Fallen Heroes: SD Card Err

When you are seeing this with
a memory card inserted...
Unfortunately, and based on my own in-field experience, I'm slowly coming to conclusions that GoPro's firmware in the HD Hero 3 is clearly unreliable. And this even as I carefully handle the cam, never running the battery flat, shutting down the cam correctly before swapping memory cards, and so on. In return, GoPro's famous firmware just has bricked the file system on a memory card for the third time. Unfortunately, you can't repair such a disk in cam or with the basic tools that come with all the operating systems – but fortunately, I found a way to salvage my video footage despite this mayhem, so please read on...

Fallen Heroes

A diving weekend at lake Plansee: in the evening I was removing a microSD memory card with footage shot during two dives the same day from one of my HD Hero 3s and I was inserting it into my tablet when the dreaded message appeared that there is no file system present. Argh. However, I kept cool, removed the memory card carefully while making sure not to accidentally formatting it and stored it away for later treatment. For the moment, I put aside my feelings about the non-working software quality procedures and department inside GoPro and its suppliers that bricked my memory card file systems already three times.

Being back at home, I wouldn't immediately declared my diving footage lost ... as this was the third time, GoPro killed my footage. Instead, I jumped ship to the adventure of video footage rescue. And to my great delight I was able to salvage most of my seemingly lost footage. However, I had to combine two programs in order to achieve success:
  • for recovering the video files from the bricked memory card I found two options:
    • CardRecovery (commercial) for Windows, from WinRecovery Software.
    • PhotoRec (free, Open Source) for Linux, Windows, ...
  • for repairing the salvaged video files I was successfully using a Video Repair Software from the German software company Grau GmbH Hardware & Software Solutions.

1. Salvaging Video Files without a File System

In order to prevail, the memory card hardware itself needs to be still functioning correctly. If this is not the case, then your game is most probably over by now. As there was clear indication not of a hardware but of GoPro's software malfunction, there was hope for me that I could still lift off my video files from the memory card, in case GoPro just bricked the file system but left the file contents intact. So I tested two programs to salvage my footage...

CardRecovery (Commercial: Windows)

Rescue without filesystem: CardRecovery.
If you can spare some money for salvation and like it more cozy, then CardRecovery is probably meant for you. It has a simple-to-use interface and works quite good. This software can rescue photo, video, and audio file without any filesystem present, as long as the file contents are not scrambled.

Simply point CardRecovery to the drive containing the memory card with the bricked file system and your video footage. Next, choose which type of files to rescue. Point the software to the directory where you want your footage getting salvaged to. And then wait for the magic to happen, while the program scans your memory card completely.

There is a trial version of CardRecovery available to run a dry test: you won't be able to save your salvaged footage, but you can preview it. Unfortunately, both the Windows media player as well as the integrated media player can't deal with Protune footage, so this feature is moot. Oh, does the crappy Windows media player actually play back anything? So I had to shell out the money for the software license in the hope of getting working video files back.

To my luck, CardRecovery could correctly salvage my video footage ... but it couldn't successfully repair it. Maybe that is because it is Protune footage, but apparently the repair functionality of CardRecovery still lacks some sophistication. In consequence, I had to throw another piece of software at my files in order to repair them, but more on this later.

PhotoRec (FLOSS: Linux, Win, ...)

Für die Spartanischen: Rettung in der Konsole.
When you don't want to spend the money for CardRecovery, then you may want to give PhotoRec a try. It is an open source software and gratis, available for several platforms, such as Linux and Windows, just to name a few. The downside of it is its console-only user interface. On the bright side, PhotoRec is able to identify and salvage a damn lot of file types, not only for photo, video, and audio. So, don't get fooled by the software's name; it works well on your video footage, too.

I also could successfully rescue my video footage using PhotoRec. The only minor quirk was that PhotoRec combined two separate video files into a single one. In the end, this is no big deal, as long as you get your video footage back at all.

2. Repairing Your Video Files

Okay, so we could lift off our video footage from the microSD card with the bricked file system. But I had to face the next problem: no video player wanted to play back these files. So did I just spent my money for nothing? After a quick search on the Internet I found out that H.264 video footage seems to be rather sensitive to any slight mistreatment.

A quick test using a commercial Internet service with a short broken video clip actually gave me correct preview images! So I knew that repair was in reach. However, the price of this commercial service was in no relation to my value of my broken video footage.

Repairs .mp4 and .mov video footage.
Luckily, I quickly stumbled onto another offer: a small German company named Grau selling their Video Repair Software. This software only repairs .mov and .mp4 footage, but hey! ... this is exactly what I need.

The video repair software asks you for your broken video file and also needs another, working video file from the same camera. It then analyses the working video file in order to understand how to repair the broken video. And to my great delight this software was able to correctly repair my broken video file! Both video and audio were repaired, so I can immediately use the repaired files in Kdenlive. Sweet!

There is a batch mode available to repair a set of broken video files in a single go. This is very convenient, as I usually only shoot short takes, which are nicer to work with in post.

You can download a trial version of the repair software: it only saves half of your repaired video file. However, this should be sufficient in most cases to find out whether the software works for you. I tested several of my broken video files with great success, so I quickly shelled out the money for the software full license. This surely is money well spent.


In the end I could successfully salvage most of my video footage from my GoPro-inflicted memory card filesystem bricking. Two video files couldn't be repaired, while three old and already deleted video files were found and restored. In the end, I got 14 working video files back, worth a total of 2.9GB. That somehow reminds me of an editor of c't magazine fame who wrote more than ten years ago that modern memory likes to loose memory here and then while remember all those things you wanted it to forget...

On the downside clearly is GoPro with its non-working quality department. I never lost any footage with my GoPro HD Hero cams of the first and second generation. But with the HD Hero 3 this is already the third time that GoPro bricks my file system of a memory card. Way to go: I don't care about your 3+ as long as you don't get your firmware stable. Seriously.