On Using the Eye-Fi Pro – A Problem Solved

If asked about my photography I instinctively use the words landscape or exterior to describe what I do. While that was once accurate, lately it is less so. With the construction of commercial buildings in my part of California pretty much stopped this past year I’ve found my commercial work moving indoors.

My commercial exterior skill set was borrowed from years of shooting the West’s landscapes. Decisive framing, knowing good light from lesser light, and shooting fairly quickly are some of the skills that work just as well while shooting in a National Park or a squeaky new Office Building. Also, photographing the exterior of an office building, like shooting landscapes, is (most often) a solo activity.

In contrast, interior work is far less spontaneous and far more about staging and fussiness. While not necessarily more technical, indoor work definitely uses different set of tools. Unlike exterior work, interior photography is almost always collaborative and while I’m happy looking through a view finder for composition, most interior designers and other interested parties are not.

The solution, and there are several variations depending on the species of camera, involves either tethering the camera to a nearby laptop or talking to the laptop wirelessly. Either way images show up on a nearby laptop and crowds gather. While tethering is cheap and reliable, stringing cables between things that don’t drop or fall without suffering greatly, is an invitation to a bad day. Tethering is for the studio.

I shoot Canon Digital and Canon has a wireless solution, the WFT-E2A Wireless File Transmitter, by all accounts it works well. It is pricey and does lots of things that I don’t much care about. Enter the Eye-Fi Pro Wi-Fi / Airport enabled SD card. The Eye-Fi Pro lets most any camera that has an SD slot (my main shooting camera a Canon 1Ds III has both CF and SD slots) to transfer files via a wireless network. Most importantly it allows for an Ad hoc, aka direct camera to laptop, network setup.

I’ve tested it with my MackBook sitting a full 25 feet away and it pretty much just works… well after the obligatory “new thing not working at all” phase.

Setting Up an Ad hoc Network

The folks at Eye-Fi central have a far more grand vision for this little card than simply transferring files from here to there. While the Eye-Fi is plugged into the computer’s USB port, all these features are enabled and managed in a browser based application. This all goes well until it’s time to set up the Ad hoc network feature. To configure the card you have to be on a network. Let’s pretend you are on a wireless network as I was. To configure the ad hoc network you have to leave the network and create the computer to Eye-Fi link. This is unfortunate. If you try and do this wirelessly… well I couldn’t. The Eye-Fi browser application complained that it could not talk to Eye-Fi central every time I left the Airport network to configure the Ad hoc feature.

After a couple of rounds of this sort of behavior it became clear that what ever computer is being used to configure the card needs to be hard wired to the internet. After dusting off a spare ethernet cable and finding a spare port to plug it into, my MacBook and Eye-Fi were properly configured. The MacBook was able to talk via ethernet to Eye-Fi central while the wireless chatter between the MacBook and the Eye-Fi card set up the direct wireless link.

The Eye-Fi Pro allows for RAW files to be transferred. Saving (this is a slow, small capacity card) and sending big RAW seems unnecessary for this purpose. The 1Ds III allows for different files to be written to each of the two internal cards. I set up with RAW going to the fast CF card and a medium JPEG file is sent to the Eye-Fi. From click to transfer time seems strangely variable with maximum time of roughly one minute with less than 20 seconds more typical.

Fun With Folder Actions

While transferring a JPEG from camera to laptop using the Eye-Fi qualifies as a good trick, a real solution would display the resulting JPEG for the gathered crowds. Again, some solutions do this natively and others are home made. Follows is the latter.

As part of the Ad hoc network setup, the Eye-Fi application asks for a folder to load with the transferred JPEGs. Using the Automator application that ships with OS X I wrote a (very) simple action that automatically checks to see if anything has been added to the target folder and, when something arrives, to display it in the OS X native Preview application.

The workflow: Compose, worry about staging and lighting, and fire the shutter. The file is sent to the Eye-Fi Pro and from their to the anointed folder on the MacBook. The crowd stares at as the JPEG appears. Fault is found in the framing or the staging. Something is fixed, the shutter is tripped again…