Can you get pictures off a corrupted memory card?

Having a corrupted memory card can be extremely frustrating, especially if it contains irreplaceable photos or videos. When a memory card becomes corrupted, it may display errors, fail to properly save or read data, or become completely unreadable by your computer or device. The good news is that there are often ways to recover data from a corrupted card, including photos, with the right tools and techniques.

Quick Overview

It is often possible to recover photos from a corrupted memory card. The best method depends on the type and extent of the corruption. Options include using recovery software, trying the card on a different device, manually recovering files, reformatting the card, or seeking professional data recovery services for severe corruption.

What Causes Memory Card Corruption?

There are several common causes of memory card corruption:

  • Improperly removing the card from a device before it has finished writing data
  • Physical damage to the card due to drops, bends, water exposure, etc
  • Power outages or device crashes while writing data to the card
  • Malware or viruses infecting files on the card
  • Formatting errors that corrupt the file system
  • Old age causing bad sectors – most cards have a finite lifespan

These issues can lead to anything from missing or unreadable files to complete card failure. The nature of the corruption will impact your chances of recovery.

Can You Recover Photos from a Corrupted Memory Card?

In many cases, yes, at least some photos can be recovered from a corrupted card if the proper steps are taken. However, recovery is not guaranteed – the more severe the corruption, the lower your chances. To maximize success:

  • Stop using the card immediately to prevent overwriting data
  • Only attempt recovery with the proper tools and knowledge
  • Understand that original file names/dates may not be able to be recovered

With minor corruption like file system errors, there is a good chance of recovering most if not all photos. But with major physical damage or failed cards, recovery may be partial or impossible.

Best Methods to Recover Photos from a Corrupted Memory Card

Here are some tried and tested techniques that may help get your photos back:

1. Use Recovery Software

Specialized memory card recovery software is often the most effective way to retrieve photos from a corrupted card. These programs are designed to scan storage media and rebuild damaged or deleted files. Some top options include:

  • Recuva – Free beginner-friendly recovery tool for Windows users.
  • Stellar Photo Recovery – Advanced paid software specifically for recovering photos.
  • Disk Drill – Mac-compatible recovery app with free and paid versions.
  • Remo Recover – Cross-platform lifetime license option.

Recovery software can bring back photos that may seem lost even if you can’t access them normally through your computer. However, recovery is more limited with physically damaged cards.

2. Try a Different Device

If the memory card shows up as corrupted on one device like your computer, try using it with a different camera, phone, tablet, etc. Different devices may have better luck reading damaged cards, letting you copy off any retrievable photos before attempting recovery through other methods.

3. Manually Access the Files

If you have some technical expertise, you can try manually recovering photos from a corrupted memory card through Linux or by connecting it as an external drive. This involves attempting to access the raw stored data independent of the file system.

Tools like Photorec can copy these raw files to another drive, separating retrievable image and video files from corrupted data. However, this method takes some technical skill and risks further modifying the card.

4. Reformat the Card

Reformatting or “cleaning” the memory card by erasing its data and fully reinitializing it can sometimes resolve minor corruption issues. However, this will permanently delete all previously stored files in the process. Only attempt reformatting if you’ve already exhausted recovery attempts or have backups.

5. Use Professional Data Recovery Services

For memory cards with catastrophic physical damage or corruption, turning to professional recovery experts may be your only hope for retrieving photos. Services like DriveSavers and Gillware can physically repair cards and use advanced techniques to extract data, but they can be pricey.

Recovery Tips

Keep these tips in mind when attempting to recover photos from a corrupted memory card:

  • Don’t overwrite data – Don’t use the card further to prevent replacing damaged files.
  • Work on copies – Recovery software shouldn’t modify the original card data.
  • Try multiple methods – Different techniques can yield different results.
  • Accept limitations – Full recovery may not be possible depending on corruption.
  • Use fresh storage media – Save recovered files directly to a healthy drive.

Reasons Photo Recovery May Fail

While photo recovery from a corrupted memory card is often successful, there are cases where it may be very difficult or impossible:

  • Complete physical destruction – e.g. cards smashed, snapped in half, melted
  • Overwritten data from continued usage
  • Highly fragmented file corruption
  • Advanced encryption with lost keys
  • Proprietary storage formats
  • Cards with catastrophic electrical failures

With physical damage beyond repair and no backups available, even professionals may not be able to recover the photos. Electrical failures can make data unreadable.

Tips to Avoid Corrupted Memory Cards

You can help avoid problems with corrupted memory cards by:

  • Safely ejecting cards before removal
  • Using high-quality name brand cards
  • Handling cards carefully
  • Regularly backing up your photos
  • Properly maintaining devices
  • Checking for errors with scanning software
  • Replacing old cards

While even new cards can experience issues, taking preventative measures reduces your risk of corruption and data loss.

Can You Recover Photos After Formatting a Memory Card?

Reformatting a memory card erases all data as it reinitializes the file system. However, with the right recovery approach, many deleted photos can still be retrieved.

When a card is reformatted, the files themselves are not immediately overwritten. Instead, it’s more like the card’s “table of contents” tagging their locations is wiped clean. The photos remain on the card storage itself temporarily.

Using data recovery software quickly after a format, there’s a good chance of restoring large quantities of “deleted” photo files. However, remnants are gradually replaced over time as new data is written.

Is It Possible to Recover Photos After Deleting Them from a Memory Card?

Yes, deleting photos from a memory card does not permanently destroy them in most cases. Much like formatting, standard deletion simply removes the links to photo data rather than overwriting it. However, recovery becomes less likely over time.

To recover deleted photos, don’t take any further shots or store new files. Immediately scan the card with data recovery software like Recuva or Photorec to extract photos before they get replaced with new data.

On some newer cameras, manually deleting photos tags their spots for overwriting. This makes recovery trickier. It’s safest to regularly backup photos rather than rely on deletion recovery.

Can You Recover Photos from a Memory Card Showing RAW File System?

Seeing a RAW file system instead of FAT32/exFAT/NTFS on a memory card often means more significant corruption. But specialized recovery software can still reconstruct photos by salvaging data from the raw storage.

Photorec and other advanced recovery apps ignore the file system entirely. They scan and rebuild image files based on detected headers and patterns rather than filesystem metadata. This allows photo recovery to succeed even with a card showing RAW.

However, the process takes longer without filesystem organization. And highly fragmented RAW corruption still poses challenges. But overall, seeing RAW does not necessarily mean recovery is impossible.

Is Photo Recovery Possible from a Memory Card with I/O Device Errors?

Input/output errors typically indicate medium to severe physical memory card damage. The ability to recover photos ultimately depends on the card remaining partially readable.

If the card still partially works, attempting data recovery in read-only mode may work. This is where recovery apps scan and rebuild photos without risking further writes.

But if the card has complete electrical failure, it may need professional repair to stabilize it enough for retrieval. With specialized technicians swapping chip components, recovery is sometimes possible.

So I/O errors reduce chances but don’t eliminate them. How well the card hardware still functions determines if photo restoration attempts will succeed.

What Are the Chances of Photo Recovery from a Fully Corrupted Memory Card?

Recovering photos from a completely corrupted memory card where no files can be accessed is difficult but sometimes achievable in fragments. Full recovery is unlikely but portions may be salvaged.

Much depends on the cause and type of total corruption. Physical damage reducing electrical functionality makes recovery tougher. But data errors may sometimes be worked around by software scanning the raw storage.

With advanced forensic-level data recovery, remnants might be retrieved. But expect incomplete results – usually only small scraps of files in a fully corrupted state.

Backups are still the best protection against total memory card corruption. But photo recovery should still be attempted, as limited success is possible.

Can You Recover Photos after Reinserting a Corrupted Memory Card?

Reinserting a corrupted memory card into your computer or camera comes with risks. It can cause further data overwriting and fragmentation, lowering chances of recovery.

However, reinsertion may provide a brief opportunity to copy retrievable files from the card before problems occur. This is only recommended if you have recovery software ready and storage space to extract copies immediately.To minimize risks:

  • Don’t save any new files to the card
  • Use removable media in read-only mode
  • Copy recoverable photos right away
  • Avoid any further reinsertion

With careful steps, reinsertion enables quick copies before additional corruption. But it can do more harm than good if precautions aren’t taken.

Can You Recover Photos from a Corrupted SD Card?

SD cards are prone to the same types of corruption issues as other memory cards. Physical damage, file system errors, and device conflicts can all lead to data loss.

SD cards use the FAT32 or exFAT file systems. When corruption occurs, recovering photos involves similar techniques:

  • Trying the SD card on different devices
  • Using data recovery software
  • Extracting raw data manually
  • Reformatting after backing up files

SD cards are widely used in phones, tablets, cameras, and other gadgets. But their removable nature makes them easy to damage. Recovering photos requires care and the right tools.

How to Recover Photos from a Bad Memory Card for Free

You have a few free options for potentially recovering photos from a malfunctioning memory card:

  • Recuva – Free basic data recovery app for Windows.
  • Photorec – Open source photo recovery tool for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Disk Drill – Has a free preview recovery mode.
  • Raw file access – Manually extracting image files from the card.

While paid recovery software has advantages, these free methods can still salvage deleted and corrupted photos in some cases. Just avoid further usage of the card.

Does Recovering Photos from a Memory Card Damage It?

Recovery software and methods are designed to avoid further damaging a corrupted memory card in the process. But caveats exist in some scenarios:

  • Writing new files during unsuccessful recovery can overwrite data.
  • Repeated access attempts on failing hardware accelerates decline.
  • Manually reconstructing raw data risks overwriting file system.

As long as you use read-only procedures and avoid rewriting on damaged hardware, recovery is unlikely to degrade the card further. But physical issues can worsen over time regardless.

Can You Still Recover Photos after Trying to Fix a Corrupted Memory Card?

After attempting DIY fixes on a corrupted memory card, recovery is still possible but risks complicating the process. It depends on what repair methods were used.

Non-destructive options like using recovery software pose little risk. But attempted fixes that involve changing, overwriting or reformatting can damage the card and prevent full recovery.

At minimum, further attempts should only read and copy data, not make changes. In severe cases, later professional recovery may be limited by damage from previous handling.

It’s best to consult a specialist first rather than trying home fixes that could permanently destroy contents.

Does Recovering Data from a Memory Card Fix Corruption?

Recovering photos from a corrupted memory card does not inherently fix or repair the underlying corruption. It retrieves data but card problems usually remain.

Successful recovery depends on the card being functional enough to temporarily read stored data. But the faults causing the corruption in the first place typically persist.

To ensure reliable usage, recovered memory cards should still be reformatted or replaced if errors reoccur. Think of recovery as a one-time rescue, not a permanent cure.

Can Lost Photos be Recovered after Copying from a Corrupted Card?

If you’ve already copied files from a corrupted memory card, recovery becomes trickier but may still be possible in some cases.

Much depends on what was overwritten during the copy process and how severe card issues are:

  • If hardware completely failed, future recovery is unlikely.
  • If corruption causes copying errors, originals may still allow retrying.
  • If card reformatting occurred after, non-overwritten data can persist.

Having a disk image backup preserves the card’s state for recovery attempts. Overall, while challenging, rescue after copying is sometimes viable if media is intact.

Can You Pay Someone to Recover Photos from a Corrupted Card?

Yes, you can utilize paid professional photo recovery services to salvage images from a severely corrupted memory card.

Experts like DriveSavers, Gillware, and Secure Data Recovery can often recover data that consumers cannot. Costs range from $300 to over $3000 depending on damage and desired turnaround time.

Pros like clean room work environments and proprietary repair techniques allow high recovery rates. But costs mean professional help is only worthwhile with valuable irreplaceable media.


Recovering photos from a corrupted memory card is often possible with the right approach – the nature and extent of damage dictates success rates. Quick action before overwriting offers the best chances. Software tools provide an accessible first step before considering riskier manual methods or paid recovery services for more challenging cases requiring advanced expertise. With the proper precautions, you can rescue valuable photos despite common media errors.