How to recover files from an SD card for free

Here we show you how to try and get the files out of the SD card if the card doesn’t work or you accidentally delete them. Basically, the process is the same as recovering deleted files from a PC or any kind of digital storage for that matter.

SD cards are great but they are fragile and don’t like being mistreated. They are used in phones and cameras so tend to contain valuable files.

So when a card stops working, you can lose a lot. Here, we’ve focused on recovering files including photos, videos, and documents from cards that don’t work properly, but the principles apply to deleted files as well.

Do not format if you want to recover files

Do not format the card if you want to keep any photos on the card. You can follow the tips in our separate article on how to format a write-resistant SD card after you’ve tried to recover any files present on your card.

Now, try and find another card reader. If you plugged the SD card into the built-in slot of your laptop or PC and nothing happens, try using another computer or a USB card reader.

Sometimes it’s the reader – not the card. You can buy a USB SD card reader for as little as a few pounds or dollars, which will accept both standard microSD and SD cards.

File Recovery Software

There are many free programs that claim to be able to recover data from damaged or ‘dead’ memory cards. We explain step-by-step how to use Disk Digger to recover accidentally deleted files, but the same process works for SD cards whose contents cannot be seen in Windows Explorer.

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If you don’t like Disk Digger, try any one of the other file recovery apps including EaseUS Free Data Recovery

When using such software, there is no guarantee that you will get your files back intact and often they lose their original filenames, which can be a problem for some. Others should be able to rename the recovered files with relative ease.

Some free recovery programs are limited in the number of files or data they will recover, so look for any limits before downloading. Also, beware of additional unwanted programs that may be installed with freeware: never use the ‘Recommended’ installation option.

Always select ‘Manual’ and read each screen carefully, opting out of the search bar and other software.

Another option is Recuva, which offers both free and paid versions.

Most programs work in a similar way, but these tutorials will give you an overview of how to use them. We will use ZAR (Zero Assumption Recovery).

Install ZAR, then insert the damaged SD card into your PC’s card reader. Launch ZAR. (You may have to disable your PC’s security software, in which case we recommend turning off your internet connection).

When prompted, click the Restore Image (Free) option. This will help you to recover photos from SD card.

ZAR will now search for installed devices and you need to point it towards the offending SD card. Select the correct disk and click Next. ZAR will now analyze your SD card. This will take a few minutes.

Once done, you will see a list of recovered files. On most SD cards, clicking the ‘Original’ checkbox selects all images.

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Click Next and then you can choose the folder the recovered files will be placed in. By default, this will be the same folder you chose to save it to (most likely ‘Original’).

One important point: you will be asked to choose a destination folder for the recovered files. Make sure you select a card on your PC’s hard disk and don’t re-enable the damaged SD card, as it won’t work.

It will take a few minutes to copy the files. Once done, browse to the destination folder you selected. You should find most if not all of the files you want to save.

They may have lost their filenames, so you may have an extra work to do to rename them – this may include adding a file extension so that they are correctly recognized by Windows.

Tips to fix a dead SD card

Standard size SD cards can be flimsy due to their thin plastic shell, and they are very fragile if you carry the card in your pocket or unprotected in your bag.

Sometimes the little write-protect switch will fall off, causing your SD card to stop working in your camera or any other device that needs to be able to write to the card.

Regardless of the reason behind a write-protected SD card, you won’t be able to delete files in this state, as the file allocation table needs to be changed and this involves writing to the card.

How to fix SD card

If your card is physically stable and the switch (if present) is in the ‘unlocked’ position, you can try one of Windows’ built-in tools to find a fix.

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How to recover from a dead SD card

Your options will vary depending on whether your card appears in Windows Explorer. If it is, right-click it, select Properties, then the Tools tab. Click Check and Windows will scan the card for errors and try to fix them.

If the SD card doesn’t appear in Explorer, search the Start menu for Disk Management.

In this tool you can see which drives Windows can ‘see’ and the list can include drives without a drive letter. If you can’t identify your SD card in the drive list, it’s either completely dead or the card reader isn’t working properly (probably due to a driver issue).

If the SD card is there, but there is no drive letter, you can right-click it and use the options available to set the drive letter or format it to a file system that Windows can read. and can then allocate characters. .

How to recover from a dead SD card

If you need to erase your SD card and Windows doesn’t do the trick, here’s how to format an SD card.

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