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….
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!
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.
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!
(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)