Since my new Canon PowerShot Elph 300HS required a Class 6 SDHC card to record 1080p HD video and also included native support for the Eye-Fi series of wireless-enabled SD cards, I decided to pick up a new Eye-Fi Mobile|X2 SDHC memory card.
Let’s be up-front about this: you pay a premium for the convenience of built-in WiFi. A regular 8gb Class 6 SDHC card runs about $10 on Amazon whereas the 8gb Mobile|X2 is 8 times that (although keep an eye out for price drops, I got mine for $60). On top of the higher price, you’ll get poorer battery life in your camera (unless your camera supports Eye-Fi cards in their menu system which lets you turn off the wireless sync to save battery life).
That being said, it’s amazing that this little SD card also contains a WiFi radio that allows for wireless synchronization and backup of your photos directly from your camera to your PC (or some supported online services like Flickr). And when it works (it takes some setup), it’s pretty slick.
There are some gotchas, however, and it’s not all magical. The Eye-Fi card is meant primarily to work with your home wireless network. After installing the Eye-Fi Center software on your PC you can configure the card (via the included USB card reader) and enter your wireless SSID and password (the Eye-Fi card doesn’t support RADIUS authentication, however, so if you’re trying to use it in a corporate environment, forget it). Then, whenever your camera is on, in range of your network, and the Eye-Fi Center software is running on your PC, your photos will be uploaded to your computer. An important thing to note is that the photos are not (and cannot be) automatically removed from the card after they are transferred, so you’ll have to delete them yourself. If your camera natively supports Eye-Fi cards like mine does, photos that have been already uploaded will have a special symbol on them when you view them on the camera’s screen.
Ok, that’s cool when you’re at home, but what if you’re out-and-about, taking photos? You can pay $30/year for hotspot access, which lets your card upload from AT&T hotspots in Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, aiports, etc. It also lets the card upload from any open WiFi access point. Another add-on service is geotagging ($30 if the card you bought doesn’t come with it) which uses WPS (WiFi positioning system) to tag your photos with the coordinates of the location you took the photo. This can be used with services or software to show your photos on a map. The gotcha here is that WPS is not the same as GPS (which uses satellites). If you’re in the middle of the Grand Canyon and you take a photo, unless there happens to be a WiFi network in-range of your Eye-Fi card the photo won’t get tagged. Just something to keep in mind.
If you don’t want to pay annually for hotspot access (and I didn’t) the new X2 cards have the ability to create their own WiFi network. “Direct Mode” lets your card send your photos directly from the camera to the free Eye-Fi app on your iOS or Android device. The gotcha here is that your card can only be configured to upload to a single device at a time and you have to use the Eye-Fi Center software on your PC to change it. You can’t change it from the web either, so if you’re away from home and don’t have access to a PC with Eye-Fi Center on it, you’re out of luck.
Another gotcha is that you can’t just plug the Eye-Fi SD card into any ol’ card reader that might be built into your desktop PC or laptop. Due to the extra power requirements, you must use the included USB card reader when connecting the card to your PC. Your PC might recognize the card without it (mine did) but you won’t be able to read/write to it (strange things seem to happen). So if you’re travelling with your Eye-Fi card, don’t forgot to throw that card reader in your bag, just in case!
The Eye-Fi Center software itself is another gotcha, in my book. It’s like the iTunes of photo sharing: slow, bloated, and buggy. And it needs to be running (which means your PC needs to be on) in order for the Eye-Fi card to upload its photos. I’d rather run something on my Linux media server (which is on all the time), and the hacker community has come to the rescue in this regard. I found and tried four different Linux-based Eye-Fi solutions:
I’m currently using the first one. Written in python (so it will actually run on Windows and OS X as well), this Eye-Fi Center replacement supports multiple Eye-Fi cards and is pretty easy to set up. It didn’t work with the app on my iPad or iPhone, though, but I was able to make a few changes to the code and get it working (you can download the patch/diff for my changes here). Now I don’t have to worry about having my desktop PC on. And if I’m out, I can use direct mode to transfer my photos from the Eye-Fi card to my iOS device, and then VPN into my home network and transfer the photos to my media server via the python server. Nice.
In summary, once you understand the abilities (and limitations) and get all of the pieces set up and configured properly, the Eye-Fi card is a digital camera accessory worth considering.