How to Recover Deleted Files from CF Card [Top 3 Solutions]

David Morelo
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Recover deleted files from cf cards

Even though CF cards are not nearly as popular as other types of flash memory cards, many users are desperate to learn how to perform CF card data recovery and get their lost photos, videos, documents, and other files back. In this article, we describe the top 3 best CF card recovery solutions for Mac and Windows and answer several common questions to help you get the best recovery results possible.

What Is CompactFlash Card (CF Card)? 

compact flash cards

Before SD cards became the dominant type of flash memory, there were many competing memory card formats. One particularly successful early format was CompactFlash (CF), first manufactured by SanDisk in 1994 and later by Lexar, Kingston, Verbatim, Transcend, and other manufacturers.

When they hit the market, CF cards offered several noteworthy advantages compared with other storage media that were available at the time. For example, they offered much better durability than competing hard drive solutions despite supporting the IDE/ATA command protocol, which allowed them to function as the system drive of a computer. 

However, CF cards also had some major downsides, which only became more important as time went on, such as the fact that they were physically larger than other memory card formats available at the time, or their lack of mechanical write protection.  

These days, CF cards are still supported by some high-end cameras, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but other types of consumer electronics, such as smartphones, action cameras, and smart home products, rely predominantly on SD cards.  

Top 3 Best CF Card Recovery Solutions for Mac and Windows 

To perform CompactFlash card recovery on Mac or Windows, you need reliable CF card recovery software. The three applications described below offer proven performance and the ability to retrieve even permanently deleted files.  

1. Disk Drill

Disk Drill main screen

Disk Drill is the best CF card recovery software because it elegantly combines sophisticated data recovery algorithms with a remarkably user-friendly interface, making it suitable for beginners and advanced users alike. 

You can use this CompactFlash card data recovery software to get back lost files from all CF cards, regardless of their manufacturer, size, or speed. Disk Drill supports over 400 file types, and it offers multiple recovery methods to address all kinds of data loss situations. 

The latest version of Disk Drill has perfected the application’s signature do-it-yourself approach to data recovery, making it easier than ever for users to begin the recovery process and get back all important files. 

Included Disk Drill are many useful disk tools that all home users and professionals are guaranteed to appreciate at some point. You can use the tools to monitor your computer for potential disk issues, delete duplicate files, back up your data, and more. 

You can download Disk Drill for free from its official website and use it to scan an unlimited number of CF cards, but you will need to purchase a license to actually recover a CF card and make lost data accessible again. 

Pros:

Cons:

  • Easy to use 
  • Great performance 
  • Extra free disk tools 
  • Frequently updated 
  • None

 

2. PhotoRec

Photorec software

If you’re a fan of open source software applications, then you should definitely check out PhotoRec, the best open source tool to recover CF cards. Don’t let its name fool you into thinking that it can only recover photos from CF cards. In reality, it can recover basically all commonly used file formats from FAT, exFAT, NTFS, HFS+, and ext2/ext3/ext4 file systems.

The main reason why PhotoRec isn’t recommended more often is the fact that it lacks an equally capable graphical user interface. The most popular GUI for PhotoRec available is called QPhotoRec, but it can’t recover heavily fragmented files or stop a recovery and resume it later, just to name some of its limitations. 

Pros:

Cons:

  • Free and open source 
  • Support for many file formats 
  •  Cross-platform 
  • Command-line user interface 

 

3. R-Studio

R-Studio list of devices

R-Studio is an entire family of data recovery products that can be used to recover all types of files from CF cards and other storage devices. Even though some products in the R-Studio family are geared toward entry-level users, they still require fairly advanced technical knowledge due to the number of advanced features they offer. For this reason, we recommend R-Studio only to users who have previous experience with data recovery. 

If you consider yourself to be an advanced user, then R-Studio can offer you support for recovery over network, professional hex editor, advanced RAID reconstruction, disk image creation, and other useful features. All popular file systems are supported, and the same can be said about image, video, audio, and document file formats. 

Pros:

Cons:

  • Reliable performance 
  • Many advanced features  
  • Built-in hex editor 
  • Recovery over network 
  • Confusing for beginners 
  • Mac and Windows licenses are sold separately 

 

How to Recover Deleted Files from CF Card

With the right CompactFlash card recovery software, it takes very little effort to recover data from any CF card on Mac or Windows. Let’s take a closer look at a real-world example of CF card recovery performed using Disk Drill:

Install Disk Drill on Your Computer

Download Disk Drill from its official website and install it on your computer. We’re using the Windows version of Disk Drill, but Disk Drill works equally well on Mac. Keep in mind that you’ll need administrator privileges to finish the installation process and launch Disk Drill.
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Scan Your CF Card

Next, launch Disk Drill and select your CF card. Click the Search for lost data button to scan it. By default, Disk Drill runs all recovery methods in the optimal order, and we recommend you leave this setting as it is. The scan may take a while depending on the size and speed of your CF card, so be patient and feel free to preview recovery results as soon as the option becomes available.
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Recover Deleted Files

Finally, you need to select the files you want to recover. Disk Drill makes this easy with its preview feature, which lets you see previews of images, videos, documents, and other files before you actually recover them. Once you’ve made your selection, click the Recover button and specify the recovery directory, which should be on a different storage device and not your CF card.
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Is It Possible to Recover Data from a Formatted CF card?

Yes, you can learn how to recover a formatted CF card that appears to be completely empty. In fact, you can follow the instructions above since there’s no technical difference between recovering a CF card that has been formatted or manually emptied file by file.   

Recovering data from a formatted CF card is impossible only when the original content becomes overwritten by new data. Once that happens, there’s nothing you can do regardless of if you use a free CF card recovery software application or a paid one. 

To prevent overwriting from happening, you need to stop using the formatted CF card immediately and begin the recovery process as soon as possible. 

What to Do if CF Card Is Corrupted?

CF cards can become corrupted for a number of different reasons, ranging from improper use to software bugs. Before you can perform a corrupt CF card recovery, you should fix the underlying issue using one of the methods described below. 

Method 1: Scan the CF Card Using CHKDSK (Windows) 

Scan cf card with CHKDSK

CHKDSK is a handy command-line tool included with the Windows operating system. The purpose of this tool is to verify file system integrity and fix various logical file system errors, which means that you can use it to recover a corrupted CF card. 

To fix a corrupted CF card using the CHKDSK command:

  1. Type “cmd” in the search box on the taskbar and select Run as administrator. 
  2. Enter the following command (make sure to replace X with the letter assigned to the CF card you want to fix) and press Enter: chkdsk X: /f
  3. Wait for CHKDSK to finish. The process may take several hours, depending on the size of your CF card.

The /f parameter tells CHKDSK to fix all memory card errors. 

Method 2: Repair the CF Card Using First Aid (Mac)

Check cf card errors with First Aid

If you’re a Mac user, you can repair your corrupted CF card using First Aid, a feature of the Disk Utility app whose purpose is to find and repair file system errors. 

To repair a corrupted CF card using First Aid

  1. Launch the Disk Utility app.
  2. Select your CF card in the sidebar and click the First Aid button.
  3. Click Run, then click Continue.

Disk Utility will inform you about the state of your CF card and tell whether it has been repaired. 

Method 3: Send the CF Card to a Data Recovery Service 

Data recovery service for cf cards

Alternatively, you can send the CF card to a data recovery service, and let professionals take a look at it. It’s true that professional data recovery services are considerably more expensive than DIY solutions, but sometimes they are worth the price, such as when attempting to recover lost family photos or important business documents.  

David Morelo
David Morelo is a professional content writer in the technology niche, covering everything from consumer products to emerging technologies and their cross-industry application.
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12 years experience in software development, database administration and hardware repair.