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Best Photo Recovery software

Best Photo Recovery software

We’ve been reviewing photo recovery software since 2011. Recently, we spent more than 30 hours testing this software to discover the best one for all file formats, storage devices and data loss scenarios. Our overall winner is Stellar Photo Recovery. It successfully recovered all lost and reformatted JPG and raster images in our tests, and it also had solid recovery rates for production images and vector images. The program’s interface is clean and well-designed, and the company backs the software with terrific customer service. 

Best Overall

Stellar Photo Recovery

Stellar Photo Recovery

Recouped 100 percent of JPGs and other raster files
Recovered 80 percent of vector images
Has tons of customer support options
No Polaroid RAW format support
Not the fastest recovery speed
Costliest software in our comparison

With Stellar Photo Recovery, you can easily recoup image files that have been lost from deletion or a reformatted hard drive.

It recovered 100 percent of all raster files and 80 percent of vector files in our tests and even did a decent job recouping production images and digital camera raw files. What’s more, the image recovery software has a clean and modern interface with clearly labeled buttons. The software is powerful and does all of the heavy lifting, so it’s easy enough for both advanced and novice users to interact with.

Though the software does a fantastic job of finding and recovering images, it isn’t the fastest at doing so. Stellar had an average scan speed of 150GB per hour, which does beat the category average of 114.3GB, but there are faster programs. The program sinks with its recovery speed, which is just 32GB per hour. This isn’t great since the category average is 75.1GB. However, with such solid performance and technical support backing it, the software is worth waiting for.

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Best Value



It was decently successful at recovering lost raw images.
It’s the most affordable application available.
Its scan speed was one of the fastest we tested.
It was unsuccessful at recovering lost and reformatted vector images.
The installation process was comparably lengthy and somewhat difficult.
It’s not compatible with Samsung or Epson camera raw formats.

PhotoRescue is budget-friendly photo recovery software designed for use specifically on small storage devices like flash drives, SD cards, microSDs and XD cards, although it can work with standard HDD and SSD devices.

PhotoRescue can recover nearly all major camera raw formats, making the program suitable for serious photographers needing to recover lost raw images on their memory cards. Our tests simulated data loss from two of the most common data loss scenarios: lost files and a reformatted drive. We tested each scenario on an HDD, SSD and SD card. PhotoRescue recovered 75 percent of lost JPG files and 53 percent of other raster images, which are both below-average scores, although it recovered an above-average number of production files. In testing reformatted drives, it recovered 72 percent of JPGs. However, it recovered just 29 percent of other raster images and 24 percent of camera raw images. The program succeeds at recognizing all major camera raw images aside from Samsung and Epson. PhotoRescue has one of the fastest scanning speeds of any product in our comparison, an average of 143GB per hour. Speed doesn’t mirror quality, but it does help you get your images back quicker in a stressful situation. The app’s recovery speed wasn’t as fast, however, coming in at just 47GB per hour. Though it wasn’t the most effective software overall, it works well for certain data loss situations, especially for its low price.

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Best for Digital Cameras



It successfully recovered the most lost vector and production images.
This program is compatible with the most camera raw file formats.
It recovered most lost production and raw images.
It barely recovered any reformatted non-JPG raster images.
It recovered no reformatted production and vector images.
Both its scan and recover speeds were slower than average.

With GetData, you can expect a high recovery rate for most of your lost files – especially JPGs – but not for those on a drive that’s been reformatted. GetData was the only program in our tests that recognized every major raw image file, making it a great option for serious photographers needing to recover photos from a DSLR.

In our testing, we simulated the two most common data loss scenarios – a reformatted drive, and lost files through accidental deletion – which we performed on an SSD, HDD and SD card. GetData recouped 100 percent of the JPG images. The software did well in recovering other file types in our lost scenarios but performed below-average in our reformatted drive tests. GetData was the only program that recognized every major camera raw format we threw at it. Each raw format is unique to the brand of camera it stems from, and typically their uncompressed nature makes them difficult for recovery software to recognize. GetData’s ability to recognize and recover lost files across such a wide variety of formats means that it’s the best for digital camera users.

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Best Customer Support

Disk Doctors Photo Recovery

Disk Doctors Photo Recovery

It’s great for recovering JPG and raster files.
It did not recover any vector files in our tests.

Disk Doctors Photo Recovery is fairly easy to install and use and did a decent job overall in our image file recovery tests.

It’s also one of the fastest scanners we reviewed. If you combine all of that with the fact that it excelled at recovering JPG and raster image files, it’s clear that Disk Doctors is a great option if you need to recover those formats. It did a mediocre job at recovering camera raw images but did the second-best in our tests for recovering production files. However, it failed to reclaim any of the vector files, so we can’t recommend it for those types of files.

Disk Doctors backs up its photo recovery software with excellent technical support. It’s one of the few companies in our comparison with a PDF version of the user manual available for free on its website. This format, rather than an HTML version, is easier to access and search. There are myriad informational articles and tutorials on the website as well, which can minimize the product’s small learning curve and abate any problems you encounter during use. You can also reach out to the Disk Doctors customer support team directly via live chat, email and phone.

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Fastest Recovery Speed



It quickly recouped 100 percent of JPGs in every test we ran.
It failed to recoup production and vector image files.

CardRecovery is photo recovery software known for its fast recover speeds and its ability to consistently recover JPG images.

It works best for damaged, defective and unreadable memory cards but can also scan and recover lost photos from a standard hard drive. While the developers of CardRecovery claim it can recover all types of photo and video files, including proprietary digital camera raw formats, we didn’t have much success in recouping any kind of file format beyond JPG.

It recovered only 25 percent of raster formats beyond JPG and failed to recover any production and vector images. And though it recovered a little over 50 percent of proprietary raw formats during our lost file tests, it didn’t deliver a single one during our reformatted drive tests. It also failed in recouping proprietary raw images on the SD card, which is a huge letdown considering it’s designed primarily for SD card recovery.

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ProductPriceOverall RatingLost File & Reformatted Drive RecoveryDigital Camera RecoveryEase of UseSupportAverage Scan Speed (GB/hr)Average Recover Speed (GB/hr)JPEG ImagesOther Raster ImagesVector ImagesNikon (NEF, NRW)Canon (CGM, CR2, CRW)Panasonic (RAW, RW2)Sony (SR2, ARW)Polaroid (X3F)Samsung (SRW)Olympus (ORF)Kodak (DCR, KDC)Epson (ERF)Fuji (RAF)InstallationScanRecoveryDirect SupportKnowledgebaseTutorials
Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery5/554.74.951503210010080A+A-A+Chat, Phone, Email
Remo Recover Media Edition4.5/54.94.255172610099.570A+A+B+Chat, Phone, Email
GetData Recover My Photos0/53.9544.8444810048.545C+B-C-Chat, Email
Disk Doctors4.5/, Phone, Email
O&O MediaRecovery 123.5/
Odboso Photo Retrieval3.5/54.22.544.513181009124C+CC-Email
CardRecovery3.5/533.84.34.720430100250BCB-Phone, Email
Wondershare Photo RecoveryView Deal3.5/524.74.44.5432950500B+CA-Email
DataRescue PhotoRescue3.5/
Asoftech Photo Recovery3/50.753.74.5253172500D+CC-Email

Why Trust Us? 

We’ve tested photo recovery software for more than six years. Our most recent tests took over 55 hours in Purch Labs. We simulated various data loss scenarios and tried to account for common issues people face.

Each software application was thoroughly tested to account for variables and differing scenarios. All of the specs were compared and verified, and the features studied and compared. We also investigated each company’s technical support and informational resources.

We found that, when it comes to photo recovery software, there isn’t a correlation between price and efficacy. The price range here is incredibly narrow. However, the most useful features for any given scenario are high recovery success rates for lost files and reformatted drives across multiple types of storage mediums. Additionally, extensive raw format compatibility is important for those needing to recoup images off of a digital camera. Lastly, intuitive and easy to use programs are a must, especially if they have a built-in wizard option.

How Much Does Photo Recovery Software Cost?

Do-it-yourself photo recovery software costs between $30 and $50, and there aren't any add-on fees or subscriptions associated with this kind of software. Typically, you will purchase the software directly from the developer and receive one license for a Windows and/or Mac computer.

How We Tested 

The best photo recovery software can recover all types of image files. To test this, we created a data set with an equal number of raster, vector, production and camera raw files. We saved the files on multiple types of drives and then deleted the files, sometimes formatting the drive as well. Then we used each program to recover as many lost or reformatted files as possible. We performed each test several times and averaged the results.

To determine the software’s ease of use, we looked closely at the interface, the installation, the scanning process and the recovery process. From our tests, we determined grades for each stage of the recovery process – installation, scan and recovery. Critical to our ease of use score was that the Scan and Recover buttons be clearly labeled and easy to find. We also considered the number of mouse clicks between each stage and how long it took the tester to figure out how to initiate a task.

During our testing, we compared the programs against comprehensive data recovery software. While the success rates are comparable for recovering JPGs, the data recovery software struggled to save other image formats. It didn’t recognize any of the camera raw images and recovered a low percentage of production and vector images.

We also tested some free recovery apps and compared them to the photo recovery software in our review. The free photo recovery programs recovered JPGs at an average rate of less than 7 percent for both lost files and reformatted drives. The free software did recover a high number of production, vector and camera raw files, but most of them were either duplicates or too damaged to use. As such, you’re better off paying for photo recovery software that can save most of your files.

What Key Features to Look for When Buying Photo Recovery Software 

Lost File Recovery
Human error is the most common cause of data loss. Usually, someone deletes a folder without looking at the contents then empties the recycle bin, eventually realizing that important files are missing. In a different scenario a nefarious file with a virus corrupts the directory. To test these scenarios, we added the original data sets to an empty HDD, SSD and SD card. Then we deleted the data set and emptied the recycle bin so that the drives appeared to have no files. At this point, we installed the photo recovery software and scanned the drives to recover the deleted files. After each recovery, we compared the original data set to the recovered data set to determine the success rate.

Most of the photo recovery software recovered JPGs with a perfect success rate. While the success rate dipped for other raster files, most products recovered a high rate of TIF, PNG, GIF and BMP files. The success rates became far more varied with the vector, production and camera raw images, which is to be expected. These image formats are less common and more complicated than a standard raster file.

Reformatted Drive Recovery
Another common data loss scenario is the reformatted drive. Typically, this begins with attaching an external drive to your computer that isn’t formatted for your current operating system. Your computer recognizes the mismatched format and prompts you to format the drive. You click OK because you want to use the drive. However, you don’t realize until after the drive’s been formatted that the data is gone. To test this scenario, we added the data set of photos, documents, videos and music files to an HDD, SSD and flash drive. Then we reformatted the drive and used the hard disk recovery software to scan and recover the data set.

Similar to the lost file scenario, each photo recovery app in our review scanned the same reformatted drives, creating a comparable look into how the products fare when recovering data from the same drive and the same scenario. The recovery rates of JPGs were similar to those of the lost file test, but there was variation with the other raster files.

Digital Camera Recovery
One of the most common image recovery scenarios occurs when you take an SDHC card out of one camera and place it in another camera. If the camera brand is different, you may have to format the card, thus losing any pictures and videos taken with the previous camera. Since nearly every digital camera brand features its own proprietary raw format, we looked at how well the programs recovered these camera formats from a reformatted SDHC card. Instead of looking for the recovery percentages of the files, we only considered whether or not it recognized the format. Since there are so many camera raw formats, we only looked at ones from popular digital camera brands – Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Kodak, Fuji and Polaroid.

Most of the photo recovery programs in our review claim to recover all types of camera raw formats. This test yielded surprising results. Less than half of the products recognized any of the camera raw formats on the reformatted drive test. As such, we decided to credit the picture recovery software if it recognized the format at any point in our tests.

Scan Speed
In each test we ran, we measured how much data the software could scan in an hour. Then we averaged the scan speeds from every test we ran on the HDD, SSD and SD card. We found no correlation between recovery success rates and scan speeds, so you shouldn’t think that a product with a slow scan would produce better results. Similarly, a fast scan simply means that you’ll get your photos sooner.

Recovery Speed
Once the software finishes scanning the targeted drive, you have to preview and select the files that you want to recover. Once you’ve initiated the recovery, the software writes the data to a new storage device. You can’t write the data to the same device you’re scanning, as this would overwrite the data which you’re trying to recover. We noted the amount of data that the image recovery software can recover in an hour on an HDD, SSD and SD card. As with the scan speed, a high recover speed doesn’t ensure quality or quantity – simply that you’ll have your photos back sooner.

Ease of Use
We know that losing your cherished photos is a stressful experience. As such, it’s important for photo recovery software to guide you through each stage of the recovery process. The best photo recovery software should be easy for even the most novice users. There should be little to no learning curve, along with an intuitive, clearly labeled interface. In most cases, the program should supply you with a wizard that guides you step-by-step through the scan and recovery process, providing explanations along the way.

Help & Support
As with any product, you should consider how well the publisher supports the software. We looked at how you can contact the support team, in case you need help using the software, whether by phone, live chat or email. You should look at how the user manual is available online. A PDF format is easier to reference and access than an HTML webpage. You should also consider the available educational resources such as tutorials, informational articles and a knowledgebase or forum.

How Does Data Usually Become Lost? 

In most scenarios where you’ve lost your photos, the cause of the data loss is rooted in the file path or file directory. The directory has been deleted, removed, corrupted or reformatted. In any case, the operating system can’t access the photo because the path to the file is gone. However, the ones and zeroes of the file are still on the storage device.

The most common data loss scenario occurs when you delete a file and empty the recycle bin. Maybe you deleted the wrong folder, or perhaps someone in your family deleted a folder of photos not realizing that someone else needed them. Either way, the actual data loss doesn’t occur until you’ve emptied the recycle bin. It’s called a recycle bin instead of a trash bin because you’re literally telling your computer to recycle the space on the drive. The ones and zeroes of the file are never deleted from the drive, but if you keep using the drive, the OS will eventually write new data over the old data. Files that have been overwritten cannot be recovered.

The Steps to Photo Recovery 

The first step toward recovering your lost photos is to stop using the storage device immediately. If you continue using the drive, your OS will eventually write over the photos with new data. The longer you use your storage device after data loss has occurred, the less likely a successful recovery will be. Also keep in mind that when data is written to a drive, it’s typically done so randomly, which means files can even become partially overwritten, making them inaccessible if you keep using the drive.

The second step to recovery is scanning your storage device with this software. To do this, you have to consider your situation. If you can’t remove the hard drive, you should ensure you choose image recovery software that is read-only, or that has a boot utility feature. You don’t want to install the software to the hard drive, as this can overwrite the very photos that you’re trying to recover. Alternately, if the photos are on an external device – such as an SD card, external hard drive or thumb drive – you can simply install the software to your computer’s hard drive and scan the external drive. Once the software has completed the scan, it will write the recovered photos to a different storage device, thus completing the recovery process.

There are several free photo recovery programs. Many are available from the makers of the best data recovery software on the market, which can recover other types of files besides photos. This is because image files, like JPG and PNG, are common and among the easiest files to recover. Many data recovery apps offer free photo recovery software as a hook for their more sophisticated data recovery apps. This is done with the idea that if you recover all of your photos, you’ll view the software as a reliable product and turn to it when you need to recover documents, music and videos.

Should You Buy Photo Recovery Software? 

If you’ve lost photos saved on your computer and don’t have a copy of them anywhere – or a friend that’s knowledgeable in data recovery – photo recovery software can be a lifesaver. It’s less expensive than comprehensive data recovery software and drastically cheaper than sending in your computer hard drive to a professional recovery service. The reasonably low cost of these programs makes them accessible, and their high recovery success rates make them worthwhile.

General Data Recovery Software

If your computer crashed and you lost more than just your photos, you may want to consider using general data recovery software. These programs work similarly to photo recovery software but have the power to search for and recover documents, videos, music, applications and anything else as well. The software also works on hard drives that have been reformatted, and there are alternative options for Mac computers and iPhones.

As with photo recovery software, no data recovery program recovered 100 percent of the files in both of our test scenarios. They also occasionally only find partial files, and don’t consistently recover file names. As such, after the software runs its scan and recovery processes, you still have to dig through the wreckage manually. If you are lucky, you’ll see most or all of your files – and their correct names – recovered; if you’re not, you’ll have to click on every file and fragment it finds, see if it opens successfully, and then rename it.

You can also opt to send out your hard drive to a professional recovery service if you don’t feel comfortable enough to run this software yourself. After all, it’s worth remembering that these programs do not guarantee full recovery, as there are too many factors and situations to plan for. Even the best software and professional services may not find all your files if the scenario is severe enough; however, it’s a perfectly valid and affordable place to start if your computer crashed or you accidentally reformatted your hard drive.