Recover lost photos: how to repair corrupt images

Stellar Phoenix JPEG Repair

Image Recovery Rate: 62.5%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

Stellar Phoenix JPEG Repair stood out straight away thanks to its dedicated thumbnail extractor.

Point this at your corrupted images and the program will do its best to extract any thumbnails they might contain; these plainly aren't going to be high resolution, but if they're the only record you have of the image then you'll probably still be very happy to see them.

And the feature's inclusion here is a great idea.

Of course the program can also try to repair your JPEGs, though, and here it works more or less exactly as you'd expect. Add a few files, click the 'Repair' button, and wait a while for the results to appear - it's all very straightforward.

The program's repair tools were mostly very successful, too.

Our zeroed signature images were recovered immediately, for instance.

The 'corrupt header' set was more difficult, but Stellar Phoenix still restored 12 out of 14.

The program was able to make 2 out of 14 images look good, even after we zeroed 8KB in the middle of each file, and even deleting the first 8KB from each file couldn't prevent it from restoring half of our images.

Your photos may be different, of course. But a relatively unobtrusive text watermark means it's quite easy to see how well the program's recovery efforts have worked.

And perhaps best of all, Stellar Phoenix JPEG Repair can be yours for a very reasonable $39 - that could be money well spent.

File Repair 2.1

Image recovery rate: 0%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

If you don't want to spend big money repairing your image files then the freeware File Repair should have obvious appeal, especially as it also claims to repair Office documents, archives, videos, PDF files and MP3 files.

But while this sounds great, the program does suffer from a fairly significant problem. With regards to JPEGS, at least, File Repair simply doesn't work.

We pointed it at every one of our test pictures - individually, as it can't batch process files. And in each and every case the program told us it was "Rading the damaged file", displayed a progress bar by way of proof, before stating "No data to recover detected".

So after failing in every case, we pointed File Repair at some uncorrupted images, just as a check. And it told us "No data to recover detected" there, too.

The File Repair authors do claim on their website that they can repair files manually (for a fee, we'd guess). And perhaps they can.

Don't waste your valuable time expecting File Repair to fix your corrupted JPEGs, though - from our tests, it's entirely useless.

JPEG Recovery Pro 5.0

Image Recovery Rate: 39.3%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

If we were marking our software on ease of use alone, then JPEG Recovery Pro would be an easy winner.

Point the program at your folder of corrupted photos and there's no tedious progress bars, no tables of figures: it just recovers all the images it can, and displays a thumbnail of each picture so you can judge the results right away.

Better still, there's no massive watermark placed over the top, so you can't actually tell if the image has been fixed at all - these are just regular thumbnails.

And although they're a little small, double-click any of them and you're able to view a larger version.

If there's a down side here it's that the program's recovery technology isn't as effective as some of the competition.

Sometimes it did reasonably well - JPEG Recovery Pro was able to access half the pictures in our toughest Test 3, for instance (where the first 8KB of our test images were lost) - but others weren't so successful, with the program occasionally failing even on our relatively easy 'zero signature' test.

JPEG Recovery Pro is a likeable, well-designed program, then.

If you're frustrated by the massive watermarks used by other recovery tools, give it a try. The core recovery engine needs work, though, and you may find it's unable to fix your damaged photos.

IrfanView 4.35

Image Recovery Rate: 0%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

IrfanView is a tiny but amazingly powerful image editor, packed with a host of powerful features, so it was no great surprise when we found people often recommending it online in discussions about corrupted JPEGs.

"Try IrfanView", we kept reading, "it can often read images that other programs won't touch".

This sounded interesting, so we downloaded and installed a copy of the latest version, pointed it at our test images - and were slightly disappointed by the results, when it proved unable to read any of them.

Even the pictures with the simplest forms of corruption - the wiped signature - returned nothing but error messages.

To be fair, the IrfanView site makes no claim about it being able to read corrupt JPEGs, anyway, so this shouldn't be taken as a criticism of the program. It remains a 5-star image viewer, editor and management tool, and every PC owner should have a copy.

If you have a few corrupt JPEGs, though, don't expect IrfanView to handle them. In our experience, it's no more likely to read damaged images than anything else.

Picture Doctor 2.0

Image Recovery Rate: 64.3%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

Picture Doctor 2.0 is a likeable tool, straightforward and very easy to use: you'll know what to do just as soon as the clean and clear interface appears.

There are no complex options to consider, nothing to set up or tweak.

Just add your files, choose an output folder, click 'Start Rescue' and all that's left to do is wait for the results to appear. Which won't take long, either (the program is very quick).

Picture Doctor did an excellent job of repairing our broken images, too. All our 'zero signature' images were recovered; only one of the pictures with a zeroed header defeated it, and even removing the first 8KB of an image wasn't the problem we expected, with the program restoring half of our test pictures to a very acceptable standard.

Problems? The trial version places a big black rectangle over the bulk of the image, so it may be hard to judge any recovery results.

And the program is undeniably expensive at $99.50. But, if you really need to repair some images, Picture Doctor has a better chance of success than most.

Image Recovery Rate: 33.9%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

Most of our recommendations here are for Windows packages, which won't be a great deal of help if you've got a Mac, or perhaps need to recover an image on a computer where you can't install software.

Don't worry, though. offers a free online solution which may be able to help.

Just visit the site in your browser, upload a single image (JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG or RAW) and wait for a while.

If the recovery is successful then you'll be invited to tweet about the site, or 'Like' it on Facebook, and in return you'll get a free link to the finished image. (Actually, if you just click the 'Like' and Tweet links for a while, you'll get the free link anyway.)

Does it work? If your images are simple, maybe. Most of our images with corrupt signatures and headers were restored, though only by recovering thumbnails in one or two cases.

But in general the service isn't up to the standard of the best commercial tools. failed to restore access to a single picture where we'd removed the first 8KB, for instance; the competition managed to repair 50% of the same files.

Perhaps you really do get what you pay for, after all.

PixRecovery 3.0

Image Recovery Rate: 51.8%

Photo recovery: how to repair corrupt images

If the web repair service worked occasionally for you, then you might be interested in PixRecovery, its Windows-based big brother. The program is able to fix more picture problems, and it can process multiple files at the same time, too.

The first task, as usual, is to select your corrupted images. PixRecovery supports a good range of formats here: JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG and RAW.

There's then plenty of control over where the repaired images will go. And in a click you can set the program to work, quickly examining each image and recovering whatever it can.

The trial version then makes it difficult to see how successful the recovery had been, unfortunately, as a huge white watermark is placed over the centre of the picture.

In our experience the program did almost as well as some of the other top commercial tools, though, effortlessly recovering JPEGs with damaged headers, and repairing half of our test images even when we stripped out the first 8KB.

Problems? PixRecovery can't recover progressive JPEGs. Otherwise, its repair capabilities and wide file format support make the program a sensible image recovery choice, and the $49 price isn't bad, either.

Mike Williams
Lead security reviewer

Mike is a lead security reviewer at Future, where he stress-tests VPNs, antivirus and more to find out which services are sure to keep you safe, and which are best avoided. Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. The early PC viruses caught Mike's attention, and he developed an interest in analyzing malware, and learning the low-level technical details of how Windows and network security work under the hood.