dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

We have Cheerios,
Cheerios with milk, and
Cheerios with milk and strawberries.
Eye-Fi Pro X2

Updated: August 7, 2011. The first word that come to mind after using one for a couple of weeks is: underwhelming. The second word is novelty. The third (or, rather, third, fourth and fifth) is iPad camera connector. Prior to buying a new Eye-Fi Pro X2 8Gb for the equivalent fo $60, I read two kinds of reviews: (1) "it's great, I love it, it cures cancer" and (2) "it killed my dog, it won't work, I hate it." You are about to read the third review which states that it works at a basic level and is otherwise a highly kludgy piece of equipment (actually, it's the software that is kludgy).

The promise: images fly wirelessly through the air to your laptop, iPhone, iPad, tablet, etc., ready for you without that pesky step of ejecting an SD card from your camera. Download jpg, raw, movies, whatever. And it all gets geotagged automatically.

The reality: not quite. The concept of the Eye-Fi is simple: put a 802.11n chip into an SD card (with the memory, obviously) so that the card can transmit the pictures to a computer through a wireless network. So far, so good. In fact, the Pro X2 works fantastically for this limited purpose (30 seconds for a Fuji X100 raw file and about 4 seconds for a JPG if the camera and card are within 3 feet of the router). Where the Pro X2 goes off the rails is a little bit outside that envelope. My notes:

1. Power consumption. The Eye-Fi gets its power from your digital camera. Shoot a picture, the camera starts writing to the card, and the card wakes up. The card looks for a network, connects to the network, and transmits. The trick is that the camera has to be switched on the entire time it is transmitting, or only some of your pictures get uploaded. If the camera takes a powder, the card will pick up where it left off and finish transmitting when you start shooting again.

The card consumes a lot of power from the camera - and you can verify this by the card temperature - sometimes too hot to hold comfortably if you check it right after a transfer. That heat does not come from thin air; it is coming directly from the miniscule lithium-ion powering your camera. This degrades the camera battery life noticeably.

Fine - that's expected - but the problem is multiplied because you have to keep the camera switched on to keep transmitting. Some cameras (like the Sony NEX) are Eye-fi aware and will keep the camera from going to standby while the card is transmitting. But on others (see Leica M8 and Fuji X100), you need to defeat the auto-off mode, which can have disastrous consequences when you forget to finally shut the camera off. Note that because the Eye-Fi is completely inside the camera, you have no idea of whether it is trying to transmit.

2. Transmission range. It should not surprise you that a digital camera does not make a good 802.11n antenna. Transmission range is, to put it mildly, measurable in a few paces. This impacts uploads and impact the ability of the camera to obtain geotag information. Not surprisingly, cameras that have metal baseplates (ahem, Leica) have even more limited range. The good news on this front is that for transmitting, it's usually only a few feet to your computer.

***Note: this card does not go into a standard card reader - to do a direct download without wireless, you need to use the special reader that comes with the card (so don't buy a bare care used unless you have the reader).

3. Geotagging. Great idea. Missed execution. The Eye-Fi geotags by picking up wireless network signals, processing them through Google's database of wi-fi spots (this is what Google was doing with its Streetview cars when it got busted for packet-sniffing), and then reassociating a physical location at the Eye-Fi server. This circuitous path, at least in theory, should result in geotagged pictures showing up on your computer. But what is really happening is this:

  • Eye-Fi can only locate using networks in Google's database (which appears to be coextensive with StreetView),
  • Eye-Fi apparently sometimes does geotagging at the place of upload (which is why photos taken 10 miles from my house but uploaded to my computer mysteriously geotagged at my home address).
  • It looks like your one shot to geotag is through the Eye-Fi Center software.

It is not clear what is going on, but the bottom line is that even in urban areas, most pictures do not seem to get tags.

4. Orange card, white heat. Testing this in the X100, it is clear that this card generates sufficient heat to overheat itself (or the camera) and generate write errors if you shoot many pictures in sequence. These write errors resolve if you restart the camera. But either way, your pictures never get recorded. This is a very serious flaw, my personal speculation is that the "failure" that the Leica M9 develops (noted on the Eye-Fi website) is that the Eye-Fi card heats up enough to distort the plastic SD card receptor.

5. Sharing. To get things to work properly, you have to format the Eye-Fi card on the camera you are using. FAT32 is apparently not always FAT32, so don't count on just whipping a card out of one camera to stick it in another. This seems to be pretty important with any device that wants fast cards.

6. Software. Notes 1-3 and 5 are reasonably minor. The software, by contrast, is a train wreck. One part, Eye-Fi Helper, is a background application that sniffs for a nearby Eye-Fi card. It initiates downloads. Eye-Fi Center is the confusing, poorly laid-out "host" program. When I say "poorly laid-out," I mean that you are really taking a system designed to do a few things:

  • Tell the card to what wireless networks it may connect and their passwords;
  • Tell the card where to put JPGs (handheld, computer, cloud);
  • Tell the card where to put raw files (same choices); and
  • Tell the card where to put movies (same choices).

All of this could be done on one screen with a couple of buttons and some drop-down menus. Bring on even a command line.

Instead, Eye-Fi treats us to a confusing layout of multiple screens where it looks like you might be able to tell the card to put different things in different places (it is like having an Exxon station on one corner and a Mobil one on the opposite corner). But for this illusion of options, there really are none. It is also confusing why you need to physically connect the card to a computer to change destinations when you can do it wirelessly from the iPhone Eye-Fi application.

Receiving "media" (where you are sending JPGs) on a device automatically overrides wherever you told the card to stick the RAWs (albeit on a separate screen). So if your idea was to send JPGs to your handheld and RAWs to your computer, good luck. Heisenberg would be proud. The worst part about it is the congratulatory messages you get every time you set something: "Dude, awesome, you just picked the wrong option again." This annoying type of message is exactly why I detest situations where children get prizes merely for participating.

Grafted on to this childish (and seriously flawed) series of control panels is a mini gallery that captures each picture as it comes in (separately from the ultimate destination). The mini-gallery (showing a very small number of pictures per screen) is not easy to empty, it is slow to display, and it has no editing ability. Useless. In the way. If you're smart enough to get an Eye-Fi to connect to anything on the first couple of tries, you aren't using cutesy image catalog programs - and you don't need any more places to tidy up.

The one bright spot is that the iPhone software is remarkably uncluttered and can configure the card without plugging it into a hard line (when you try to configure an Eye-Fi card through a desktop or laptop, you have to plug the card into the included reader). But the handheld software tends to lose connection with the card (primarily because like a dog, the Eye-Fi drops the ad hoc network for any available known or open network that looks more interesting - and because the software and/or card tend to time out). And unless you're willing to "forget" all known networks from your iPhone, it is unlikely that it will auto-connect to the Eye-Fi card (of course, as noted above, the Eye-Fi must not be sleeping).

The alternative is ShutterSnitch ($17), an iPhone program whose only apparent function is to download pictures better than the Eye-Fi software. ShutterSnitch justifies its price by telling you about all the cool things it has, like:

  • Low shutter warning;
  • Three-color histograms;
  • Flashing highlights;
  • Separable, lockable collections;
  • Slide show capability

But any good camera has the first three items of window dressing - and if you are buying an 8Gb "Pro" SD card that retails for $90, you are not using a cheap point and shoot. Slide shows are an inbuilt capability of Apple devices and as for lockable collections... just tell your models they cannot have any coke unless they behave around your full-size, tethered computer. The ShutterSnitch analysis is also slow - it takes several seconds to perform, and while it is going on, your camera pauses downloading. Contrast that to how long it takes even an arse-dragging Leica M8 to show a three-color histogram (under one second). ShutterSnitch does run well in the background, but it sticks your pictures in collections that are not your iPhone's Photo Album (nor are these collections apparently accessible by other programs). Moving things into your photo album (to, for example, edit them in Photoshop Express) adds an extra step to the process for which we tried to link a handheld and a digital camera in the first place: annoying friends with baby pictures on Facebook. Like the Sting CD you bought for $17 thinking it would be like Synchronicity, this program seemed like a good idea at the time.

9. Conclusion. Great for technophiles, marginal for everyone else. In a couple of years, handheld devices will have 10mp cameras, making the only really promising part of this product obsolete. I'd pass on this one (and I'm glad I only paid $60 and not $120 for it...).