Recover Deleted Video Files from a Memory Card – The Right Way

10 May 2019 | by the restore.media team

Here, at Restore.Media, we are often asked about repairing video files that have been accidently deleted from a flash memory card or damaged due to a glitch / failure of the SD card, and then recovered with some undelete apps or data recovery services. Usually, such recovered videos have original file size, name and extension. And overall, the video may look like a valid file, but can’t be played in any media player.

recover deleted video files

In this article we’re going to discover the reasons why you can’t play such “undeleted” video files most of the times. How to recover deleted video files from a memory card properly, so that you get your footage back and have it actually playable. And finally, how to protect your precious video files from being lost.

The article will be helpful regardless of whether you’re a photographer who deleted an entire two-day wedding, a journalist who needs to recover an important interview, a vlogger, traveler, video studio professional, or if you just want to recover the deleted video of your most memorable family trip that can’t be re-created.

Note: this article applies to video files deleted from flash memory cards only, such as SD, microSD, or similar. The article doesn’t cover cases when video files have been deleted from HDD or SSD drives.

The underlying video recovery technology uses similar principles, but may vary depending on the file extension. At Restore.Media we have experience in recovering almost all widely spread types of video and audio files, including MP4, MOV, M4A, 3GP, MXF, as well as video codecs AVC/H.264 and HEVC/H.265. For a full list of supported file types, please see this page. This article applies to all the mentioned file types.

How to Recover Deleted Videos Properly

1. First, Lock Your Memory Card

If you deleted the video file or quick-formatted the memory stick, such as an SD card, the first thing you should do is avoid saving new data or modifying existing files on the memory card.

Take the memory card out of your camera or safe-eject it out of your computer to make sure no new data is written to it. This is important because when you delete files, they don’t actually get erased from your memory stick. Instead, the file system marks the space occupied by the deleted files as if it was free. When you write new files to the memory card, the file system may overwrite the deleted video with new data, and the footage is lost forever.

For SD cards we also recommend locking them with a safety switch located on the left side of the card. If you have a microSD card, you can put it into an SD adapter and then lock it the same way.

2. Make an Image File

Once you’re sure your video files are safe from being overwritten, the next step would be to create a complete sector-by-sector copy (RAW image) of your entire memory card. The image will serve both as a backup and the source for video recovery services/tools to scrape data from it when attempting to recover deleted video files.

Note: a complete sector-by-sector copy of your memory card can be created only with the .IMG type of image files. It includes data from the free space clusters of the memory card, where deleted video files are located.

.ISO images can’t be used for recovering deleted video files, as they don’t contain free space clusters.

.DMG – the default type of image files in macOS systems – doesn’t contain free space clusters and can’t be used for recovering video files either.

To create an image of the memory card, Windows users can use the free USB Image Tool. Here is how it works:

  • Download and install the tool.
  • Insert your memory card into a card reader.
  • Launch the USB Image Tool.
  • Select your memory card in the left-hand panel of the tool and then click on the Backup button.
  • Give a name to your image file. Then choose Image files (*.img) from the drop-down menu and click Save.
  • Wait until the tool generates the image file.

Also, here is a quick video guide on how to create an image out of your SD card:


To create an image on macOS, follow instructions on this page.

3. Recover Deleted Video Files from the Image

Now comes the tough part. You can try to recover your video files from the image using third-party data recovery tools. There are plenty of them both free and paid. But the problem here is that there are no tools available on the market that are smart enough to recover deleted video files properly, so that the video can actually be played (at least, we’re not aware of such software as of yet).

Most of the times, footage recovered with “undelete” tools contains junk data, misses video fragments, or is completely unplayable.

The same issue applies to countless so-called data recovery services. Many of them do nothing, but use the same data recovery tools you can download from the Internet.

We often get emails from video studios and photographers who ask for help with repairing their footage after it had been already “undeleted” by someone else. Unfortunately, it’s quite a common case when such “undeleted” video files contain junk data and there is little-to-no actual video left to recover.

What is worse, the “recovered” video files may look valid, have the correct file name, size and even the creation date. And since the files are formally recovered, there are cases when studios had to pay enormous checks for the undelete services even though the “recovered” videos don’t play.

So here is a tip:

Do not ever pay for “recovered” video files before you actually preview them. Otherwise, you may end up with a video file that contains nothing, but junk data.

The reason most of the “undelete” tools and services fail when recovering deleted video files is file system fragmentation. When recording video on a memory card, it is usually split into multiple fragments and saved into free space blocks that may be located in different sections of the memory card.

When you delete a file, the file system erases details about where each file’s fragment is located on the memory card. Usually, undelete tools can recover only the first fragment of the video file correctly. They often fail to locate the rest of the video fragments and hence include junk data taken from other files stored on the storage.

To resolve the issue, one would have to analyze the entire memory card sector-by-sector, to filter out junk data while collecting the correct file fragments and then assemble them into a final video. This is quite a time-consuming and painstaking task that can be done manually by video engineers.

At Restore.Media we have extensive experience in recovering such deleted video files. Unfortunately, though, not all video files can be recovered completely, since some parts of the files may be overwritten with other data and gone forever. However, we do recover all valid parts of the video that are left on the memory card after the deletion.

Once the video is recovered, we also provide you with a full-time preview. You only pay if you’re satisfied with the results, which is much more fair compared to when you have to pay for the undeleted video files regardless of whether they can be played or not.

The price is negotiable and depends on the size of the image file that needs to be processed/analyzed, so that we can extract video fragments from it.

To make an enquiry for manual recovery of the deleted video files, just create a RAW image (.IMG) of the memory card as described above, upload it to a hosting service or cloud storage provider, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, and then email us a link to the image file along with a short description of what needs to be recovered. Our video engineers will analyze the image file and provide you with a cost estimate and further details.

Note: we recover video files deleted from flash memory cards only, such as SD, microSD and alike. We don’t work with videos deleted from SSD or HDD drives.

Recap

If you shoot footage on a regular basis, eventually you may face an issue when your video files get damaged or erased due to a glitch or a mistake. This may happen at the worst possible moment. But if you’re prepared for such accidents, the chances to recover the video files are quite high. Just follow these simple rules:

1. Use only genuine memory cards from respected brands.

2. Quick-format your memory cards before shooting important footage. This will prevent significant file fragmentation, which, in turn, will make it easier to recover video files in case any disaster happens.

3. If you’ve accidentally deleted your footage from a memory card, take the card out of the camera, or safe-eject it from your computer. Do not write/modify anything on the card, or you may overwrite deleted files. If it’s an SD card – lock it with a safety switch.

4. Make a complete RAW image of the entire memory card. The image type must be ".IMG".

5. Now, you can try to recover deleted video files with “undelete” tools/services. But don’t ever pay for the “recovered” footage before you actually had a chance to preview the video.

You can also contact us for manual recovery of your video files. Make sure to include a link to the image of your memory card – our engineers will be happy to help!