Is there a free way to recover files from SD card?

Quick Answers

Yes, there are free ways to recover deleted or lost files from an SD card. The most common free recovery options include:

  • Using recovery software like Recuva, TestDisk, or PhotoRec
  • Removing the SD card and using recovery tools built into your operating system, like Windows File Recovery
  • Stopping usage of the SD card right away to avoid overwriting deleted files
  • Recovering previous versions of files from your operating system’s backup

What Causes File Loss on SD Cards?

There are several common reasons files can become corrupted, deleted, or lost on an SD card:

  • Accidental deletion: Mistakenly deleting files and emptying the Recycle Bin/Trash
  • Formatting: Formatting or repartitioning the SD card erases all data
  • Corruption: Software crashes, interrupted transfers, or physical damage can corrupt data
  • Improper ejection: Removing the card from a device before properly ejecting can lead to issues
  • Camera issues: Bugs, crashes, or corruption in your digital camera can cause problems

As soon as you realize important files are missing from your SD card, it’s crucial to stop using the card right away. Any new data written to the card could overwrite your deleted files and make them unrecoverable.

Free SD Card Recovery Software

If you’ve accidentally deleted files or lost data due to corruption, free recovery software provides the best chance of getting your files back. Here are some top options:


Recuva is a free damaged file recovery tool from Piriform. It’s easy to use with a simple wizard-based interface. Recuva can recover lost files from hard drives, external drives, memory cards, and other storage devices. It works on Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP.

To recover deleted files with Recuva:

  1. Download and install Recuva from
  2. Connect the SD card to your computer via a card reader.
  3. Open Recuva and select the SD card drive letter.
  4. Click “Scan” to search for deleted files.
  5. Browse the list of found files and check those you want to recover.
  6. Click “Recover” to restore the selected files to another drive.


TestDisk is an open source data recovery utility that works on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It’s designed to recover lost partitions and repair boot problems, but can also retrieve deleted files. For photo recovery, TestDisk works with JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF, and other common image formats.

To use TestDisk for file recovery on an SD card:

  1. Download TestDisk from
  2. Run TestDisk and select your SD card’s drive.
  3. Select “Proceed” to continue to the file recovery options.
  4. Choose “Undelete” to recover deleted files.
  5. Select the file system type (often FAT32 for SD cards).
  6. Scan the card for recoverable files, then copy any you want to another drive.


PhotoRec is a companion recovery tool to TestDisk focused solely on recovering image and video files from media like SD cards and USB drives. It supports broadly used photo, video, and audio file formats.

Here are the steps for running PhotoRec on an SD card:

  1. Download PhotoRec from
  2. Run PhotoRec and select the SD card drive.
  3. Choose the file format of the files you want to recover.
  4. Let PhotoRec scan the card. It will list any recoverable files.
  5. Mark the files you want to restore and select a folder to save them to.

Using Windows File Recovery

If you use a Windows PC, its built-in file recovery tools can restore deleted files from external drives like USB sticks and SD cards. Here’s how to recover files with Windows File Recovery:

  1. Type “file recovery” in the Windows search bar and select “Windows File Recovery”.
  2. Under “Select a drive”, choose your SD card drive letter.
  3. Select “Scan” to search the drive for deleted files.
  4. Preview and select the files you want to recover.
  5. Choose a folder on another drive to save the recovered files.

Windows File Recovery works on Windows 10, 8.1, and 7, but isn’t available on Vista or XP. It can retrieve common file types like photos, documents, and videos.

Using System Restore or File History

If you copied files from your SD card onto your Windows computer, then deleted them, System Restore or File History may be able to recover previous versions of those files.

System Restore

System Restore lets you roll back your PC’s system files, settings, and programs to an earlier point in time. It can also retrieve old versions of your personal files.

  1. Go to the Start Menu and search for “System Restore”.
  2. In the System Restore wizard, choose a restore point from before you deleted the files.
  3. Follow the steps to roll back your system, including recovering files.

File History

File History automatically backs up files in your libraries, desktop, contacts, and favorites. You can restore versions of files from up to a month ago.

  1. Open the File History folder in the Start menu and select “Restore personal files”.
  2. Look for previous versions of your deleted files and restore them.

Does Disk Drill Work to Recover Files?

Disk Drill is a popular Mac and Windows file recovery app. The free version can recover up to 500MB of deleted files. The Pro version ($89) has unlimited recovery and more features but isn’t necessary for basic SD card file recovery.

To recover deleted files with Disk Drill:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill from
  2. Attach your SD card to the computer.
  3. Open Disk Drill and click “Recover” next to the SD card.
  4. Pick a recovery method like “Deleted Files Recovery”.
  5. Preview and select the files to restore.
  6. Click Recover to restore them to another drive.

Disk Drill is simple to use. Its deep scan capabilities can help retrieve files when other basic recovery software fails. But it has fewer features than Recuva and TestDisk.

Can You Recover Files from a Formatted SD Card?

When you format an SD card, it erases all data by resetting the file system. However, formatting alone doesn’t permanently delete files. Data recovery software can often still find and recover formatted files.

For the best chance of recovering files from a formatted SD card:

  • Avoid using the card after formatting to prevent overwriting.
  • Use recovery software as soon as possible.
  • Scan for lost partitions using TestDisk if necessary.
  • Try advanced recovery options like deep scanning for formatted data.

Formatting damages the card’s file system, so recoverable data may not have filenames or folder paths. But the contents of images, videos, documents, and other files can usually still be restored.

Does Disk Wipe Shred Files beyond Recovery?

Disk wipe utilities like Eraser, DBAN, and KillDisk overwrite storage devices multiple times to make data unrecoverable. This is more secure than a quick format when disposing of sensitive data.

Some key advantages of disk wiping include:

  • Overwrites all sectors, not just where active files are stored.
  • Uses multiple overwrite passes for better security.
  • Works similar to factory resetting your device.
  • Bypasses and resets the file system.

After even a single pass, disk wiping makes file recovery nearly impossible. The more overwrite passes, the more effectively data is scrubbed. For flash storage like SD cards, 3 passes are typically sufficient for full security.

When to Securely Wipe an SD Card

Examples of when you may want to use disk wipe software include:

  • Donating, selling or recycling your device
  • Disposing of an old SD card with sensitive data
  • Removing all data before passing your device to someone
  • Permanently deleting private photos and videos

Disk wipe is irretrievable destruction, so be certain you have backups of anything important before wiping a storage device.

Can You Recover Deleted Files from a Camera?

If you’ve accidentally deleted photos or videos on your digital camera, the same data recovery techniques can help get them back. Some options to recover deleted files from a camera include:

  • Removing the SD card and running recovery software on it
  • Using recovery tools built into your camera’s menu system
  • Connecting the camera via USB and scanning it with recovery software
  • Taking the camera to a repair shop for file recovery assistance

The best chance is removing the memory card and running recovery on it with dedicated software like Recuva or TestDisk. Some cameras also have onboard recovery tools, like Canon’s Image Recovery option.

How Long Does File Recovery Take?

The time file recovery takes can vary substantially depending on these factors:

  • Amount of data being recovered
  • Type of storage device (SD card, hard disk, etc)
  • Complexity of any corruption issues
  • Performance of the recovery software
  • Power of your computer’s hardware

For an average SD card, file scanning typically takes 2-10 minutes. Previewing files then recovering them can take another several minutes. Larger cards with more data will take longer. Optimizing software settings can speed up scanning and recovery.

If your files weren’t recently deleted, recovery takes longer. This is due to deeper scanning to find overwritten data. Formatted drive recovery also takes more time to reconstruct the file system.

How to Avoid Needing File Recovery

While file recovery can rescue lost or deleted data, it’s always better to avoid needing it in the first place. Some tips include:

  • Be very careful when deleting files or formatting drives
  • Frequently backup important files off your SD card
  • Eject and unmount SD cards properly before removing them
  • Use high quality name brand SD cards that are less prone to corruption
  • Keep your camera and SD cards well maintained and stored safely
  • Use your camera’s auto-backup and versioning features if it has them

Practicing safe usage and being very careful when deleting goes a long way. But accidents still happen, so recovery software can save your files if needed.


Losing files to accidental deletion, corruption, or formatting is frustrating. But free methods like Recuva, TestDisk, and PhotoRec can reliably recover lost files from SD cards in many cases. The key is to stop using the card ASAP after data loss so recovery has the best chance of success.

While file recovery isn’t guaranteed, it’s a powerful tool to restore lost memories and important work. With the right software and techniques, there’s an excellent chance your files can be salvaged from an SD card, even after deletion or formatting.