Gadgets part 3: Eye-Fi

Here’s something I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while now… an Eye-Fi SD card. If you don’t know about these things, essentially they are standard 2Gb SD cards that fit into any camera that will take the format (or others, with e.g. a Compact Flash/SD adapter). The good part is that they make the camera wireless-capable….

Pull the tab!

So I picked up my Eye-Fi card and the first thing that I noticed was the cool packaging… pull on the tab on the right-hand side of the box, and the box slides out to the left, revealing a USB dongle and the card already inserted. You need the dongle, because you need to use the computer to configure the card.

Once I plugged the dongle into the machine, an Eye-Fi item appeared on the desktop… it was pretty simple to just install the Mac software. Once I’d done that, I hit a small snag… I got a message about the Eye-Fi Manager software being unable to initalise the card. I tried running the Eye-Fi Manager a few times, but the same thing happened… until I took the dongle out of the USB port on the right-hand side of my machine, and plugged it back in on the left. That time, I got a set of dialogs enabling me to register an account. Not sure what happened there!

Eye-Fi error

Actually this seems to be an issue on my MacBook Pro… for some reason the Eye-Fi Manager software will never “initialize” the card when the dongle is plugged in on the right of the machine (although it still shows up as a mass storage device, and Lightroom sees it and offers to import images from it). Worked fine over on the left, but then the dongle is a bit too wide to enable the Magsafe power plug to be connected at the same time. Actually it seems a little random, unfortunately. I raised a problem with Eye-Fi support and they basically talked me through steps for checking that nothing else is using the port, plugging and replugging – nothing specifically useful. YMMV.

Card and card reader

Right, so here’s how this thing works. You start the Eye-Fi Manager software, which opens a web page to configure the card. Here, you can add wireless network details (it supports a whole range of network settings including WEP and WPA keys), rename the card if you want, and configure a huge variety of online services. I have configured mine for Flickr… but the software supports Facebook, SmugMug, WebShots, SnapFish, Picasa, Photobucket… and a gazillion others that I’ve not heard of before (oddly, Movable Type, Vox and Live Spaces, but not WordPress – hmm!). Once you’ve done that, you put the card in the camera, and it will automatically connect to the network and start uploading shots any time you take them.


What appears to happen, is this: the camera uploads to Eye-Fi’s site, which then transfers to your chosen / configured photo service. The next time the Eye-Fi Manager sees the Eye-Fi site, it then mirrors the photos to the local disk (you can specify a location in the Eye-Fi Manager). I’m not 100% certain that this is how it works, but that’s what I’ve observed.

So now what about the downsides to this? Well for starters, the only supported file format is JPG. That’s OK, but of course Flickr now supports video too, for instance. Oh, and by the way, this is going to upload all your photos, anytime you take any, so I’ve set the default privacy option to private for Flickr uploads so I can review and tag etc. before publishing. The photos are obviously not titled or anything when the Eye-Fi uploads them, and they get a simple tag “Eye-Fi” set, but that’s all. So you will want to go and change title, tags, description, potentially rotate and so on once the image has been uploaded. Now that Flickr has Picnik integration, you can of course do some simple editing later as well. This does all bypass my “standard” photo workflow of Lightroom import, catalog, edit, and then upload, though.

One thing that the Eye-Fi does not support is wireless networks with certificates. Other than that, Open, WEP, WPA/WPA2 are all OK. It’s only going to work with networks it knows about, too (although you can configure more than one) – there’s no UI on the camera for configuring the card, you have to use the Eye-Fi Manager software while the dongle is plugged in to the camera.

Also, because there’s no UI on the camera side, there’s no visual indication as to what is happening… the Eye-Fi will silently upload your shots, and there’s actually no way of knowing that it is doing it, or when it has finished doing it. Of course it would be amazingly difficult for this to integrate with every camera if the makers had tried to build the Eye-Fi into the camera’s user interface, so I understand why this is the case – it’s just a little bit disconcerting! One nice feature is that there appears to be support for “interrupted” uploads, I see there’s a “Receive interrupted” comment in the Eye-Fi manager UI, so I think it will support partial upload and then resume.

Overall, it’s a neat idea, and certainly pretty cool for quick shoot-and-upload scenarios. Of course I often want to catalog my shots and touch-up on the computer first, but I can see cases where this could be really cool. Very handy for conferences etc. (oh, and that USB dongle can act as a reader for any SD card, too – handy). A qualified thumbs-up!

Here’s a link to a nice review, and here’s some news about the new models coming soon.

(post updated 14th May 2008 – a couple of additional details about workflow, the card initialization error, and the screenshot of the local machine import was added)

9 thoughts on “Gadgets part 3: Eye-Fi”

  1. Cheers for the review Andy, I have been salivating over getting one of these for a while. Of course as you know I don’t think you can get them in the UK yet. πŸ™
    Good to have a heads up on the issues as well as the cool features.
    So does it upload all the photos to all the services?

  2. Great question Lance. So here’s how that part works – you can configure multiple accounts, but the card will only upload to one at a time. So although I’ve configured my Facebook account in the settings too, I’ve got Flickr selected right now, so that is where it is going to put the photos.

  3. I picked up an Eye-Fi at Macworld in January, and am really pleased with it. There are, of course, some limitations – but with the likes of Nikon making models such as their D60 ‘Eye-Fi Ready’ (by which, it automatically configures the power settings required when you insert an Eye-Fi so that the SD card gets the power to upload) there’s a bright future ahead. I love mine as I can put the card inside any camera at home or in the office and have the photos go to Flickr.

  4. I really want to use the online services feature, but I prefer to touch up, tag, and title all my images on my computer first. I think there are benefits to getting the images up to flickr right away, I wouldn’t mind friends or family commenting on images while I’m busy tagging them (which doesn’t get done as timely as I would like sometimes), but unless there’s a good way to sync the updated computer images to flickr, there’s no point in having them there while I’m working on them locally… I would have to delete the flickr images and re-upload the computer images, which would delete any friend/family comments anyway. I suppose for small sets of images I could just manually replace them through flickr, but to do this with large sets would take some time.

    So far all I’ve found were syncing applications that work from the computer to flickr and not the other way around. I found one that actually did work both ways, but it did not sync meta information, it just checked to make sure the image was on flickr, if it wasn’t it uploaded it, if it was it ignored it.

    It’s still a very neat card though! I do like the online services upload feature, I will probably continue to use it, and in the meantime obsessively look for a good way to sync images from flickr to the ones on my computer. πŸ™‚

  5. Nik, I like the idea that some manufacturers are making their products Eye-Fi ready (and now that Canon are switching to SD in their DSLRs… well in the 450D at least… hopefully they will follow Nikon’s lead)

    Heidi, I’m also a bit wedded to the idea of editing comments and so on on my local machine, now that I’m using Lightroom more for “proper” cataloguing of my photo library. However, as I said, I can see a bunch of uses particularly where you just want to point-and-shoot-and-upload direct to the web for events and so on. One thing that is slightly annoying is that I have to rotate shots in Flickr’s interface though… I would have thought the EXIF data would hold the photo’s alignment and that Flickr could work it out from there. Anyway, it’s still a cool piece of kit πŸ™‚

  6. It uploads to one service (the active one in your profile). By default as soon as the camera is in range of the configured wireless network, it will upload all of the photos to the active service – Flickr in my case – so I default to having the photos set to private before I go and tag and make them public πŸ™‚

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