What happened to my files?

I screwed up.

I accidentally reformatted my digital camcorder’s flash memory card.

I lost all the video footage for my camcorder review.

Or maybe not. As it turns out, there is an easy way to recover almost any lost files from almost any storage media out there even if the media itself was reformatted.

First, don’t do anything further with the memory card once you’re aware of the problem. Second, move the sliding tab on the card to the Read-Only position so that no more data can be written to the card while you’re working on the problem.

This is the first time I’ve ever lost anything on a flash memory card, so this was the perfect opportunity to test out some file recovery software. The worst that could happen is that I’d permanently lose all of my files and I’d have to re-shoot the lost footage. That would have meant an extra hour’s work at the most. So no biggie if this recovery attempt fails to work.

When you erase a file on pretty much any Windows based storage device, you’re not erasing the file at all. All you’re really doing is erasing the file’s directory information. The same phenomena happens when you perform a quick format of pretty much any storage device, except that you’ve wiped out the reference to every single file on the device, which is akin to wiping out the entire book catalog at your local library. The catalog itself may be gone, but the books are still on the shelves. Only now, you have to go through all the shelves in the library to find the books that you’re looking for.

And this is exactly what file recovery software does: it scans the entire storage device from beginning to end, and physically locates any and all files that are still there.

I’ve tried a few trial versions of various retail file recovery packages, but none of them worked properly. Either the recovery program couldn’t locate my MTS media files, or the program would “find” all kinds of files that never existed in the first place. Even worse, the trial versions of the commercial solutions would refuse to recover anything at all until I had purchase a license. It’s quite a sneaky way to separate people from their hard earned cash: give them a false sense of security through sheer panic.

After that bad experience, I then checked out the free software world. I’ve tried one package called “Restoration”, but it consistently crashed at every attempt to perform a file search. Very annoying.

However, I then tried a package called “Recuva” and instructed the software to perform a deep scan search of my missing MTS files. Half an hour later, it had found and copied over to my computer’s hard drive every single one of the missing files without error.

I had successfully recovered all of my lost files in their entirety, and didn’t have to pay anyone to do the job for me.

The experience has taught me a lot about the quality and the availability of decent file recovery software. In this case, it was an absolutely free application that did the best job. The only hiccup is that it took me two hours to finally recover all of my lost footage, an hour more than the time it would have taken for me to simply re-shoot everything.

But what if the footage was from a overseas trip? How could I possibly re-shoot all of that?

You can find Recuva at recuva.com. And do give them a donation. The software is definitely worth the price.

One final note. If you’ve performed a full or long format of your storage media, now you can say you’re toast. Not only did you wipe out the library’s entire book catalog, you’ve also burnt down the entire library!

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