The Ultimate CF Card Recovery Guide 2017 (on a PC and Mac)

Last updated: Jun. 27, 2017

​Oh you formatted your CF card and now you want to recover the deleted pictures?

Or the card was corrupted, and became unreadable while connected to a computer?

​If that's what has happened to you (unfortunately), then you should check out this guide article where we are going to show you how to recover the lost or inaccessible files from a CF card - STEP BY STEP (yes, we like practical stuff!)

Note: it doesn't matter whether you're using a compact flash card manufactured by SanDisk, Lexar, or any other brands.​ They are essentially the same in terms of storage mechanism. 

Also note: you'll have to rely on a computer to get this done. That's why we're breaking the solutions into two separate sections: on a Windows-based PC, and on a Mac machine.

First, RELAX!

Then, read on...​

What is Compact Flash Recovery?

In case you are new to the data recovery world, it refers to a procedure of recovering deleted, formatted or inaccessible files out of a compact flash card (which you probably use on a digital camera).

Typical CF card data loss scenarios include but not limited to:

  • Accidentally formatted the card in a camera.
  • Deleted some pictures while syncing data to a computer.
  • The card is corrupted (by showing weird "the disk can not be detected or formatted" error on a PC, making all photos inaccessible.
  • The card has been infected by a virus, and the data got wiped out completely.
  • Other scenarios.

Are deleted files still recoverable? Yes, a simple deletion or card reformatting won't erase the data immediately. The data stored inside may be still intact.

However, it depends on whether the data are overwritten or not. In fact, when you use conventional methods to get rid of files, the data are only marked as "invisible" — waiting to be written over.

What does that mean?​

Your Should Stop Writing to the CF Card

You see, the key to data recovery lies in whether the data contained in your deleted files (pics, videos, etc.) are occupied or not.

If you continue shooting more pictures or videos, or keep saving new items to the same flash card, chances are the overwriting will happen sooner or later.

So, what should you do? Remove the flash card out of your camera and put it in a safe place before you start the recovery process (introduced below).

Now, get a computer and we'll get started...

Recovering CF Card Files on a Windows PC

This guide is for those who are using a PC with Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10) operating system.

Step 1: Insert your CF card into the USB port of your computer. Make sure your computer can detect your memory card (no? check the tricks below).

Step 2: Get Easy Digital Photo Recovery and install the program on your PC. Launch it. On the menu, select the drive your CF card stands for, click "Next" to continue.

Step 3: Let the software scan your CF card and seek the file types you pre-defined (if you specify). It may take extra seconds or minutes. Just be patient.

Step 4: Now it comes to the magic moment. When the scanning process is complete. Navigate through the found file list to look for your lost pictures and recover them.


CF Card Data Recovery on a Mac Machine

This tutorial is for those who use a MacBook, iMac, or other macOS based computer.

Step 1: Connect your compact flash card to your Mac computer first.

Step 2: Get Stellar Mac Photo Recovery and install the app on your Mac. Open the app. You'll see the main screen like this. Click on the big blue button to start.

Step 3: Now select the right drive, specify file formats, and have a scan. It may take extra time depending on your CF card size and the file types you specify in step 2.

Step 4: Preview the found files once the scan is over. If you find your lost photographs, select and save them to a different destination.

That's it. Easy, uhg.

What if My CF Card is Corrupted & Unreadable?

This kind of issue usually exists with old CF cards especially when there are many write and read activities. It's unlikely that a new CF card will show such error, if it does then perhaps the card has quality issues and it's best to contact the provider for a replacement.

If the sign of your CF card corruption is that you see an error similar to "the disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now", you'll need to reformat it to make it work again but you may lose some pictures. Check out this article how to fix memory card not formatted error for the detailed troubleshooting guide.

Also, this video is worth taking a look as well:

If it's a pin issue, you'll want to remove the card and the batteries out of your camera first. Take a closer look at the card slot to check if the pin is bent. If it is, then use a screwdriver to bend the pin back straight. Well, it doesn't have to be perfectly straight. Now gently insert the card back to the camera and see if it's working properly.

​You can watch this video tutorial as well:


​Compact Flash (CF) cards are considered to be more reliable than other types of memory cards. But they are not immune to one thing: data loss. It's possible that your CF card can have certain errors, or you mistakenly delete something on the card. When that happens, it's often annoying even devastating.

Fortunately, it's possible to recover the data if you take action sooner and follow the dos and don'ts we've introduced above. Hope you find this CF card recovery guide useful, and perhaps you've already managed to get back what you want (congratulations!). Next time, remember to back up your precious photographs more often. You know, in the digital age backup is always gold!

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