If you’ve ever had a memory card either go bad or become unreadable, you know how frustrating that can be. However, all is not lost. With a bit of work you can recover that data. Let’s find out how.

What is CompactFlash?

CompactFlash (aka CF) memory is a type of non-volatile, solid-state memory used by many portable devices (such as cameras and camcorders). This type of memory has been around since 1994 (originally created by SanDisk) and has become so widespread that its usage has surpassed traditional storage devices (such as harddrives).

CompactFlash cards are larger than SD and microSD cards. A typical CF card measures 42.8 mm by 36.4 mm and can range from 512MB to 128GB of storage. Other than size, the biggest difference between CF and SD cards is speed and cost. CF cards are more expensive than SD cards, but are also considerably faster and more durable. Most compact flash cards display the minimum write speed directly on the front in the form of X MB/s (Where X is a number to indicate the write speed in MB per second a card can handle).

Compact Flash Card Recover

A 32GB Transcend CF card with a 120MB/second write speed.

For comparison, the average write speed of an SD card is approximately 12.5MB/second.

Although most devices have migrated to SD and microSD cards, there is still plenty of technology out there that requires CF cards. You’ll find these cards in commercial-grade video cameras, where write speeds that are faster than typical SD cards can handle.

Why You Need CF Card Recovery

Someday you might find yourself in a situation where a CF card has data that your computer cannot retrieve. And because that card was probably used in a camera or camcorder, you will definitely want those files.

But what can happen to a CF card to cause the data to become unreadable? There are a few reasons this can happen.

  • You’ve accidentally deleted files: This happens more often than you might think, and can occur on the device that uses the card or your computer.
  • Card formatting: You might have accidentally reformatted a card that contained files you still need.
  • File system errors: The file system on the CF card can become unstable or unreadable by your computer.
  • Virus attacks: A virus has rendered your card unreadable.
  • Corrupted/damaged CF card: The partition table on the CF card might have become unrecognizable by your computer operating system, or you have a physically damaged card.
  • Power surge or outage: If there’s a power surge as your computer is trying to read the CF card, it can become damaged.
  • Water damage: Water is the enemy of electronics.
  • Physical damage: You might have bent or even broken your CF card.

How to Recover Files from CF Cards Using Recovery Software

If you happen to have a CF card that contains data you cannot access, all is not lost. One of the best options to retrieve that data is by making use of a third-party memory card recovery software solution. There are quite a large number of applications available for this purpose, one of which is Disk Drill, which supports all brands of CF cards and can recover nearly any type of file. You can use Disk Drill free (500MB recovery for free), or purchase a Pro license for $89.00.

Let’s dive in and find out how to recover files from a CF card that’s unreadable by your computer.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill compact flash card recovery software.
    compact flash card recovery software
  2. Insert the CF card into your PC or laptop (you might need to use a CF card reader for this).
    Agfa Photo CF Card in Transcend Card Reader
  3. Open Disk Drill and click on the entry for the Generic STORAGE DEVICE USB Device associated with the damaged or unrecognized CF card.
    Select the CF from which to recover files from Disk Drill's Device List
  4. From the drop-down in the right sidebar, select All recovery methods and then click Search for lost data.
    Click on Search For Lost Data to start the recovery process
  5. At this point, you must allow Disk Drill to completely finish the CF card scan. If you pause or stop the scan before completion, the chances of complete data recovery are reduced. Depending on how large the CF card is, how much data is/was on the card, and the speed of your computer, this scan could take some time. You should also know that if the CF card was accidentally reformatted, Disk Drill will first search for and recover any lost partition on the card (adding even more time to the scan).
    For the best results allow Disk Drill's scan to complete
  6. When the scan completes, if you find Disk Drill didn’t locate the number of files you expected to recover, click Scan entire disk (if available) and allow the tool to run a full scan of the CF card. If, however, it does locate the files you expect, click Review found items.
    Select Review Found Items to check what Disk Drill found in your CF card
  7. Expand each entry, under either Deep Scan, Reconstructed, or Reconstructed labeled. Keep expanding until you find the recovered files you’re looking for. One thing you should make sure to do is to right-click the item in question and select Preview (or hover over the file listing and click the eye icon) before you select each item to recover. If the file preview appears as you expect, click the associated checkbox for the file. Continue previewing and selecting the recovered files until you have all of them checked.
    Right-click and choose Preview to check a file before recovering it
  8. Click Recover.
    Click Recover to get your lost data back
  9. When prompted, select a location to house the recovered files. Make sure you do not select a destination that is on the same drive as the one you are recovering from.
    Choose where you want to store the recovered files
  10. Click OK and Disk Drill will recover the found files to the selected destination.
    Disk Drill report after recovery

Congratulations, you’ve successfully recovered files from a broken or unreadable CF card.

How to Recover CF Card with Data Recovery Service

If you find that the software recovery method did not work for you, all is not lost. You can opt to use a data recovery service that has very powerful tools to recover data from CF cards that consumer software would never find. Data recovery specialists are remarkable at salvaging data, even from CD cards (or other devices) that are too far gone for consumer software to save.

CleverFiles offers such a service. If you have a CF card that Disk Drill (or another solution) cannot save, reach out to them (or another company) so they can recover your lost files.

How to Improve the Chances of Recovery

To begin with, you should not leave this process to any software that isn’t specifically designed for data recovery. By doing that, you could lessen the likelihood that Disk Drill (or any other tool) could recover those files.

You should also not reformat the card. When you insert a CF card into a computer, and the computer has trouble reading the card, it might prompt you to reformat. Don’t. Yet another formatting could lessen the chance of recovery.

Also, do not attempt to write data to the card in question. By doing this you could overwrite or destroy the data you want to actually recover.

How to Prevent Data Loss on a CF Card

It should go without saying that you should care for these cards. Store them in protective cases and never leave them in extreme heat or cold.

You should also always remember to safely eject your cards from the computer. Do not just pull the card out when you’re done. By doing so you risk corrupting the card’s partition table, making it unreadable by your operating system.

Finally, always backup your CF cards. With a recent backup, even if something does happen to the card, you still have copies of your files and won’t have to worry about data recovery.


Hopefully you’ll never have to recover data from a corrupt or broken CompactFlash card. But when the time comes that you do, rest assured you can use tools like Disk Drill to recover CF card data loss. Whether it’s spreadsheets, documents or you need to recover photos from a CF card, tools like Disk Drill have you covered.


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.His interest in technology started at an ...

Read full bio
Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.