Review: Eye-Fi Pro X2

Eye-Fi caters to the pro set with a faster more featured card. (May 1st, 2010)

Photographers, pro and otherwise, have long wished to be unleashed when it comes to working in a studio or on location. Some situations make it easier than others, as do some manufacturers. Nikon and Canon both offer Wi-Fi transmission of photos through transmitters -- but as they cost nearly $800, they arenít at the top of the priority list for many photogs outside of the pro ranks. The Eye-Fi Pro X2 SDHC memory card is a $150 option that promises to make wireless shooting possible for the casual user, as well as some working pros. We find out in our Pro X2 review if it can.

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Product Manufacturer: Eye-Fi

Price: $150

The Good

  • Faster than previous Eye-Fi cards.
  • Geotagging and Endless Memory modes.
  • RAW support.
  • Uncomplicated setup.

The Bad

  • Not yet ready for full-res or high-speed SLR shooting.
  • Cards like Geo X2 can do most features for less money.
  • Endless Memory is sometimes of limited use.

Compatibility and setting up

At its heart, the Eye-Fi concept still involves the same options and setup. It can send photos wirelessly to an online picture sharing site (most of which are covered these days) or even an FTP site -- provided there is an existing wireless network that the card has access to. In order to do that, though, the card needs to become acquainted with that specific network through the use of a card reader that plugs into the USB port of a computer. A page on Eye-Fi's website lists compatible cameras. We used a listed camera, the Canon Powershot G11, although we found just by trying, that an Olympus E-PL1 was equally capable of using the Pro X2, despite being deemed incompatible.

Looking every bit like the SDHC cards of which it is based, the Eye-Fi Pro X2 requires a brief set up using an Eye-Fi card reader (supplied) that plugs into the aforementioned USB port. Once your Mac or PC recognizes the X2 card, it asks you to set up an account and proceeds to the Eye-Fi Center app to initialize the card. Once complete, a few passwords and paths are entered to ingest images into folders for storage, uploading to picture sharing sites or to FTP points. It's a three-step process that takes about ten minutes to complete -- nothing extreme, but not something you'd want to remember the very moment you need photos.

From that point, using the Eye-Fi center you can direct the Eye-Fi software to exactly where you want the photos to land after being ingested; with an FTP, you can push them to a particular sub-folder. Image sizes are unlimited for downloads directly to your computer, although video clips intended for upload must be less than 2GB each. If the images or videos are intended to go further, such as to Flickr or Facebook, they most likely will be downsized according to their individual rules.



Hotspot access can enable uploads through AT&T's hotspots in the US as well as through Starbucks and Barnes & Noble stores; Eye-Fi recently added support for other paid sign-ons through companies like Boingo. An initial setup is required and the end result will give you the option to send images directly to a photo sharing site, or to your computer that may be thousands of miles away.

With the ability to go directly to your own computer or to a company server, wasted time is a thing of the past. Or is it?

Performance

Speed is what led Eye-Fi to give its card the Pro X2 badge; while it's no longer alone, the card is the company's first to support 802.11n Wi-Fi and is much less likely to be bottlenecked by the network connection, especially when it's on the fringe. Although it won't be as fast as CompactFlash, it also performs at Class 6 speeds internally. That guarantees a minimum 6MB per second transfer rate and should reduce the time taken to write the photos to memory as well as getting them off to either Wi-Fi or the computer itself.



In our experience, downloads from the camera directly to a computer using a 802.11n radio protocol run about 6 seconds per image with a large (3648x2736) JPEG image from our G11. Not surprisingly, using the camera's RAW or RAW + JPEG modes will yield considerably longer times. Your mileage may vary for FTP sites, but loading up to our company servers took about 10 seconds per image. It's not exactly a blazing speed, but when you consider the time it would take to connect the camera and manually copy files, let alone the time it used to take to process a roll of film, you'll think this card is on fire. The card and Eye-Fi software allow for live ingest into Adobe's Lightroom, and Camera Bits' Photo Mechanic software, allowing an editor to manage downloads while the photographer continues to shoot, whether in or out of the studio.

Our only real hesitation would be using the Pro X2 with a modern SD-equipped DSLR and expecting to preserve full resolution. When even many entry-level models shoot at 15 or even 18 megapixels, you may quickly overwhelm the card. The size also precludes high-speed photography, so sports or action journalists may want to think twice.

Extra features: geotagging and Endless Memory

The Pro X2 card, as the top of the range, makes geotagging an option; it can pinpoint the location of a photograph the second it was made. This is invaluable for pro shooters scouting a location for a shot at a particular time of day, or for the amateur who wishes to remember where a specific photo was made while on vacation or even around town.

All the data is app-independent and recognizable by software that can parse the data. Mac users may have the easiest time as Aperture 3 and iPhoto '09 will show map info right away, but all of Google's relevant services will work, as will most other map-aware photo sites.



New to the X2 line in particular is a perpetual shooting technology known as Endless Memory mode. Once the image is safely offloaded to the network, the images are erased from the Eye-Fi Pro X2 and free up space even before you're finished. It's not always useful: if you're not connected directly to a computer, you're likely to only use the feature at home or at a public venue with a Wi-Fi hotspot. But if setup properly, it could well be used for a pro in the field or just those who shoot often at house parties.

Wrapping up

We like the Eye-Fi Pro X2 SDHC memory cards for the work they actually do and the potential they present for solutions in the future. It wasn't hard to get the card up and running, and once done it worked well. The added speeds weren't dramatic, but they were enough to make the wait less of a burden than it has been with earlier Eye-Fi cards.

Geotagging and Endless Memory are definite perks as well, though we would note that you don't need the Pro X2 to get these; a cheaper card like the $70 Geo X2 will manage both of these, albeit with half the capacity and no RAW support.

Is the card for everyone? We would still say no: pros who use CompactFlash cameras or who have particular photo size and speed requirements will have to rule out Eye-Fi for now. But certain kinds of serious photographers, as well as everyday users, will get a surprising amount of convenience from not having to eject a card or link up a USB cable. And we'd expect that Eye-Fi is an ecosystem worth investing in. As network speeds get faster, it should be that much easier for the casual photographer, and ultimately the pro, to concentrate more on capturing images and less on how those photos get to their destinations.

by Mark Elias


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