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Eye-Fi Pro wireless SDHC card transfers RAW files, allows ad hoc connections  
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
Airborne: The Eye-Fi Pro wireless SDHC card (Photo Courtesy Eye-Fi)
Attention, working photographers: this may well be the Eye-Fi card you've been waiting for. The new Eye-Fi Pro combo wireless and 4GB SDHC card for digital cameras is the first from the company to be able to transmit RAW files, in addition to JPEG and video, as well as the first to work over a computer-to-computer (ad hoc) Wi-Fi link, no router required.

The 4GB Eye-Fi Pro commences shipping today at a manufacturer's suggested list price of US$149.99 in the U.S. At the same time, Eye-Fi is unveiling a new feature for all Eye-Fi cards called Selective Transfer, which limits the sending of photos to those marked using the camera's protect feature.

Eye-Fi Pro 4GB

Like all other cards in Eye-Fi's lineup, the Eye-Fi Pro 4GB is a combination SDHC memory card and embedded 802.11b/g Wi-Fi transmitter. As the most full featured - and priciest - model the company makes, it includes all of the features found in one or more Eye-Fi cards currently, including optional automatic photo geotagging (using Skyhook's positioning system), a year of Wayport hotspot access at no additional charge, seamless uploading of JPEGs and video to a variety of online services as well as to your own computer plus optional online service upload notifications that can be sent via email, text message or Twitter.

Wireless throughput, as well as memory read and write speed, are expected to be the same for Eye-Fi Pro as they are for Eye-Fi's 4GB Video offerings. What makes the Eye-Fi Pro different, then, is these two features:
  • RAW file transfer RAW files with the following extensions are supported: CRW, CR2, DNG, NEF, NRW, PTX, PEF, RAW and RW2. Certain ones, including Canon CRW, CR2 and Nikon NEF, will be transferred and a thumbnail rendering of the photo will be displayed as it arrives on your computer (when the Thumbnail Preview option is enabled in Eye-Fi Manager).

    When the host camera is set to capture RAW+JPEG, you can tailor what does and doesn't get transmitted, and where. For example, it's possible to configure the Eye-Fi Pro card to transfer both, or just the JPEGs in a RAW+JPEG pair, or to send JPEGs to one destination and RAW files to another.

  • Ad hoc wireless connections You can establish a wireless link direct to a Wi-Fi capable Mac or PC computer, without the need for a separate Wi-Fi router (though it's still possible to use one if you prefer). The Eye-Fi Pro has been tested and found to be able to connect in ad hoc mode to smartphones too, notably certain ones running the Symbian or Windows Mobile operating systems that are capable of acting as an ad hoc Wi-Fi host, says Yuval Koren, Eye-Fi's Chief Product Officer.
As with earlier Eye-Fi cards, it's necessary to be online at the time you add a new wireless network configuration, ad hoc or otherwise, to the Eye-Fi Pro. This will mean some network juggling so that your computer is on the Internet and accessing the Eye-Fi website while simultaneously talking to the Eye-Fi card over a separate ad hoc Wi-Fi connection.

In most instances, to do this type of configuring you'll need to get online via wired Ethernet or something like a USB/Bluetooth tethered mobile phone connection, leaving your computer's Wi-Fi free for ad hoc communications with the Eye-Fi Pro. This is only during the setup phase, thereafter you can make use of the network you've added to the card without being on the Internet at that moment. An Internet connection is still required for automatic geotagging and to send photos directly to an online service.

Selective Transfer

The company is also in the process of rolling out a firmware update for all Eye-Fi models that enables Selective Transfer. Previously, an Eye-Fi card would transmit everything, and it can still be configured to do that; with this new feature enabled, only RAW, JPEG and video files that have been marked using the camera's protect feature will be sent.

The combination of being able to use ad hoc wireless networks and selectively send photos and video should really improve the flexibility of the Eye-Fi system. Plus, Eye-Fi earlier this year added a function called Relayed Uploads that allows photos and video to be sent wirelessly from an Eye-Fi card over the Internet to Eye-Fi's servers, then forwarded to the user's computer either immediately or, if it's not online at that moment, then later when it is. Relayed Uploads is a feature of all Eye-Fi cards, including the Eye-Fi Pro.

Bit by bit

Feature by feature, Eye-Fi has been breaking down the barriers to versatile and effective use of its Wi-Fi/memory card products by the working shooter. With the Eye-Fi Pro SDHC card and the new Selective Transfer option, those who need to transmit RAW photos, wish to send only certain photos and want to skip toting along a wireless router on certain assignments can now do so.

The number of digital SLR cameras that incorporate Eye-Fi specific features is growing as well. In Nikon's line, the D90 was the first. It provides a menu to start/stop Eye-Fi transfers and the smarts to keep the camera powered up while transfers are ongoing. The D5000 has extended this Eye-Fi functionality to include an on-screen icon showing transfer status.

We've also observed the Canon EOS Rebel T1i/500D stays awake while an inserted Eye-Fi card is transmitting, regardless of the camera's Auto Power Off setting. It's the only Canon digital SLR we've seen do that, suggesting that the company quietly snuck in this Eye-Fi related feature.

The only remaining hurdle for broader acceptance among those who use midrange and pro digital SLRs is the Eye-Fi card's form factor. As an SDHC card, it can be used in CompactFlash-only cameras with the help of an SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapter, but usually at the expense of reduced wireless speed and range (the adapter can act as a signal absorber) and always at the expense of write speed.

Plus, says Eye-Fi's Koren, the company officially doesn't recommend the use of their cards in this type of an adapter, because of occasional incompatibilities that can crop up. Eye-Fi continues to evaluate the possibility of producing a CompactFlash Eye-Fi card, he says, but in a phone interview yesterday, Koren made it clear that Eye-Fi's focus remains firmly on the smaller SDHC format. Based on his words, we don't expect to see a CompactFlash version anytime soon, if at all.

The Eye-Fi Pro is available for ordering starting today, at an MSRP of US$149.99 in the U.S. Eye-Fi cards are sold in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

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