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Memory Cards Part 2: Lost Photos
by Jim Doty Jr.

I received a question from a person who is having problems downloading photos from his camera body (a Canon 5D Mark II) directly to his computer and using Canon software. This is just one of many emails I receive on a rewgular basis from persons who have lost photos, usually related to memory card problems (see Memory Cards 1 for ways to minimize this) or user error (like accidentally formatting a card before downloading the photos).

Since downloading problems and lost photos are such a common problem (based on the emails I receive) I am writing two articles about memory cards and lost images. I will deal with lost photos in the article, and how to use memory cards to minimize the chances of lost images in the second article.


Can you still view the photos on the back of your camera?  If you can, that is a good sign but not a guarantee that you can get all of your photos back. If you can't, don't give up hope yet.

Whatever you do: DON'T take another picture, DON'T delete any pictures, and DON'T format the card.

Turn off the camera and then take the card out of the camera. Don't put it back in the camera until you have recovered your images.

If you don't have a good quality memory card reader with a USB connection, go buy one. I prefer SanDisk memory card readers and I prefer the single card size (not the kind that reads 2 or 4 or 500 different kinds of cards).

Put the memory card in the card reader and plug the card reader into the USB port on your computer. When the card reader shows up on your desktop or computer interface (it may show up as another hard drive), click on the card reader and look for the DCIM folder.

COPY (not MOVE) the DCIM file from the card (in the card reader) to your computer desk top (or preferred location on your hard drive). Don't use the Canon software (or any other brand of software) to do this. COPY the folder (PC: CONTROL-CLICK-DRAG, on a MAC: OPTION-CLICK-DRAG ), just like you would copy a folder from one place on your computer to another. Don't move the folder.

Then open the DCIM file and see if all of your photos are there. If they are, you are home free.

I have heard stories about thumbnails of photos being transferred to the hard drive but not the full size image files.  Apparently this is due to some kind of computer glitch. After you copy photos from your memory card to your hard drive, open a few of the photos on your internal hard drive with the software of your choice to make sure you have the full size files and not just the thumbnails.  This is also an important step whenever you copy photos from your internal hard drive to an external drive, or to a CD or DVD. Always open a few photos on the external hard drive, CD, or DVD to make sure you have the full size images.

If you can't MOVE the DCIM folder, or if you move the DCIM folder to your computer desktop but you can't see all of the images, you will need to use photo recovery software.

I have used RescuePro software from SandDisk which came free with a SandDisk memory card purchase. Read more about Rescue Pro in my blog article
here and at the SanDisk site.

The best photo recovery program out there is probably PhotoRescue.

You can read more about PhotoRescue about 3/4 of the way down
this page at the Luminois Landscape site in the section called "Bad Cards & Accidental Erasures".

You can buy it
here .

I have heard several stories from photographers who were able to use PhotoRescue to get their images back when nothing else worked.

Unfortunately, PhotoRescue doesn't always work and some photos can be lost forever. Too minimize the chances or this happening, read part two of this pair of articles.

There are data recovery services that charge from several hundred dollars up to a $1,000 and more to try and recover photos (and other data) from hard drives and memory cards.  You pay the full fee whether or not the can recover your lost photos/data. This is a last resort for priceless photos or mission critical data.

September 3, 2009

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