SD cards are in almost everything, including most digital cameras, audio recorders, and even cell phones. They store images, videos, and more. They are so popular, because they are affordable. Because of this, they are also not very reliable. This means you’ll get card errors, corrupted data, lost and partial files, and other issues from time to time. Here’s my guide for what to do when you can’t get data off of your SD card.
If you need to recover data from your SD card and you can’t get in on to your computer, the first thing to try is changing the way you read the card. You should be using a modern card reader that supports SDXC cards and USB 3.0. You can get them for just a few bucks from stores like Amazon. Many older card readers (SD and SDHC) won’t read or recognize newer SDXC cards. You’ll also get the benefit of much faster transfer times with a new reader that supports USB 3.0 and UHS transfers.
Make sure your reader isn’t using a USB extension cable or a hub. These can sometimes cause problems with data transfers. You should be plugging the reader directly into the computer. If you’re still having problems, try a different USB port. Sometimes USB ports fail, or get unreliable for large file transfers.
Make sure your operating system supports the file format the card is using. SDXC cards use exFAT, which means you’ll need OSX 10.6.5 or later if you’re on a Mac. On Windows, as long as you are running XP or newer, you should be just fine.
If you’re still having problems reading your card, you may want to try using a completely different computer. This can eliminate many variables at once.
If you are able to see your files on the disk, but unable to play them, there is probably corruption of the data on the card. I’ve had about a dozen corrupt MOV files on Canon DSLRs, and for all but one of them, I was able to recover at least some of the video using Grau’s Video Repair software. Unfortunately, it’s not free. Corrupt JPG and RAW files are nearly impossible to recover, because of the way the data is encoded.
If you still can’t read your files, your card may have failed, or it may have a corrupted file table. This could be a memory controller or other failure. Your options at this point are limited and expensive. If it’s worth a few hundred dollars to recover the files, you can contact a company like DriveSavers or Datatech Labs to attempt to save your files. Typically, they will perform “surgery” on your card, swapping failed components out for working ones. This is obviously a tedious and delicate process, and one you can’t do at home. These companies usually have excellent save rates, and can usually give you an estimate before you even send your SD card in for repair.
If you accidentally deleted files from a card or formatted the card, you can try a free program like Recuva for Windows to restore them. The first thing you should do is STOP using the card for anything else. You risk overwriting the files. A file recovery program may be able to recover some, or even all, of the files, as long as you haven’t overwritten them with new ones.
If you rented the device and SD card from us, we would be happy to attempt to transfer and recover any files for you, for a $49 fee. You will also need to provide an external drive with adequate space. If we are unable to recover any files, we will refund the fee and refer you to a data recovery company.
Want a more reliable workflow for your video camera? We suggest either a dual-recording solution, or using media like SxS or P2 cards. These are more durable and have built-in error correction cababilities.
Posted by Jon Kline