CF (Compact Flash) cards have been a conveniently compact way of storing and transporting data since their release in 1994. However, we begin to question that convenience when the CF card stops working and renders our data inaccessible.

Don’t worry, there’s still a good chance that your data is still somewhere. We just need to find it and recover it. Using the solutions presented in this article, you’ll be able to quickly and easily recover deleted or lost files from your CF card.

If you continue to use your CF card, your data may get overwritten. Stop using the affected CF card until you’ve finished reading this article.
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ProblemSolution
I accidentally deleted an important file from my Compact Flash cardRecover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card
I accidentally formatted by Compact Flash card and need my data backRecover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card
My CF card is corrupted. I get error messages like “memory card error” or “corrupt memory card”Resolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card
Files on my Compact Flash card are missing, but I didn’t delete themResolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card
My computer isn’t recognizing my CF cardMake Sure Your CF Card Is Accessible
My Compact Flash card has a virusResolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card

Recover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card

I think my CF card is broken or damagedResolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card

Recover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card

My camera isn’t detecting my CF card. I think it might be brokenResolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card

Recover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card

Before We Start
The contents of this article will focus primarily on logically damaged CF cards. If your CF card has sustained physical damage that has resulted in file loss, we will leave some tips at the end of the article. If they do not help, reach out to a professional data recovery service.

The Differences Between Compact Flash Cards & Standard SD Cards

CF cards are a form of compact storage that use flash memory over traditional hard drives that use spinning platters to store and access data. This is a similarity they share with SD cards. In fact, overall, CF cards and SD cards aren’t all that different from each other.

Here are some notable differences:

  • 💾 Size – CF cards are slightly larger and thicker than SD cards. The added thickness increases the durability of the card and helps shield it against physical damage, but the size prevents it from being used in the wide range of devices that SD cards support, like small digital cameras and phones.
  • Performance – CF cards, for many years, were considered superior in terms of performance as they often had faster read/write speeds. While this is still true, this performance gap is getting smaller with each advancement made. Some speculate that one day SD cards will surpass CF cards in every aspect, making them obsolete.
  • 💲 Price – One factor where SD cards are the clear winner is price. While size and performance are contributing factors, so is demand. CF cards are commonly only used in high-end cameras. In contrast, SD cards are used in a myriad of devices such as laptops, small cameras, and mobile phones. This, in turn, creates a demand for SD cards that decreases their manufacturing costs and lowers their retail value.

The Differences Between Bad, Damaged, And Corrupted CF Cards

There are different types of logical damage. However, each type can result in the same error messages appearing, which leads to the below terms commonly being used interchangeably. Let’s take a closer look at the terminology used to describe a logically damaged CF card:

  • Bad – Bad CF cards have intermittent performance problems that can interrupt operation. Symptoms include the CF card repeatedly connecting and disconnecting without intervention and slow read/write speeds. CF cards can be bad straight from the production line, or it could be the result of natural degradation.
  • 🔨 Damaged – If a CF card is damaged, that usually means it has sustained some form of physical damage that has impaired its functionality. Damage can prevent your CF card from being read by the computer, making your files inaccessible.
  • 👾 Corrupted – A corrupted CF card is usually readable, but upon trying to access it, error messages will appear. When a CF card is corrupted, it doesn’t necessarily mean the files themselves are corrupted. Corruption is caused by improper use of the CF card like interrupting a format or read/write function or removing the card without ejecting it safely.

How To Recover Data From A Compact Flash Card

Data recovery is a procedure. As such, start with the first step and move along accordingly. Follow these step-by-step instructions to recover data from your CF card.

Step #1: Make Sure Your CF Card Is Accessible

If your CF card isn’t being recognized by the computer, it could be in relation to a faulty port or card reader. If you’re using a card reader, try plugging it into a different port or using a different card reader entirely. Also, make sure the port is clear of any dust or foreign objects that might prevent the connectors from touching.

Some CF cards come with a small switch that allows you to write-protect the card. Inspect your card and make sure the write-switch is disabled, as it would otherwise prevent you from writing anything to the card.

Step #2: Resolve Logical Issues With Your CF Card

Next, we’re going to go over fixes to various logical issues that could be preventing you from accessing your files.

Make your files visible

Windows hides some files by default, often those related to configuration or settings. If, by chance, your files have been marked as hidden, you can manually show all hidden files:

  1. Open File Explorer.Hidden Files - Step 1
  2. Click onto the View tab, and click the down arrow on Options. Select Change folder and search options.Hidden Files - Step 2
  3. Click the View tab and select the Show hidden files, folders, and drives radio button. Click Apply, then OK.Hidden Files - Step 3

Assign a drive letter

If your CF card doesn’t have a drive letter, Windows will prevent you from accessing it. Instead, you can manually assign a drive letter using Disk Management:

  1. Right-click the Start button and click Disk Management.Assign Drive Letter - Step 1
  2. Right-click on the volume of your CF Card and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.Assign Drive Letter - Step 2
  3. Select the volume and click Change.Assign Drive Letter - Step 3
  4. Select a new drive letter from the dropdown menu and click OK, then OK again.Assign Drive Letter - Step 4

Update/reinstall the drivers

Corrupted or outdated drivers can prevent communication between your CF card and the host operating system. This can easily be remedied by updating the drivers or forcing them to reinstall:

  1. Right-click Start and select Device Manager.Drivers - Step 1
  2. Expand the Disk drives drop-down section and right-click your CF card. Click Properties. Bear in mind that your CF card may have a different name in the Device Manager.Drivers - Step 2
  3. In the new window, click the Driver tab. Click Update Driver, then Search automatically for drivers. This will search for, download, and install any new drivers. After the drivers are updated, try using your CF card again. If there are no updates, click Close and continue to step four.Drivers - Step 3
  4. Click Uninstall Device. Then, click Uninstall.Drivers - Step 4
  5. After the driver is uninstalled, simply remove the CF card and plug it back in. This will force the drivers to install again.

Fix the file structure

Using the CHKDSK command that’s native to Windows, you can fix any drive-related file structure issues. This will scan the drive for potential problems and attempt to fix them automatically:

  1. Press Windows Key + S and search for Command Prompt. Right-click and select Run as administrator. If prompted to allow access, click Yes.Fixing File Structure - Step 1
  2. Type chkdsk e: /f and press Enter (replace the drive letter before the colon with your own drive letter).

Format the CF card

Quick formatting the card can help remove any logical issues the card might have by restoring it back to factory defaults, and is often a last resort. Bear in mind that this process will delete any data that’s currently on the CF card, but when done correctly, it will restore the CF card’s functionality and still allow you to recover the majority of data that was once on it using recovery software.

When following the below instructions, it’s important that you perform a Quick Format. If you perform a Full Format, it can be so thorough that it removes all traces of data on the drive, making it unrecoverable.
  1. Open File Explorer and right-click on your CF card in the left panel. Click Format.Formatting CF Card - Step 1
  2. Make sure Quick Format is ticked and press Start.Formatting CF Card - Step 2
  3. Upon receiving the warning, click OK. When the formatting complete screen appears, click OK.

Step #3: Recover Lost or Deleted Data From Your CF Card

If you don’t have a backup of your data, your next best option is to use data recovery software. Data recovery software is designed to scan and recover previously deleted data from your drive. In recent years, you’ll also find software for specific purposes, such as SD card recovery and Android data recovery.

We’ve covered the best data recovery applications on the market. Today we’re using Disk Drill due to its reliable scanning and recovery capabilities. It also supports CF card and SD card recovery on Mac. There are two ways you can go about connecting your CF card to the computer:

  • Connect using a CF card reader – Using a card reader, you can connect your CF card almost directly to the computer. There aren’t many (if any) computers that come with a CF card slot, so a card reader will be your best option.
  • Connect the device directly – If you don’t have a card reader, you can try connecting your camera directly to the computer. Most of the time, Disk Drill can detect the CF card through the device.

Once connected to the computer, you can recover your data using the below instructions:

  1. Download, install, and open Disk Drill on your computer while your CF card is connected.
  2. Select your CF card in the list of visible devices/disks. Click Search for lost data.Disk Drill - Step 2
  3. When the scan has finished, click Review found items.Disk Drill - Step 3
  4. Select the files you want to recover by checking their box. When ready, click Recover.Disk Drill - Step 4
  5. Specify where you want the files recovered to. It’s encouraged to choose a location that isn’t the CF card. Click OK.Disk Drill - Step 5

FAQ

Conclusion

CF cards, although they aren’t as popular as SD cards, are still an effective means of storing and transporting your data. No matter how well you keep your CF card, data loss should always be a concern. As useful as data recovery tools are in recovering deleted files from your SD card and CF card, recovery is never 100% guaranteed. To truly keep your data safe, make sure you’re creating regular backups of your most important files.