Best Photo Recovery Software

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2023

I tested 42 data recovery software products and found Stellar Photo Recovery to be the best option for recovering photos.

I’ve been working in the tech industry for the last few decades and regularly help people with computer disasters, including lost data.

Stellar Photo Recovery is the best data recovery tool for photos because it’s easy to use and designed specifically for that task. It’s been found to be effective when recovering photos from hard drives, SD cards, and cameras.

But every situation is different. So I’ve also reviewed the best data recovery application in every category.

Let’s get started.

6 Best Data Recovery Tools for Photos

Here are six effective and usable data recovery applications for photo recovery.

1. Stellar Photo Recovery (Best Overall for Casual Users)

Stellar Photo Recovery is an effective data recovery tool with a focus on media files such as photos, videos, and audio files.

  • Platforms: Windows, Mac
  • Storage media: Hard drive, SSD, USB drive, SD card, CFast, CompactFlash, microSDHC/XC, and more

Camera support:

  • Nikon, Canon, Sony, Kodak, Olympus, Samsung, Pentax, Minolta, Sigma, Fuji, Olympus, Epson, Mamiya, Panasonic, and more
  • GoPro, Garmin, Phantom, and more
  • Insta360, Red Weapon DSMC2 Brain, Rylo 360, and more

Stellar Photo Recovery is easy to install and has a simple and user-friendly interface. Recovering lost photos doesn’t require special knowledge or skills, and is achieved in three simple steps.

With the Mac version, you will be asked to enable the Stellar Data Recovery extension the first time you attempt to recover photos from your startup drive.

The company also offers Stellar Data Recovery, a more general data recovery tool.

Can it recover your lost photos? One reviewer was able to recover every image from an SD card that he formatted. [1] The scan took 10 minutes, and the recovery an additional 6 minutes.

Stellar Photo Recovery Standard costs $39.99/year and recovers photos, video, and audio from any storage media and popular cameras. The more expensive plans don’t just recover lost photos, they also repair them when they’re corrupted.

2. R-Studio Data Recovery (Best Overall for Technical Users)

R-Studio Data Recovery is an effective tool designed for data recovery professionals and requires more technical knowledge than the other tools in this roundup.

  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Storage media: Hard drives, CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, Compact-Flash cards, USB drives, ZIP drives, Memory Sticks, and more
  • Cameras: R-Studio supports image formats from many cameras, but does not mention the ability to directly scan connected cameras. You may have to scan the camera’s SD card instead.

This tool offers the best chance of the successful recovery of your photos and other files, especially in more complex situations. But it assumes a lot of technical knowledge and casual users may find it intimidating.

When Data Recovery Digest tested seven leading data recovery tools in multiple scenarios, R-Studio came out on top. [2]. It can effectively recover your lost photos from an internal or external hard drive or your camera’s SD card.

The company found its scan times consistently fast, and that’s my experience, too. It took just four minutes to scan my 4 GB flash drive, and that’s the fastest time I recorded.

A single license costs $79.99.

3. Recuva (Best Free Tool for Windows Users)

Recuva offers a usable free plan to Windows users that doesn’t restrict the amount of data that can be recovered.

  • Platforms: Windows only
  • Storage media: Floppy disks, MemoryStick, external hard drives, USB flash drives, and more
  • Cameras: various brands of digital cameras, DJI/GoPro Drone cameras, action cameras, camcorders, and more.

An easy-to-use wizard makes data recovery simple for non-technical users. An advanced mode is also available and allows more experienced users to navigate the application freely on their own.

Recuva is affordable, but is it effective? Yes. ThinkMobiles tested seven free data recovery applications and Recuva was one of the tools that successfully recovered all 50 deleted files, including images, videos, documents, applications, and compressed archives. [3]

Their scan of a USB flash drive took 15m 57s, which is quite slow. The fastest apps took just one minute, while the slowest more than twice as long.

Recuva Free won’t cost you a cent and offers features suitable for most users. Recuva Professional costs just $19.95 and offers a couple of features plus premium support.

4. PhotoRec (Command Line Tool for Advanced Users)

PhotoRec is a free and open-source tool for recovering digital photos and more. It’s quite technical and will seem old-fashioned to many users.

  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, DOS, BSD
  • Storage media: Hard disks, CD-ROMs, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital/SD, SmartMedia, Microdrive, MMC, USB memory drives, and more

Camera support: 

  • Canon EOS 10D, 60D, 80D, 300D
  • Casio Exilim EX-Z 750
  • Fujifilm X-T10
  • HP PhotoSmart 620, 850, 935
  • Nikon Coolpix 775, 950, 5700
  • Olympus C350N, C860L, Mju 400 Digital, Stylus 300
  • Sony Alpha DSLR, DSC-P9, NEX-6
  • Pentax K20D
  • Praktica DCZ-3.4

PhotoRec is a command-line tool and doesn’t offer a graphical user interface. You start the app by typing in a command, then respond to text prompts to recover your data.

If you’re old enough to remember MS-DOS, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The price is right, but non-technical users will feel more at home with an alternative.

Despite the interface, user satisfaction is high. CNET gave the application a user rating of 4.3 stars based on 23 reviews. [4] I guess that the ratings came from more technical users.

Many of them had success using the tool to recover their photos. The CG Security blog also lists a number of successful tests performed by users. [5]

The application is distributed under the free software GPLV v2+ license which means that you can use the software free of charge and share it with others.

5. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard (Also Great for Casual Users)

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is fast, easy to use, and effective.

  • Platforms: Windows, Mac
  • Storage media: Hard drive, external disk, SSD, USB drive, Micro card, memory card, camcorder, digital camera, music player, video player, iPod, RAID, CF/SD card, Zip drive, pen drive, and more
  • Cameras are supported, but a list of compatible cameras is not offered

This app uses a simple wizard to lead you through the data recovery process in just three steps. It asks as few questions as possible so that you can get started quickly. It’s suitable for casual home and office users.

In the ThinkMobiles test I mentioned earlier [6], all 50 deleted files were successfully located and recovered, including every lost image. Another reviewer had similar success on an external flash drive and hard drive. [7]

EaseUS Data Recovery’s scans are in the middle of the range. It took 6m 32s to located 50 deleted files on ThinkMobile’s USB flash drive. As I mentioned earlier, the fastest competitor took about a minute, and the slowest more than half an hour.

EaseUS’s Pro plan is suitable for most home and business users and its one-time cost of $89.95. Helpfully, this includes free remote consultation with a specialist in difficult recovery cases. That hand-holding in crucial data recovery cases can provide a great deal of peace of mind.

There’s also a free plan, but you’re limited to recovering just 2 GB of data. You can increase that limit to 3.5 GB by sharing the product on social media.

6. Disk Drill (Best Tool with Cleanup Features)

Disk Drill is an effective tool that combines data recovery with disk cleanup.

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows
  • Storage media: Hard drives, USB flash drives, SD/CF Cards
  • Cameras are supported, but a list of compatible cameras is not offered

This app is equally suitable for non-technical and advanced users. A simple three-step wizard is available, and more experienced users are offered plenty of ways to customize the recovery process.

Like other apps I recommend above, Disk Drill successfully recovered all 50 of ThinkMobile’s deleted files. [8] This took just two minutes, which is the second-fastest result in their test.

Disk Drill Pro costs $89 for both Windows and Mac users. Mac users also get access to Disk Drill with a $9.99/month subscription to SetApp.

The free version of Disk Drill has a very low 500 MB recovery limit but includes other useful features such as Recovery Vault and some cleanup utilities.

Guide to Choosing a Photo Recovery Tool

Before making your choice, it’s helpful to become familiar with how data recovery is possible and some of the issues that data recovery tools can help with.

How Is Data Recovery Possible?

When you delete a photo from a hard drive or SD card, the data isn’t actually removed. Its location is simply marked as being available for new files.

That makes it possible to recover your deleted photos if you act quickly. In my experience, most data recovery tools are quite successful at rescuing recently-deleted files.

But there is no guarantee of success. As you take more photos, that data will be overwritten. Once that happens there is no chance of recovery, unless you had previously made a backup.

Can I recover data from an SSD?

Probably not. Recovering data from SSDs is problematic due to the TRIM technology they use for increased efficiency and service life.

TRIM automatically clears disk sectors that are not being used, and this makes data recovery virtually impossible. Unfortunately, many data recovery applications skip over this in their documentation.

While it’s technically possible to turn TRIM off, it’s not a good idea, and you’d have to do this before you experience data loss.

Choose a Tool That Suits Your Budget and Experience

Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert to recover lost photos. Many data recovery applications allow you to scan for lost data in just a few simple steps, using a wizard. Some are designed with photo recovery in mind.

Some also offer options for more advanced users, while a few have only technical users in mind. Make sure you choose a tool that matches your level of experience.

Also, consider your budget. I make a couple of free recommendations, but most of the tools will cost you money. The price range starts at $20 and goes all the way up to $90. Only you know how much your lost photos are worth.

Fortunately, virtually all data recovery applications allow you to scan for lost data for free. You only need to pay for the software once you can see that your lost data has been found.

Choose a Tool That Supports Your Computer, SD Card, and Camera

You’ll need to choose a tool that works with your computer’s operating system and file system. Most of the tools I recommend work with both Windows and Mac, while Recuva is for Windows users only.

All support hard drives, flash drives, and SD cards. Some are also able to directly scan your camera once you connect it to the computer. Take note of which cameras are supported by each application.

Consider How Long Are You Willing to Wait

Data recovery takes time, and sometimes a great deal of it. How long can you wait?

Some applications are very fast, while others are not in a hurry at all. A slow scan isn’t always more effective.

Small drives are faster to scan than larger ones. For example, a 4 GB USB flash drive can be scanned in just minutes, while a multi-terabyte hard drive can take many hours or even days.

Some tools allow you to pause a scan and resume it when you have more time. Others allow you to save the list of lost files that have been located so that you can search for the ones you want to recover in a separate session.

Final Verdict

When choosing a tool to rescue your valuable lost data, you want the one that will give you the best chance of success.

Stellar Photo Recovery is designed specifically for photo recovery. It supports a wide range of cameras and is also capable of recovering photos from your hard drive and SD cards. It’s easy to use and effective

The free trial version will show you if your lost photos have been found. If they’re not, try another tool. There’s no risk in using the trial versions of different products, and you may eventually find one that works.