No matter how perfectly shot or emotionally meaningful your digital photos may be, if they aren't uploaded to your computer or to a Web site, no one else will ever see them as they languish in your camera. This problem has plagued the digital photo industry for years, though the cameras themselves have improved.
Most users know how to upload photos, but don't want to hassle with USB cords and slow upload speeds when transferring images onto a computer or photo-sharing site. Camera docks and memory-card readers built into PCs have attempted to alleviate these transferring problems, but these so-called shortcuts still require a certain amount of dedication to the process.
In the last couple of years, a handful of companies have gone a step farther by introducing Wi-Fi enabled digital cameras, notably Nikon Inc. and Eastman Kodak Co. But this capability works only in certain cameras, and even then requires users to walk through a number of steps to send the photos through a service created by the company instead of sending them to a computer or Web site.
This week, I tested a refreshingly simple gadget that solves this problem and does what most technology products don't: It works in existing devices and requires next to no effort. The $100 Eye-Fi Card by Eye-Fi Inc. (www.eye.fi) is a 2-gigabyte SecureDigital memory card with a built-in wireless chip. It slips into any camera with an SD-card slot, and whenever the camera is turned on, looks for a familiar Wi-Fi network and uploads your photos to your Mac or PC and one of 17 photo-sharing sites. After a quick, one-time setup, the user does nothing more than turning on the digital camera.
I thought this thing was too good to be true and set out to find its flaws. But after using it with two digital cameras (one brand new and the other over three years old), three different computers (each with different operating systems) and five photo-sharing sites, I'm convinced that the Eye-Fi is a terrific little tool. It works quickly and is a no-brainer to get going. The only people who won't like it are those who enjoy razzing their lazy friends for forgetting to share digital photos.
The Eye-Fi's flaws are minor enough to dismiss. For one thing, it doesn't work on Wi-Fi networks that use log-in pages like those in Starbucks; instead, it's meant to work on home networks or other ''open'' networks. Secondly, there's no way to know when Eye-Fi finishes transferring photos unless you check your computer. Finally, your digital camera must stay on for the duration of the wireless transfer, which slightly taxes battery power, and slower networks and/or transferring numerous higher-resolution photos will require a bit more juice. Likewise, Eye-Fi looks for Wi-Fi networks whenever the camera is on, though the company says this only uses a minimal amount of the camera's battery power.
I tried my Eye-Fi first on a Windows XP machine, plugging the card reader and card into a USB port. The software setup walks users through clear, quick steps like testing the computer's firewall to be sure it can work through it and asking which folder should be designated to receive wirelessly transferred images. Here, I also typed in my account information for sharing images on Kodak Gallery; later I added Shutterfly, Snapfish and others.
Transferred photos are all reflected in the Eye-Fi Manager, a Web-based, password-protected site that tells which images were uploaded to photo-sharing sites and the computer. Users can opt to only upload from the Eye-Fi to one or the other or both, but only one photo-sharing site and one Mac or PC can be selected at a time. Account information for any of the 17 sharing sites can be saved within Eye-Fi, making it a cinch to switch where you want to send photos.
Around the office, within my registered Wi-Fi network, I took photos that showed up seconds later on my computer screen. At home, I entered my password-protected network's information one time and watched as captured photos transferred wirelessly from my camera to either my Mac or Windows Vista laptop.
On average, it took about 40 seconds to upload each image to a Web site and about 40 seconds more after that for a photo to transfer onto my hard drive. I got home from a friend's cocktail party and set my camera on a table with its power on. Ten minutes later, I turned on my computer to check the transfer and 12 photos from the party were uploaded to my Kodak Gallery account and my iMac's hard drive.
The Eye-Fi Card is as simple as it sounds and works with most cameras that use SD cards (for a complete list of compatible cameras, see http://support.eye.fi/compatibility/). If someone you know is constantly taking pictures that are never seen again by anyone else and they use a Wi-Fi network, Eye-Fi will serve as a carefree solution that takes the aggravation out of transferring photos to share with others.