Digital cameras have their megapixel war, but a more intriguing—and arguably more significant—contest is underway in the photo industry. The battle over who gets to manage and secure your photo library is now expanding from desktop hard drives and external drives to encompass mobile devices and the cloud.
In this showdown, it’s not companies like Canon and Nikon duking it out but firms like Adobe, Google, Dropbox and Eyefi. The latter is unique in that it doesn’t simply have mobile apps and a cloud service to bring to the table, but a Wi-Fi-enabled memory card too. That brings the Eyefi solution closest to the point-of-capture, whether you’re capturing with a DSLR or smartphone.
Is this proximity a decisive advantage? We went hands-on with Eyefi’s latest offering, the Mobi Pro card, to find out.
Cutting the Cord
The Mobi Pro is a 32GB, Class 10 SDHC card. It has a built-in Wi-Fi radio with two modes, direct and infrastructure, for connecting to mobile devices, Wi-Fi networks and the Eyefi Cloud.
In direct mode, the card creates a connection between itself and a mobile device running the Eyefi app to transfer RAW and JPEG images to the device and then up to the cloud. Once your mobile device is configured to access the Mobi Pro card (a process that takes about a minute), direct transfers happen automatically and scoop up all of your images. If you don’t want to transfer images en-masse, you can set the Mobi Pro to selectively transfer only the images you want. Then, during playback on your camera, only images that you protect (or lock) will be transferred.
JPEG and RAW images don’t simply transfer from card to mobile device, they also piggyback on your phone’s cellular connection to upload to the Eyefi Cloud. In fact, mobile devices are more of a way station for your full resolution files. Once they’ve been uploaded to the Eyefi Cloud, the original files are deleted on your phone and replaced with smaller JPEG previews to save space. The Eyefi app allots itself 4GB of storage on your device and intelligently manages the size of these previews as your library grows. You can also opt to have either JPEG or RAW originals saved to your mobile device. If you shoot RAW+JPEG, the app saves a JPEG preview of each while the Eyefi Cloud preserves both in full resolution. If you don’t want to burn through your cellular data, you can have RAW files uploaded only when you’re on Wi-Fi.
In infrastructure mode, the Mobi Pro can connect to a home or studio Wi-Fi network so you can transfer images to mobile devices via your own Wi-Fi network. This way, you preserve the Internet connection on your smartphone, tablet and PC. The card can save up to 32 different networks.
Direct mode transfers from card to mobile device take mere seconds to complete, though uploads to the Eyefi Cloud over cellular can take a minute or more. Infrastructure mode is significantly faster across the board. Images take only a few seconds from being shot on camera to appearing in the Eyefi app and in the Eyefi Cloud. We transferred hundreds of images this way without a single hiccup.
Automation in the Cloud
One of the real virtues of the Mobi Pro card is its ability to create a completely automated backup process from the second you press the shutter. With a few tweaks in the settings, you can configure the card to upload your full resolution images (JPEGS and RAW) to the Eyefi Cloud and simultaneously have those images downloaded to your desktop hard drive while previews are synced on any device running the Eyefi app. Using the free If This Then That (ifttt.com) service, you can easily configure your Eyefi Cloud account to upload further backups to Flickr and Dropbox. In one shutter press, your original files can be saved in three or four different locations.
The Eyefi app also monitors your mobile device’s camera roll and automatically uploads those images to the cloud and down to your desktop, so smartphone shooters can enjoy the same automated archiving. You can load the Eyefi app onto an unlimited number of devices, too.
This seamless backup is a compelling value in its own right, but the Mobi Pro card has another cool trick up its sleeve: it can double as a cordless tether for Lightroom when using infrastructure mode. Following a very simple, eight-stop process, you can configure Lightroom to automatically import photos that the Eyefi card is depositing on your desktop. It takes about 20 seconds from shutter press to Lightroom import, so it’s not necessarily an alternative to a physical tether if speed is of the essence, but it ran very smoothly for us.
The Mobi Pro card comes with one year of free membership to the Eyefi Cloud, after which you’ll pay $50/year to maintain your library. It’s an excellent value considering there are no bandwidth caps or storage limits for still photos.
For videos, though, it’s a less compelling story.
The Mobi Pro card, like any memory card, can store videos but much of the transferring and syncing capabilities of the card vanish for video files. Videos saved to the Mobi Pro card will transfer to a local desktop drive if that option is selected, but they won’t travel to the Eyefi Cloud and aren’t viewable in any of the Eyefi mobile apps. Worse, videos captured with a smartphone or tablet aren’t transferred anywhere. They just reside on your mobile device’s local memory.
Organized in the Cloud
Eyefi’s ambitions are not simply to automate the backup process, but to give photographers an easy means of organizing and finding images once they’re secure in the cloud. To that end, they’ve built a very elegant user interface for both the Eyefi mobile and browser-based apps.
All images uploaded to the Eyefi Cloud are automatically arranged in a timeline with newest first. Images downloaded to a desktop are placed in folders labeled by date. The browser app contains some basic sorting functions—you can filter your images by settings like ISO or shutter speed, by the camera used or by tags that you can add manually. Those filters can be saved as “smart views” for quicker access in the future. Unfortunately, the mobile app doesn’t offer this sorting ability, just the option to view by tags.
Both the browser app and mobile app allow you to crop and rotate images, but that’s the extent of your editing capability. You can also manually group images into albums if Eyefi’s date-driven structure doesn’t appeal to you.
Eyefi is also adding a “smart tags” function that will automatically tag images based on a scan of their contents (a similar feature has been added to both Lightroom and Flickr in recent months). This feature wasn’t launched in time for our tests so we don’t know how well it performs in the real world.
One Card to Rule Them All?
For casual and enthusiast photographers, Eyefi has just about built the perfect ecosystem for archiving and organizing still photos—two of photography’s most thankless tasks. We only wish they would do the same for video.
For pros, there are other caveats. The biggest is that the Eyefi Cloud will sync only edits performed on JPEG images. RAW images edited in programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW will not sync in the Eyefi Cloud. Second, Eyefi’s cloud sharing capabilities are still rather primitive. You can provide links to individual stills or albums, but you can’t set expirations, manage permissions or password protect files like you can on Dropbox. Finally, while the Eyefi app lets you star favorites, there’s no Lightroom-style ranking system for photographers looking to cull a day’s shoot on their tablet.
Still, unlike competing apps and cloud services, Eyefi enjoys a critical advantage in being able to archive and organize images from nearly any device, the moment they’re captured. It’s not yet a completely airtight solution, but it’s tantalizingly close.