It you take a lot of photographs then you know that workflows are all-important. Wireless transfer of your files is nothing new: some DSLR systems will let you shoot with a wireless connection to your computer - many will let you shoot with a wired connection, stepping around the need to plug-in and download files. Eye-Fi brings this sort of sophistication to any camera that takes an SD card, using Wi-Fi.
The system has finally made its way to the UK having enjoyed successes in the US and we've always been keen to take a look, as on paper, it sounds like a crazy concept. Open the packaging and you have the 4GB SD card and a USB card reader.
To get started, all you do is plug the card reader and Eye-Fi card into your PC or Mac for configuration. All the software is on-board for both Windows and Mac users, meaning there is no fiddling around finding the right software. Configuration is simply a case of setting your network details and defining your preferences.
Once done, you can remove your Eye-Fi SD card from the reader, replace it in your camera and you are ready to start shooting. You don't need to make any changes to the camera – essentially, the camera has no idea what the SD card is doing, it just writes the data as usual. We didn't find any slowdown in camera performance over a regular card using a Canon PowerShot S90.
The system works by sending the image files from the SD card via your Wi-Fi network to a PC or online, or both. The software interface is browser-based and lets you look at your file transfer history, as well as tinkering with all the settings. The Eye-Fi servers online sit behind the operation and move the image files from one place to another.
The important part of the operation is your camera, as this needs to be on long enough to send the files out via the Wi-Fi network. If you snap a full resolution picture and then turn it off, it won't arrive at your PC. Generally we found that the images were sent before our test camera went into power saving mode and turned off, so as long as you are aware of what you are doing, it isn't a problem.
The Eye-Fi Manager offers a Relay option, which lets you send the images to the Eye-Fi servers whilst your computer is turned off, so they will be delivered when you turn your PC back on again, and/or delivered straight to your online sharing site of choice. It's has great potential, as you don't need your PC sitting around turned on, in fact you don't need your PC after configuration of the card. You could simply arrive at a friend's party, configure the card to send your photos to Flickr via their Wi-Fi network and off you go. Of course, you need to establish general rules for the card via your computer: once set, they stay the same.
The online sharing options include most of the big name sites – Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and so on – and you simply have to plug in your details through the browser and set any permissions that are needed.
The Eye-Fi card could also be useful for the sort of person who takes lots of pictures in a studio environment, without having to return to the computer to transfer files, or who has someone else working on image processing.
The system also works with video, so you can transfer video files and have them uploaded directly again to Facebook or to your YouTube account, as well as others. It's incredibly simple and it just works simply and easily.
The biggest stumbling block might be figuring out how you want to use this new freedom? Given the range of Wi-Fi networks, you could very well be able to roam around a particular venue taking pictures and have them remotely collected at your PC. It might be that you have a studio in a different part of the office building, or you want to take pictures around the school site, or of a particular event.
You can configure numerous locations on a card so if your venue is covered by a number of networks, you can set them all up. In the software setup, the detection of wireless networks is done by the Eye-Fi card, so you can see the contrast to those that your PC finds. From this you'll quickly deduce that the Eye-Fi card is somewhat limited in range compared to say you mobile phone or PC. You'll also find that it takes some time to register on a network and start sending - so if moving around a lot you need to be mindful of this.
For those working in real time with images, it takes a step out of the equation. For some others, it might just mean you don't need to use a USB cable when you return from a day out with a camera. Because it contains and stores the 4GB of photos as normal, the card can work in both ways.
But the potential here is still slightly locked away. Those in the US can also use Wi-Fi hotspots from Wayport to upload images as they go, but you need the Eye-Fi Explore card which gives you a year free Wayport access, but thereafter it will be $14.99 a year. For some it will work, for others, you'll want to guarantee that you'll have convenient access before you part with your cash. For those in the UK, you'll have to wait to see what happens.
A geotagging option is also available at extra cost too, but is a more common feature in modern cameras. The geotagging feature works by identifying Wi-Fi networks (if you opt for this feature) which isn't going to give you the same result as using a camera with a GPS module for a true position, so we probably wouldn't make it a priority.
You can also opt for notification messages so you know the status of a file transfer, so if you are on location and relying on the Eye-Fi to transfer images back to a central controlling computer, you'll know if things are interrupted, as the camera has no way of indicating this. However, after setup, we didn't get these working.
Is it a flawless system? No, it doesn't seem to be. Used with the PC on, we found that images dropped in quickly with no problems, but using the relay to instantly upload, we found that some photos never arrived at our chosen sharing site. They did arrive on the PC when it reconnected to the network, as well as being stored on the memory card, but we're guessing the Eye-Fi server didn't pass it on, or encountered some unreported problem.
There is oodles of convenience that comes with the Eye-Fi card, but it doesn't come cheap. The basic 4GB card will set you back £49.99, compared with about £6 for a standard SDHC card, so you are paying a lot for novelty. If it is going to take a chunk of time or effort out of your workflow, then you might see this as a justifiable cost.
Of course the other consideration is that the card needs power to send, and that power is going to come from your camera battery and reduce the number of shots you can take before you need to swap out or recharge.
We love the technology offered by Eye-Fi and despite a few quirks in the system, we found it cut out lots of connections we'd normally have to make. It may be expensive, but it's impressive none the less.