Sunday, April 24

Eye-Fi Fun #1: Sharing with Dropbox

When Eye-Fi announced that they were coming out with a feature to connect their Wi-Fi SD cards directly to iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, I lept to buy one.

My use cases were spotty; while it would certainly be cool to upload photos from parks, graveyards, or interstates, we’ve never felt particularly hampered by waiting until we got home to an Internet connection to make a blog post. Furthermore, blogging from an iPhone is a pretty bad experience even if you had nice photos.

I did have some ideas, though:
  • We sometimes liveblog taking care of Molly to create “day in the life” records. Getting photos off the camera can be kind of a pain, especially since Cait needs to dig up the SD card reader for her MacBook.
  • Technology is cool.

Home Eye-Fi Setup

The Eye-Fi is unfortunately somewhat limited out-of-the-box for use with multiple computers. For simplicity, a card can only have one destination at a time, I suppose so that it can have a clear, “did the current destination get the photo, if not, I’ll try sending again” logic. After all, network interruptions and abrupt power-downs are common, so handling them gracefully is paramount.

While we’ve informally designated Cait’s iPhoto library as the canonical one for pictures of Molly, and Eye-Fi does have an “import to iPhoto” option, I still use the camera from time-to-time enough that it would be a pain to keep switching settings, which is done by going to the destination computer specifically and changing a setting in the Eye-Fi Center application.

Two elements came to rescue our workflow:
  • This Mac mini I keep on all the time as a media server / podcast downloader / iPod docking station.
  • Dropbox

Since the Eye-Fi can save photos directly to a folder, and Dropbox looks just like a folder, it was trivial to make the Mac mini the destination and have it save the photos to Dropbox. (I made an “Eye-Fi” folder inside of “Photos,” and Eye-Fi makes date-stamped folders in there.) I could then share the Dropbox folder with Cait so that the photos would be available on both of our computers.

It’s not quite Rube Goldberg, but the workflow ends up being:
  1. Take a picture with the camera
  2. The camera connects to our wireless network and uploads the photo to the Mac mini
  3. The Mac mini then saves the photo to the Dropbox folder
  4. The photo is uploaded to Dropbox
  5. Our laptops download the photo either from Dropbox or LAN-sync’d from the Mac mini
  6. Either of us can upload to PicasaWeb or do whatevs with the photos
  7. On her own time Cait drags a day’s photos into iPhoto and deletes them from Dropbox

Yes, it’s complicated, but there’s no human intervention between clicking the shutter and seeing the photos on the laptop, just a short delay. We shoot “Large” resolution at “Normal” quality on our D90, which comes out to about 3meg per image. It’s not instant, but the photos start showing up in Dropbox in under a minute.

When setting this up I did notice how sensitive the Eye-Fi card is to distance and obstacles. There’s not much room for an antenna in the SD card, so you have to have a reasonably clear line-of-sight from the camera to the wireless router to get acceptable performance. In our old house, where the router was high on a shelf on the top floor, sitting directly above a laser printer, uploading from the living room was a bit pokey, and from the basement, impossible. In the new house the router is on the first floor, one room over from the living room, and each photo can transfer to the computer in a matter of seconds.

So far, we’ve been happy with this setup. It at least works well for the “taking pictures of Molly around the house and blogging about them later” scenario, as eliminating the need to grab the SD card reader or worrying about whether or not to delete after import does perceptibly lessen the friction of using the camera.

It’s not as good for “coming home with a full camera and wanting to use it right away,” though, since transferring via the several services is significantly slower than just connecting the card to the computer directly, and there’s not a good way of knowing when all of your photos have transferred, if you’re waiting for a big batch to finish. We’ll have to see how things go for Cait when the Summer gravestoning season starts.

I was disappointed that our HD video camera, the Kodak Zi8, is not supported by the Eye-Fi. That being said, I’m not sure that waiting for videos to copy over would be a great experience. If we get another one (rather than just waiting to upgrade our 3GSs to iPhone 5s) I’ll make sure to verify compatibility before buying.