February 07, 2011

Playing with an Eye–Fi card

Writing about web page http://www.eye.fi

I was a keen photographer many years ago, but when kids came along I didn’t have time to keep up with it as a serious hobby. Consequently my recent photography kit has been from the, er, consumer end of the spectrum. Recently, though, my eldest has developed an apparently quite serious interest in photography and we have, between us, invested in a digital SLR – a Sony Alpha A500.

Alongside this, I’ve been researching lots of peripheral kit (any excuse to play with gadgets:-) and one thing that caught my eye was the Eye-Fi card. This is an SD memory card with WiFi built-in, which essentially adds WiFi capabilities to almost any digital camera. After a little bit of research and conversations with a few people that have one, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought one. There’s a range of cards that provide different capabilities. I bought the most basic one – the 4GB Connect X2.

In essence this connects to a WiFi network (infra-structure mode, not ad-hoc), and as you take photos it transfers them to a PC (Windows & MacOS supported) automatically. Once there, you can configure various photo sharing services and have the images automatically uploaded to Picasa, flickr, Facebook and others, as well as keeping the local copy on the computer. Obviously, this all depends on having a WiFi network available. What if there isn’t one?

Well, if there really isn’t one then the Eye-Fi card just keeps the photos locally – it is a 4GB SD card, remember – and will upload them when it does find a network. If you have your laptop with you, but with no WiFi, there are two options. A more expensive version of the card, the Pro X2 supports ad-hoc WiFi connections. Option 2 is to turn your laptop into a hotspot. If you are running Windows 7, then Connectify does exactly that. The Eye-Fi card will connect to the laptop’s connectify hotspot and transfer the images. If the laptop has a live internet connection the images will then be forwarded on. If not, they’ll be held on the laptop until it does, and forwarded on then. This all works just as you’d expect. Connectify has another advantage. The Eye-Fi card in unable to connect to WiFi networks that have a web-based sign-in page, like most commercial hotspots do. But if you can connect from a laptop, and then re-broadcast that via connectify, you can still use the Eye-Fi in your nearest coffee shop!

There are a couple of other advantages of the more expensive cards. My basic card will only transfer JPEG images – it won’t transfer RAW files. The Pro version of the card transfers RAW files. Also, the Pro version of the card comes with a “Hotspot” service that allows it to transfer images without a laptop. You’ll remember I said above that images go from the card to a PC and then onwards to other services. Without a laptop that doesn’t work. With the “hotspot” service on the Pro card, images will go directly from the card to Eye-Fi’s own servers “in the cloud” and from there to your configured online services. If this is important to you, it is a service that can be added to the basic cards too, for £25/year.

For £40, my basic card looks like it is going to be a useful way of getting photos off the camera and onto various of my online services quickly, easily and automatically. WiFi enabled cameras have a lot of potential, and the fact that they can fit the WiFi hardware inside an SD card along with the memory, is pretty impressive. I do wish the Pro card wasn’t twice the price of my Connect version, though. The ability to transfer RAW files would be nice, but I’m not (yet) prepared to pay the extra for that. I have my dSLR configured to shoot RAW+JPEG so the jpegs transfer automatically and I still get the RAW files to process later…

- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Mike Willis

    The Pro version of the card transfers RAW files

    This sounds like a what I recent saw described as an antifeature. An example of a manufacture going to some effort to prevent you doing something that would other wise be possible. What technical reason would there me why it could send jpeg over a wi-fi connection, but not raw? They’re just data.

    I was looking at Eye-Fi cards recently with a view to putting one in a photo frame that doesn’t have wireless built in. But then I realised that even if it is possible to copy files on to the Eye-Fi card, there needs to be a computer somewhere copying files on to it because the photo frame wouldn’t have any software to retrieve files over the wi-fi connection. So I stopped wondering about it :)

    07 Feb 2011, 12:50

  2. Steve Rumsby

    There’s no technical reason why the cheap cards can’t also transfer RAW files. They are just files like JPEGs, as you say. The difference in cost is just market forces. It is just software, and people sell it for what users will pay. In this case I assume the justification is that professional photographers will want to use RAW files and they can afford to pay more. Which of course catches out people like me, who aren’t professionals but want to use RAW anyway. Lots of stuff is priced this way – based on perceived value rather than actual value. Annoying, but hardly unique.

    And it wouldn’t work for your photo frame application, because it is about sending files over WiFi, from camera to PC. There’s so way to send files to the Eye-Fi card over WiFi.

    07 Feb 2011, 13:57

  3. Jingye

    Steve, thanks for sharing. This article is well written and answers many a question that not even found from amazon product description.
    Interesting note on Jpg and raw file transfer. If you shoot both raw+jpg would it mean it automatcally pick up jpgs and sending though, leaving raw intact? I suppose there is always a copy of jpg and raw stay with the card regardless?

    15 Mar 2011, 10:33

  4. Steve Rumsby

    Yes, if you shoot RAW+JPG (this is my default) then the JPGs will transfer and the RAWs won’t. That works as you’d expect, and both versions are retained on the card so you get the RAW files the old fashioned way!

    Also, the card has an “endless memory” mode which, if switched on, will delete files that have been transferred once the card starts getting full. You set the threshold for this process to start (90%, 75%, 50% – up to you). It does only delete files that have definitely been transferred to the Eye-Fi server. If you shoot RAW+JPG, then obviously that means it won’t delete the RAW files, but will start deleting JPGs as the card fills. That’s quite a nice arrangement, actually. I have it configured this way all the time, now.

    15 Mar 2011, 10:46

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