When you find that your valuable data has been lost, it can be very distressing. However, if the card was formatted before this happened there are some steps you can take to recover valuable files from a CF card. It is important to act quickly when trying to recover data from a CF Card because most of them don’t allow many read/write cycles and the more time passes the less likely it will be possible for recovery software to extract any data off of it.

Causes That Lead to Format CF Card

There are many possible causes that can lead to CF card formatting, corruption, and data loss. Here are the following along with their possible fixes/solutions:

Causes Recommended Solutions
Newly purchased CF cards that are immediately used without formatting it first.
  • Before recording, make sure to format the card first.
Premature ejection of cards while being used, whether through a device or while being read by a pc or laptop.
  • Turn off your camera first before ejecting the CF card or when using a computer, make sure to safely eject the card first.
Normally, using the CF card for more than two years can cause issues in the long run, making the user frequently reformat it.
  • Check with the manufacturer regarding the length their CF cards can be used.
Corrupting the card by constantly using the camera even when the display states “low battery” or “card full.”
  • Always have a backup battery and CF card.
Using the same CF card on multiple devices may cause your card to become corrupted.
  • Have extra CF cards that are dedicated per specific gadget.
Using your CF cards on different OS or systems regularly can corrupt the card.
  • Have a dedicated CF card for Windows, Mac, and other OS that you prefer.
Careless use like improper insertion and not using a protective case for your CF card can cause early wear and tear.
  • Follow manufacturer’s use and care instructions.
Corrupt firmware.
  • Ensure that your camera’s firmware is up to date. If the update fails, do not use your camera until you’re successful.

Now that you know the main causes of CF card formatting, let’s talk about the different methods on how you can easily recover formatted files from your CF card to get your data back in no time.

How to Recover Formatted CF Card on Windows

Now, let’s take a look at the most useful methods on how to recover formatted CF Card on Windows. Here are they:

Method 1 Using data recovery software – Disk Drill

To recover deleted or lost data from your CF card:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill and connect your CF card to your system.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Launch Disk Drill and select your CF card. You can find it in the list of Devices/Disks. Then, click “Search for lost data.” search for lost data
  3. Wait for the scan to finish. The length of the process varies on the size of your CF card.
  4. Once the scan is complete, click Review found items found on the top right corner of the screen.
  5. Check the boxes of the files you want to recover and click “Recover.” formatted CF card recovery on Windows
  6. Choose a destination where you want to save your recovered files. Finally, click OK.

Method 2 Using CMD

If you’d like to recover your formatted CF card using CMD, here’s what you’ll have to do:

  1. Connect your card to your desktop or laptop. 
  2. Click on the Windows icon and then type “command prompt” on the search bar.  command prompt
  3. Right-click on the Command Prompt, and click “Run as administrator.” If asked to allow access, click Yes. run as administrator
  4. Type chkdsk F: /f and press “Enter”. chkdsk command prompt
  5. Type F and press “Enter.” Then, type F:\>attrib -h -r -s /s /d *. * and press “Enter”. The recovered files will be saved in a new folder on your CF card.  cf files command prompt

Method 3 Re-install card reader driver

Lastly, if you’d like to recover your formatted CF card by re-installing your card reader driver, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Start Menu and select Device Manager. device manager
  2. Uninstall your card reader’s driver. uninstall device
  3. Restart your PC or laptop.
  4. Follow the installation steps provided by your card reader’s manufacturer.

How to Recover Formatted CF Card on Mac

The following methods will help you recover a formatted CF card for Mac.

Method 1 Using data recovery software – Disk Drill

  1. Download, install and launch Disk Drill while you connect your CF card to your system.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Select your CF card in the list of Devices/Disks available. Click “Search for lost data.” recover files from a formatted CF card
  3. Wait for the scan to complete. The length of the process varies on the size of your CF card.
  4. Once done, click Review found items. You can find it in the top right corner of the screen.
  5. Select the files you want to recover by simply checking their boxes. Then, click “Recover.” disk drill recover files from a formatted CF card
  6. Choose your preferred file destination and click OK.

Method 2 Mac First Aid Repair Utility

  1. Open “Disk Utility” found in your Applications folder. disk utility
  2. Select your CF card. Then, click “First Aid” and confirm the action by clicking “Run.run first aid on storage
  3. Wait for the process to complete. process complete

Method 3 Data Recovery Service

If all else fails, you can send the CF card to a data recovery service and have it examined by professionals. Professional data recovery services are more expensive but they are sometimes worth the money, 

How to Prevent Data Loss on a CF Card

Data recovery software is a great way to avoid losing important data on your CF card or any other storage device, but it’s always better if you can reduce the likelihood of this happening in the first place. Here are some tips on how to prevent data loss on a CF card.

  • 📷 Use dual-card slot cameras. There are high-end professional cameras from Nikon and Canon wherein you can use both CF and SD cards at the same time. RAW files can be saved to one card and JPEGs to another. You’ll have all of the data, as well as smaller photos that you can process quickly on the go. You can shoot RAW files to both cards, providing a perfect backup in case one card fails. This is the most common application.
  • 🤔 Be mindful when deleting files. Once it’s deleted, it’s deleted. There’s no recycle bin that acts as a safety buffer when it comes to CF cards.
  • 🛡️ Use reliable brands only. Despite the attraction of saving on costs with cheap brands, you can’t go wrong with trusted manufacturers because of their durability and high compatibility with your camera. Card readers are everywhere, but if you’re using high-end CF cards it’s worth double-checking that they work with your specific type of card.
  • 🌡️ Storage Temperature. Heavy-duty cards are only good to around 50C (120F), so avoid overheating your devices. Avoid water. Freshwater isn’t a problem if the card is dried before plugging it in, but saltwater causes issues due to corrosion. Wet flash cards must be dried thoroughly. Both moisture and dirt cause failure. Memory card contact points can get dirty, causing poor connections.
  • ⚠️ Avoid pulling the card out while in use. Whether in the camera or a reader connected to the computer, don’t pull the card out before it’s finished writing. Wait a few seconds longer to be sure and turn the camera off before removing it.
  • 💾 Using your CF cards on different camera models. If you want to use your camera cards on multiple devices, make sure they are formatted first. Each device has a different format and numbering system so it’s important for every card of yours to be marked with what camera model it is intended for.


If you have invested in digital cameras or any kind of storage device for your memories, make sure to invest in some extra CF cards. Even if they are always stored carefully and with the utmost care there is still a chance that something could happen — especially considering how small cracks can lead to an entire card’s worth being lost forever! Thankfully though there are recovery apps available that may be able to help retrieve what has been deleted but these aren’t perfect so just remember: backups will ensure nothing happens when all hope seems lost.


Emma Collins

Emma Collins is a content writer who has been writing tech tutorials & how-to guides relating to her wide interests in technology. She's been writing articles on Windows, Android, iOS, Social Media, Gaming, and more a...

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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.