How to Recover Raw Files from an SD Card on Mac

recover raw files from sd

SD cards are used way more on the field than most other storage devices, making them more prone to damage, corruption, and data loss. In particular, RAW files commonly get lost when camera users transfer or backup files and something goes wrong. It happens to everyone at least once.

This article is a straightforward and easy-to-follow guide on how to recover raw files from an SD card on Mac. We’ll demonstrate raw file recovery start-to-finish (with screenshots) with a raw photo taken using a Canon EOS 700D. Read on.

What is a RAW Photo?

A RAW photo is an uncompressed and unprocessed image file commonly used by DSLRs and other high performance cameras. Each manufacturer uses its own RAW camera format (for example, CR2 for Canon cameras). Photographers save photos in RAW format in order to preserve as much detail as possible.

When it comes time to process and share these image files, they are often converted to JPEG or PNG formats, which are smaller in size and universally compatible (and can be viewed on smartphones, computers, apps, etc.).

Common Reasons Why RAW Files Get Deleted

There are only 4 common reasons why raw files get deleted – for 3 of them, DIY raw data recovery is possible. Review the bullets below to check if you should proceed to recover the raw files yourself or think about calling a professional:

  • Accidental deletion. If you accidentally deleted your RAW files, that means you can’t access them via Finder. However, that data is still on the disk – you just need a special tool that can extract and restore it.
  • Formatting. Just like accidentally deleted data, RAW files that were lost due to formatting still exist on the disk and will remain there until they get overwritten.
  • Corruption. Corruption is commonly followed by data loss. It can be caused by virus infections, software issues, and interruptions during read and write processes – for example, a sudden power outage.
  • Physical damage. SD cards can be damaged due to heat, water, and breakage, often making them unreadable. In this case, send your memory card to a data recovery center, who are better-equipped to restore your data without causing further damage.

How to Recover RAW Files With Data Recovery Software

As we briefly touched on in the last section, data that gets deleted still remains on the storage device’s disk. It’s just inaccessible through Finder. However, we can use data recovery software to extract and restore that data using a simple interface.

For this article, we’ll be using Disk Drill – an app we’ve used here at Magcasm hundreds of times for computers, hard drives, smartphones, and more. Disk Drill is great as raw data recovery software because you can preview most raw files within the app. It’s super easy-to-use too, so you can easily follow the steps below.

Tip: If your SD card is corrupted, use Disk Drill’s Byte-to-byte Backup feature to create an image of your card and scan that instead. This is a critical step to restore a corrupted SD card, because it prevents further damage that could sabotage the data recovery process.

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill.

Step 2. Launch Disk Drill (Finder > Applications > Disk Drill).
DIsk Drill icon in the Finder Applications folder

Step 3. On the main window pane, select your SD card (it may appear as “Generic Storage Device” if you’re using a USB-type card reader). Then, click “Search for lost data.”
Disk Drill drive selection screen

Step 4. Wait for Disk Drill to complete the scan. Then, click “Review found items.”
Disk Drill scanning progress

Step 5. On this window, Disk Drill will display all the files it found. You can use the search bar and file type sidebar to filter the results. Let’s try filtering the list to display only Canon RAW files:
Disk Drill search bar and file type sidebar

Step 6. In some cases, data recovery software won’t be able to retrieve exact file names. To check if you got the right files, hover your mouse pointer next to the file names and click the eye button that appears.
Disk Drill raw Canon photo preview

Step 7. Tick the boxes beside the files you want to restore, then click “Recover.”
Disk Drill file selection column

Step 8. Choose a location on your computer for Disk Drill to use as a destination folder. Don’t save it to the SD card. Then, click “OK.”
Disk Drill save file dialogue box

Disk Drill Basic for Mac does not offer free data recovery. You can preview as many files as you want though, to make sure your files haven’t been overwritten. Free raw file recovery software exists, but all they have their own limitations (we’ve tried them all) – your mileage may vary.