A couple of months back, our crew was shooting a big wedding production; three camera operators over 18 hours using a mix of Canon DSLR’s, XDCAM and AVCCAM cameras and a same day edit in the mix just to keep things interesting. The day ran smoothly and the following week, we proceeded with our backups as usual….running our various card readers through a powered USB hub into the mac and simultaneously transferring our footage to multiple mirrored drives with byte verification using Shotput Pro – a flawless and safe process to this point.
This time, however after already successfully backing up a couple of cards (a mixture of SDHC, SXS and CF), I inserted a compact flash card into a reader and up popped a message ‘This disk you inserted was not readable by this computer’…with the option to Initialize, Ignore or Eject. My heart skipped a beat and (not sure exactly which card it was referring to) I quickly removed all of the compact flash cards from the readers. I immediately scanned the reader slots for bent pins and did actually find one in one of the cheaper readers. Not wanting to risk any card corruption, I binned the reader straight away and proceeded to re-insert the cards to continue with the backup. I nearly lost it when upon slotting a different card into one of the ‘good’ readers, the same error appeared again. My assumption was that this must have been the card that was originally inserted into the other (trashed) reader, so I removed it and inserted a different card…BANG!…error message again! Crap! This must be the bad card reader.
That’s right, out of nowhere one of my compact flash card readers had gone bad and begun frying cards containing my precious (yet to be backed up) footage. This was the ultimate nightmare for any photographer or cinematographer…an unrepeatable shoot and the risk of losing some of that irreplaceable footage from card corruption 🙁
The dodgy reader wasn’t a cheap and nasty unit…I’d purchased it from a reputable supplier at a cost of around $30 and didn’t think I was skimping on equipment at the time. However, rather than risk it I promptly took all of the readers of that make & model that I owned and returned them to the store, replacing them with the highest quality Lexar readers that were available.
I backed up the remaining cards without a hitch. I then went about trying to recover my corrupted cards. Numerous attempts and approaches yielded no joy. I tried software from both Lexar and Sandisk (those which I’d had good experiences with in the past) and also tried to mount the cards on a Windows machine with no luck. As it turned out, one of the cards had already had the footage transferred through the process of ingesting shots for the same day edit on the shoot day, so I decided to experiment a little more with this particular card to see if I could actually repair the damage to the card’s directory structure with disk repair utilities. The repair worked, however it resulted in a format, which was not the result I wanted for the other card.
My next step was to Google and call data recovery companies in order to make a decision on who I would entrust with retrieving my important data. I decided on one of the larger companies and dropped my card off to them. Alas, they had no joy….the card was returned to me (no fee was charged, but that didn’t help the situation) and I was told that the card’s physical memory component was damaged. Although hope seemed lost, I wasn’t convinced…I began to trawl the net, trying to learn something about varying types of media corruption and what could be done. I found some information on NAND chips on memory cards and also some mention of recovery services through which the chip could be physically removed from the card and data forensically recovered through specialist hardware and software combinations. I felt a glimmer of hope…although this was accompanied by a fear of what this type of process (if it worked) would cost. I made some phone calls to various recovery companies around Australia to ascertain whether they provided this level of service and associated costs. I wasn’t having much luck until I stumbled across this little website www.getmydataback.com.au . I gave them a call and found that they were a small IT company based in Tamworth who really knew their stuff when it came to data recovery and had been doing it for quite some time. I was convinced to package up my card and sent it to them by registered post.
A week past and I then received one of the best phone calls I’ve ever experienced….they had recovered the footage! WOOHOO! Apparently they cracked the card open and performed numerous tests, including exposing the chip to high temperatures all of which culminated in them being able to access and retrieve my data. The footage was copied to a memory stick and posted back to me, all for under $300 including the postage and the stick. I was one happy and relieved camper 🙂
So what have I learned from this experience?
1. Don’t skimp on card readers, especially when it comes to compact flash cards. All of those pins are asking to be bent if the card doesn’t slide into the reader with as solid a feeling as if you’re sliding it into a camera. The Lexar readers seem as solid as a rock.
2. Sandisk CF cards apparently have an automatic proprietary encryption applied to data saved on the card (the recovery guys told me this). This can make it harder to recover data from these cards.
3. The guys at getmydataback.com.au / Tamworth IT rock 🙂 And they’re a small business – great to deal with.