IMPORTANT: See bottom of post for updates
A while back I bought an Eye-Fi Pro X2 card, for one main reason: being able to transfer pictures to my phone and post them online quickly.
The ideal is good: see something interesting, take a photo, share it online with friends on a service like Instagram which provides pretty instantaneous feedback (likes and comments etc.). Then also have the raw file there on the card so I can go home and fiddle around in Lightroom (RIP Aperture) to my heart’s content and produce something that’s a good photo. All the fun of iPhone snapshottery and all of the good bits of “serious” photography.
The Eye-Fi mostly delivers. The setup experience is a bit fiddly, but once you’ve got the app set up on the iPhone, it’s pretty easy to go out and start shooting and then have your phone pull photos from the card as you shoot.
The first problem is file size. Transferring files over Wi-Fi is fine for JPEGs from my X-Pro1, but transferring raw files is a problem. The JPEGs my camera produces are 4.4 MB each, but the Fuji RAF raws are 26.1 MB each. The raw takes about a minute to transfer. But here’s the stupid bit: the app has no way of saying “just transfer JPEGs”. There’s no point transferring a raw file to a phone. My iPhone photo library is cluttered up with all these raw files I can’t do anything with. There’s no reason for this. The whole point of transferring stuff to the phone is that you can use it to chuck a quick JPEG up to Instagram or Twitter or maybe even your own website if you are independently-inclined. The raw is something you are only going to use when you get back to your computer and start fiddling in Lightroom.
The only way I’ve been able to find to not transfer the raw files is to not shoot JPEG+raw, just shoot JPEG. That’s not something I’m going to do. What would be simpler is if Eye-Fi released a new version of their iOS app which let you set it to only transfer JPEGs to the iOS device. The fact that they haven’t got this for a product labelled as “Pro” is amazing: it means they either didn’t do any product testing with any actual photographers or they ignored the results of that testing.
Here’s where it becomes stupider: the minute-long transfers for raw files that aren’t going to do anything means you have to keep your camera turned on for extended durations while the files transfer. Most cameras have a power save mode which kicks in after a minute or two. If you aren’t shooting, your camera will shut down. And then any transfer that the Eye-Fi is doing will stop. The way to remedy this is to turn the auto-shut-down/power-save mode off. That’s a bad solution: I already carry two spare batteries in my camera bag (and I read a while back about an X-Pro1 pro shooter who carries five or more batteries with her when she photographs a wedding—modern digital cameras drink juice like crazy if you are using them).
And then it gets even stupider than that. If you decide to not deactivate power saving and just hope that you keep your camera active enough that it won’t drop into power save mid-transfer, and you fail—guess what that can do? Corrupt the data on the card. I’ve had a few incidents where that has happened. Once, my camera said it was having a write error. I gave up, popped the card out, went to my laptop, took all the photos off, made a quick backup of the directory structure on the card, formatted the card and copied the folder structure back in place.
It happened again today. Not quite as catastrophic as that: it was reading off the card. I took a shot and it told me it couldn’t write the image to the card. The JPEG and raw files that it attempted to write are just plain white. The I/O error managed to cause the camera to go into some crazy mode where I couldn’t even turn it off. I eventually had to resort to taking the battery out. Fortunately, it only lost that one image, not the whole card.
Causing crazy write errors and potentially putting all the images on the card at risk makes me reluctant to use the Eye-Fi when not necessary. Sharing pictures with friends quickly is a nice feature, but not if I run the risk of catastrophic data loss in the process. As a side note, the Eye-Fi app on the iPhone won’t transfer video, only still images.
Fujifilm have started putting wi-fi on their camera bodies. It’s on the entry-level X-M1, the so-entry-level-it-doesn’t-even-have-the-good-sensor X-A1 and on some cameras you might actually want to use like the X-T1, X-E2 and X100T. I haven’t used it, but camera manufacturer-provided apps seem likely to be a bit less rickety and jerry-rigged than the one provided by Eye-Fi, and I’m reasonably confident it’s not going to do something dumb like transfer raws. When Fujifilm get around to releasing an X-Pro2, it seems likely that there’ll be wi-fi on there.
While I’m tearing this thing apart, I’ll also note that the card itself is pretty fragile: given it spends most of its life either in my camera or in the SD card reader slot on the side of my computer, it was rather surprising to find that the plastic casing fell to bits when I dropped it about 5cm onto my kitchen table. Perhaps I’m being unusually picky but I tend to expect products which are marketed with the word “pro” in the name not to require me to stick them back together with superglue.
The Eye-Fi does its job, but the frustrations of actually using the product almost make me want to pop it back in my camera bag (perhaps in a softly-padded Tupperware box just in case I jolt the thing a bit too much and it decides to self-destruct some more) and only pull it out when I actually need it.
Eye-Fi could reduce my frustrations significantly by making their app marginally smarter. For me, though, the risk of data loss through ordinary field use is too much stress to bother with unless it is absolutely needed. I’ll also note for fairness that a fair number of these issues are likely to not exist in the context of a studio shoot, where you aren’t that bothered about camera power saving. If in a year or so, Fujifilm offer to sell me a shiny new camera body that means I can forget all about the Eye-Fi, that would be rather nice. It is a product I use but certainly do not love.
UPDATE After posting this, Eye-Fi contacted me and replaced the card. They also explained that the iOS app allows you to set it to only download non-RAW images. Both of these have solved my frustrations with the Eye-Fi Pro such that I can use it again.