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- PhotoRec for macOS Review
PhotoRec for Mac Review – Capable but Difficult to Use
Out of 5 Total Score
No. 6 Among all macOS solutions
PhotoRec is likely the most popular open-source data recovery software application in the world, and the Mac version offers the same unlimited data recovery capabilities as the versions for Windows and Linux.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a Mac-specific user interface. In fact, it doesn’t come with any graphical user interface at all, and that might be an insurmountable problem for many users.
Read this review to discover more reasons why PhotoRec for Mac may or may not be the right data recovery tool for you.
Completely free. No license is needed to recover an unlimited amount of files. The software is completely free.
Open source. PhotoRec is an open-source software application, so you can study how it works and even modify it if you have the skills to do so.
No installation required. The application runs in portable mode by default, so no installation is necessary.
Good signature scanner. The program supports a large number of signatures, including modern file formats.
Ability to narrow down scan results. There is a setting that allows you to enable or disable individual signatures.
Doesn't require a lot of PC resources. You don’t need a powerful computer to use PhotoRec because the application performs well even on old hardware.
Raw disk support. PhotoRec makes it easy to recover data from disks that don’t have a file system.
Disk images. The program knows how to scan byte-by-by-byte copies of disks.
Unused disk space scanning. You can scan an entire storage device or just unused disk space to save time.
Command-line user interface. The program works only in the terminal and has no graphical interface, so it’s not user friendly.
Rarely updated. The program doesn’t receive updates often.
No auto-update. Whenever a new version is released, you have to install it manually from scratch.
Scan automation. You are required to make quite a few choices to start scanning.
Source selection. The process of selecting which device you want to scan is overly complicated.
The need for an additional disk. PhotoRec always recovers all found files, so an additional disk is typically needed to complete the recovery process.
Backup disk creation. There is no way to create byte-to-byte copies of disks.
Lack of tech support. Support is provided only on the official forum on a volunteer basis.
Lack of additional functionality. The program doesn’t offer any additional functionality beyond data recovery.
Signature scanner only. The program is able to find files only by signature. File system information is never restored, so file names and paths are always lost.
Source auto-refresh. PhotoRec doesn’t automatically refresh the list of available source drives, so it’s necessary to start the application again whenever a new device is connected.
Lack of usability. Basic features such as scan results filters, search bar, or the ability to preview individual files are missing, which negatively affects PhotoRec’s usability.
The road to recovery. The program does not remember the last file recovery path and you have to choose a new one every time.
Smart behavior. There is no warning when trying to restore files to the source drive to stop users from overwriting their lost files and making them impossible to recover.
Incomplete default settings. By default, all signatures are not selected for scanning. To fix this, you have to open the settings menu and manually select all unselected signatures.
Score 4.79 45%
Best choice for Mac users
Compare In comparison
Score 3.26 2%
Oldie but not goodie
Compare In comparison
Score 3.30 0%
Not as stellar as its name suggests
Compare In comparison
PhotoRec for Mac – Overview#
PhotoRec is one of those data recovery applications that many Mac users skip over when going through long best-of lists because this open-source software doesn’t advertise its strengths while hiding its weaknesses nearly as well as commercial data recovery software applications do.
But if you take some time to get to know PhotoRec, you will discover that it does offer not only a great value but also decent performance. To get started, let’s look at important facts about PhotoRec so that it’s clear what kind of data recovery software we’re dealing with in this review.
|Distributed as||Free All features are provided free of charge, and the software can be used, studied, and modified without restriction|
|Free version available|
|Free version limitations|
PhotoRec is free – this open source multi-platform application is distributed under GNU General Public License (GPLV v2+)
|No credit card to try|
PhotoRec users have it great because they can use the software to recover an unlimited amount of data for free. What’s more, they can study and even edit its source code because it’s published online under the GPLV v2+ license.
Developer — Christophe GRENIER
Unlike most other data recovery software applications, PhotoRec is developed mainly by a single person, Christophe Grenier, who lives in France. Because PhotoRec is an open-source project, Christophe also receives help from volunteers from around the world, who help him keep the software running smoothly across all supported platforms.
1% 10.6% than avg
Reflects the share of online traffic within the niche occupied by data recovery software, based on data taken from ahrefs.com (from Google US search engine).
230 46.2% than avg
Based on the number of brand-related search queries on Google US according to ahrefs.com.
Considering that PhotoRec is essentially a one-man project, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its online market share and popularity are slightly below average. Still, the software has gained a loyal following over the years, and it’s often recommended as one of the best data recovery applications that are completely free.
2008 • 15 years on market
GlobalSP, 78 rue la Condamine, 75017 PARIS, France
PhotoRec has been around for many years, and it has established itself as a reliable open-source data recovery software application. You can keep up with the project on its official website or by following its social media pages.
Data Recovery with PhotoRec for macOS
Tested on: macOS 12.3.1 (21E258)
Even if you have previous experinece with data recovery software, PhotoRec for macOS may still surprise you with how different its data recovery process when compared with other popular applications of this kind.
How We Test
At Pandora Data Recovery Review, we test all data recovery software applications in accordance with our comprehensive testing methodology.
|1||Installation||How easy is the installation of the tested software? Not all data recovery software applications are equally easy to install, and not all users are skilled enough to complete a difficult installation process.|
|2||Source selection||Is the selection of the source device intuitive? When multiple storage devices are connected to the same computer, choosing the right one can be an issue.|
|3||Scanning process||How much time and effort does it take to finish scanning? Some applications automate the scanning process, reducing it into a single click, while other applications require multiple settings to be manually configured.|
|4||Managing found data||Are found files easy to manage and select? Completing the scanning process is just one step, and actually finding and selecting the lost files is just as important.|
|5||Recovery and post-processing||Does the software assist in selecting a suitable recovery destination, and does it provide a comprehensive summary of recovery results?|
The biggest benefit of our comprehensive testing methodology is that it produces objective and repeatable results, allowing us to compare different data recovery applications against one another.
There are several different ways to get PhotoRec up and running on macOS. We decided to go with the simplest method: running PhotoRec in portable mode.
We started by visiting the official website of the software and downloading the pre-compiled binary for macOS. Next, we extracted the downloaded archive and opened the newly created folder, entitled testdisk-7.2-WIP. Don't let the name confuse you: PhotoRec is distributed with TestDisk. Finally, we launched the binary file called photorec with administrator privileges.
Alternatively, you can install PhotoRec using the Homebrew package manager, which makes it much easier to keep the application up to date. Without Homebrew, you have to redownload PhotoRec manually whenever a new version is released.
To select the storage device you want to scan, you need to go through several steps.
The first step is the selection of a physical storage device. This step is followed by the selection of a partition. PhotoRec will then ask you to manually specify the filesystem type. Once that's done, you can select a destination to save the recovered files to.
While the individual steps are not difficult to understand, the overall user experience can't really be compared with modern one-click data recovery software applications, like Disk Drill.
PhotoRec keeps users informed while the scanning process is in progress, providing you with a comprehensive overview of how many files have been found, breaking the results down by file format.
Unfortunately, you can't control the scanning process at all. All you can do is stop the scanning process and start it again from scratch later. Forget about saving a session for later or viewing recovery results while the scanning process is still in progress.
Managing found files
Because PhotoRec for Mac doesn't have a graphical user interface, it relies on third-party file browsers for the management of found files. In practice, this means that it dumps all recovered files inside a single folder, and it's up to you to go through them and decide which of them you want to keep.
Finder works well when it comes to managing the files recovered by PhotoRec, but third-party file and photo browsers, such as Path Finder and ACDSee, can make the task much easier thanks to their advanced features.
Recovery and post-processing
Since PhotoRec recovers all found files in one go and expects users to manually go through them, we don't really have much to talk about in regards to the post-processing of recovery results.
We can only comment on the recovery process itself, which doesn't take an unnecessarily long time to complete, which is always a plus. Just keep in mind that PhotoRec doesn't recover all supported file formats by default. You have to go to the File Options section and manually enable them.
This is something we realized only after completing our first scan, forcing us to repeat it. We suspect that many other users have made the same mistake since PhotoRec doesn't make the fact that not all file formats are enabled by default obvious.
PhotoRec for macOS – Tutorials and Other Videos
Would you like to see PhotoRec in action to better understand how it works? Then watch the tutorials below.
PhotoRec for macOS – Full Review
So far, we’ve explained how PhotoRec works, but we have yet to explain how good or bad are the results it delivers and the features it provides. That’s exactly what this section is all about.
PhotoRec is a reliable and trustworthy data recovery software application, but it’s not a commercial product, and everything from its update frequency to the way in which user support is provided reflects this.
More than 6 months
Available (View full update history)
|4||Latest macOS supported|
Yes, all good
|5||Runs natively on M1/M2 Macs|
Does not support
|6||Genuine or clone?|
|7||Brand name popularity|
|8||Online market share|
|10||Extensive knowledge base|
PhotoRec is completely free, and you can use it to recover an unlimited amount of data for personal and commercial purposes alike. The software’s open-source license ensures that its source code is readily available and modifiable. For these reasons alone, the value delivered by PhotoRec is hard to beat.
|4||Is it free?|
|6||Unlimited recovery in full version|
|8||Commercial rights in the cheapest license|
Because the Mac version of PhotoRec doesn’t have a graphical user interface, it automatically falls behind competing software applications in terms of usability, and the fact that appropriate scanning methods are automatically selected without user interaction doesn’t change much.
|1||Modern user-friendly interface|
|4||Automatic implementation of multiple appropriate scanning methods without user interaction|
|5||Auto-resuming scans of failing drives|
|6||Auto-resuming backups of failing drives|
|7||Convenient source selection on start|
|8||Convenient file-by-file preview of recoverable items|
|9||Convenient thumbnail preview of recoverable items|
|10||Mount recoverable items as disk|
|12||Multiple view modes in scan results|
|13||Hex view for recoverable items|
|14||Filter recoverable items by type|
|15||Search recoverable items by file names|
The recovery performance of PhotoRec for macOS is seriously limited by the inability to recover file system information, such as original file names and file paths. Yes, it’s better to recover a lost file even without its original name and path than to lose it, but there’s no shortage of data recovery software that can do everything without being too expensive.
|Can't recovery file system information.|
|Can't recovery file system information.|
|3||Other types of scan|
|Decent signature scanning capabilities.|
|All commonly used internal and external storage devices are supported.|
|5||Real-life recovery challenge|
|Supported file types can be reliably recovered.|
|6||Other notable recovery features|
|No extra features are included with PhotoRec.|
Unfortunately, PhotoRec is unable to recover files with their original names and paths.
Because PhotoRec doesn’t recover file system information, it can’t quicky undelete recently deleted files.
Other scan types
|1||The number of formats supported by deep scan|
|2||Native deep scan of system drives on M1/M2-powered Macs|
|3||Native deep scan of system drives on T2-encrypted Macs|
|4||Native data recovery from local Time Machine snapshots|
|5||Scan for lost partitions|
|6||HFS+ directory rebuild|
|7||Recovered files' labeling|
|8||Partial file recovery|
|9||Disk images: scan and recovery|
PhotoRec has impressive signature scanning capabilities. It can recognize more than 480 file extensions (about 300 file families), which is far more than what many commercial data recovery software applications are capable of. You can use the signature scanner to scan traditional storage devices as well as their byte-to-byte backups.
|1||Internal and external HDD|
|2||Internal and external SSD|
|3||USB thumb drives / Classic iPods (non-iOS) / FireWire devices|
|9||Recovery from RAID1, 0, JBOD|
|10||Encrypted device support|
If you have an internal or external hard drive, USB flash drive, or memory card, then it’s basically guaranteed that PhotoRec will be able to recover it without any problem. What PhotoRec can’t do is recover data from mobile devices, storage devices with encryption, and RAID arrays.
Real-life recovery challenges
|1||Document formats recovery|
|2||Raw photo recovery|
|3||Video formats recovery|
Raw photo recovery
PhotoRec lives up to its name when used to recover RAW photo file formats. Only a small handful of file formats used by modern video cameras are not supported at all. The most popular RAW photo file formats, such as Canon’s cr2/3, can be recovered very reliably regardless of how complicated the data loss situation is.
Video formats recovery
Again, it’s clear that PhotoRec doesn’t make exaggerated claims when it comes to the number of file extensions it can recognize because almost all of our test videos were found. The only exception was a video in the arx file format, but you’ll unlikely to encounter it in the wild.
Document formats recovery
It’s a bit disappointing that the most used document file formats (those used by Microsoft Office) are what PhotoRec struggles with the most. As such, we can’t recommend this software to those who have lost an important Word document or PowerPoint presentation. Other document file formats are, fortunately, supported well.
Other notable recovery features
|1||Overall non-intrusive read-only algorithms|
|3||Effectively filters out corrupted scan results|
|4||Byte-to-byte device backups|
|5||Bootable recovery drive creation|
|6||Runs in macOS native recovery mode|
|7||Convenient scan session management|
|8||Bad sector management|
|9||Recovery chance prediction|
|11||Disk vitals monitoring and tracking during scan|
|13||Links to in-lab recovery service for physically damaged devices|
|15||Scan free space only|
|16||Start file recovery without interrupting the scan|
|17||Preview recoverable items without interrupting the scan|
PhotoRec automatically recoveres all found files to the selected destination folder, and you can browse the content of this folder using finder or some other file browser even when the scan process is still running. The bad news is that this is the only other notable recovery feature we can talk about.
PhotoRec isn’t a feature-packed data recovery software, and it’s easy to understand why. Christophe Grenier, who is single-handily responsible for most of PhotoRec’s source code, can do only so much, and he focuses on data recovery performance.
|1||Disk space mapping|
|2||Disk clean up|
|3||Corrupted video repair tool|
|4||Corrupted photo repair tool|
|7||Built-in disk space secure eraser|
|9||Disk surface test|
|10||Secure data shredding|
As you can see, no extra features commonly offered by commercial data recovery applications are supported by PhotoRec.
PhotoRec for macOS is a good data recovery application, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to spend any time in terminal, then you should stay away from PhotoRec because there are many great alternatives with polished graphical user interfaces.
If you don’t mind command-line software applications as long as they perform well, then you should give PhotoRec a try but keep in mind its limitations, such as its inability to recover original file names and paths or the lack of extra features.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s answer some questions Mac users frequently ask about PhotoRec.
Yes, the PhotoRec works on Mac computers, even those with M1 processors.
To install PhotoRec on a Mac computer, you need to first install a package manager called Homebrew:
- Open Terminal.
- Copy & paste the following command:
/bin/bash -c “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/HEAD/install.sh)”
- Install PhotoRec by installing the TestDisk homebrew package (PhotoRec is included with it): brew install testdisk
PhotoRec is a command-line software application, so you need to launch it from Terminal:
- Open Terminal.
- Enter the following command and press Return:
If PhotoRec isn’t already installed on your Mac, then you can install it using Homebrew.
The Mac version of PhotoRec works just like the Windows or Linux version:
- Launch PhotoRec from Terminal.
- Select the storage device and the partition you want to scan.
- Specify the filesystem type and choose if you want to analyze all storage space.
- Select a destination for recovered files.
- Begin scanning.
You can download PhotoRec for Mac from its official website, but we recommend you install it using the Homebrew package manager instead.
Yes, PhotoRec does run on M1 Macs thanks to Rosetta 2, a dynamic binary translator developed by Apple to allow x64 software to run the ARM architecture.
To recover photos with PhotoRec for Mac, launch the application from the Terminal app and scan the storage device where the photos were located. Make sure to enable all image file signatures in Settings.
If you’ve installed PhotoRec on Mac using the Homebrew package manager, then you can delete it using the following command:
brew remove testdisk *(PhotoRec is inlaced in the TestDisk package)
If the PhotoRec binary file is impossible to execute on your Mac, then it probably lacks the necessary permissions. To fix this problem:
- Right-click the PhotoRec executable.
- Click the Open option.
- Confirm your decision to launch PhotoRec.
Next time, you can simply double-click the PhotoRec executable, and it should launch normally.
To recover files from an SD card using PhotoRec, you need to insert the SD card before you launch PhotoRec because the data recovery application doesn’t automatically refresh available source devices.
👍 Worth a try
Out of 5 Total score
No. 6 Among all macOS solutions
If you don’t fear software that runs in Terminal on Mac, then you should give PhotoRec a try because it can recover an unlimited amount of data for free.Visit developer website
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There’s a good reason why R-Studio for Mac is loved by professionals, but regular home users have different priorities.
Even though the software doesn’t look like it, it’s actually a one-trick pony that can be recommended mainly to those who want to recover damaged video files.
David Morelo is a professional content writer with a specialization in data recovery. He spends his days helping users from around the world recover from data loss and address the numerous issues associated with it.
When not writing about data recovery techniques and solutions, he enjoys tinkering with new technology, working on personal projects, exploring the world on his bike, and, above all else, spending time with his family.
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Nikolay Lankevich has over 15 years of strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development, and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.
What Users Say about PhotoRec for macOS