Eye-Fi cards have always been a tease. The Eye-Fi promise of wireless file transfers from a simple SD card appealed to photographers often overwhelmed by file management. However, relatively low storage capacities, buggy Eye-Fi applications, the need for a Wi-Fi signal, and slow and incomplete file uploads were consistent and nagging issues. For its part, Eye-Fi addressed them with new features and updates over the years, and the cards have inched closer with each improvement to reaching Eye-Fi's full potential.
Its newest card, the 8GB Eye-Fi Pro X2 SDHC that generated a lot of buzz at CES 2010, is now available. In addition to more capacity, other improvements include an 802.11n radio for faster uploads and a class six read/write speed (meaning the minimum read/write speed is 6MB per second). Are they enough for Eye-Fi to stop inching and finally make a leap? Or do the bugs still bite and prevent Eye-Fi from achieving its promise? Read on to find out.
Design and Features
The Eye-Fi Pro X2 looks exactly like a standard SD card in a fun, orange color. Like a regular SD card, it's a portable storage device roughly the size of postage stamp. Eye-Fi cards differ from SD in that if you put an Eye-Fi card into a camera, it will both store and wirelessly transfer the photo - or video file, if the particular Eye-Fi card supports it - to any Mac OS or Windows computer set to receive it.
The Eye-Fi Pro X2 ups the ante with the aforementioned higher capacity and faster speeds as well as a number of additional features, including:
After an initial setup that took about five minutes, I inserted my Eye-Fi card into my camera and started taking pictures. It worked wonderfully! Thanks to the class six read/write speed and 802.11n radio support, files loaded extremely fast, in order, and complete. The skipped files and incomplete uploads that plagued older Eye-Fi cards were gone. Even when stuck using an older and slower 802.11g Wi-Fi router, transfers were still acceptably quick.
The caveat with Eye-Fi cards is that both the camera and computer must be in range of the same signal. Eye-Fi says that distance maxes out at around 90 feet outdoors and 45 feet indoors, but walls and other physical obstacles can shorten it considerably. I was able to move pictures in a relatively open office, separated only by low cubicle walls at about 40 feet, though there were a few minutes of delay between when the picture was snapped and when the file finished uploading. Still, I was impressed with the range, and the closer the camera and computer were, the faster the files transferred.
For users not in range of a Wi-Fi network, the Eye-Fi Pro X2 supports ad-hoc networks, meaning you can set your computer up as a wireless access point for the Eye-Fi card to connect to and broadcast files. It's ideal for photographers working at some remote location like the beach. Eye-Fi provides detailed instructions on how to set up an ad-hoc network on the support website, and the process is relatively simple.
I saw no discernable dip in file transfer speed or quality over an ad-hoc network. Unfortunately, some features that depend on a Wi-Fi signal, like geotagging, were disabled. Interestingly, I discovered that if you have only a wired connection available, you can still set up an ad-hoc network for the Eye-Fi card. The computer will switch between them automatically to wirelessly upload files before linking to the wired connection.
I didn't test it, but the Eye-Fi card is designed to work for one year with AT&T or HarborLink Wi-Fi hotspots, which are found in places like Starbucks, McDonald's hotels and other business locations. It wirelessly uploads photos to the Eye-Fi server before sending them to your computer, even if the computer is miles away and turned off.
Geotagging and uploading to sharing sites both worked as advertised. I sent TechnologyGuide editorial assistant Kevin Bierfeldt out to snap pictures to test the geotagging accuracy and it was spot-on. The pictures then found their way to my SmugMug account automatically and without problems. The Eye-Fi works with dozens of sharing sites - some I've never heard of - but both photos and videos can only go to one site at a time. For example, you couldn't automatically upload the same photo to both SmugMug and Facebook. I was particularly impressed with how well the Eye-Fi Pro X2 dealt with video. It handled a high-definition MTS file with ease, sending it directly to my YouTube account.
The selective uploading option also works well. When enabled, the Eye-Fi card will only transmit files marked as "protected" in the camera. You can also set limits on which pictures and video you want sent to sharing sites. The same goes for "Endless Memory," which allows you to set a percentage of the total capacity before the card starts deleting files. For example, if you set it at 10%, once the Eye-Fi Pro X2 hits 10% capacity it will start deleting files already successfully transferred. With the Eye-Fi able to deal with large RAW files, I expect serious photographers will find the feature useful.
If you're ever in a bind, Eye-Fi's online support center is top-notch; I quickly found answers to my questions along with easy-to-follow directions and walkthroughs.
Unfortunately, the Eye-Fi Pro X2 isn't perfect, particularly in its central application. The Eye-Fi Center is the hub where you change settings, see photos thumbnails arranged by date, and check out geotag locations. It's colorful and intuitive, but buggy.
At different times it froze, failed to save settings changes, didn't show uploaded photos, and displayed overlapping menus and information making it hard to read and navigate. None of the bugs hindered the basic functions, but for the card's steep price - $150 at launch - I expected a more polished application.
One feature I couldn't get to work was the notifications setting. When it's turned on, the Eye-Fi Pro X2 is supposed to send a message over email, text, Twitter or Facebook about photo upload status. I tried multiple times to set it up with nary a tweet, text, or email notification coming my way.
Many of the Eye-Fi Center issues could probably be fixed with a firmware update. Let's hope they release one soon because the Eye-Fi Pro X2 mostly lives up to its promise of convenient and fast wireless file transfers.
With its ad-hoc network support-, RAW and HD video-support, and the "Endless Memory" feature, it's close to being a must-have gadget for all photographers. So close, all Eye-Fi needs to do is exterminate those pesky bugs.