i have the good yet dangerous habit of shift-deleting data when i'm sure i don't need them. but that means although very careful, i do happen to erase useful data occasionally!

recently i lost some RAW images on a SD card after shift-deleting them accidentally (they were all inside a folder) and then recovered them, partially, via a nice and totally free little program named ''TOKIWA DataRecovery'' which worked relatively fine recovering 'moved' data but in case of the shift-deleted ones, it seems not to be working finely.

it has recovered the files, and the RAW images file sizes appear to be right (they are all huge, more than 9MB or 10MB in size) and their thumbnails can be seen too, but when i want to view them in their large, original size, the image appears for a brief time (albeit blurred) and then changes into a scrambled piece of colors and lines ...

i have read elsewhere on this very site that it's only the thumbnails that have been recovered in my case and the actual images may be totally lost forever, but if so, then how come the file sizes are still big, as they are in the original version?

thanks for any piece of good advice in helping me out to recover the actual photos!


ps: tried another program too, named Undelete 360 which failed to help as much as TOKIWA DataRecovery did: the former did recover "moved" files fully, but in case of the shift-deleted files, it just recovered scrambled images, not even the thumbnails. this has made me hopeful that maybe there is a possibility that some other program out there might be able to fully recover the lost RAW photo files.

  • I take it that "shift delete" does an immediate delete without sending the file to a "trash" or "recycle" area first, on some operating system?
    – mattdm
    Oct 2, 2013 at 22:04
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    @mattdm - You are correct. That is the behavior on Windows(90% of the desktop market).
    – dpollitt
    Oct 2, 2013 at 23:03
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about generic file recovery, and would best be suited for www.superuser.com
    – dpollitt
    Oct 2, 2013 at 23:07
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    Dont close it, as you see in my answer there are program optimised for raw files, making it highly relevant and useful for photography. Oct 3, 2013 at 7:27
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    @MichaelNielsen I agree, although I think we've got this well covered with existing questions like the one I just linked on partially-corrupted files after recovery.
    – mattdm
    Oct 3, 2013 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


I've had this happen as well, the free recovery tools cannot recover from Flash/SSD drives. They find the file names but the images are broken even if the recovery software has an option to look for images in particular. There are paid options that work better. I used a trial to recover some cr2 files I deleted, and you had to pay to get them (it flaunts them at you and you can preview them but not restore them), but I found a temp folder where they were under garbled names. A few of them did not work but most did.

I dont remember the name right now. will update when I find out.

I tried at least 5 programs. One of them was adroit photo recovery. The reviews look similar to my experience, so it might be this one.


I've used the free version of Piriform's Recuva that specifically looks for image files. It identified my Canon RAW files as .tif files. In order to get my RAW convertor to read the files correctly, I had to change the file extensions of the recovered files from .tif to .cr2. A bulk renaming utility is invaluable if you need to change the extension of thousands of files.

  • recuva didnt work for me at all. Oct 3, 2013 at 11:36

The way that file deletion works is that it marks the space as being available to be overwritten. Files are stored in any space that is marked as free. While the file recovery tool may be able to identify the spaces used by the file (by examining header information, thus getting the right file size and name) the actual data in those sectors of the storage medium may have been overwritten and there is no way to recover the file if that is the case. The file you recover will still be the correct size, since it is taking a certain number of bytes from certain locations, but the data in some of those locations will be wrong since parts of the storage space don't contain your image data anymore.

This is why successful data recovery requires immediately stopping all write use of the drive and restoring to an alternate media, otherwise the recovery operation itself may inadvertently overwrite part of the files being recovered.

If the file sizes were right but the data is wrong, you are probably screwed as it means that the headers were most likely intact but the data was not. You might have better luck with a commercial recovery option, but generally if you are able to make an attempt, that's the best you are going to get. The commercial software is generally better at piecing things together in more ways, but you can't recover overwritten data without using physical processes to try to determine residual values with specialized hardware (ie, in a specialized lab) and that is very hit or miss and very expensive (and doesn't work well for all media types).

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