Battle of the Wi-Fi Cards: Eye-Fi vs. Transcend
When capturing a high volume of images on a photo shoot, being able to wirelessly connect your camera to a smartphone, computer or to 'the cloud' has a lot of appeal. Wi-Fi can expedite workflow by allowing you to transfer image files remotely while on location. For the sake of convenience, Wi-Fi memory cards can also negate the need for card readers or cables - and no-one like cables now, do they?
As wireless technology continues to become more and more important within the digital imaging world, it's easy to forget that your camera doesn't have to have Wi-Fi built-in to benefit from the advantages of connectivity. Wi-Fi capable SD memory cards have been around for a number of years, and they remain popular.
|Right now, if you want to take advantage of wireless connectivity from your camera to a smartphone, computer or the cloud, and it isn't built-in, these are your options - Wi-Fi SDHC cards.|
At the moment, Eye-Fi and Transcend are the two main players in the Wi-Fi memory card market. Transcend's highest capacity 32GB Wi-Fi SDHC card can be found steeply discounted for $72.45, which is a little less than the Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC ($89.74) - the highest capacity that Eye-Fi currently offers. On paper, the Transcend is the most appealing based on price and storage alone (and the ratio of the one to the other), but does it stack up to the well-established Eye-Fi in terms of its technology and performance? That's what I want to establish in this review.
I've spent a few months shooting with both cards, and as memory cards (ignoring the Wi-Fi side of things for now) I have no complaint with either. They were always recognized by my MacBook Pro within seconds of connecting them to the computer manually via a card reader, and I never experienced any errors or data losses when shooting or transferring images.
Basic stuff out of the way, in this review I'm going to be mainly focusing on each card's wireless capabilities. The most important question I repeatedly asked myself throughout this review process was 'does this card enhance or expedite my workflow significantly enough to justify replacing my 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro?'
- Wirelessly transfer photos and video to a smartphone, tablet, or computer
- Wireless connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n
- Wireless range: 16 to 32 feet
- Support: iOS (5.0+) and Android (2.2+); also supports Windows and OS X through a browser
- Image formats: JPG, BMP, PNG, RAW
- Video formats: AVI, MOV, MP4, M2T, MTS, M2TS
- Turns mobile device into external monitor with Shoot and View mode
- Stream to three devices at once
- Instant upload and share to Facebook, e-mail, and other services
- Class 10 SDHC performance
- 90ft. outdoor/45ft. indoor range
- Built-in Wi-Fi for photo & video transfer from camera to connected device
- 16GB SDHC Memory
- Wi-Fi transfer image support: JPEG, RAW
- Wi-Fi transfer video support (under 2GB per file): .mpg, .mov, .flv, .wmv, .avi, .mp4, .mts, .m4v, .3gp
- Read/write support: all file types, including RAW
- Latest security standards (improved WPA2-PSK plus static WEP 64/128 and WPA-PSK)
- Compatible with iOS and Android smart devices via applications
Looking at features alone, the Eye-Fi has the upper hand because it has a much longer range of connectivity. During my testing, I found that the Transcend card could push the limits of its 32-foot connectivity distance by about 36 or so feet outdoors, but that paled in comparison to the Eye-Fi's almost 100 foot range. Indoors, the Eye-Fi still had the advantage, providing almost 50 feet while the Transcend maxed out at around 20 feet before the connection became unreliable. This is a huge advantage for the Eye-Fi, especially for those who shoot weddings and are uploading during the event.
Also, while both cards possess the ability to connect and upload to iOS and Android devices, the Eye-Fi can do the same on a Wi-Fi enabled laptop or desktop computer. The Transcend card does not have this capability, and can only connect to a laptop or computer through a clunky and time-consuming Internet browser. More on this in the Connectivity section.
The Eye-Fi card also supports more video file formats than the Transcend card, though both cards support RAW file transfer. While the Transcend does offer twice the capacity, that is its only notable advantage in the Features department. The Transcend has a feature called "Shoot and View", which turns a portable device into an external monitor, but the Eye-Fi one-ups that feature with the ability to upload images and videos to a portable device or laptop while shooting. Both cards perform at Class 10 speeds, but the Eye-Fi card includes its own USB card reader while the Transcend ships without any such extras.
On features alone, the Eye-Fi beats the Transcend card by a considerable margin, but if you don't need a lot of bells and whistles, the Transcend could still be a great-value choice assuming it covers the basics well enough. Let's find out.
Eye-Fi and Transcend wireless cards can both connect to a smartphone or tablet, providing the ability to wirelessly transfer images and videos to the device. Eye-Fi takes this a step further by integrating laptop/desktop support for Wi-Fi-enabled computers, which in my opinion is a huge advantage for photographers who carry laptops to shoots instead of tablets. Of course, smartphone/tablet applications must be installed in order to allow both cards to talk to the phone or tablet. In Eye-Fi's case, a desktop program is also included for computers, and all settings and features can even be accessed via the Eye-Fi View webpage as an alternative method.
We'll start with the Eye-Fi card, which can upload JPEG, RAW and video files to a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and Eye-Fi View website (an optional cloud-based system that users can upgrade for more space and permanent use).
|When transferring files to a computer in real time, the file is visible in the top right corner with progress bar. Once uploaded, it will appear in the Eye-Fi folder in Finder.|
The great thing about the Eye-Fi card is I can designate which type of file I want to upload to which device. For instance, say I'm on a gourmet food shoot and want to be able to preview each shot on the larger screen of my laptop. I can set my 5D Mark III to capture RAW+ Small JPEG files and program the Eye-Fi to only transfer the small JPEGs to the laptop. This way, the RAW file is saved to the card while the smaller resolution JPEG shows up on the screen for the client to see. And with a program like Folder Watch for Mac, the images will appear in real time. The Eye-Fi can be tailored to transfer all three file types (JPEGs, RAWs, videos) and any other combination of the three. This is great for weddings and parties as well.
It's also worth noting that the Eye-Fi card can be set to selectively transfer files. When this is set, the card will not automatically transfer a single file until it is marked with the "Protect" key icon in Playback on the camera. Any protected file will then begin transferring to the designated device.
|The mission control of the Eye-Fi Center program for Mac and PC computers. Note geotagging capability.|
Now here's the cool part. Say I'm using my tablet with the Eye-Fi card. I can program the card to upload files to the tablet, which will then copy the files to my laptop via an internet connection. Furthermore, I can set the card to also upload them to the Eye-Fi View webpage, giving them three places to live in one fell swoop - tablet, laptop, and cloud. This is all in real time. I capture an image and it's off uploading while I'm setting up the next shot. Obviously, the larger the file, the longer it takes to upload, so RAW images and large HD videos are not as practical, but we'll get to that when we talk about speed.
|Here is a JPEG uploading to an iPhone 5 in real time with the Eye-Fi card.||JPEG, RAW, and video files can be uploaded independently or all together.|
Swapping the Eye-Fi card for the Transcend, my options are significantly limited. First off, the card can really only transfer images via a Browse functionality. That means once the card is connected to the smartphone or tablet, I'm limited to perusing the images and videos I've taken via a rather primitive file system in the application. Unlike the Eye-Fi, where a just-captured image is sent to my device immediately, using the Transcend card I have to shoot first and browse later, manually transferring files from the card to the phone if I want to save them. This is a big disadvantage for on-location shooting, but to be fair, it might satisfy people who just want to instantly Facebook or email images right from the application on their mobile device.
I will say that the Transcend card does have a treasure trove of social media publishing options. I could transfer images and upload them to Facebook, Weibo, Flickr, Twitter, or email them off. In this regard, the Transcend card does have the upper hand on the Eye-Fi card when it comes to social media output.
|The home screen of the Wi-Fi SD mobile device application.||The Browse option offers access to all content on the Transcend Wi-Fi SDHC card.|
The Transcend card does have a mode called "Shoot and View," which relays the image just taken from the camera onto the smartphone or tablet's screen. I was able to snap an image and view it wirelessly on my iPhone 5's screen, though a tablet would really be ideal for this feature. Regardless, this process took 18 seconds from the time I pressed the shutter button to the time the image appeared on the device's screen, and this was with my phone a few inches away from the camera. This was a 6MP JPEG image, the standard size of all my JPEG test images for this review.
I found it nifty that EXIF data accompanied the images on the mobile device's screen, but 18 seconds is unacceptable if you're on location, and cannot by any means replace a tried and true remote monitor setup. Furthermore, the image does not save to the device - you're just looking at a preview thumbnail.
|Once an image is uploaded via the Transcend card, it can be sent to several social media outlets.||The preview screen showcasing an image just taken with a 5D Mark III, courtesy of Transcend's "Shoot and View."|
But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the Transcend card is its inability to easily transfer files to a laptop or desktop. Technically it can do it, but it's a painstaking process and one that I wouldn't consider practical. Basically, the card uses a computer to achieve the same thing it can do on a mobile device, only with twice the steps. Users must find the Transcend Wi-Fi card's network from the computer. Next, the user launches a browser and enters a lengthy IP address into the url bar. At that point I was better off just plugging the card into the good old card reader. By comparison, the Eye-Fi can connect to a laptop in a matter of seconds and upload images and videos in real time.
Again, there's no real competition - the Eye-Fi definitely outshines the Transcend card when it comes to connectivity. For the pro shooting on location, the Eye-Fi is an essential tool that enables near-instant gratification.
And lastly, what would a good memory card showdown be without some hard numbers? I tested both cards for transfer speeds at a uniform distance of 10 feet from the card to the device. I captured a 6MP JPEG and timed the transfer speeds with a stopwatch. Since the Eye-Fi can automatically upload files during a shoot - and this is how I most used it - I timed the speed immediately after snapping an image. Because the Transcend can only browse files on the card while it's in the camera, I timed the duration it took to upload one of the files to my iPhone 5.
Upload time for a 6MP JPEG with the Eye-Fi card was approximately 6 seconds. This test was carried out on my iPhone 5 and MacBook Pro with both yielding the same result. Meanwhile, upload time for a 6MP JPEG with the Transcend card was approximately 11 seconds. Yikes.
Now, keep in mind that while shooting with the Eye-Fi, you will see the image you just took pop up on your tablet, smartphone or laptop/desktop in around 6 seconds. That's fully uploaded. And, if 6 seconds is too long, you can always capture a smaller JPEG. When I shot in 'S1' and VGA sizes on my 5D Mark III, the transfer was almost instantaneous.
Transcend's "Shoot and View," feature pales in comparison, taking ~18 seconds to load the same size image onto only a smartphone or tablet, and even then it's only shown as a preview, not saved. RAW files and large HD videos take a lot longer with both cards, but the Eye-Fi was still consistently about twice as fast in my tests.
I think it's obvious which card won this round.
At the end of our Wi-Fi SD card battle, the Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC gave the Transcend 32GB Wi-Fi SDHC a hefty pummeling in all three categories. Eye-Fi has been in the game for much longer, and it showed throughout my testing. Let's break down the wins and losses.
In terms of features, the Transcend has only one real advantage over the Eye-Fi, but it's a biggie: it offers double the capacity (32GB vs. 16GB) for less cash. The Eye-Fi is a more serious product, as befitting its higher price, and boasts a much longer connectivity range than the Transcend, the ability to connect to laptops and desktops in addition to mobile devices, works with more video files, and it ships with its own card reader equipped with a desktop program. The Eye-Fi also has Eye-Fi View cloud storage.
Without a doubt, the Eye-Fi will be the card remaining in my camera bag and will accompany me on every major on-location shoot from here on out. Clients love the ability to see the image right before them, and the Eye-Fi provides that flexibility.
The Transcend, on the other hand, will be heading back to the manufacturer. It's priced well, and it's not a bad product by any means, but it's definitely geared toward hobbyists and those who spend most of their time uploading to Facebook from remote locations. Ultimately, it allows you to send pictures from a camera to your mobile device for editing and sharing, and coupled with an app like Camera+ which supports RAW, the Transcend Wi-Fi SD card definitely has appeal, but it's less expensive than the Eye-Fi for a reason.
As someone who makes a living as a photographer, I value the ability to connect my memory card directly to my computer wirelessly more than I value the camera-smartphone link. The Eye-Fi makes this easy, but the Transcend simply isn't designed with my needs in mind. It should go without saying, of course, that your needs may differ.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.