One of the key reasons that I typically recommend Flash RAM cards to newspapers going digital is because they're the most durable and reliable type of camera storage media. Flash RAM cards are physically tough, and are therefore better able to withstand the bump and grind of daily news photography. This is perhaps Flash RAM's biggest advantage over somewhat more-fragile miniature hard drive cards.
But even a durable Flash RAM card may, from time to time, be reluctant to release the photos it contains. More than likely, the card's reticence is a result of corruption in the card's file structure. Such corruption can occur if the camera's battery dies while writing a photo, the card is pulled from the camera while it's writing a photo, or the Mac or PC crashes while accessing the card. The corruption in some cases may be severe enough to prevent the card from even mounting on a Mac or PC, let alone prevent the opening of certain photo files on the card. When this occurs, the palms of even the most grizzled news shooter begin to sweat.
The good news is that the vast majority of the time, the Flash RAM card is physically fine, and some or even all of the images recorded to the card up to the point when things went awry are probably also intact. But, the file structure on the card, that enables the card to be mounted and files to be readily located, is corrupted to the point where the card will no longer operate normally. The trick, then, is to work around the damaged file structure and gain access to the photos.
Enter Brad Ras, applications engineer at Lexar Media. Ras indicates that he has developed techniques that have enabled him to recover most photos from almost all of the 300+ cards he has worked on. As Ras explained to me some of the methods he uses to extract EXIF format JPEGs (which the D1 and D30 write), Kodak DCS TIFFs and other formats, it became clear that conceptually, data recovery from a DOS-formatted camera card is relatively easy.
Easy, that is, if you have an intimate understanding of the DOS file structure. For example, if Ras determines that the card's corruption is in the first few sectors on the card, sectors that contain essential DOS bits like the Master Boot Record, he will first format another identical-capacity card in the camera that was used to shoot the pictures on the corrupted card. Then, he will replace the data in the relevant sectors on the corrupted card with data extracted from the same sectors on the freshly-formatted card. As often as not, the corrupted card then mounts fine and most photos can be copied off without incident. For a kindergarten-level DOS file structure geek like myself, this method for recovering photos from a card is too cool.
Data recovery is a service that Lexar Media has been offering quietly for about 2.5 years, primarily to pro shooters who call their tech support line, pros whose livelihood would be affected by the loss of the photos on a corrupted Lexar card. Lexar Media CEO John Reimer indicates that the service will remain free for the time being, perhaps until such time that overwhelming demand for the service makes it necessary to charge for it. Ras, who performs almost all of the card recoveries himself, stresses that the main purpose of the service is to throw a lifeline to photographers who can't otherwise reshoot mission-critical photo assignments.
If you have what appears to be a corrupted Lexar Media card filled with important photos, contact Lexar Media tech support at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 510-413-1275 to discuss possible solutions, and/or to request their data recovery service. The card will, obviously, have to be shipped to Lexar for the recovery to take place. The service is available through Lexar for Lexar cards only.