If you’re a prolific shutterbug you know what a hassle it is to constantly pull the SD card from your camera, plug it into your computer, and transfer the files to get to the snapshots you just took. Read on as we show you how to add Wi-Fi based photo transfer to your digital camera.
Why Do I Want To Do This?
This is one of those things that, if you’re the target audience, you’re already nodding your head and saying “Yes, perfect, no more swapping the SD card between the camera and the computer!” but perhaps you’re right on the edge of the target audience and not aware how downright convenient a wireless SD card is.
Introduced several years ago, Wi-Fi enabled SD cards take advantage of the constant reduction and refinement of electronic components to pack in both photo storage and a tiny Wi-Fi radio into the form factor of an SD memory card. Aside from the label they look absolutely identical to their non-networked counterparts.
By replacing your standard SD card with a Wi-Fi enabled card you gain a host of functionality like the ability to automatically transfer your photos as they are taken to your computer without removing the SD card from the camera, automatically (or selectively) uploading them to photo sharing and social media sites, and sending them to nearby mobile devices like your iPad for review.
The primary function and the one that will attract the majority of people, however, is definitely the first one we mentioned: wireless photo transfer to your computer. If you’re constantly taking photos and transferring them to your computer you’ll love the automatic transfer feature—between our work here at HTG and our frequent sharing of family photos on Facebook and the like we easily pop the SD card out of our DSLR a half dozen or more times a day to transfer files and absolutely love how Wi-Fi cards have spared us this routine.
What’s the downside to Wi-FI enabled SD cards? First, the sticker shock. A Wi-FI SD card will typically run you 3-4 times the price of a similar size premium non-Wi-FI SD card. Second, you will need to recharge your camera battery more frequently as the Wi-FI SD card steals power from the battery to run the Wi-Fi radio and associated hardware.
If you’re doing heavy shooting and/or transferring large RAW files you’ll definitely want to either power tether your camera (if you’re working in a home studio setting) or keep a spare battery on hand as continual file transfer and large file transfer are both taxing on battery life.
That said, every generation of Wi-Fi enabled cards has improved upon power management and newer models do an excellent job sipping the battery. Expect to charge your battery more often, but the overall impact on battery life is negligible in the face of the convenience of the speedy wireless transfer.
What Do I Need?
Before all else, you need to check if you even need a Wi-Fi SD card. Although it’s still a fairly uncommon feature a number of newer digital cameras have built-in Wi-Fi. If you have a newer camera definitely double check to ensure that’s not a feature you’ve overlooked!
Second, you need to determine if your camera will support a Wi-Fi SD card. As a general rule if your camera supports SDHC memory cards it will support a Wi-Fi SD card without a problem. For the purposes of this tutorial we’re using an Eye-Fi brand card; you can use the Eye-Fi camera check tool to see if your camera is compatible. The tool is quite detailed and not only tells you whether or not a camera is compatible in a broad sense but lists off any issues you might have with a particular model because of hardware or firmware limitations.
Even if you are considering a different brand of Wi-Fi SD card you can still typically get away with using the Eye-Fi camera check tool because the same general parameters apply across brands.
Note: There are last-gen Wi-Fi SD cards that from years back that will work in non SDHC compliant cameras, but they are no longer in production, and you’ll have to find them used or as old stock on places like eBay.
Finally, after checking out your camera’s feature list and that it supports SDHC cards, it’s time to pick out a Wi-Fi card. As we noted above we’re using an Eye-Fi card but there are other popular models based on licensed Eye-Fi technology from Toshiba and Transcend; look for Toshiba FlashAir and Transcend Wi-Fi branded cards. Although the cards from other manufacturer’s are well rated, Eye-Fi was the first game in town and to this day still has the most mature hardware and software support.
Aside from selecting your card’s storage capacity also keep in mind that other SD card purchasing factors come into play as well such as speed rating. For more information on SD cards beyond the scope of this Wi-Fi SD card article, check out How to Buy an SD Card: Speed Classes, Sizes, and Capacities Explained.
Setting Up Your Wi-Fi SD Card
There are two phases to the setup process. The initialization process that gets your Wi-Fi SD card on your local Wi-Fi network coupled with a simple field test to ensure it is operational and then a more detailed configuration of the SD card’s settings.
Getting the Wi-Fi Card Online
Although you can configure your Eye-Fi to ship images to an iOS or Android device, the initial configuration requires a Windows or Mac computer. Load the SD card in your card reader and navigate to the root directly. Everything you need to get started is in the “START HERE” folder.
Select the subdirectory based on your operating system and run the installation file. After searching for and downloading software updates, you’ll be prompted to run the full installation for the Eye-Fi Center software.
During the installation you’ll be prompted to authorize the Eye-Fi software to pass through your computer’s firewall and and to set up and Eye-Fi account. Even if you don’t intend to use the Eye-Fi sharing tools you still need to create an account to complete the installation. After creating your account sit back and wait for your Eye-Fi card, if necessary, to receive a firmware update.
The first important decision you’ll make during the setup process is whether or not you want the files to be transferred to your computer or mobile device. Our goal is to get the files to our computer for easy sorting, processing, and archiving; select “My computer.”
In the next step, select the SSID of your wireless network and enter the password. The receiving computer and the Eye-Fi card need to be on the same network. It doesn’t matter, however, if your computer is connected to your router via Ethernet though, it’s still considered part of the same network as the Wi-Fi node attached to it.
The Eye-Fi will prompt you to select a social network you wish to share your images with or you can select them later. We recommend setting this feature up later, if you even want to use it, as there are a host of little tweaks and options you may wish to adjust before enabling it.
When you finish the initial configuration process you’ll be prompted to eject the SD card, insert it in your camera, and take a photo.
This photo is your test shot that should be, assuming the configuration went smoothly, be automatically transferred to your computer. In the screenshot above you can see that our snapshot of a little LEGO office worker placed on our office windowsill transferred without a hitch.
The most common cause of transfer errors is aggressive power management on behalf of the camera. Many cameras will immediately begin conserving power within seconds of taking a photo; this doesn’t give the SD card enough sustained power to finish transferring the files over Wi-Fi. You can alleviate this issue with most cameras by adjusting the timeout on the autometering or other features. Check out the Eye-Fi power settings management tutorial for your camera if you run into this problem.
Configuring the Eye-Fi Card
Once you’ve completed the simple test to ensure your card can communication with your home network, pop it back in your computer and open up the Eye-Fi Center software. You can take a moment to look around the software and familiarize yourself with the layout.
Before you continue using the Eye-Fi card, however, you’ll want to take a close look at the settings. Do so by navigating to File -> Settings -> Eye-Fi Card.
There is a lot going on in the configuration menu here that you should really take the time to look over. Let’s take a look at each section and the settings found therein. Although the primary focus of this tutorial is simply transferring files between your camera and computer, the Eye-Fi is mature product that offers a range of tools that are worth taking a peek at. Further, there are options you may wish to toggle for privacy purposes (like the geotagging feature) so we’ll give a quick overview of all the available configuration options.
Under the “Networks” tab you’ll find everything related to connecting the Eye-Fi to the outside world. You can add and remove Wi-Fi networks under the “Private Networks” tab, enable direct ad-hoc networks for connections between devices on the camera (if your Eye-Fi model supports this feature), and configure your Eye-Fi card to use public hotspots so it will upload photos using public Wi-Fi connections while you’re out and about.
Under the “Photos” tab you can change both the local and online destinations for your photos. Under the “Computer” sub-tab you can switch where the files are saved on your local computer as well as how they are sorted and stored. Under the “Online” tab you can enable and configure online sharing through services like Flickr, Facebook, and the like.
The “RAW” tab is effectively identical to the “Photos” tab but is concerned with how RAW camera files are transferred and stored. If you work with RAW it’s really nice that you can decide how to deal with your JPEG images separately from your RAW images. If, for example, you were shooting an event where you wanted both the RAW images to work with at a later date but you wanted to immediately upload the photos you were taking to the event’s Facebook page or the like you could do so using this dual workflow setup (send the RAW to your computer, send the JPEGs to the social media platform).
“Videos,” if your camera can record video, allows for the same kind of configuration outlined above but for videos instead of images.
Eye-Fi View is a service that’s easy to overlook as many people assume it’s premium only and, as they don’t want to pay for a premium service, they don’t use it. Eye-Fi View actually has two tiers, however, the free (which allows you to store your photos for seven days in the cloud for easy sharing and temporary backup if your card is lost while traveling or the like) and the premium (which give you unlimited storage for $49.99 a year).
The “Notifications” tab allows you to toggle email, SMS, Facebook, and Twitter notification alerts that tell you when your Eye-Fi card has shared media on your social network accounts.
Geotagging is an option the privacy conscious will surely want to toggle off; every Eye-Fi photo is, by default, tagged with the location the photo is taken. There’s only one option under the “Geotagging” tab: it’s either on or off.
The final configuration tab, “Transfer Mode” two really useful features. Under the “Selective Transfer” tab you can toggle between different transfer modes. By default the Eye-Fi will transfer and/or upload every photo you take. If you’re firing off a bunch of photos to get the perfect shot this creates a lot of waste power use and transfer. You can switch from automatic uploading to selective uploading using the “protect” function on your camera. Any photo you protect will be flagged and uploaded. Everything else will remain on the camera for manual transfer or deletion at a later date.
Under the “Endless Memory” tab you’ll find a rather novel (but useful) feature. When “Endless Memory” is active the Eye-Fi will slowly delete old files (that have been safely transferred to your computer or online service). In this fashion you can essentially shoot forever on a single SD card as it will perpetually make new room for new files.
With a little upfront investment and few minutes spent configuring your settings you can easily convert your stand-alone digital camera into a networked camera capable of wireless file transfer and sharing. Have experience with Wi-Fi SD cards and want to share it with your fellow readers? Follow the link below to our discussion forums and share your knowledge.