Studies have shown that 67.89% of gadgeteers own digital cameras, and that
99.8% of my studies have been conducted on a Ouija Board. Nevertheless, I’d
wager a bunch o’gadgeteers own digital cameras, and I’d further bet more than a
few have lost photos to corrupted media – whether the camera (or operator)
accidentally deletes those precious shots, or has happened twice in my case, the
camera ate my digital homework.
I’m not an expert, but I’ve unfortunately had some experience in the matter.
My experience is limited to smartmedia and my Olympus 340 & 360 cameras – I have
not tried any of this on other media, though it should work the same.
Smartmedia (and I believe the other digital media) are essentially treated as
funny floppy disks. In fact, smartmedia is also referred to as SSFDC – solid
state floppy disk card. To your computer, it is
basically a disk. I have experienced what I believe are the 2 situations you can
face – either you can access the media and your information is basically gone
(which is good!), or you can’t even access the media (bad, boo, hiss).
In the event you can access the media, the question becomes – what happened?
If you had a surge or even a bad block, the files may well still be present, but
the FAT tables may be damaged. I’ll explain. As with all things computer, data
(like your photos) are stored as 0’s and 1’s. The computer (and media) doesn’t
know what it is, nor does it care. The FAT (File Allocation Table) basically
says, "This chunk of data belongs to this file, that chunk to the other file" –
in other words, it maps out your media. As long as the media has not been
erased, by physically writing 0’s and 1’s, your data is still there, even if it
can’t be found yet. There are manual ways to look at the media (WinHex comes to
mind) where you can find the start and stop of blocks of data, look for the code
standard to all jpgs (a crazy hexadecimal string which I don’t remember by
heart), and then you can basically cut and paste the data – voila, instant file
restore. Or you can use software that does this for you.
I have a full blown version of photorecovery software from LC International.
You can download a demo of their award winning software
http://www.lc-tech.com/photorecovery.asp I have found them to be very
helpful and well meaning.
Other software to consider include photorescue from
http://www.datarescue.com which seemed
to work better, and finally my favorite, a FREEWARE program DIR (Digital Image
http://home.arcor.de/christian_grau/dir/index.html. It is the freeware
software which prompted me to write this brief article, to give credit where it
In a nutshell, my most recent failed smartdisk died while looking at photos
in the camera (hey, I’m not THAT ugly!) – I didn’t have my PRC at home, so I
downloaded the demo from datarescue – that tantalizingly found and showed 199
photos on my screen. For $29, I could upgrade to the full blown program and
actually save the photos – tempting! But I knew I had a full, legal copy of PRC
at the office, so I brought my card reader to the office (as the PRC folks
stressed you get best results with a USB reader over a flashdisk or pcmcia
adapter) – anyway, I used PRC at the office and it produced 179 found photos –
not bad -but where was my other 20? I copied my PRC (only about 639k) onto my
ipaq, and then uploaded to my home computer – plugged in the USB reader – and
sure enough, it found 179 images, but I could view none. Huh? I tried again
after a reboot – this time it found only about 154 – defiantly not going in the
right direction – plus I couldn’t even view them, and the computer crawled to a
halt. To be fair, my home machine is a Pentium II 386 notebook, and the office
machine is a Pentium III – perhaps the code is processor specific? Datarescue
again found the 199 photos, but I was feeling very cheap.
Okay, back to the office. This time I burned the 179 found photos from PRC
onto CD for transport back home (hey, who has 64 meg of memory free on their
iPAQ? Not me!) – anyway, as I searched the web a bit more, I stumbled upon the
freeware program dir. When I tried it back home, it effortlessly found all 199
photos and saved them to the hard drive. There are very few options with DIR, so
it is basically fool proof. I never did get PRC to work well at home.
Photorescue also worked seamlessly, but also had a few minor additional
features, such as the ability to dump your card onto the hard drive – so you can
play with the log file and leave the card alone.
Finally, I did try Easy Recovery Professional Edition, and found it
unsuitable for these purposes – while I BELIEVE Easy Recovery will help with
damaged floppies and hard drive partitions, it didn’t do much good for finding
files – nor did it have powerful configuration options.
Okay, so far I have spoken about a card you can access. If you can’t access
the card (like I couldn’t with my first smartmedia card) then your choices are
more limited. Programs like winhex (and for that matter, PRC and DIR) look for
the media, and open it as valid media. I could not access my first damaged
smartdisk with winhex or any other program. I eventually formatted it and pulled
the card out quickly, hoping to at least establish some file structure the
computer could access but without losing all data. No good – when winhex did
finally work, I had a completely blank card. Photorescue has a feature that lets
you choose a physical or logical drive – a logical drive would be, say, drive D
if you partitioned your hard drive into C and D. PERHAPS if I used the physical
drive feature, I could have forced a read of the smartdisk, but I really think
that bad boy was long gone.
General tips for photo recovery/restoration:
1) Don’t do anything to the media – using, formatting, etc. will diminish
your chances of recovery
2) Don’t use checkdisk or scandisk unless you’ve made a backup of your data –
and they probably won’t do what you want anyway
3) Try the freeware program dir first – if it works, you got free photo recovery
4) If DIR doesn’t work, try photorescue and/or prc’s demos – if they work, shell
out the bucks for the program
5) Regardless of your success, at some point consider chucking that media – if
it died once, it could die again.
Good luck, and remember – if it’s important, take a film camera as well!!!!!