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Cameramakers missed the Wi-Fi bandwagon on the road to obsolescence

Glenn Fleishman | March 27, 2015
The day of the standalone digital camera has passed for all but professional photographers and those who aren't paid for their work but have particular needs a phone's built-in camera can't meet. Smartphones won by making photos easy to share online.

SmugMug, founded in 2002, was a professional's destination of choice — along with other firms, some now out of business — and would have been a logical place to which to transfer images, too.

Whatever the reason, Wi-Fi remained relatively isolated.

Eye spy

The terrible part of this wasn't that I and others were Cassandras crying into the night about the terrible Wi-Fi support, when it existed, and warning of the future when cameras would become obsolete. No, it was that there was already an alternative by 2007 that Nikon et al. could have looked to: Eye-Fi.

If you're not familiar with the product line, Eye-Fi is an SD card with a full computer inside. Seemingly revolutionary at the time and now old hat, the 2007-era Eye-Fi card packaged an 802.11g radio system, a CPU, and 2GB of storage. Current models now range from 8GB to 32GB. (I reviewed one in 2007.)

You had to set up the Eye-Fi on a computer through an SD adapter or slot, but then it was good to go in any camera, powered by the trickle of energy required to run an SD card for storage. Whenever the camera was on, and in range of a computer running Eye-Fi software, it would transfer photos based on your parameters. The original version supported 17 photo services to which images could be automatically uploaded.

As they became more sophisticated, Eye-Fi models could handle the RAW format, connect to public free and fee-based Wi-Fi hotspots, and upload to the company's own cloud. One of the neatest features I used was "endless storage," where the card would delete images from the SD memory as space became tight if it had confirmed that an image was uploaded or synced elsewhere.

Eye-Fi convinced various cameramakers to integrate some support for its card over time, so that, for instance, a camera's built-in power-saving shutdown would talk to the wireless card and wait until all images had transferred off. Or you could mark photos to transfer in camera, so that not every picture was synced.

Eye-Fi also added phone and tablet support. With an app, you could pull images directly from an Eye-Fi card in a camera without any cables or even an SD card adapter. Given that the iPad can be used quite effectively as a photo editor, this was a big leap.

But no cameramaker acquired Eye-Fi, and none borrowed many of its tricks. While its particular approach doesn't fit everyone, there were no alternatives with as much ease and flexibility of getting transfers set up and walking away until the last couple of years.

User in your face


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