PhotoRec for Mac Review – Capable but Difficult to Use
Out of 5 Total Score
No. 3 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.
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.
|Latest version||7.2 • Released 1st Sep, 2021|
|Download size||25.1 MB|
|Category||Data Recovery Software|
|Free version available|
|Free version limitations|
|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% 33.3% 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).
230 7.2% 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 • 14 years on the 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.
More than 6 months
Available (View full update history)
|4||Latest macOS supported|
Yes, all good
|5||Runs natively on M1 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|
|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.
|1||Clever in-depth scan|
|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.|
The ability to restore original folder structure and file names. Most consumer-oriented data recovery software applications can attempt to not only restore deleted files but also recover their original file names and folder structure. We call this type of functionality Clever scan
Unfortunately, PhotoRec is unable to recover files with their original names and paths.
Recovery of recently deleted files Every lost minute can significantly worsen the outcome of a data recovery attempt, and Quick scan certainly doesn’t waste your time because it’s designed to find as many recently deleted files as quickly as possible
Because PhotoRec doesn’t recover file system information, it can’t quicky undelete recently deleted files.
Other scan types
Advanced scan types for solving complicated data loss situations Basic data recovery algorithms aimed at recovering recently deleted data cover only a small subset of the data loss issues users experience every day. That’s why developers also implement all kinds of advanced scan types
|1||The number of formats supported by deep scan|
|2||Native deep scan of system drives on M1-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.
Supported internal and external storage devices Ideally, data recovery software applications should be able to recover from internal and external hard drives, external USB flash drives, memory cards, smartphones, and other commonly used storage devices
|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
Results of real-life data recovery tests performed under controlled conditions It’s one thing to advertise support for hundreds of file formats, and it’s something else entirely to recover them in practice. Our tests reveal whether the data recovery software lives up to its promises
|1||Raw photo recovery|
|2||Video formats recovery|
|3||Document formats recovery|
Raw photo recovery
The ability to recover raw photo file formats used by digital cameras and mobile devices Most modern digital cameras and increasingly many mobile devices let their users capture raw image data in a variety of raw file formats, so having the ability to recover them can be extremely helpful
|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)|
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
Video recovery performance measured against commonly used video formats Video file formats have evolved a lot during the last decade, and not all recovery software tools support modern formats used by the latest digital cameras, camcorders, and mobile devices
|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)|
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
Determining how well the software recovers document file formats Documents are among the most commonly recovered file formats because their importance can be tremendous, especially when they're related to work or school. Because of how many document file formats exist these days, older and less developed data recovery software often struggle recovering and recognizing all of them
|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)|
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
Additional recovery features and their performance These additional recovery features are what often separates average data recovery software solutions from those that can satisfy the needs of professionals and power users
|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.
|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.
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.