Recovering corrupted or missing files from GoPro

Recently, on my way to Belize and a very first attempt at snorkelling, I decided to splash out on a GoPro HERO Session camera. Although I already own a Drift Stealth 2 action cam, I was attracted to the Session’s waterproof credentials, allowing it to be used down to a depth of 10 metres without any additional housing.

As it was a last minute purchase on my way through the US, I grabbed the 32GB SD card out of my Drift, downloaded the Android app and shot a couple of test videos in my hotel room that evening before heading out to sea the following day.

That’s when the problems started; in the light of day, on a small boat drifting in the Caribbean, the Session would freeze within a few seconds every time I hit record. I reformatted the card and turned off Protune to reduce the bitrate being written to the card. But, far from any mobile signal, there was little further troubleshooting I could do as sharks began to swarm around our boat.

Following my first excursion to see the Belize Barrier Reef, I realised that my fins were a little tight and, consequently, I was bleeding from both feet. It’s at this point that our guide suggested we all dive in to swim among the sharks.

Despite my technical (and now also health) troubles, I took the Hero back in with me and, to my delight, was able to capture 12 whole minutes of sharks and stingrays before the camera froze up yet again. To my dismay, upon returning to the boat and opening the app, it appeared that only six short clips (totalling barely 5 minutes) had actually been saved to the SD card, with all my other footage having disappeared.

I moved the micro SD card to my phone briefly (in hindsight, not a great idea, more on that in a moment) in the hope of finding my missing footage and also looked for it through Windows Explorer on my laptop. Sadly, despite some initial optimism when I found a directory called LOST.DIR in the root of the drive (this turned out to be empty), I was unable to find any of the missing video files on my card.

Back home in Blighty, memories began to fade and, more importantly, I had a video to make. So I searched for specialist software that might help me recover my missing data. After a thorough search, I downloaded a program called GoPro Recovery. The demo version allows one to see the list of files that will be recovered from your micro SD card, before committing to purchase the program.

Satisfied with the list of files shown in the demo, I purchased a license for a very reasonable $15, chose a folder on my hard drive in which to save the recovered files and clicked “Recover all files”. The recovery process is slow (it took a couple of hours to trawl through my 32GB card) and involves a number of stages:

  • Scanning the micro SD card for all frames of video
  • Extracting standalone .jpg files
  • Matching-up moov atoms with ftyp atoms, to re-assemble video files
  • Reconstructing low-res video files
  • Reconstructing high-res video files

The fields on the left of the interface show how many pictures and videos have been found on the card, and how many still need to be recovered. During the latter two stages, thumbnails will appear on the right as videos are recovered and stored in .mp4 format on your hard drive.


Despite a warning early-on in the process that a “possible fake memory chip” had been detected (my SD card was a genuine SanDisk one) and a write error when I stupidly allowed the recovery job to fill up my C-drive, the program successfully restored 92 files on to the latter, where only 21 had appeared on the SD card when viewed through Windows Explorer.

I was able to use the underwater footage in my Belize travel video, including our encounter with the sharks. And, as the software licence includes customer support and life time updates (including bug fixes and support for new cameras), it is a sound investment. Indeed, I have recently moved to a new laptop and contacted their support desk to transfer the license across – I got a favourable reply within ten hours.

Why did this happen?

I believe the answer to why I had all of these problems in the first place lies in the second paragraph of this article. I took the 32GB card out of my Drift camera and re-purposed it for my new GoPro HERO Session. This was a SanDisk Ultra “class 10” card, boasting transfer speeds of up to 80mbps. This should, in theory work with the Session, which claims a bitrate of up to 60mbps.

When I got back home, I purchased a dedicated card for my new Session and opted for the SanDisk Extreme Plus “class 3” UHS version, also 32GB, with transfer speeds of up to 100mbps (read) and 90mbps (write). I have not had any problems at all since moving to that new card. GoPro have published some charts that confirm compatibility with certain SD cards, so I recommend checking those if you have had similar problems with files failing to save.

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