Pentax O-FC1 FluCard: The wireless details
Putting the camera in the oven
Below is a series of screenshots from an iPhone 4 in portrait orientation, showing the workflow of remote camera control, from initial startup to image reviewing. Don't worry, the oven wasn't hot at the time, but the camera was in a metal box and the phone was about 20 feet (6.1 meters) away around a corner, and the Wi-Fi signal stayed at full bars the entire time, even with a pizza under the lens! Ricoh's stated range of 24 feet (7.3 meters) is conservative.
While the FAQ on the previous page alludes to many of the restrictions of the O-FC1, there are a few that are unexpected while in Remote Capture mode. Chief among them is that the camera drive mode (Single, Burst, AEB, Timer, etc.) and shooting mode (PASM, etc.) are displayed in the Remote Capture window, but they cannot be changed remotely. In fact, if the camera is set to any drive mode other than Single Frame, the Remote Capture will display an error and not even start up.
|If it doesn't look like a button, it can't be changed remotely.|
The slider on the lower right changes the tap-in-live-view behavior from just CDAF on tap, to CDAF and shutter release on tap. If live view is disabled (via the LF button on the left side) then tapping in the black view area does nothing, but that big camera button will still release the shutter (and AF beforehand with PDAF).
In fact, in a kind of freaky experience, with live view off and Remote Capture still connected, changing the Tv, Av, Exp. Comp, or ISO from the Remote Capture display will also change them on the physical camera, and any changes made on the camera will be reflected in Remote Capture. In any case, being able to control settings without live view should be great for astrophotography or wildlife remotes, when keeping a continuous live view stream is unnecessary.
The remote live view includes focus peaking, if this option is active on the camera, but not the gridlines, histogram, electronic level, or any other information from the physical LCD live view display. This is one area that gives an advantage to using an HDMI cable to stream the back LCD to a monitor. Though this kind of connection may require a cable and physically touching the camera to adjust settings, the full range of controls and display options remains (along with video recording).
File type settings
Once Remote Capture has been started, two important changes are made to the camera settings. First, the FluCard cannot display or transfer Raw files (no matter whether PEF or DNG), so if there is only one card in the camera, the Image Capture Settings in the camera will be changed to include JPEG. If the capture type was already JPEG, then there will be no change, but if it was Raw, it will become Raw+. When there is a card in SD slot #1 and the prior capture type was Raw, the Memory Card Options will change to put the Raw in SD1 and JPEG in SD2 (the FluCard).
Although multiple device connections is possible, having two people control the Remote Capture and camera controls can get confusing. Not just confusing for the photographer(s), but also for the remote live view video stream. Whichever device was the most recent to connect and choose Remote Capture will have the current live view sent to it. The view on other devices is "frozen" at the last image displayed on them, with no live updating, and AF point selection no longer works. Shutter release and other controls remain, but the Refresh button (in the upper right) must be pressed to see the remote live view, but this does not display a continuously updating stream, only a snapshot of the current state.
The best way to use multiple connections is to have one control the camera (and remote live view), and the others using the Image View section, which updates to show all of the images as they are saved to the FluCard. This allows one device to capture, and another to review full size images.
Full-size image view
One curious restriction, which will hopefully be addressed in a firmware update to the FluCard software, is that full-size JPEGs cannot be zoomed into via the controlling device. That means pinch-to-zoom on handhelds, or clicking the image on desktop machines, has no effect. This is counter to how large images are displayed on most websites when using computers or portable devices, so this seems like a bug. If a very large image is loaded, why disable viewing it at full res?
On many devices, the full-size JPEG can be copied to another app for detailed reviewing, editing, and sharing. Alternately, the full-size image in a computer browser window can be dragged directly to an image editor like Photoshop, if the platform supports this (such as in Windows and MacOS).
Speed and range
There really is no other product to compare to when controlling Pentax cameras, but there are other SD card Wi-Fi solutions out there, and some other camera manufacturers have built Wi-Fi into their DSLRs. Many of these other wireless control methods require a special app or software to be loaded on the connected device, but the benchmark for SD Wi-Fi cards, the Eye-Fi Pro (reviewed here), does not.
To be clear, the Eye-Fi is only comparable to the Pentax FluCard in terms of Wi-Fi image transfer and browsing. The Eye-Fi cards cannot control the camera settings, or provide live view, shutter release, or any of the other camera-specific features available via the O-FC1 FluCard.
It is nice to see that the K-3 will recognize an Eye-Fi card as different from a FluCard, and then present an entirely different Wireless Memory Card options menu.
The Action Mode allows the image transfer mode of the Eye-Fi card to be changed from the camera. Eye-Fi Select is essentially the transfer method that the FluCard uses, where only selected images are transferred. The FluCard, however, will not automatically transfer new images at full resolution to a connected device, which Eye-Fi Auto enables.
|To improve the speed of transferring images from either the FluCard or Eye-Fi, the camera's JPEG resolution level can be overridden by checking the Auto Resize option in the Wireless Memory Card menu. Doing this will save only XS (extra small) JPEGs to the Wi-Fi SD card for transferring purposes. Ideally a full-resolution raw file will be captured, either simultaneously to the same card, or to a card in Slot #1.|
With both the O-FC1 FluCard and a comparable Eye-Fi Pro X2 card side by side, we decided to run some speed and range tests. (Note that these aren't precise tests, since we couldn't put the FluCard and Eye-Fi in the camera at the same time and have them both function without impeding each other.)
Indoors, in a very crowded Wi-Fi environment (over 20 network signals were visible), both cards were tested by transferring the same image (a raw file converted to JPEG in-camera from a card in Slot #1) to an iPad 10 feet (3 meters) away around a corner. The O-FC1 took an average of 4 seconds to fully transfer the image, and the Eye-Fi was slightly slower at 5 seconds. Keep in mind that the transfer times depend on the file size, and JPEG files sizes depend on compression, which is influenced by the amount of detail in the shot. An image of a blank wall will transfer faster than a pine tree.
Outdoors, at a park with no other Wi-Fi signals, and a clear line of sight from the iPad to the camera (lest someone walk off with the K-3) of about 40 feet (12.2 meters), the same image was transferred again. The Pentax card has a stated range of 24 feet (7.3 meters) so this it's not really surprising that the O-FC1 took almost 10 seconds to complete the transfer, while the Eye-Fi was now just under 4 seconds. It seems the Pentax FluCard does better with obstructions and competing signals than it does outside of its optimum range, and the Eye-Fi is better over open ground.
As seen in the speed tests above, the two cards deal with obstructions and range differently. In some basic tests to see when the signal drops off completely (with either the live view stopping, or the multi-image transfer halting), the O-FC1 has a consistent range limit of 30 feet (9.1 meters) unobstructed indoors, and just beyond 40 feet (12.2 meters)outdoors. The Eye-Fi could go as far as 50 feet (15.2 meters) indoors, and close to 100 feet (30.5 meters) outdoors, but in both cases the image transfers slowed down significantly as the range limit was approached. The FluCard kept the live view streaming along until it dropped the connection completely.
Speaking of connection drops, both cards seem to drop the connection almost randomly after about 15 minutes of continuous use. When swapping the cards, it was very apparent that they were heating up during this time. The Eye-Fi in particular really starts to cook after a while. Perhaps the O-FC1 has its signal power throttled to avoid heat issues like this, particularly because it could be constantly connected for long periods of time.
The Pentax O-FC1 FluCard offers quite a bit more than just Wi-Fi image sharing and transfers, but not quite as much as some wired tethering applications. This makes it a mixed bag as a general camera tool, but one that has been entirely out of reach for Pentax users for quite some time. In light of this, it is quite worth the $99 price, and can be applauded for adding more wireless camera controls than some other big brands have.
In the future, we hope Ricoh updates the firmware for both the K-3 and the O-FC1 to include remote control of white balance, drive modes, and AA settings, as well as enabling raw file transfers, video recording, and zoomable full-size images. Even without these wish-list improvements, the Pentax O-FC1 FluCard currently offers far more than other manufacturers in terms of wireless controls and at a reasonable price point.
What we like:
- Can connect with a browser from almost any device (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop)
- SD form factor is small, convenient, and preserves weather-resistance
- Wi-Fi image transfer and camera control in one accessory
- Streaming live view is very responsive
What we don't like:
- Cannot change drive mode, white balance, or AF mode remotely
- No browser zoom for downloaded full-size images
- Lack of raw image or video file transfer