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.
Want to skip the basics and jump straight to the recovery part? Click here.
I accidentally deleted an important file from my Compact Flash card
I accidentally formatted my Compact Flash card and need my data back
My CF card is corrupted. I get error messages like “memory card error” or “corrupt memory card”
Files on my Compact Flash card are missing, but I didn’t delete them
My computer isn’t recognizing my CF card
My Compact Flash card has a virus
I think my CF card is broken or damaged
My camera isn’t detecting my CF card. I think it might be broken
The contents of this article will primarily focus on typical data loss and 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.
Distinguishing 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
Here’s a super-quick guide on CF card recovery:
- Download and install Disk Drill, then run the program.
- Connect the CF card to your computer.
- Select your CF card and click on Search for Lost Data.
- Mark the files you want to recover and click Recover.
- Choose a safe destination to save the recovered files.
For more detailed information, please refer to Step 3 in the comprehensive guide provided below.
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: Ensure 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:
- Open File Explorer.
- Locate See more, represented by three dots in the upper right corner of your window. Click on it and select Options from the drop-down list.
- Click the View tab and select the Show hidden files, folders, and drives radio button. Click Apply, then OK.
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 in order to recover lost photos:
- Right-click the Start button and click Disk Management.
- Right-click on the volume of your CF Card and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.
- Select the volume and click Change.
- Select a new drive letter from the dropdown menu and click OK, then OK again.
Update or 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:
- Right-click Start and select Device Manager.
- 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.
- 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.
- Click Uninstall Device. Then, click Uninstall.
- 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:
- Press Windows Key + S and search for Command Prompt. Right-click and select Run as administrator. If prompted to allow access, click Yes.
- Type chkdsk e: /f and press Enter (replace the drive letter before the colon with your own drive letter).
Format the CF Card
If your CF card is not recognized properly, formatting it might help. This method eliminates any logical problems by returning it to factory settings, often seen as 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.
- Open File Explorer and right-click on your CF card in the left panel. Click Format.
- Make sure Quick Format is ticked and press Start.
- 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 storage device, allowing you to recover photo files, among others. In recent years, you can also find software that is tuned for more specific purposes, such as SD card recovery and Android data recovery.
Not so long ago we updated our ranking of the best data recovery applications on the market and today we will use software that often appears at the top of our lists – Disk Drill. Our editorial team loves the app for its reliable scanning and recovery capabilities. It supports all major file systems and memory card types (including CF cards, ofcourse) and even can recover data from RAW memory cards.
Disk Drill operates on a freemium model, allowing users to download and use the software for free until they reach the trial limits.
To get started, you need to connect your CF card to your computer. There are two ways you can go about this:
- 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. If your camera uses the UMS (USB Mass Storage) file transfer protocol, Disk Drill should be able to detect the CF card through the device.
Once connected to the computer, the recovery process is super simple. Follow the below instructions to recover photos from CF cards using Disk Drill:
- Download, install, and open Disk Drill on your computer while your CF card is connected.
- Select your CF card in the list of visible devices/disks. Click Search for lost data.
- When the scan has finished, click Review found items.
- Select the files you want to recover by checking their box. You can use the search box at the top to search by file type. For instance, if you want to search for JPG images, search *.jpg. When ready, click Recover.
- Specify where you want the files recovered to. It’s encouraged to choose a location that isn’t the CF card. Click OK.
Interested in delving deeper into Disk Drill? Explore our comprehensive review for all the insights. If you’re concerned about data safety, make sure to examine our thorough safety analysis of the tool to alleviate your worries. Please also be aware that Disk Drill is available on macOS, facilitating CF card recovery on Mac just as seamlessly as on Windows.
Comparing Compact Flash Cards and Standard SD Cards
A CF card is a compact storage device that uses flash memory over traditional hard drives that use spinning platters to store and access data. This is a similarity they share with SD cards, another popular form of compact storage media. 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 making CF cards able to withstand more extreme temperatures and environmental conditions than SD cards. However, the larger size limits CF cards to devices that can comfortably accommodate them, such as DSLRs.
- ️⚡ Performance – For many years, CF cards 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. What’s more Compact Flash cards typically have more storage space than standard SD cards.
- 💲 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 used only 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.
- 🧩 Compatibility – Because CF cards are used predominantly in high-end cameras, many devices aimed at regular consumers are not compatible with them. For example, laptops often come only with an SD card slot, while smartphones and tablets support only microSD cards.
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.