Have you ever wished you could dispense with cables and just wirelessly upload your photos from an SD card in your camera to a Mac (or PC) -- all with geotagging in the EXIF data? Eye-Fi has had this capability for some time in the Explore card for $99.99, but in July this year, the company released the Eye-Fi Geo, a lower cost product focused just on the features customers have asked for -- and priced at $59.99.
Back in the summer of 2008, Bob LeVitus reviewed the original Eye-Fi card, but without the geotagging feature. The relatively new Eye-Fi Geo includes "lifetime" geotagging in partnership with Skyhook Wireless and has a much reduced price. Lifetime means that there is no extra fee and the feature is permanent.
The Eye-Fi Geo is a standard SD memory card with an 802.11b/g radio subsystem included. The card is the same size as any standard SD or SD HC card and will fit in any camera that accepts those cards. Power is drawn from the camera's battery, and Eye-Fi provides hints on maximizing battery life for many popular cameras. During the time I used the card with a Nikon D50, I didn't see any noticeable battery drain.
Here are the features of the Eye-Fi Geo:
- 2 GB of storage (about 550 jpeg photos on a typical 6 MP DSLR)
- Wirelessly uploads through a Wi-Fi network (802.11 b/g only).
- Lifetime geotagging
- Instantly upload of photos to a directory on PC or Mac (or iPhoto) as well as photo sharing services (Additional $9.99 annual fee).
- Photos can be uploaded into (optionally) time stamped folders
Included in the box is the SD card, a small quick start guide and an SD card reader with USB connector. The card reader is only used the first time to configure the card, and then it isn't needed again.
When connected to a Mac with the card reader, the card mounts just as any other volume and includes the software you need.
SD card contents when mounted on Mac
Just double click the .dmg file, in the Mac OS X folder for Mac users, and then run the Eye-Fi app. The first thing it will do is probe your Mac and network, ask for the Wi-Fi password, make sure the card can log onto the local Wi-Fi network and then connect to your Mac through any firewalls.
Network check and allowing incoming connections from the SD card
This was very nice to see. A series of checkmarks reveals the success in connecting to the Mac wirelessly. (The photo above shows Little Snitch intervening to authenticate this process - something that only users of that app will see.)
Next, a script launches your browser of choice and you'll be connected to the Eye-Fi site for licensing agreement and registration. The registration is required to enable certain remote services and to enable remote configuration of the card without reconnecting it directly to a Mac. All it needs is your name, e-mail, and a password. The license notes that you'll only be able to upload photos to one designated computer. I also noted the licensing agreement was presented with the option to print or save, and that's always welcome.
After that, all you need to do is eject the SD card, pop it into your camera, and start taking pictures. If you're within range of the specified Wi-Fi network the picture(s) will be uploaded automatically. A small popup window verifies the photo being uploaded and shows a progress bar. If not, then they'll upload when you are within range.
Geotagging is accomplished in partnership with Skyhook Wireless. Skyhook maintains a database of Wi-Fi hotspots with their Media Access Control (MAC) addresses and longitude & latitude. The Eye-Fi card can access this database and drop the LAT/LON coordinates into the photo's EXIF data. (Graphic Converter by Thorsten Lemke is a great app for inspecting all of the EXIF data.)
Below is a photo of one of my cats with the EXIF data pulled out and displayed (some is obscured for privacy) in iPhoto with the iPhoto menu item: Photos -> Show Extended Photo Info. From there, you can use iPhoto's Places feature (in the Source list) to pinpoint your photos on a map.
Photo imported into iPhoto with Lat & Lon
For a US$9.99 annual fee, you can enable the card to access various photo sharing services. (Most are free; you're paying for the functionality in the Eye-Fi card to wireless upload those photos. The over 20 sites include: Facebook, flickr, MobileMe, Picasa, whrrl as well as photo printing sites like CostCo, Kodak, and Wall-Mart.
A Menu Bar item is installed which gives you instant access to the Settings page. (It basically launches a script that takes you to your Eye-Fi settings page in, for example, Safari.) From there you can specify where to upload pictures, define how they're organized in directories, see an upload history, and set some other preferences. However, you don't need to be logged onto the Eye-Fi Settings page to upload photos to the computer.
Lots of things can go wrong with a technology like this. For example, if your Wi-Fi network appears to be up, but isn't running right, you'll be wondering why the photos don't auto upload. It's a good idea to check with a Web browser first to make sure your computer really is on the Internet. Also, if the Eye-Fi Manager app isn't running, it can't receive the photos, display the thumbnails as they upload, etc.
There's also plenty of opportunity to take half measures in a product like this, especially in the UI, but Eye-Fi didn't do that. Everything worked the first time, the set up and settings were clear and Mac-like in their clarity. It just worked, as Bob LeVitus pointed out the first time around.
What I did not like is the prospect of having every photo I upload resident at http://manager.eye.fi -- even though it's just a thumbnail. One can click on one of those thumbnails and bring up information about the photo, even display it on a map. It's not that I'm taking naughty photos. Rather, in this age of indiscriminate sharing, one never knows what's going to happen to all those photos. Fortunately, there's an option to delete all the thumbnails in the Upload History. (The actual photo is not deleted on the Mac or PC.) [UPDATE: See the comment below for an important clarification.]
Another nit was the fact that the card reader's USB port was right on the end of the unit instead on a short USB cable. That required me to use a short USB extender I have for such purposes. Without that, you may have to pull some cables on a MacBook/Pro to insert the card reader. The good news is that you'll only need to do that once, and then the card reader will go sit in a drawer. I'll admit, such a design does keep the price of the product lower.
If you're tired of finding and connecting that USB cable every time you want to upload photos to your computer, this is a great product at an even better price than last summer. The geotagging of each photo is a welcome feature for amateur and professional photographers alike. I'm left wondering how I ever lived without it.