Bust Those Photos Out Of The Box

Woman uses Fuji Film digital photo kiosk to print pictures from her digital camera
Several months ago I wrote about a Nikon camera with built-in WiFi adapter that enables you to automatically upload pictures without having to connect the camera to a PC. Kodak makes a similar camera. Chances are, you already have a digital camera or, if you're in the market for a camera, it's likely that the ones you're eyeing are not WiFi-equipped.

Well, that's no longer a problem. Silicon Valley-based Eye-Fi Inc. is out with a $99 card that doubles as two gigabyte SD (Secure Digital) memory card and a WiFi adapter, adding wireless connectivity to virtually any digital camera. I successfully tested the little card on the two cameras I had handy: a Kodak C875 and a Canon PowerShot SD 850.

The device, which is exactly the size of the SD memory cards used in most of today's consumer cameras, works exactly like any other memory card. Just slip it in the camera and it captures photos to its two gigabytes of memory. That's enough memory to store more than 600 photos from an 8-megapixel camera.

But the good news is that you might not have to store those photos for long, because as soon as you bring the camera home and turn it on in range of your WiFi network, the photos are automatically copied from the camera to Eye-Fi's server and from there to your PC or Mac's hard drive, or to any of 17 photo sharing services.

Of course to take advantage of the card, you need a WiFi network at home or at work. If you have a cable or DSL line, there's a good chance you already have such a network - many of today's Internet routers used to connect PCs to broadband lines are also WiFi-equipped. If not, you can get a WiFi router for under $50.

Here's how Eye-Fi works. When you open the box that the card comes in, you'll see that it's already inserted into a small USB adapter. When you plug that adapter into your PC or Mac, you're asked for your e-mail address and a password to create an Eye-Fi account.

You're also asked where on your PC hard drive you wish to store the photos and whether you have an account with flickr, Picasa, FaceBook, Typepad, Walmart.com or another of the services that Eye-Fi supports.

to hear Larry Magid's podcast interview of Eye-Fi CEO Jef Holove.
If so, you provide your account information and photos are automatically transferred to that account as well as to your PC. You're also asked to tell the service a little about your home WiFi network, including any passwords or security keys you might have.

That's all there is to it. From then on, all you have to do to transfer pictures is to turn on your camera and wait until the photos are uploaded. If your camera automatically turns itself off, the service suggests you disable that feature, to allow time for a long download.

The card gets its power from the camera. Eye-Fi CEO Jef Holove says it uses only five percent more energy than a regular SD card and uses energy only while it is transferring photos or seeking a WiFi network. The card is intelligent enough, says Holove, to seek out a network only when it has a new photo to upload.

The photos sent to your PC are the same resolution as your camera. The company doesn't do any additional compression. Photos stored on other services will have the same attributes as any pictures that are uploaded to that service.

Unfortunately, it can't be used on networks that require a web-based log-in, so you can't use it in most coffee shops, hotels or airport lounges. That's a shame, as one obvious use of this technology would be to allow you to offload pictures from your camera while you travel. Holove says the company decided to leave out that feature initially to make the product simple to set up and use, but that feature might be added in the future.

The big advantage of this device is that you don't have to remember to use a cable to connect your camera to your PC when you get home from taking pictures. It's also a great idea if you have family members who are technologically or memory-challenged. Once you set up the service, there is almost nothing for them to do other than turn on the camera.

At $99, the card is about twice the price as a standard 2-gigabyte memory card, which means you're only paying about $50 for the Wi-Fi service. There is no monthly usage fee.

A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid