A product review: Stellar Data Recovery
We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we try to download our photos off the camera card but instead get a nasty error. Or perhaps an inadvertent slip of the mouse deletes your files permanently. Or even worse, lightning strikes and zaps your computer! No matter if it’s a snap of your cat with its tongue stuck or a rare and endangered bird that you hiked 10 km to photograph, chances are your photos are precious to you.
Is all hope lost? Not at all! Deleted and damaged files are not necessarily gone forever. With a simple deletion or reformat, the files are still there so long as you don’t write more to the disk. All that’s gone is the index to those files. Even a damaged disk is likely only damaged in parts. Fortunately, there is data recovery software to save us. It’s been many years since I’ve had to resort to disk scraping, so I had no idea what the software to do this tedious task is like these days.
Recently Stellar asked me to review their data recovery software, with the nice kickback of a free standard licence. I assured Stellar (and you) that receiving this gift would not affect my review. Stellar asked me to do this review as a wildlife photographer. They didn’t know that part of my day job at Mimosa Acoustics (where I wear many hats!) involves product testing and bug discovery. And I’m good at it. I’m known as the Chief Breaker and Wrecker. If I can find a way to break it, I will. But I tried my best to behave and use the software in the same way an end-user might rather than a product tester. So I started by not reading the instructions! And trust me, this is what 95% of users do when faced with new software. My day job also involves user manual writing and customer support - I know you don’t read the manual!
The install is straightforward and kindly takes you to the website showing the steps to get started. I ignored it all and jumped on in…
Stellar has designed their product with photographers in mind. What’s really cool is that the software is meant to recognize a vast range of image formats, including native RAW formats, and can display the images. This makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for. But how well does it actually work?
I found an old 6GB SD card last used in an ancient Panasonic Lumix superzoom camera and in an old scanner to save PDF scans to file. The card had 2 empty folders and one folder with 6 PDFs, circa 2014. The initial scan found a further 22 files in 7 folders. I liked that the file structure interface clearly showed the existing folders and deleted (but recoverable) files and folders, which had a red cross over the icon.
The DCIM (camera folder) had subfolders, one of which had RW2 (Panasonic) raw files. The preview wasn’t able to show me an image of this old format, but I chose the first image to recover. I saved it to my desktop and was glad to see the entire folder structure was written and not just the file. Win10 could preview the image, and I was delighted to see it was a photo of a baby kākā! Awwwww cute!
Curious as to what a Deep Scan might reveal, I tried that. A Deep Scan does take significantly longer to run, but a progress dial manages expectations. This time 43 files were found in 14 folders. A new folder was created on the card called “Raw Data.” In this folder, the files are grouped into subfolders by file type, not in their original folders. Why is that? Well, if the original folder structure was still readable, it would have been picked up by the Initial Scan. Without the index, all the data recovery software can do is recover the individual files. What is curious is that it found files it labeled as *.RAW from the old Panasonic camera and could preview them. Perhaps it just didn’t know that RW2 files are RAWs?
The four RAW files it found had wildly different sizes. Two were 4GB, and two were 20MB. I’m guessing the two 4GB files were missing end-of-file markers because they were partially overwritten. The JPG preview in the RAW file was still viewable. Conveniently, these files are named by the camera type and image dimensions, e.g., “Panasonic DMC-FZ100-4536x2448-9029440.RAW”. The smaller files were recoverable, but the larger ones took forever (and to be honest, I got bored after 10 minutes and stopped the recovery). I also tried deep recovery of a WMV (not readable) and a PDF (recovered without error). Deep recovery is not guaranteed even if a file is recognized because it may be partly overwritten by other data.
I then took this card and stuck it on the fridge with a powerful magnet for a few minutes (don’t try this at home) and then dropped it on the floor (inadvertently). My plan was to well and truly corrupt the card, but unexpectedly, the card survived its torture just fine. It wasn't corrupted! Rerunning Stellar showed the same files available for recovery, including the Deep Scan. I still wouldn't recommend doing this on a card you care about though...
I then tried one of my current 64 GB SD cards, which regularly gets reformatted by my Sony a7riii camera and currently has multiple photoshoots saved. The card was less than a third full, so there was plenty of “empty” disk to find previously deleted photos. The Stellar file preview could display the Sony ARW images, which was handy. The initial scan showed the expected available, undeleted folders and one deleted folder, which was empty. So I entered Deep Scan. Curiously, the deep scan did not find the photos prior to formatting as I expected. A card reformat doesn’t delete the files; it merely rewrites the index, so there should have been files there to be found. It seems there is something about the Sony reformat that Stellar doesn’t recognize? This is obviously an issue for a product aimed at photographers. Who among us hasn’t inadvertently reformatted a card before downloading the images?
For fun, I then looked at a 32 GB SD card from my Panasonic GX8. This card had been reformatted and had no images. The initial scan found nothing other than the basic file structure. But unlike the Sony-formatted card, switching to Deep Scan revealed deleted files. There was a JPG, 8 RAW files (all with previews), and two TAR files in the Raw Data folder. All the RAWs were suspiciously 4GB again, which is much larger than the native RW2 format of around 15 MB. I recovered both the JPG and a RAW file successfully and opened the latter in Adobe Camera Raw. I also found a previously deleted folder with Panasonic RW2 files under the MISC folder, none of which could be previewed by Stellar. They were, however, recoverable, and I could also open them in Adobe Camera Raw. So lovely to find an old photo of Puffin!
Stellar Data Recovery has a friendly user interface and is intuitive to use. I liked being able to search and group by file types and see previews (sometimes!). I can see how that could considerably reduce the search time and effort if it’s just a specific file that needs recovery.
I did not have a corrupted disk to test, but I hope recovering photos from reformatted SD cards is a fair test. It certainly worked fine for the card from my Panasonic GX8. But there is an issue with Sony-formatted cards that Stellar might want to look into, given Sony cameras’ rising popularity.
I hope you never need to use data recovery software, but Stellar is worth a look if you do. Stellar offers a free trial, so if you find that it doesn’t work for your situation, you won’t be out of pocket. When it does work, it works well and is intuitive and straightforward to use.
Have you ever had a corrupted disk and had to use data recovery software? How did you fare and what did you use? Let us know in the comments...
Reviewed: Stellar Data Recovery Standard
Platform: Windows 10
My favourite project for Zealandia EcoSanctuary is creating the annual fund-raising calendar! And it takes around 18 months to create if you account for the effort required to obtain a seasonal range of photos. Many of us aim to get that calendar-worthy shot on every visit to Zealandia, and we visit year-round, often weekly.
Planning starts in December, and sometime in the New Year a call goes out to the volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller photographers and to regulars on the ZEALANDIA Visitor Art & Photography Facebook page to start submitting their photos. We aim to include at least three photos per month, with each month having a theme. It's a 13-month calendar, because it's created from folder A3 paper (to make an A4 calendar). This gives 4 pages for every piece of paper. A 12-month calendar plus cover only fills 26 of 28 pages.
Around March, the selections are made and photos edited and approved by the contributing photographers and staff. This year, preparations coincided with lock-down giving me a most-welcome distraction.
The coveted spot is of course the cover - that image needs to be compelling, have some negative space for branding, and be recognizable from a distance. Congratulations to Jason Plaisted for his wonderful kākāriki photo that graces the 2021 cover.
Once the photos are set, over autumn, the Storyteller writers conjure up inspiring stories to match the theme and images. Some keen contributors aim for the complete sweep with a set of themed photos and a matching story. But most months are a mix of many contributors.
As we head into winter, the fact-checkers and researchers dig in and confirm all the species are identified correctly, that the dates and moon-phases are correct, the Te Reo Māori is correct (including macrons), as are the holidays and observations. The pedants among us relish this task, and many lively discussions can ensue. I'm sure some of you are also pedants and are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes decisions (if not, skim down to the end to find out how to get hold of a calendar!)
I always fear the dates will somehow be wrong, but I use this amazing plug-in for InDesign (Calendar Wizard) that is a pig to use but when you conquer it, it automatically generates all the spreads. It's a life- and time-saver.
We set the moon phase as it is in Wellington - anywhere else in the country (or world) can be off by a day as the phase often changes in the middle of the night. There is often confusion as one of the definitive guides online has the correct phases, but uses the wrong Northern-hemisphere icons (yes, the moon is upside down in the Southern hemisphere - a fun fact that has confused many of my Northern-hemisphere friends).
Scientific names can be quite fluid for NZ species, with researchers actively updating taxonomies, but with scientific consensus and adoption of new names taking some time. For instance, you may have noticed that our gecko names have transitioned back and forth over recent years, and it's still not settled. Te Reo names are also fluid as old knowledge is reclaimed by local iwi, or new names are needed. Of great debate is whether transliterations for months and other European concepts should be used or maramataka months (from the Māori lunar calendar, which is based on moon phases). These decisions and recommendations are made with such care and much consultation. In recent years we have decided on the transliterations. I would love to some day help with a maramataka calendar too.
Some people wonder why we don't include specific observations and holidays. We strive to include many conservation-related observances, but the sponsoring organizations often don't advertise their dates (or haven't decided on them) for the coming year in time to include in the calendar (I won't name and shame). We also don't tend to include religious holidays unless they're an official public holiday.
Not including the Matariki period (the Māori New Year) seems like an oversight to many, and we do hope to include it next year. But there are many variations across different iwi in how the period is defined. This makes a lot of sense when you consider its all about observational astronomy: the appearance of the constellation Matariki on the horizon. And this of course depends on where you are in the country and barriers like hills. Some iwi use other constellations. It is a fascinating subject and there are some amazing Māori astronomers working on it. With talk of Matariki becoming an official public holiday, it will be interesting to see how consensus is reached because the aim is to have one date for the entire country (but which will at least vary each year), so by definition, some of what the Matariki period means will be lost to convenience.
Back to the Zealandia calendar, once the dust has settled and the facts established the best we can, it's then down to multiple rounds of proofing and sign-off from every part of the organization. We strive for no errors, but is that ever possible? By the end of the process, once the calendar comes off the production line, I'm too afraid to look! People tell me that it's absolutely gorgeous, so I'm going to trust their judgment...
If you're keen to participate, do join the Facebook group and start working on your photography. You're more likely to be successful if you've taken a fabulous photo featuring a subject we haven't previously had in the calendar (e.g., kākā, tūī, kākāriki, and takahē have had more than enough exposure). We also love photos that show wildlife interacting with its environment or showing an interesting behaviour.
In addition, do join my Art of Birding Wildlife and Nature photography challenge. Many of the successful contributors are doing the challenge, which is designed to upskill photographers for wildlife advocacy, and with outcomes like the calendar in mind.
If you want to lay your hands on a calendar for yourself, your friends, and your family, pick them up at the Visitor Centre or check out the offer above.
[Update 3 Nov 2020: You can now buy them directly from Zealandia through their new online gift shop!]
Finally, such huge thanks to the contributors for 2021:
Photography: Brendon Doran, Andrew Hawke, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Bianca Maddox, Amanda Main, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Jason Plaisted, Karen Rankin, Alison Valentine, Rory Wilsher.
Stories: Leon Berard, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Katherine Miller, Louise Slocombe.
Design: Judi Lapsley Miller.
Research & editing: Vanya Bootham, Libby Clark, Rosemary Cole, Chris Gee, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Linton Miller, Louise Slocombe, Rory Wilsher.
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Art of Birding Blog by Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
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