Compact Flash Card Corruption / Data Recovery / Learn a Lesson

The weakest link in digital photography is the data side of it. Camera takes a photo, then it gets turned into ones and zeros and records on to a compact flash card. Card eventually gets removed from camera and plugged into a reading device. Data travels down the USB tube and onto a hard drive. As complicated as all of this is, the process is pretty reliable.

I’ve had a dual slot camera since late 2008, but the backup feature of the second slot was never something I used. I strictly used it for overlow. Why you ask? Well ever since I read that you weren’t supposed to delete in camera I have never had a CF card card go bad on me. No errors since one in 2005 or so. Our other cameras were single slot, and typically most weddings we were shooting were with two single slot and one dual slot cameras. I suppose it’s weird, but since there was risk of the two single slot cameras potentially having CF failures it just never made sense to me to be paranoid about it if I could only control one of the risks.

Well a few days ago I did have a card go bad. The first catastrophic media failure in 12 years or so of digital photography. Luckily it was not a wedding, but it was still a pretty sick feeling. I shot a portrait session like normal. Reviewed all of the images on the back of the LCD screen. Took the card out of the camera and put it in my pocket. Had dinner. Got back home and couldn’t get it to mount. Tried everything I could to no avail. Ultimately I had to send it to a data recovery service that SanDisk recommended. We got a call late last week from someone from the recovery place saying they had recovered all but a couple of images. A couple generally means two where I am from.

Got the disc back today. Initially it looked like a little over 15% of the images were un-openable. Upon further examination over 50% of the images were not openable. Some had JPEG previews that I was able to extract, some where just garbled and corrupt. Ultimately I have enough images to deliver to the client, but what a huge stressful pain in the ass. Not too happy that this company sent me over 150 images I can’t even open either. I paid $225 for a 16GB card (a flat rate), and while I still would have paid that amount in order to not have to reshoot the session (and tarnish our reputation with the clients) I think I may look into a partial refund.

The big lesson learned in this story is that I will never shoot another paid gig on a camera with a single slot. And I’ll always use that second slot as a redundant backup. We actually bought another used 2-slot camera so that both of us would be backed up on our next event. It was an unexpected expense, but I feel especially with weddings that it was necessary.

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