by Gregory Scoblete
It’s not often you read the words “revolutionary” and “flash memory card” in the same sentence. Sure, memory cards get faster every year and they can store more images, but there really hasn’t been much to talk about. Until now.
The Eye Fi is the first flash memory card to offer something unique: a truly innovative wireless photography solution. Take almost any digital camera with an SD card slot, drop in the Eye Fi card and voila, you have a wireless digital camera!
How it Works
To the untrained eye, the Eye Fi card is indistinguishable from your typical, 2GB SD card – although at $99 it’s roughly double what you’d pay for a standard 2GB SD card. It fits comfortably into a camera’s SD card slot and offers 2GB of conventional storage capacity. But that’s not all. The card can also connect to Wi-Fi home networks. Once connected, the card can send images to a local folder on a PC or Mac and – simultaneously – upload those photos to one of 17 Web photo sharing sites (Fotki, Shutterfly, dotPhoto, Webshots, phanfare, Picasa Web albums, Flickr, TypePad, Wal-Mart, Snapfish, VOX, SmugMug, Facebook, Photobucket, Kodak Gallery, Sharpcast, and ImageShack).
The best part: it requires minimal user interaction. In fact, after an initial four-step setup, you don’t have to bother with the card again. All your images upload automatically whenever your camera is turned on and in range of your wireless network.
The Eye Fi card comes with a USB reader which you connect to your computer for an initial setup. The card will identify your wireless network, prompt you to enter your network ID and any security key you have established (it works with 40/104/128-bit WEP encryption, WPA-PSK, and WPA2-PSK encryption). Next, you’ll choose where on your computer you wish to store photos. The card will automatically create a new folder on your computer based on the date the photos were captured. It knows which photos it has already uploaded so as to avoid duplicates.
Finally, you can choose an online destination to simultaneously load your photos to. If you have a Kodak Gallery account, for instance, the Eye Fi card will remember your user name and password and create a new album in the Gallery based on the date your images were captured (much like on the desktop). While the card can send images to 17 different Web sites, it can only upload to one at a time. If you want to change your online destination, you’ll need to reinsert the card into the reader, open the browser-based Eye Fi management software and change the destination.
After that, you’re all set. If you’re shooting in range of your wireless network, the photos will be stored both on the card’s memory and will be uploaded on the fly to your computer/online destination. If you’re outside of your network’s range, the photos will upload when you return and turn on your camera. If you have a power-save feature on your digital camera, the company recommends you disable it so as not to interrupt image uploads.
If you’re by your computer, you’ll see a little pop-up window in the lower left-hand corner indicating which images are uploading and how much of the file is left to upload. You can also monitor upload progress using the Eye Fi management software. Upload speeds will vary depending on the resolution of your images but the online uploads occur first, and are considerably faster than the desktop transfers.
The card’s drain on my camera’s battery was negligible, though factors such as how many images you’ve snapped, their resolution and the quality of your network connection will determine the severity of power drain.
As far as system requirements for your computer, if you’re a Windows user, it’s got to be Windows XP or Vista, and your browser has to be Internet Explorer 6/7 or Firefox 2.0. If you’re a Mac user, you’ve got to be running OS-X (10.3 –10.5) and either Firefox or Explorer 6/7.
Like any new technology, there are some minor drawbacks, but no showstoppers. First, the Eye Fi card will not delete images after it uploads them. You need to manually delete photos to purge the card. If you’re taking pictures in range of your Wi-Fi network, the card will transmit them back to the computer in real-time. Meaning, you won’t have a chance to scroll back through your pictures and delete the ones you don’t really want. Instead, you’ll have to go to back to both the local folder and the online site and purge your images.
You also can’t configure the card in the camera on the fly. Instead you’ll have to reconnect the card to the computer to make any changes — such as where you wish to send the images. As of now, you’re limited to one online site at a time, so the card can’t send images to multiple Web sites simultaneously. And, while the card can store any digital file format, it will only upload JPEG images – no movie files or RAW formats will be sent from the card.
One question hangs over the novel Eye Fi: is it necessary? After all, what it does – upload pictures to your computer and to an online sharing service – was never terribly difficult in the first place. The Eye Fi card saves time and gives you a built-in backup option with minimal fuss. But it’s not a radical solution to a problem no one has solved.
So what about all my “revolutionary” talk up front? Well, the card is significant for several reasons. It automates three critical tasks: loading, organizing and backing up your photos. It bestows the benefits of wireless to almost any digital camera with an SD slot. (The only compatibility problems noted to date have been Kodak’s Easy Share C330, V-570, V-610, V-705 and DX6490 and HP’s Photosmart e327). It also, crucially, provides a wide range of upload options. You’re not limited to one or two partner Web sites.
But most importantly, Eye Fi is easy. Anyone with a passing familiarity with wireless networking understands that “easy” is not at all easy to come by — but it is with Eye Fi. The Eye Fi card’s ease of use alone would qualify it for high marks, but it’s also significant for what it signifies: the future of digital photography. We are literally drowning in our own digital photos. They’re piling up faster than we can organize them. Solutions like Eye Fi, which take over some of those responsibilities behind the curtain, are the wave of the future.
EyeFi — 650-265-4460; www.eye.fi