Upload your images anywhere with an Eye-Fi card and a portable hot spot!

A simple setup that won’t break any sports shooter’s or photojournalist’s budget

If you’re a news or sports photographer, you know deadlines are getting tighter as media outlets want to post still and video images to web sites within minutes of events happening.

Such instant communication comes at a price. Sure, Eye-Fi cards help, but only if you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot. What if you are taking pictures well out of range of any Wi-Fi transceiver? Well, if you have a computer with a Wi-Fi card and a wireless data plan, that’s a good step. You can tether your camera to the computer, download the images, then email them or otherwise transmit them to your photo editor.

But that’s a bit awkward, and the process of moving the images from camera to computer is time-consuming and takes you away from the shoot (unless you have an assistant, not very likely in these belt-tightening times).

Another option is to somehow add wireless networking capability to your camera. Canon’s WFT-E2 II A and WFT-E4 II A Wireless transmitters are available for high-end Canon cameras such as the 7D or 5D Mark II, and they eliminate the transfer-to-computer step. Shooters use FTP transfer mode to send images in real time to a computer or upload to any pre-selected destination (such as your editor’s in-box or FTP server), from anywhere in the world.

The downside? They cost $700-750 each. “It’s not easy to justify that kind of purchase these days if you’re a photo editor,” notes Damon Kiesow of the Nashua, New Hampshire Telegraph. “I have to be inventive and look for ways to get an increasingly demanding job done with fewer resources.” Here’s what Kiesow rigged up, for a total cost (not including data plan) of under $200—an expenditure that, he says, most news outlet managers will sign off on without a second look.

Is that a hot spot in your pocket?

For this plan to work, you need a DSLR which accepts SD cards. Invest in an Eye-Fi card. Then, go to Verizon and buy a Novatel MiFi 2200. This is a credit card-sized mobile 3G broadband transmitter that can transfer at 1Mbps from anywhere in the world, as long as you’ve set up a data plan (currently only available through Verizon, although I expect that more carriers will offer a plan for this unit). In essence, the MiFi becomes a pocket-sized, portable, bring-anywhere hot spot modem!

By the way…you can also use the MiFi for any other Wi-Fi gizmo, such as laptops (Mac or PC) or even your iPod Touch.

Set up the destination for your photos to upload to (your publication’s FTP site, for instance) and as you shoot hit “protect image”, just as you would using a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot. The Eye-Fi card will only transmit the Protected images (unless you set it to transmit all images) as you shoot. Downloads go on in the background, and don’t affect your ability to keep shooting. Within minutes (or, if you’re shooting just low-res for web use only, seconds), your editor will have your shots as the event, breaking news, or game is going on. A single battery charge will last 4 hours in active use, which should cover you for most events.

The downside? The whole setup relies on cameras that use SD format cards, which eliminate some high-end cameras. The upside? If you are a struggling freelancer, you can now use a mid-range DSLR setup for a press-worthy combination of quality image capture and timely upload.

Total hardware cost? The MiFi 2200 costs under $100 (some areas have an online discount bringing the price down to $50), plus the cost of an online data plan, which will probably be around $50 a month.  An Eye-Fi can cost up to around $100. So, for under $200, you can instantly transmit your photos to the news desk, and play with the Big Boys.

My thanks to Damon Kiesow of the Nashua, New Hampshire Telegraph, who explained this system during a workshop at the National Press Photographer's Association's Northern Short Course last weekend. His photo staff uses this rig to transmit photos to the news room!

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