PhotoRec for Windows Review: Intimidating but Worth It
Out of 5 Total Score
No. 6 Among all Windows solutions
Many articles that list the best data recovery solutions mention PhotoRec as a great alternative to commercial applications. To discover how good it really is, we put it to the test, and this PhotoRec review is here to tell you what we found out.
Completely free. There is no need to buy a license to recover files. The program is completely free.
Open source. PhotoRec is open source, so anyone can study its source code and make modifications to it if desired.
Optional graphical user interface. The Windows version of PhotoRec comes with an optional graphical user interface that makes it more accessible.
Does not require installation. PhotoRec is a portable application, which means that you can launch it without installing it on your system.
Capable signature scanner. The program supports a large number of signatures, including recent ones.
Ability to narrow down scan results. You can enable/disable individual signatures to narrow down scan results.
Runs well even on low-end computers. You don’t need a powerful computer to use PhotoRec.
Works with raw disks. The program works with disks that do not have a file system or refuse to mount.
Scanning of disk images. The program knows how to scan byte-by-by-byte copies of disks.
Scanning unused disk space. You can tell PhotoRec to only scan unused (free) disk space, which helps speed up the recovery process.
Interface slows down during scanning. When the scanning process starts, the user interface becomes a lot less responsive.
Window size settings. The software doesn’t remember window size settings.
Rarely updated. The program rarely receives updates.
No auto-update. To update to the latest version, you have to manually download PhotoRec from its website and replace the version you have on your computer.
Scan automation. To start scanning you have to manually select the file system, scan area, and configure the types of files to be found.
Source selection. It takes some work to select the device you want to scan.
The need for an additional disk. Because PhotoRec can only recover all found files in bulk, you are almost guaranteed to need an additional disk to use as your recovery destination.
Disk backup creation. There is no way to create byte-to-byte copies of disks.
Lack of tech support. Customer support is provided only by volunteers on forums.
Lack of additional functionality. The program does not have any additional features beyond data recovery.
Only signature scanner. The program is able to find files only by signature. The file system will never be restored, so the user will never see the original names of files and folders where they were stored.
Doesn’t refresh storage devices. PhotoRec doesn’t automatically refresh the list of storage devices. To see a newly inserted storage device, you have to restart the application.
Multiple scans. If you need to scan many devices, you have to restart the program, because when the scanning process is finished there is only one option, which is to exit the program. You cannot go back to the home screen.
Usability issues. The software has no features that would help users analyze recovery results.
Terminal version. The terminal version of PhotoRec is not beginner-friendly at all.
Recovery path. The program does not remember the last file recovery path.
Warning messages. When attempting to restore files to the source drive, which is a dangerous thing to do because it can lead to overwriting, there’s no warning message displayed to alert inexperienced users.
Disabled signatures. By default, not all signatures are selected for scanning. To select everything, you have to manually click multiple checkboxes.
|Free version available|
|Free version details|
|No credit card to try|
PhotoRec’s pricing could hardly be any simpler: the software is completely free and distributed under the GNU General Public License. As such, you are free to run, study, share, and modify the software however you please.
Developer — Christophe GRENIER
PhotoRec is developed by Christophe Grenier, a French software developer who owns and operates CGSecurity, the homepage of PhotoRec.
2% 6.3% 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).
5300 16.6% than avg
Based on the number of brand-related search queries on Google US according to ahrefs.com.
Christophe Grenier released the first version of PhotoRec in 2008, and he has been improving it ever since with the help of volunteers from around the world, who contribute to the project in a number of different ways.
2008 • 14 years on market
GlobalSP, 78 rue la Condamine, 75017 PARIS, France
Unlike most commercial data recovery software applications, PhotoRec doesn’t have a marketing budget, and it doesn’t maintain an active social media presence, with support provided exclusively on the official forums.
How We Test
To ensure that our data recovery test results are comparable, we follow a specific test process that consists of the following stages.
|1||Installation||Our testing always starts with the installation of the tested software on our testing computer.|
|2||Source selection||We test the capabilities of data recovery software by scanning custom-built virtual hard drives with an assortment of different file types.|
|3||Scanning process||Since data recovery applications often support multiple scanning modes, we repeat the scanning process as many times as necessary to comprehensively evaluate the tested software.|
|4||Managing found data||Here, we're interested in how easy the tested software makes it to preview, select, and otherwise manage found data.|
|5||Recovery and post-processing||After completing the recovery process, we analyze the recovery results to determine how many files have been successfully recovered.|
By following these exact steps when reviewing data recovery software, including PhotoRec, we are able to produce reviews that are objective and verifiable.
PhotoRec is a portable software application, which means that it doesn't have to be installed before it can be launched.
All you have to do is download the application from its website, unpack the archive it comes in, and launch the main executable.
The archive includes both the command-line version of PhotoRec and QPhotoRec, the graphical version of the software.
When you launch the graphical version of PhotoRec, you are presented with a source selection window. You need to make sure that the storage device you want to scan is connected before you launch the software because the list of available sources doesn't automatically refresh when you connect a new device to your computer.
Unlike other similar data recovery software applications, PhotoRec doesn't automatically detect which file system is used, so you have to specify it manually.
The command-line version of PhotoRec works much like the GUI version, featuring a step-by-step data recovery wizard that's designed to take you from source selection to scanning in a guided fashion.
Both PhotoRec and QPhotoRec provide only a basic overview of the scanning process, telling how many sectors have been scanned and how many are yet to be scanned.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to preview scan results in real-time, and you also can't manage the scan process in any way. If you suddenly need to use your computer for other things, then your only option is to close the application and start again from scratch later.
Managing found files
When PhotoRec and QPhotoRec finish scanning, they display a short overview of data recovery results and provide the option to quit the application.
Commercial data recovery software solutions typically provide scan result filters to help narrow down the results, and leading applications can even preview files before their actual recovery takes place.
PhotoRec for Windows – Tutorials and Other Videos
To see PhotoRec in action without downloading it to your computer, watch the tutorial below.
In terms of maturity and trustworthiness, PhotoRec leaves very little to be desired. Unfortunately, the application loses a lot of points due to how stagnant its development has been in recent years. There are also no official customer support channels to speak of, which is understandable considering that PhotoRec is completely free and open source, but it’s still a downside.
More than 6 months
Available (View full update history)
|4||Latest Windows release supported|
Nope, Windows 10 and older
|5||Genuine or clone?|
|6||Brand name popularity|
|7||Online market share|
|9||Extensive knowledge base|
Unsurprisingly, value is where PhotoRec shines the most considering the application is completely free and not limited in any way whatsoever. If it wasn’t for the immense value provided by this software, the overall rating given to it in this PhotoRec review would be quite different.
|4||Is it free?|
|6||Unlimited recovery in full version|
|8||Commercial rights in the cheapest license|
No licenses to purchase
In contrast with the excellent value offered by PhotoRec, there’s not much positive we can say about its usability. Even the optional graphical user interface is far from modern, and quality-of-life features like auto-resuming, previewing, and others are absent.
|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|
PhotoRec has decent signature scanning capabilities, but the application doesn’t support any other scanning modes, which greatly limits its ability to solve a broad range of data loss scenarios.
|1||Clever in-depth scan|
|3||Other types of scan|
|Limited to signature scanning|
|Works with most storage devices|
|5||Real-life recovery challenge|
|Delivers good real-life results|
|6||Other notable recovery features|
|No extra features|
PhotoRec doesn’t restore the original folder structure and file names because it always assumes that the file system has been damaged.
You can’t quickly recover recently deleted files using PhotoRec because the software can only perform a deep signature scan.
Other scan types
|1||The number of formats supported by deep scan|
|3||Windows shadow copies scanning|
|4||Scan for lost partitions|
|5||Recovered files' labeling|
|6||Partial file recovery|
|7||Disk images: scan and recovery|
PhotoRec’s data recovery performance stems from its fairly impressive signature scanning capabilities, which allow it to recognize and recover more than 480 file extensions (about 300 file families). The software can also scan disk images, giving you one extra option for addressing data loss.
|1||Internal and external HDD|
|2||Internal and external SSD|
|3||USB thumb drives / Classic iPods (non-iOS) / FireWire devices|
|7||Recovery from RAID1, 0, JBOD|
PhotoRec is a multi-platform data recovery application that supports several commonly used Windows, macOS, and Linux file systems, including FAT, NTFS, exFAT, ext2/ext3/ext4, and HFS+. All storage devices that use these file systems should be recoverable. What isn’t recoverable are mobile devices and RAID storage.
Real-life recovery challenges
|1||Document formats recovery|
|2||Raw photo recovery|
|3||Video formats recovery|
Raw photo recovery
|1||3fr (Hasselblad 3F raw image)|
|2||arw (Sony alpha raw)|
|3||bmp (bitmap image file)|
|4||cr2 (Canon raw version 2)|
|5||cr3 (Canon raw version 3)|
|6||crw (Canon raw CIFF image file)|
|7||dcr (Kodak digital camera raw)|
|8||dng (digital negative lossless raw image)|
|9||CinemaDNG (Blackmagic, Penelope, Pocket)|
|10||erf (Epson raw file)|
|11||exr (high dynamic-range file format)|
|12||fff (Hasselblad raw image)|
|13||gpr (GoPro raw format)|
|14||heic (high efficiency image file format)|
|15||iiq (intelligent image quality raw Leaf, Phase One)|
|16||insp (panoramic image Insta360)|
|17||jp2 (bitmap image format JPEG 2000)|
|18||jpg (joint photographic experts group compressed image)|
|19||kdc (Kodak digital camera raw image)|
|20||mef (Mamiya raw image file)|
|21||mos (Leaf and Mamiya raw image file)|
|22||mpo (multi picture stereoscopic object file)|
|23||mrw (Konica Minolta raw image format)|
|24||nef (Nikon raw image file)|
|25||nrw (Nikon raw image file)|
|26||orf (Olympus raw format)|
|27||pef (Pentax raw image file)|
|28||raf (Fujifilm raw image file)|
|29||raw (native digital camera file)|
|30||rw2 (Panasonic LUMIX raw image file)|
|31||rwl (Leica raw image format)|
|32||sr2 (Sony raw 2 image file)|
|33||srf (Sony raw file)|
|34||srw (Samsung raw image file)|
|35||tiff (tag image file format)|
|36||x3f (Sigma camera raw picture file)|
|37||x3i (Sigma super fine detail picture file)|
With only a few exceptions, PhotoRec performed well when recovering the variety of image file formats included in our test data sets, living up to its name. Even fairly modern raw photo file formats were recognized by PhotoRec.
Video formats recovery
|1||360 (GoPRO 360 degree videos)|
|2||ari (ARRI professional digital video camera)|
|3||arx (ARRI professional digital video camera)|
|4||avi (GoPRO CineForm intermediate codec)|
|5||avi (MJPG, H.264, MSMPEG4 v2 codecs)|
|6||braw (Blackmagic raw video file)|
|7||insv (Insta360 panoramic AVC H.264 video file)|
|8||insv (Insta360 panoramic HEVC HVC1 video file)|
|9||mov (Apple ProRes 422 Proxy/LT/HQ)|
|10||mov (Apple ProRes 4444 Raw/HQ)|
|11||mov (advanced video coding H.264)|
|12||mov (CineForm HD codec)|
|13||mov (HEVC, HVC1 codecs)|
|14||mp4 (advanced video coding H.264)|
|15||mp4 (HEVC, HVC1, Apple ProRes codecs)|
|16||mxf (advanced video coding H.264)|
|17||mxf (DVCPRO HD codec)|
|18||mxf (ARRI raw, Apple ProRes codecs)|
|19||mxf (XDCAM HD422, HD35 MPEG2 codecs)|
|20||r3d (Red digital camera company raw video file)|
|21||wmv (pro raw 9 codec)|
PhotoRec’s video recovery performance is almost as good as its photo recovery performance. Again, even advanced file formats that haven’t been around for a long time were recognized and recovered by the data recovery application.
Document formats recovery
|1||accdb (Microsoft Access 2007+ database file)|
|2||djvu (compressed image format)|
|3||doc (Microsoft Word 97 – 2003 document file)|
|4||docx (Microsoft Word 2007+ document file)|
|5||fb2 (FictionBook 2.0 File)|
|6||key (Apple Keynote)|
|7||mdb (Microsoft Access 97 - 2003 database file)|
|8||numbers (Apple Numbers)|
|9||odp (OpenOffice presentation file format)|
|10||ods (OpenDocument spreadsheet file format)|
|11||odt (OpenDocument text document file format)|
|12||pages (Apple Pages)|
|13||pdf (portable document format)|
|14||ppt (Microsoft Powerpoint 97 - 2003 presentation file)|
|15||pptx (Microsoft Powerpoint 2007+ presentation file)|
|16||rtf (rich text format)|
|17||xls (Microsoft Excel 97 - 2003 spreadsheet file)|
|18||xlsx (Microsoft Excel 2007+ spreadsheet file)|
When it comes to document file recovery, PhotoRec delivers mixed results. On the one hand, it recovers certain file formats, such as DOC, ODS, and XLS, almost perfectly. On the other hand, it sometimes struggles to recover file formats that we wouldn’t expect to be problematic, such as those associated with Apple’s office suite.
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||Convenient scan session management|
|7||Bad sector management|
|8||Recovery chance prediction|
|10||Disk vitals monitoring and tracking during scan|
|12||Links to in-lab recovery service for physically damaged devices|
|14||Scan free space only|
|15||Start file recovery without interrupting the scan|
|16||Preview recoverable items without interrupting the scan|
PhotoRec is a straightforward data recovery application that focuses on the recovery of lost files from local storage devices using its signature scanner. As such, there’s only a small handful of additional recovery features, including the option to skip free storage space during scanning.
It has become a common practice for the developers of data recovery software to bundle their applications with extra data management and data protection tools as a way to help users prevent data loss from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, PhotoRec doesn’t come with any such tools.
|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|
Perhaps the optional graphical user interface, called QPhotoRec, could be considered an extra feature, but it’s also something that users expect by default.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s answer some commonly asked questions about Stellar Data Recovery for Windows.
PhotoRec is an open-source data recovery software application developed by CGSecurity and volunteers from around the world.
PhotoRec is used to recover hundreds of different file formats (not just photos) from Windows, macOS, and Linux storage devices.
On Windows, you don’t have to install PhotoRec at all because the application is portable, so all you have to do is extract its files and launch the main executable.
PhotoRec is a command-line application, so it must be launched from a terminal emulator. Fortunately, it does feature a step-by-step recovery wizard that makes the recovery process easy. You can also use the optional graphical user interface, called QPhotoRec, but it runs only on Windows.
Yes, PhotoRec is open source and completely free, so you can use it to recover an unlimited amount of data.
Absolutely! PhotoRec has been around since 2002, and it has established itself as one of the most popular applications of its kind.
Both TestDisk and PhotoRec are data recovery applications developed by CGSecurity. The purpose of TestDisk is to repair damaged file systems so that files can be recovered with metadata intact. PhotoRec, on the other hand, assumes that the file system can’t be repaired, so it uses different methods to recover lost data.
The latest version of PhotoRec can recover over 400 file extensions, including photos, videos, audio, office documents, file archives, and more.
Yes, PhotoRec can recover many popular video file formats.
When PhotoRec encounters a corrupted file system, it performs a signature-based scan to find and recover as many files as possible. However, not all corrupted files that can be recovered are guaranteed to be openable.
No, PhotoRec isn’t designed to recover the folder structure. To do that, you can use its sister application, TestDisk.
PhotoRec creates a directory called “recup_dir” in the folder where its executable is located, and it stores all recovered files there.
Will do ⚖️️
Out of 5 Total score
No. 6 Among all Windows solutions
PhotoRec may have a steeper learning curve than most commercial data recovery software applications, but the value it offers is hard to ignore, and its data recovery performance isn’t bad either.Visit developer website
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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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Houston, Texas, United States
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.