[Updated: June 4, 2010 @ 2:27 pm - Since this post was first published in 2008, Art Plus Digital Photo Recovery has been upgraded to version 4.1 and is no longer free. The new version will display thumbnail images of recoverable files for free, but you must purchase an unlock code for $19.95 to recover the files. For more information on file recovery software see this more recent post.]
Does this scenario sound familiar? We were walking in the woods on New Year's day, my sister happily snapping photos of the kids when all of the sudden she says "Uh oh, uh oh!" While trying to delete one unappealing photo, she'd accidentally chosen "Delete All." Unfortunately for her, Delete All meant all the photos from New Year's Eve as well as Christmas with the Chens, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and, worst of all, the photos from a recent trip to the British Virgin Islands to celebrate our dad's 70th birthday. Uh oh, indeed.
So I told her, "Don't take another picture, turn off the camera, and give me the memory card." I was pretty sure I'd be able to recover the photos as long as she didn't format the card or save any more photos to it. Most cameras typically don't overwrite the memory on cards when a simple delete command is used. Instead they just mark the space that the images had been stored on as being free for use. So if no other write or format command is used on that space, the photos should be relatively easy to recover using a file recovery tool.
Back at home, I did a quick search and found a huge number of recovery tools available. Many will examine your card and tease you with a preview of your deleted images but you'll have to pay to actually recover them. Dig a little further, though, and you'll find some easy-to-use free tools that will do the simple process for you quickly and easily. I chose Art Plus Software's Digital Photo Recovery 3.1. It was super easy to use, and I liked that it didn't install anything on my system but just ran from an executable file. It recovered all 363 of her JPEG files. BUT, it didn't recognize or recover any of the video files she'd recorded. So I then tried Data Recovery 2.3.1 , another free app that doesn't require installation, and was able to recover all the JPEGs plus ten AVI files. I liked Data Recovery's interface better as well. It was nothing fancy--the little app is just a one-trick pony--but it did list file details like folder, file type, size, and attributes, so that you could choose the specific files you want to recover. (In contrast, Digital Photo Recovery just plowed ahead and recovered everything.)
For a slew of articles and links to other file-recovery apps, check out this article from UltimateSLR.com.
P.S. If you've used any good utilities for recovering photos and videos, please TalkBack and share!