Computer, gear, Linux, macOS, photography, review, software, technical, Windows

How to recover lost files – a software review (ad because of naming a product)

Photographers nowadays need solid IT skills for their job. How to run a computer. How to install, update and uninstall software. How to do backups. Know your operating system (Windows, MacOS, Linux) and the relevant file-systems. Each photographer hoards huge piles of valuable data (the images) on his or her computer disks. They need a strategy to recover the images after a disaster i.e. computer theft, hard disk failures or SSD corruptions (you know, each cell in flash storage has a limited lifetime because the cells die after a certain number of write cycles).  Sometimes one is faced with an empty storage card because of an unintentional re-formatting. So, what can you do?

 

The basics

First of all, be prepared! Here you can find information on how to recover such lost files. Get the necessary software now and practice with test data to know the steps when it comes to such a disaster.

In the past, Microsoft brought us FAT as the filesystem. In 1977 it appeared first in MS-DOS. Since then it was developed further and got more features. Because of the ease of organizing data (especially when it comes to sequential writes), it’s still popular for storage cards used by smartphones and cameras.

The computers itself use usually more sophisticated filesystems like NTFS, HPFS, HFS, HFS+, APFS, ext2, ext3, ext4, xfs, btrfs and more. Unfortunately, these modern filesystems are organizing data very differently to FAT and its ascendants like vFAT, exFAT or FAT32. So, recovery data from disks using one of the modern filesystems looks like a game of hazard or spinning a huge wheel of fortune where only one winning chance is set randomly. When using data recovery software you might have luck recovering recently deleted files. On FAT the chance is much higher because of the different principles the data is organized.

Now you might remember having read some reports of found data on thrown-away disks. Yes, that’s true. Forensics are able to recover the blocks of destroyed disks and scratch tiny pieces of data from the disk and reassemble it. Data is organized in blocks. The size of each block is about 512 or 2048 byte, depending on the used filesystem. For getting information like names, account data, credit card information or so, that’s enough. But, look at your images. Each image uses several MB on the disk. To recover your image, it’s a necessity to have ALL blocks and they must be in the right order. A single corrupt byte is tolerable but a couple of bytes can result in a complete loss.

In more than 20 years of handling digital photos, I never lost a complete card. But, 2 or 3 times I deleted a couple of files from the cards unintentionally. In the past, photorec was the tool of my choice. It’s an open-source tool. You can download and use it for free. But, you have to understand, how it works.

First, you have to avoid any further writings on the disk from where you want to recover data. That’s essential for successfully recover files.

 

Photorec (part of the open-source product testdisk)

The installation of photorec is easy. Linux users can install it usually by using their packet manager, while Windows users need to download it from the developer’s homepage and unpack the zip-file. MacOS users can install it via brew

$ brew install testdisk

Now you open a console (Terminal on Mac or Linux, and CMD on Windows). Next, you start photorec by telling it, where to search

MacOS / OS X

$ photorec /Volume/SD-card (or whatever name the card has)

Linux

# photorec /media/SD-card (or whatever name the card has; mountpoint also might vary i.e. /mnt/)

Windows

C:\> photorec d: (or whatever drivename the device has, where you want to recover files. Check it with the Windows Exporer)

If photorec recognizes an already started recovery, it asks you if you want to continue the session or start a new one. Next, it tries to read the directory and offers you to browse where the lost data was stored. Photorec can recover several types of data, not only jpg images. It can also recover lost partitions, if necessary. But that’s beyond the subject of this post.

When you’re fine with the position, photorec needs a location on a different disk to copy the recovered data to. After that, it only needs time.

FAT filesystems don’t delete the data on the disk when files are deleted. Instead, only the first letter of the filename in the directory is replaced by a ‘?’ which makes the file invisible and marks the occupied space as reusable. So, the magic is, photorec reads the directory and scans for filenames starting with ‘?’. Then it looks up each filename and checks based on the location information (block numbers) stored along with the filename if the relevant file is completely available (all blocks from the chain of blocks ’til the end-of-file mark). If so, the blocks are copied to the chosen target destination. But, the filename is lost. Instead, the name of the first data block, where the file was stored, is used to keep filenames unique.

As photorec runs in the console, not everyone feels skilled enough to use it.

 

Disk Drill by Cleverfiles

Recently, I got a review version of a newer data recovery software: Disk Drill by CleverFiles. It’s available for Windows and for MacOS and has a visual GUI to be handled with the mouse. On MacOS the current version needs at least the latest version of Mavericks. But older versions are also available for download, in case your MacOS is still running an older version of OS X for whatever reason. Disk Drill comes as an app to be pulled in the Applications folder only, to get installed.

I installed Disk Drill on my Macbook, which I’m also using for developing my images.

So, I have a lot of images on my disk (raw data), which I process and delete after processing them. Thus, I should have a lot of files potentially being recoverable on my disk. It’s a 512 GB SSD formated with APFS. The deep scan has run for about 40 minutes. But, as expected, Disk Drill found nearly nothing! No raw-file, no jpgs, no text documents or spreadsheets. The only files Disk Drill found were a couple of files I have had in my trash bin, which was emptied just before installing Disk Drill.

My other tests were on a disk formatted with Windows NTFS and an SDcard from my camera formatted with FAT.

Recovering files (raw data written by my digital camera) from the SDcard was very successful, just like expected. A 256 GB drive was scanned in a couple of minutes and offered tons of recoverable files.

I also run Disk Drill on a 1 TB NTFS hard disc formatted by Windows. The scan lasted nearly 3 hours while the well-equipped computer got a lot of stress and the fans run at a high level for certain times. But, I was able to work with it as usual for the whole time. In the end, the so-called deep scan found a reasonable number of recoverable files of different types. Unfortunately, all of them lost their names and were offered to me for recovery grouped by file type. Hard to find the file you accidentally deleted 😦

So, the result is not much different from the outcome of photorec.

Similar to photorec, Disk Drill also works with sessions. But, differently to photorec I was unable to make Disk Drill forget the saved session and do a re-scan after i.e. running a cleanup (I tried to wipe out some files I don’t want to be able to get recovered and check if they are unable to be recovered)

Further functions:

Disk Drill has a couple of further functions.

You can open a backup of an iOS device (as long as you know the recovery passcode) stored on your computer and recover files from iOS backup (iTunes). Works great. You can get contacts, appointments, reminders, photos, and even files.

There’s also a cleanup function. It seems it is to wipe out unused space. But, in fact, I was unable to find any result. So, I can’t say, what this function is doing.

Next, there is a function suggesting it could duplicate the boot disk, but instead it only creates a boot media similar to the recovery boot mechanism you always have on your mac. So, I have to stay with Carbon Copy Cloner for this feature.

After finishing my tests I uninstalled Disk Drill. Unfortunately, a not-quitable tool survived in the menubar. I had to dig through my applications folder and my Library folders to find where this tool resides to delete the files. After a reboot, it was finally gone!

Resume

Now it’s up to you to decide, how often you have to recover lost files and on which filesystems they are stored. I was very interested if a professional tool is better than the open-source tool. The lack of a GUI is a point against photorec. But, in my opinion (as an IT pro for more than 30 years), that’s not so dramatic. I even found the text interface much more straight forward and clearer than the GUI of Disk Drill. On the other hand, I guess, Disk Drill is even more complicated than photorec.

Nevertheless, I repeat my statement from above: be prepared for the disaster because the disaster situation isn’t a good time for such a complicated topic. Get a tool and make yourself familiar with it to avoid making a disaster situation worse.

 

 

Computer, software, Windows

Luminar 2018

Today I have some news on Luminar for you: A new version is available

First of all, MacPhun is about to change the company name to Skylum.

Luminar is the the second software product available not only for Mac, but also for Windows. There are demo versions available for a 14 day full functional test period.

Luminar is a raw developer as well as a non-destructive image editing software.

Currently, you can get with a special “Black Friday” discount ’til Nov. 30th: 30% off!!!

Take care!

 

 

 

Computer, technic, technical, Windows

Done!

Finally I got my computer back working. I’m glad, even it was a huge amount of work to be done. But I’m ready.
First I set up using a Windows 7 DVD. Then I installed all the necessary drivers. I wonder, why do the manufacturers modify the used chips for having to use the manufacturers drivers instead of the issuer ones. I.e. Acer used chips made by Intel for Network, WLAN and video, but I’m unable to install the matching drivers issued by Intel for these chips. Instead I have to use the modified drivers issued by Acer, even they are unchanged sind 2009.

Next I installed all my software. This lasts more than a week. – Wasted time! – And at last I installed the printer drivers. I have printers made by HP. HP has very good printers. The cartridges last for a long time and are quite cheap (compared to other brands) when it comes to buy a replacement, because the toner is used up. They also have an excellent printing quality, but what I really hate, is the low quality of HP printer driver setup programs.

At first it’s quite hard to find them for download at their confusing and unclear website and next the installer has several problems to integrate the drivers into Windows. I’s annoying. In the old times Microsoft used to integrate basic drivers for nearly all popular printers and it was always OK to uses them instead of the manufacturer ones. But nowadays there are only a few drivers available from Microsoft and you have to install the manufacturers drivers to get your printer working. 😦

Do they have a quality check for their software at HP? I don’t think so.

At last dismounted the hard disk to put it in an other computer for creating an initial image as a backup. You know, the imaging software was unable to run with the Acer.

After mounting the hard disk back into the Acer, I copied back all my data. pooh.

Now I only have to reconfigure my backup.

This was my first disaster since I started with my first computer back in 1983. But even it was a disaster, I didn’t loose any of my data. So, I really recommend a functional backup strategy. I guess, I’ll post some considerations on making a backup in one of my next posts.

Stay tuned!

 

Edit:
A tip for you: write down a list of all software you use on your computer and all the drivers right now, while your computer is in quite good shape. Don’t forget to write on your list the distribution media (i.e. download or CD/DVD) and the serial number you’d need for setup. This will help you to set up your computer much quicker, when in a similar situation or when buying a new one.

Think about, buying a dedicated usb storage just for this purpose and put at least the software list, all serials, all drivers  and the downloaded software onto it. Especially the network drivers are essential.

Computer, technic, technical, Windows

An unneccessary incident

You know, computers usually have hard disks. Every hard disk has movable parts and that’s the reason, why hard disks are about to fail on day (earlier or later they will do so!). When working with computers for a long time, you can hear, when a had disk begins to die and can bay a new hard disk to replace the failing one, right before old disk will be death.

I ordered a new hard disk and got it a few days later. Put it in a USB case and plugged it in the compter to start it with a disk duplication software. All the data should be copied from the old disk to the new one and I would be back in the game – I thought.

Unfortunately the imaging software was unable to start on that computer for an unknown reason. So I tried to change the disks for changing the copy direction. I also tried to make an image first instead of copying it on the fly. All my efforts were unsuccessful.

So I investigated to find another software for moving my running environment to the new hard disk: Acronis Easy Migrate 7. While reading the description on the website, I thought, that this might be the right software for that job and installed it after downloading it from their website.

Installation was OK. A final reboot to finish the installation and fire! But — it mentioned to miss a floppy drive. A FLOPPY? What the heck? Why a floppy. So I uninstalled it again. but after the final reboot, my Windows was unable to start again. The uninstallation destroyed the Windows environment, so that the included repair tools were unable to fix it.

Next step: a chat with Acronis support.

The chat lasts about 3 hours to analyze the problem. I’m an IT pro myself for more the 20 years, but the result was really shocking for me: No recovery possible, ’cause something happened, that might have destroyed the registry and for newer versions of Windows (newer as XP) no backup copy of the registry exists anymore. The only possible solution is to re-install.

OK, that might be possible: there is a recovery partition provided by Acer on my hard disk and the only thing I have to do, is to press on the button to save my user data and gat the computer in the same shape as it was, when I got it frist after delivery. That’s the plan.

Unfortunately, the recovery process didn’t work. It started properly, but a one point, it stopped with an unnamed error mentioning “an unknown error occurred. Reboot to continue setup”. This error wasn’t fixable and occurred again and again. What’s next?

Next I tried to recover using the recovery media by Acer. But the recovery process ended in the same situation. How disappointing.

I invested a complete weekend and three evenings in the recovery without any usable result.

My next try will use a Windows-OEM DVD.

As long as this computer is broken, I’m unable to edit photos. All the other things can be done using my tablet, but there are many photos waiting for being editied. How disappointing.