How to Recover SD Card Data on Mac

7 min read

There are few things more terrifying on a computer than realizing that you’ve lost or deleted precious data. It’s even worse if that data is on an SD memory card that has photos from a special occasion or holiday, or video of a once-in-a-lifetime event like a wedding.

Can a corrupted SD card be recovered?

It’s hard if not impossible to replace digital storage these days. Handy and portable, SD cards provide a perfect alternative to physical data storage solutions like paper.  The only problem is with SD cards you always run a risk of losing your information. If your SD card has been corrupted, you won’t be able to access any data that’s stored on the card.  

Fortunately, even when all seems lost and the SD card can’t be read on your Mac or it looks like there are no files on it, there is hope. Disk Drill can fix the card and recover lost data.

How to recover deleted files from an SD card

If you see an error message when trying to access your SD card, it’s a warning sign. With reliable data recovery software and a backup, there’s nothing to worry about, though. Take a deep breath and follow the guide below to get your data back.

Before you begin to recover dataThe most important thing to be aware of is that you should stop using the SD card as soon as you realize you’ve deleted data or that it has become corrupt. That’s because most cameras don’t wipe data completely – they only alter the file structure to make space available for new data. If you stop using the card immediately, the data won’t be over-written, but if you continue to use the card, there’s a good chance it will be wiped completely. 

The more you use the card, the more chance there is your data will be over-written and you won’t be able to recover it. So, stop using it as soon as you realize there’s a problem. You can restore your files, but you need a special program for this.

What if you can’t restore data 

First of all, are you sure your card has been corrupted? There are at least three ways to check it. The easiest would be to check your SD card on another device—obviously, a corrupted card won’t work on any computer. Apart from that, you can try to reinstall the drivers or change the drive letter. Once you know your prediction is true and you can’t just restore data, roll up your sleeves and start the process of memory card recovery. Check the article about the best ways to recover deleted files on Mac.

How to do SD card recovery

Disk Drill can scan a memory card and recover files in the most common situations when SD card data get lost. Here’s a guide on how you can get your data back:

The easy way to restore lost files on an SD card

When your SD card is corrupted or damaged, your data will usually become inaccessible. The good news is that Disk can scan a memory card and recover files in the most common situations when SD card data get lost.

  1. Install recovery software on your Mac

    It’s best if you have Disk Drill installed before you lose data, as a precaution. That’s because it has two features, Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery that make it much more likely you’ll be able to recover data when it's deleted.
    Most of us don’t take such precautions, however, so launch Setapp, search for Disk Drill and click Install.
    Disk Drill utility

  2. Plug in your SD card

    If your Mac has an SD card slot, insert the card. If not, connect a USB card reader to your Mac, and insert the card into that. The memory card should mount in your Mac’s Finder. If it doesn’t, launch Disk Utility, click on the SD card in the sidebar and click Mount.
    Scan memory card with Disk Drill utility

  3. Scan your storage

    Run Disk Drill and wait for its main window to open. You should see your SD card listed in the window. The simplest way to recover data is just to click the Recover button next to the name of the card. This will run through the different scanning methods and attempt to present a list of deleted files.
    If you’d rather have more control, click the cog icon next to the Recover button and choose either Quick Scan or Deep Scan. Quick Scan is the quicker method but is more superficial and only works on specific storage formats and won’t work if the card is corrupted. Deep Scan takes longer but goes much deeper into the card’s file structure, works with more file formats, and is more likely to work if the card is corrupted.

  4. Review the results of the scan

    Once the scan is complete, DiskDrill will display a list of the files it has found, along with the file type (photo, text, movie, and so on), its size, and its modification date. If it has found lots of files, you can filter them so you only see files of a certain type, a certain size, or which were deleted within a time you specify.
    To filter the results, click on a menu, for example, the one that displays ‘All files’, and choose an item from the menu, for example, a JPEG image. When you do that, Disk Drill will only display files of that type, making it easier to find specific files. Be aware that, depending on how damaged the files are, all the information may not be correct for every file.
    Review files on SD card with Disk Drill utility

  5. Save the session

    DiskDrill saves sessions automatically so you can come back later, but it’s a good idea to manually save a session at this stage, just to make sure. Click the Save session button in the toolbar. Now, if you quit Disk Drill and come back later, you’ll be able to load the session and pick up where you left off. All the details of the scan you’ve just done will be saved.

  6. Preview files before starting the recovery process

    When you see a file you’re looking for, click the eye icon after the file path to preview it. This works a bit like the OS X Quick Look feature, allowing you to see the contents of a file without opening it. That way you can tell if a file is damaged before you attempt to recover it from the SD card. It’s important that you watch movie files all the way through and listen to music files all the way to the end – they might look ok at the beginning but the damage could be anywhere and if you don’t preview the whole file, you might not spot it.

  7. Mark files for recovery

    Once you’ve previewed the files you want to recover and are happy they are not damaged, tick the check box to the left of their name. Go through the list previewing and marking each file you want to recover.
    Recover lost files with Disk Drill utility

  8. Recover lost files

    Once you’ve marked the files you want to recover, you can press the Recover button in the toolbar. DiskDrill will ask you where you want to put the files. Anywhere except on the SD card they were on originally is fine. You can’t recover files to their original disk. Once you’ve followed all the instructions, the process will begin. It can take quite a while, depending on how many files you’re recovering. So go and make a coffee and relax. When it’s done, all your recovered files will be saved and will be ready to use again.

Format SD card

If you can’t access your card or recovery doesn’t work for you, there’s another fix to try—reformatting the SD. You should note, though, that your data will be lost once you format it, so make sure that you create a backup beforehand. Here’s how to format an SD card on Mac: 

  1. Go to the Applications folder > Utilities. 
  2. Open Disk Utility. 
  3. Find your SD card in the left column. 
  4. Select Erase and select the output format. 
  5. Confirm that you want to erase your card. 

format an SD card with Disk Utility

How to recognize SD card corruption

The sooner you realize your SD card has been corrupted, the better. You’ll be able to act on it immediately without losing grip on your files. On your Mac, the following signs may indicate SD card damage: 

  • You can no longer find all the data that has been stored on your SD card before. 
  • When you try to access your card, you see an error message on the black screen. There can be different variations of error messages such as “SD card is not accessible. The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable,” “memory card error,” or “corrupt memory card.” 
  • You see an error message saying your disk is in write-protected mode. In this case, you’ll have to disable the mode or format the card. 
  • You can not move, copy, or change files stored on the card. 

Unfortunately, there’s no 100% guarantee that you can recover SD card files—it all depends on the recovery tools you use as well as the degree of physical card damage. To avoid the risks, consider the tips below to keep your SD safe. 

How to avoid SD card data loss

  • Ensure you use a high-quality card created by established providers such as Transcend. 
  • Always remove your SD card safely—after the data transfer has been completed and your Mac is not in a sleep mode. 
  • Do not start transferring if your battery level is low and you run the risk of the operation being interrupted.

The safest way to avoid having to recover files is to keep at least one backup. So copy the files you’ve just recovered to another drive or cloud storage service to keep them safe.

240+ apps for $9.99
per month

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.