I have taken over 14,000 photos with my Canon 7D and loaded them into my Windows 7 desktop computer the same way, by inserting the CF card into my computer's reader. The point is that I know how it usually works so this "empty folder" problem is definitely out of the ordinary. To shorten the post I always use the "Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media" utility before removing the CF. My workflow has been folder based:

  • Shoot into a folder.
  • Copy the folder to both an internal hard drive for editing etc. and an external hard drive I swap every few days as off-site backup.
  • Create a new folder for the next batch of photos, unless the card is about out of space. In that case I format another CF card and remind myself to swap offsite HDs soon. The full card goes in my camera bag, which is my semi-offsite backup against the house burning down.
  • When I swap offsite disks I format the CF card in the 7D and move the other CF cards to the "Ok To Use" pocket of my camera bag. If I have time I'll format them as I move them.

I shot tonight's sunset into folder 102EOS7D. Folders 100EOS7D and 101EOS7D had the photos of the two prior shoots since the last offsite backup swap. I put the CF card in the PC and both the last two folders were empty, 101 and 102. I put the CF card back in the 7D and confirmed that both folders 101 and 102 had pictures in them. I attached a USB CF card reader to the PC and inserted the CF card. Folders 101 and 102 were still empty. I put the CF card back in the 7D and the folders were empty! By just trying to read the CF card two shoots of photos went away! Bummer!

I have the photos from folder 101 and tonight's sunset in folder 102 was boring so I decided to troubleshoot rather than try to recover the CF card. I ran Windows Update and nothing was missing. I reformatted the CF card and shot some photos. I found a USB cable that fits the 7D and successfully downloaded the photos in the new folder 100EOS7D.

Any suggestions? The card is fairly new, only in its second or third offsite-backup-swap cycle. It is the largest capacity I've ever had, a Transcend 400x 64 GB CF card.

More details:

  • I always format in the camera, not Windows.
  • Losing photos is serious, how do I help keep it from happening again?
  • Is this likely a CF card problem, a Windows problem, a problem with my 7D, or ... ?
  • I don't know if this is a possibility, but could there be "bad blocks" in the "FAT" (or whatever, don't know tech details) of the CF card that could produce these symptoms?
  • Is there a low-level format utility for CF cards that could identify "bad blocks" and "mark them unusable"? Again, I'm not familiar with CF card details.
  • Is there something, given the symptoms, I don't know enough to ask?
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't quite understand what you are asking for here. Are you looking for a recommendation on how to recover lost photos from the card? Can you edit the title to actually have a question in it? This might be the answer you are looking for... photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3323/… \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 6:42
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you create folders using Windows, or in camera? If you do it in Windows, I'd suggest you do it in camera (along with reformatting). \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 7:52

3 Answers 3


CF cards – just like any other storage media – fail every now and then.

In general, when a storage media fails, the symptoms may "look strange" from the perspective of the computer, camera, or any other device that tries to access it. Don't try to over-interpret them; it just failed. You might be able to recover something – for recovery tips, see these two questions: [1], [2].

There is nothing you can do to completely prevent failures, no matter what kind of best practices you try to follow.

To make failures less frequent, you can try to use well-known brands, expensive high-end cards, and cards with a long warranty period. Also remember to throw a card away (or have it replaced) immediately as soon as you notice anything strange.

But most importantly, make sure that losing a single CF card is never a catastrophic event. Use two cards in parallel if your camera supports it. Transfer photos from the card to your laptop or some other backup device frequently. If you don't have access to any kind of computer for a while, use more than one card and rotate them; etc.

Your card will fail, sooner or later. And your hard disk drive will fail, sooner or later. Just plan ahead so that you won't be too upset when it happens. Sure, you may lose some photos, but make sure you don't lose a whole week of memories.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ One point to add: when you spot a problem with a CF card, immediately stop using it. The chances are good that the photos you have lost are still recoverable. Simply unmount it or remove it from the camera until you can use recovery software or give it to a professional recovery service. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 9:30

I've had odd behaviour from a CF card. But only when it reached quite an age; Flash has a limited life. If I recall correctly, the card was around three or four years old when it failed. The failure mode was not unlike the one you are seeing though; while I was using the camera, the camera's idea of the number of shots on the card went from around 300 to 2 (probably initially 0, but I didn't notice).

I was taking photos at a friend's wedding. I immediately swapped cards and kept the problem card for later examination. From then everything went OK, and I was able to use PhotoRec to recover the "lost" images.

However, I've never had a problem quite like yours. Perhaps I've avoided it because I follow these rules strictly:

  1. I only ever write to the card by taking photos with the camera; I don't delete photos, create folders, or anything like that with a computer. I don't delete photos with the camera either. The only writes are caused by taking photos. I don't use the card itself as a backup device.
  2. Access from the computer is therefore always read-only.
  3. I recover space on the card by entirely formatting it in the camera after I have copied all the photos off it.
  4. (Since the wedding incident) I discard CF cards when they reach 2 years old.

As for a suggestion for you given that you asked for suggestions, try using PhotoRec to recover the photos and then try getting a refund for the card, it sounds like it's faulty.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps the card is bad, though it is almost brand new. I do what you do, create folders on the camera only, format on the camera between uses, and use the cards read-only in Windows. Thanks for your input. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Jerde
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am curious if your personal rules 1, 2, and 3 are grounded in any science or are just your habits? \$\endgroup\$
    – Drew
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, most camera manufacturers suggest formatting in camera - here from nikon usa: "Nikon strongly recommends using the digital camera to format PC cards before use in the camera. Formatting in the camera ensures the proper settings and will give the most reliable operation." \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:21

A virus is a possibility, either from the computer or from the card (was it ever inserted on another computer to peek at the pictures). There are a number of scenarios as to why it would lose files. An unlikely one is it deleted something to make room for it to infect the card ... because it was 64GB and presumably not full. It could be that in-camera formatting (which I do recommend, as do the manufacturers) was confusing to the virus code trying to do things like hide itself or make the card bootable. In any case, if the virus triggered writing to the card, that could involuntarily create the scenario James Youngman suggested avoiding.


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