|The Eye-Fi SD card can work as its own Wi-Fi hot spot to transmit images directly from the card in your DSLR to your tablet.|
Occasionally, a solution comes along that's the perfect fix for a problem I thought I'd always just have to deal with. Eye-Fi recently created a tool that not only solves one of my problems, but gives any nature photographer a pretty cool option for transferring and processing images in the field.
I do a lot of underwater photography, which is equipment-intensive and puts sensitive DSLR electronics and precision optics directly into an ocean environment that instantly will destroy them if something goes wrong. One grain of sand in the wrong part of the camera housing's O-rings, and the housing will flood. So, needless to say, I take great care in inspecting and maintaining the housing and its O-rings, and I keep them completely free of contaminants. That's actually easy enough to do when I prep the gear at home the night before a dive, but it's not nearly so easy to do on a rocking boat with blowing salt spray and sand, bits of kelp and other flotsam all over the place. The simple solution is to never open the housing on the boat, but that's not practical if I need to download a memory card while at sea.
I had been aware of Eye-Fi cards, but at the CES show in January 2011, Eye-Fi introduced a new feature that made me sit up and take notice. Using the Eye-Fi app that you install on your smartphone or tablet, you now can transmit files directly from the memory card in the camera to a mobile device through Eye-Fi Direct Mode. This solves my problem because I don't mind bringing my iPad onto a boat in a waterproof case (I don't bring a laptop for all of the same reasons that I don't like opening a housing on a boat). Using Direct Mode, I can transfer the images, and the camera is ready for the next dive.
Eye-Fi didn't develop the Direct Mode just for underwater photography. It's an ideal solution for any nature photographer who wants to be able to evaluate and even process images in the field. Camera bag manufacturers have been building laptop sleeves into their bags for several years, and while I've carried a laptop on a photography hike, I only did it once and I didn't enjoy it. Bringing my iPad, on the other hand, not only isn't a problem, but it's actually helpful for other functions like maps. Using Eye-Fi Direct Mode, I can transfer images to the iPad, do a quick edit and, using one of my favorite apps, Pixelmator, do some sophisticated manipulation—all without having a bulky cable connection kit or a laptop.
The system works by essentially making the Eye-Fi SD card into a Wi-Fi hot spot. You have to set up the card and the app beforehand, but the process is straightforward. Out in remote locations where there are no Wi-Fi networks, the system works without any issues. As other reviewers have noted, things can get confusing when you try to get the Direct Mode to work in the presence of other Wi-Fi networks. That's because the Eye-Fi card only wants to make its own hot spot as a last resort. If it detects another Wi-Fi network in the area, it wants to use that one instead. There are workarounds for this, but I haven't delved into them, because to me, the Direct Mode is only useful when I'm out someplace far from Wi-Fi networks, like on a boat or on a trail in a national park.
Contact: Eye-Fi, www.eye.fi.