We're all pretty spoiled in these digital days; not that long ago taking a look at a vacation's worth of photos required a trip to the store, a couple of hours (or days) wait, and then the better part of an afternoon getting fingerprints all over a stack of poorly composed shots that you daren't throw out because you just paid good money to have them printed. Now you pop a memory card into your computer, wait a few seconds for them to fly into an appropriately labeled folder, and then... probably forget you took them. It's so much easier it's hard to fathom the process getting even more simple, but that's what Eye-Fi has done with its line of wireless flash memory cards, which beam pictures directly from your camera. The company has just announced the $149, 4GB Eye-Fi Pro to make the process even more direct, letting you send pictures straight to a computer while also adding some additional features that pros and semi-pros will appreciate. We put it through its paces after the break.

Features

The Pro inherits all the same abilities of its predecessors, like the Eye-Fi Explore Video, meaning it'll suck JPEG pictures and videos directly from your video camera, geotagging them along the way, pumping them through any open hotspot it can connect to (or secured one you know the password to) before routing the potentially embarrassing mess to the computer of your choice. If that computer is on they'll appear almost instantaneously; otherwise they'll get buffered somewhere in the cloud and delivered the next time that computer goes online.

New with the Pro is the ability to also beam RAW files straight from the camera, something that will make pros or would-be's a little happier when using this -- but with only 4GB on tap we're definitely thinking this is a product that'll lean more toward the serious casual users than hardcore pros. You know, wedding shooters and the like.

The other new feature here is far more usable: the ability to connect directly to a PC and send images straight to it. This means you can set up your Wi-Fi enabled Mac or PC to act as a wireless access point, configure the Eye-Fi to use it, and then watch as fresh pictures appear on your desktop -- cable free. That sounds fantastic and, once you get it working it is, but getting there is a bit of a challenge.


Setup

To configure the Eye-Fi card it has to be inserted into a computer, and then an online configuration tool appears. That's the main problem here. Unless you have a machine that has both a wired and a wireless connection or is running something like Windows 7's Virtual WiFi, as soon as you throw it into ad-hoc mode it's going to lose its internet connection. Once it's offline there's no way to configure the card and, on top of that, some features like geotagging get disabled too.

It would have been nice if the included reader also doubled as a secondary wireless network card, which would have enabled a computer be online wirelessly while also downloading pictures directly. That might have increased costs slightly, but given the $150 price of admission here, that doesn't seem like asking too much. Regardless, since it doesn't, ideally you'll be connecting to a machine that has both Ethernet and ether-based connections to the 'net. If that's the case, setup is fairly easy: create the ad-hoc network on your machine, tell the card to use it, and you should be ready to start beaming pictures.


Testing

We found that our computer took an unusually long time to lock on to the wireless card, nearly two minutes, but once connected it stayed connected -- unless we allowed our camera to put itself into power saving mode. When that happened the card naturally powered down, our laptop disconnected, and then it was another few minutes to reconnect. We're told it may be XP that's to blame here, as connections on Vista or OSX are said to be much more expedient.

Any delays in re-connecting certainly didn't mean that we needed to stop shooting, though, as once the laptop finished shaking hands any new pictures were quickly slung over, the software being smart enough to even pause and resume file transfers across connections for maximum efficiency.

Overall performance is quite good; pictures were delivered in seconds, and even videos went through quickly. We didn't notice any lag on the camera side compared to a standard memory card. However, we were disappointed to find that the high-resolution .MTS video files created by our Panasonic DMC-ZS3 were not recognized by the card, and so had to be physically transferred by popping the card into a card reader. How terribly pedestrian!


Wrap-up

It's hard not to like the functionality of the Eye-Fi Pro. Before this, having pictures sent directly to a PC was something only on offer by higher-end DSLRs. Now any cheap compact with an SD slot can do it. Support for wirelessly transmitting RAW files is fantastic, and something users have apparently been clamoring for, but that 4GB of storage won't last long shooting uncompressed -- at least it won't if you're as trigger-happy as we are.

Those are the only two features not offered by the earlier Explore Video card, which retails for $50 less and, if you don't mind losing the geotagging and access at random hotspots world-wide, you can save another $20 by going for the $79.99 Share Video. That's still the safest bet for most users, but those prepared to pay a lot more for a few extra features (and every self-respecting photog should be) will find the Eye-Fi Pro a handy addition to their camera bag.