[Tutorial] Recovering data from a corrupted SD card

    Corrupted SD Card

    Everyone thinks that this will never happen to them so when the day does arrive, they find themselves unprepared, scared, alone and confused. Having a corrupted SD card is no laughing matter and the cold dread that washes over you the moment you realize all your files may be gone is testament to that. But now that you have found this post, you can relax a little bit and read our detailed instructions on how to proceed and try to recover as many of your files as possible.

    Corrupted SD cards

    Since the definition of “corrupted” is a bit broad, allow me to clarify what we are talking about here. An SD card can become corrupted for a variety of reasons such as removing it from your camera or phone without powering those devices off. It can also happen because the SD card itself is of bad quality and it reached the near-end of its lifespan. In this sense, corrupted does not mean physically destroyed. As long as there is no external damage to the card, recovering data can still be accomplished with some patience and an equal amount of luck.

    There are a lot of applications that you can use to recover your files but for the purposes of this article we will only look at two methods: ZAR X and the command line. No method is guaranteed to get your files back but it is better to know exactly how one recovery app works than trying to work with many. Just follow the steps outlined here to the letter and there is a very good chance you will get most of your files back.

    Using ZAR X

    ZAR X

    ZAR X is actually a paid-for suite of recovery software but, thankfully for us, its Image Recovery utility is provided completely free of charge and it has been proven to work time and time again. Download the application from here and install it in your computer in order to proceed.

    1. Insert the corrupted SD card in your computer or SD card reader.
    2. Launch ZAR X and click on the “Image Recovery (Free)” option to launch the appropriate utility.
    3. The program will automatically search for your storage devices. Select the SD card from the list and click on Next.
    4. ZAR will analyze the SD card and the process may take a good few minutes, depending on its size. Once it is done, you will see a list of files it can recover and it is time to choose which ones you want to get back. Do note that you can recover all of the files if you want so you do not have to go searching through the program in order to find specific ones. In case you do want to select everything, just check the boxes of the presented folders and all the included files should be selected automatically. When you are ready, click on Next.
    5. This is the final screen and there is only one setting you should alter. On the “Destination” field, click on the ellipsis icon and select a folder you wish to move the recovered files to. Then, click on the “Start copying” button so that the app can start transferring the files.
    6. Go to the destination folder you chose before and you will see all of the recovered files. There is a pretty good chance that the folder structure will be a bit weird so be prepared to spend some time looking through everything.

    Using CMD

    CMD SD Card

    The “chkdsk” command is a very versatile one and it works perfectly for our purposes. Not only will you be able to recover lost files but using the command will also fix your SD card, provided that the issue is a simple one anyway. I would still recommend using ZAR X first because it stands a better chance of recovering your lost files though this option should still work most of the time.

    1. Insert the SD card in your computer.
    2. Open Windows Explorer and check the SD card’s drive letter. For instance, the letter for your hard drive is usually “C:” and it is noted right next to the device’s name.
    3. Once you know the letter, type exe in your Start menu, right-click on the first result that appears and select the “Run as administrator” option.
    4. Type the following command, replacing the “X:” section with the letter of your own SD card (and the “:” suffix) and then press Enter:

      chkdsk X: /f

    5. Wait until the entire process is over and make sure that your computer stays powered on. Do not close the CMD window until the tool runs its course.
    6. Once the process is over, the CMD window will inform you about recovered files and about the status of your SD card. Since you probably just want to get your files back, go back to Windows Explorer and open your SD card normally. There will be a new folder that holds any recovered data so go in there and check which files have been retrieved.

    In case your SD card does not appear on Windows Explorer, type diskmgmt.msc in your Start menu and press Enter. This will bring up a utility called Disk Management. If your SD card shows up here then you are in luck. Just right-click on it and select the “Change Drive Letter and Paths” option. Then, click on the “Change” button and choose a new letter from the list. Make sure it is not a common one as it may conflict with other entries in your computer. Click on OK to save your changes and the SD card should appear normally.