Averting Near Disaster of the Data Kind

Like everyone else I often can't wait to get back to my hotel room and pop my memory cards into the laptop and view the days shooting.  I'd just spent a long day along the Burma border photographing parts of the Mae La refugee camp and some other places in the area.  I took a shower and cleaned up, made myself a soda, and sat down to import the days images.

I carry inexpensive portable memory card readers which typically cost 200-300 baht at almost any electronics store in Thailand.  I placed my 16gig SanDisk Extreme III CF card in the reader, plugged the reader into the USB port, and was ready to import my images.  This is when I discovered I could not see my CF card in Windows Explorer!  I connected and reconnected the card reader several times with no change.  Curious, I pulled the CF card from the reader and looking down into the socket I noticed two bent pins!

I had no way to fix the pins in the field so I decided to put the CF card back in the camera body and download directly.  When I put the CF card back in the body the camera wouldn't read the CF card!  This wasn't good, I had over 700 images from the days shoot on that card.  In any event I couldn't do anymore with it until I returned home and had different card readers and recovery software available.  I put a fresh CF card in the camera and went on with my trip.

A few days later I arrive home and one of the first things I want to do is to recover my images from this card.  I put the card into a quality card reader on my main workstation and I get an error message letting me know my card was corrupted and the data couldn't be retrieved.  This wasn't looking good at all.  It appears that not having those two bent pins in the card when I originally inserted it in the other card reader, resulted in corrupting the card.  I didn't know this could happen so easily.

I Googled the problem and contacted SanDisk's support division.  No remedies on Google and SanDisk only offered to replace my card.  They said there was nothing they could do to recover my images.

Now, with nothing to lose I used a utility to "repair" the MBR of the card.  With the MBR repaired several recovery utilities indicated they could now start the recovery process.  I used two.  SanDisk's "Rescue Pro" appeared to work, but read all my RAW files as TIFF files.  The tiff files could be read as raw files but I wasn't sure if this would cause a problem in the future, so I tried Photo Rescue Advanced and 12 hours later it had recovered my files in the raw format.  They no longer had the original file names but that was okay, the files were there.

I learned several lessons from this:

  1. Be very careful when inserting CF cards into the cheaper card readers so you don't bend pins
  2. Consider only using quality card readers
  3. Consider installing recovery software on my laptop
  4. Don't give up just because the card company says they can't help you.  Keep trying, keep asking questions, you'll find someone out there who has had the same problem and might be able to offer some useful advice
  5. Recovery software takes a lot of time for a 16gig card, upwards of 12 hours
  6. Recovery software is not created equal.  Some works better than others
  7. Always carry extra memory cards in the event of a failure
  8. Be patient.  Be very patient.  Attack the problem from one angle, and then the other.  If that doesn't work do some more research, ask questions, and keep working at it.  You'll often be rewarded

A satisfactory if not happy ending.  It could have been worse.  As always I discovered I could be doing things better and more secure.  As always I had no one to blame but myself.

Until next time...