Eye-Fi Pro: Perfect accessory for your new camera

Eye-Fi 8GB X2 Pro SDHC CardAs exciting as it is to unwrap—or watch a friend or family member unwrap—a new camera on Christmas morning, there is a way to make it even more fun to share the holiday spirit. With an Eye-Fi Pro SD card you can automatically and wirelessly show the images as they are taken on a smartphone or tablet. At our house we leave my tablet propped up on a stand showing the most recent holiday cheer!

Of course that’s hardly the only use for an Eye-Fi card. I was an owner of the original 2GB version, which allowed me to upload images from my point and shoot automatically whenever I got near my home network or one of the network hotspots it supported. They’d automatically arrive at both Picasa and on my desktop. That made it much easier to remember to share them with friends or to use when publishing articles.

But the original version of the Eye-Fi card had a couple shortcomings. In addition to being a little too small to be useful in a D-SLR, it would not connect directly to a computer—instead requiring that it be able to reach a true wi-fi network—which made it useless in remote locations. Plus, Eye-Fi didn’t have support for smartphones (or tablets for that matter, but this was back before the iPad was even introduced).

The Eye-Fi Pro cards address all those issues. The 8GB version has plenty of room for most shooting sessions—especially if you use it the way I do with my D7000, which I explain below—and can automatically pair with your laptop, tablet or smartphone when there is no existing wireless network, making it a cinch to use even in the most remote locations.

Better yet, newer model point and shoots and even DSLRs like my Nikon D7000 (and newer Canon Rebels) have built-in support for Eye-Fi, so they will allow uploads to finish before powering down the card slots.

Using Eye-Fi with a dual card slot camera

Another concern about using a wireless adapter of any kind with a higher-end camera like a D-SLR is support for raw image files—the lifeblood of an increasing number of serious photographers. Eye-Fi has addressed this issue in two different ways. First, their new Pro cards support the transfer of raw files, and even the viewing of most raw files in their software on most platforms. That doesn’t solve the problem of the large size of raw files, and accordingly large upload times. Using a dual card slot camera, can, though.

The dual SD card slots on the Nikon D7000 make it ideal for use with an Eye-Fi card, but any dual slot camera with at least one SD card slot (or with an SD card adapter to CompactFlash) will do the trick. It’s simple to configure the camera to record the raw images on one of the cards and a JPEG on the other. In my case I further cut down the size and quality of the JPEG to allow it to transfer quickly. Since the JPEG is for viewing, web sharing, and previewing, I don’t mind the compromise. If I need one of the images to work on further I retrieve the SD card with the raw images and go from there.

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It was much easier to get the framing right on our Holiday portrait when we could look at the images sent to our tablet by the Eye-Fi as they were taken. Nikon D7000, 18-105mm lens, SB-900 flash.

After working with this configuration for a few days, I got pretty comfortable setting up the card to stream to my Android phone or Android tablet (iPhones and iPads are fully supported also) as a great alternative to using a laptop for “on site” photo viewing. One classic shooting problem this helps resolve is taking photos of yourself. With a remote trigger and Eye-Fi card I could capture the family Holiday portrait easily, verifying each image as it displayed on the tablet after being taken. In a more professional vein, this setup makes it possible to create a “studio without wires” anywhere you travel—whether the viewer is a classroom of schoolchildren or party-goers excited to see the action, or an art director or photo assistant looking over your shoulder.

Key to this capability is the Pro card’s ability to connect directly (without a router) to your viewing device. After being set to “automatically connect,” my tablet would detect when the Eye-Fi became active and instantly start uploading images. The first photo took about 15 seconds to show up, but after that the small JPEGs would come across nearly as fast as they were captured (one every few seconds). This is a great way to show those in group portraits how they look to the camera—instead of having to explain to each person what they look like.

For later processing, I can simply take the card from Slot 1 (with the Raw images) and load it onto my laptop. If I also want the JPEGs on the computer, I can load the card from Slot 2 into the same folder—or I can just reformat it since I’ve already got the Raw files, which are the ones I really want for use on the computer and for printing.

Should you buy one?

Clearly an Eye-Fi card is only a “must have” for a small segment of photographers. But it is a time-saver for anyone who spends time taking self-portraits, test shots, group photos, or spends time squinting at their LCD to review images. And it is really fun to use with friends, family, and kids in particular—especially at parties. So for the $50 premium over a similarly priced SD card, you get quite a bit of functionality and fun. I’m certainly enjoying both of mine—especially the newer Eye-Fi 8GB SD X2 Pro card, which is now $74.95 at B&H.