers your lost files including photos, audio, video, PDF’s, Office Files, tax spreadsheets, etc. from hard drives and removable media used in digital cameras, PDA’s and other storage devices


Test case scenario

We formatted CF 16 GB card, it had 294 MB of photos in RAW format, that’s around 28 photos. We used camera default format option from the menu and then we plugged CF card into card reader and via USB to MAC and PC. It is best to have card reader for recovery process.

How to recover photos from camera card in 10 steps

MAC and PC

Step 1 – Download photo recovery – photorec app
Step 2 – Remove Card from the Camera and plug it to your Card Reader
Step 3 -Plug your Card Reader into your MAC or PC
Step 4 – Unpack and run photorec app, pick device and press Enter
Part 1 – Pick your media from the list.
Step 5 – Make sure you picked right device and then press Enter

In this step you will have some more options but for simple undelete of all files just go to the next step.

undelete photos
Part 2 – selecting partition to recover
Step 6 – Pick filesystem – Unless it is an ext2/ext3/ext4 filesystem, choose Other
Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 19.18.49
Pick Other
Step 7 – Choose how much space to analyze
Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 19.19.04
Search for the files on Whole media

Note: by default PhotoRec steps here it tells you to pick [ Free ] but that didn’t find any photos in our case, so I picked [ Whole ]

Step 8 – Make directory where you want your media to be restored and pick it
undelete photos
Pick destination (recover) directory

Note: be sure that you have enough space, as much as whole size of the card, in my case it is 16 GB.

Step 9 – Make coffee or cup of tea :) – wait till program finishes or stop it if you wish
Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 19.19.45
Step 10 – Close window – Quit PhotoRec – Donate if it saved your life ;)
restore photos
Quit PhotoRec


Recovered 1139 files (images), overall size around 16 GB. Only difference between MAC and PC was 6 files, PC recovered 6 more files, but to be honest I didn’t compare results to find those 6 files.

PhotoRec will make recup-dir folders
PhotoRec will make recup-dir folders
photo recovery
Complete CF card (16GB) was restored

All photos from our batch (28) were restored on both computers, that is 100% photo recovery success rate. I even found photos from 1 year back and that made me think to make new test.

What would happen if you completely fill up your card?

Idea was to fill card with random data till completely full then format it over computer (quick format), and then try to recover old images from the card. In PhotoRec, you have option to restore just wanted file types. When you get to above Step 3, you click File Opt then:

Optional: Press S and select with right arrow files extensions you want then press b and Enter
Press S to deselect all file types and select with the right arrow files extensions you want to restore then press b and Enter to go back.
To make sure that all image types are restored I checked (select all).
Results: not one image was recovered, only files that have been copied before last format.
Note: if you on other hand want to be sure that no data should be recovered from your memory card, you can just fill it with not important data and format it, but if that is not good enough for you, there are couple of programs, search google for: “secure erase memory card”.


Be careful with your important images and files. Rather check your card, hard drive to make sure you made a copy of your photos. Once you noticed that you made mistake: erased or formatted wrong media, stop using that media before recovery process. I must admit that some programs were able to do almost same as PhotoRec. Don’t try to restore original file names, as I know, that is impossible, you have to open your files to check it out.

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...

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  • Nicolas

    A few things to keep in mind.

    1. This will likely not work with video files. I have had experience with recovering video files, and unlike images, they are not put on the card completely in one piece. The camera actually holds on to the first few chunks of data for the file and writes them last, at the end of the file on disk. I think it does this because that chunk contains information like how long the video file is. I used R-Studio, an excellent recovery app, after trying numerous others, and had to use the raw view of the card to recover my files.

    2. You will avoid this problem of erased or deleted files by NEVER formatting or erasing a memory card. I perform a very simple, but foolproof plan for handling my photos and videos on my card. It is a two stage process.

    Stage 1: Copy files off card to location one, usually the primary editing location.
    Stage 2: Move (not copy) the files to the backup location. By doing this, if the memory card is empty, that means you have 2 copies of your files sitting somewhere else.

    This has a few clear advantages.
    1. You have now copied it off the card once. In the event that the first copy failed for some bizarre reason, the second copy should work. Note: i had a faulty hard drive that had one of my copies of data become corrupt. This prompted me to have this dual copy method.

    2. If a file is still on a card, then it has not been transferred twice (once to primary and once to backup) and thus cannot be deleted.

    By never formatting my cards, or erasing all images, I have never lost images. The one time I did lose my video files, I foolishly was using the “Format” screen to see available space, unaware there was a much safer place to view the files.

    if you wish to never accidentally lose your files due to formatting a card that you forgot to download, consider this fool proof process.

    Occasional I will reformat an empty card just to refresh the file system on it.

    • I will try that as well. Thanks for your input.

    • Thanks for your opinion and input. I will check info about video and edit article. But I don’t think that everybody have space for double copies, off course that it’s better to have multiple copies but who has so much space and time to do it every and eac time in rush days (weeks), take for example couple weddings, you would have like 48 GB of pictures for one wedding with 1.800 pictures, that is 96 GB if you make double copy, 3 weddings would be 288 GB if you don’t delete one copy.

      • Nicolas

        Yes I realize it is a lot of space, but if this is a paid event you are working for, and your hard drive decides to die, you will be very happy, as will your client, if you have a second copy else where. It is not a matter of “if your hard drive dies”. It is a matter of when, so having a second copy, even if only temporarily until you have delivered to the client would be great.

        That being said, if you cannot afford the space or time for 2 copies, then perform a Move for Stage 1 instead of copy. The key here is to not format a card. By avoiding this, and always moving files off the memory card to another location, you increase the guarantee of never losing photos.

        ** I cannot emphasize enough how important it really is to have 2 copies of your media at any given time. **

        I actually wrote an application that performs all the magic above for me without having to think about it, including tracking whether I have made the backup or not. I simply put the memory card in my card reader, pick the device that matches its contents (audio, video, pictures) and click a button. It is not quite yet ready for distribution and I am not sure how many would be interested as I feel that the comment workflow trend is to copy off card, then format the card. This process is flawed if you forget to copy off the contents and format the card.

        A good USB 3 card reader makes downloading cards quick and painless. I shoot more video then still’s these days so I am often downloading gigabytes of data at a time and it takes very little time.

        Also keep in mind the considerable amount of time it can take to recover a memory card, vs never having to recover one at all.

        • Thanks for sharing Nicolas :) I’m testing video restoring now.

        • Dear Nicolas, videos were normally recovered and working.

          • Nicolas

            Well its great to know they have added that ability. They must know what pattern to look for. I had shot videos on a 5D MK III, accidentally formatted the card and most apps I tried were unable to recover them.

  • Anale PogChamp

    Is this still working?
    I’m using Disk Drill to recover lost or deleted data though.

    • It does work, but most important thing is not to shoot after you delete. I tried few days ago, to recover some photos I “lost”, but continued to shoot on that card (after format), nothing, recovery just recover new photos that are already there.