Review: FluCard O-FC1 for PENTAX

(2014-05-01 - last updated 2014-05-15)

 

 

 

 

PENTAX FluCard O-FC1 is a wireless access point built into an otherwise fairly ordinary - as far as read and write speeds are concerned - 16GB SD card.  As an access point, this card can be used for more than just wireless file transfer - which is actually the weakest spot of the O-FC1. But with this card and for selected cameras, currently the PENTAX K-3 and PENTAX 645z, one can have wireless remote control of basic camera functions with a PC, tablet or smart

 

phone. And, best of all, one can have the viewfinder image in live view on the same control unit.

 

1. Setup

One of the nice things about the O-FC1 is that all code is written in plain java script that can be interpreted by virtually any browser on virtually any platform (PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone, Apple device). On does not have to install special software/apps and setup in all simplicity encompass 1) to put the card in the proper slot and then power on the camera. After 15-30 seconds, the card has initialized and starts broadcasting its SSID / network name; next 2) connect to this network just as you would for any other hotspot with known SSID and network key.

 

Figure 1

 

Finally, 3) open your browser - Pentax recommends Chrome or Safari - and enter the network name or address.

 

The first time one will be prompted to change the network settings - which I would recommend as far as the SSID and the network key are concerned.

 

Figure 2

 

One may also change the channel the card uses if there are troubles with interference from nearby devices. However, I set up my network without any problems in an apartment block with a dozen networks 'roaring' around me.

 

2. Main Menu

After the initial setup, one is taken to the main menu, as you would normally meet it at start-up:

 

Figure 3

 

I shall only walk briefly thorug the 'Settings' and 'Image View' sub-menus:

 

2.1 Settings Sub-menu.

Figure 4

 

2.1.1 The information menu provides basic information on O-FC1 and camera firmware versions and O-FC1 contents version plus the settings that you have made.

 

2.1.2 The Set up menu contains the Communication Settings control panel that we have already seen above. You may always go back to that, should you feel the need to change anything. And should things go completely wrong , you can reset all of the settings on the camera's menu screen.

 

Figure 5

 

In the Set up menu you will also find an additional Camera Settings control panel that lets you choose between higher and lower live view screen resolution

 

Figure 6

 

So far, I see no significant difference in the speed of updating the live-view image in the two options provided.

 

2.1.3 The Language menu (currently?) merely lets you change languages between English and Japanese.

 

 

2.2 Image View Sub-menu

Here one may view captured JPEG images and transfer these to the control unit.

 

For some it may well be a crucial point that one cannot directly transfer raw files wirelessly from camera to control unit. Personally I would always prefer to transfer of such files via cable.

 

But if you save the captures images as JPEG files on the FluCard, then you can display them as thumbnails on the control unit's screen

 

Figure 7

 

and with a mouse click or a finger tap you can then open the individual images in full size in a new window. From there you can save  the JPEG image displayed on your control unit in the normal way (right click, finger pressure).

 

Figure 8

 

It takes a few seconds to transfer and save each image;  but for me the full size view option  - as a quality control tool - is the most important thing about this feature.

 

If your main objective is the wireless transmission of batches of image- and/or raw files, you should undoubtedly look for something other than this Flucard

   

 

2.2.1 Update 2014-05-15: Wireless transfer of raw files.

Well one can actually download raw files from camera to control unit. After seeing some hints on the net and fumbling a little around myself, I found the following procedure for download to a PC (small WIN7 netbook with Google Chrome browser):

 

1. Set camera to save both raw and JPEG cars on the FluCard in slot 2.

 

2. In the"Image view" menu, you will then see thumbnails as follows:

 

Figure 9

 

The "raw thumbnails" are just small images linking to nowhere, but you may proceed with

 

3. Click on a JPEG thumbnail to open the full-size JPEG image in your browser

 

4. Now right-click that image and select the menu item "copy web address for this image"

 

Figure 10

 

5. Open a new tab in Chrome and paste the image URL in the address field:

 

Figure 11

 

6. Edit the .JPG extension to .PEF or .DNG according to the raw format you have used
 

Figure 12

 

7. Press 'Enter' and the raw file will be downloaded to your default ("Downloads") folder.

 

Figure 13

 

I have not tried with a tablet, but it would probably work the same way. Download takes some 15-20 seconds, which I think is reasonable for a 25-30 megabyte file size. I would sill prefer to use the O-FC1 asa tool for remote control and quality control in the field. Raw files can wait until I am back home again.


 

2.2 Remote Capture Sub-menu

This is bar far what I find most interesting and useful about the PENTAX FluCard O-FC1, so I have dedicated a separate section for that:


 

3. Remote Operation

This is the functionality for which I bought my FluCard: Remote camera control and possibility for critical focusing using a portable device as control unit.

 

When you click or tap the Remote Capture tab, you get a window with status bars and function buttons on top and below the live view screen as shown below - - - well "get" may be too much said: The manual does not tell you that with a PC you have to minimize the browser window in such a way that the bars and buttons above and below the live view image will appear. To begin with, one only sees the live view image with a focus point (:square), an AF-function setting slider and a release button overlayed. 

 

On the other hand, with a smartphone or a tablet one will immediately see all bars and buttons as soon as the device is being held in a vertical position.

 

Figure 14

 

The manual provides solid information about the meaning and functions of all bars/symbols and buttons so, here I shall only highlight that from the top line one can get access to the main menu and one can also magnify the live view image (more about that below).

 

The buttons at the upper bottom line encompass a switch for on/off live view together with some camera mode status information and last but not least control buttons for the basic camera settings: Exposure time , aperture, exposure compensation and ISO, that can be set, depending on wich program mode the camera is set to.

 

 

Figure 15

 

Finally, in the lower bottom line there is an AF-slider to be explained in the following and a camera release button.

Generally all camera body buttons and screen menus are deactivated and unaccessible when the camera is connected to the control device. What the manual does not tell is that the mode dial can still be used. Further, the manual does not tell you that you can regain control of the camera body buttons and menus by switching live view off - which is very convenient as it allows you to turn off the FluCard in the camera menu without switching off the camera.

 

The setup only works if you have the camera set to single-image capture - no use of self-timer / shutter lag with mirror lockup , burst shooting or the like is allowed. For me as a non- engineer it is difficult to understand why one cannot set at least some of these useful features in the camera first and thereafter leave the rest to remote control. This issue gives me the impression of a somewhat "unfinished" product.

 

But then to the really positive features:

Overlaid on the live view picture is (always) a focal point, and superimposed on the image or as control buttons below the image (as said, depending upon the device position or the browser window size ) one finds an AF slider and a shutter release button .

  • The focus point can be freely chosen with a mouse click or finger tap

  • With the AF slider in the right position the camera focuses on the selected point and shoots immediately thereafter after.

  • If on the other hand you set the slider to the left position, then the camera will just focus and the picture is only taken when you press the shutter release button.

It is just that manual again : It does not tell that the camera will try to focus again (and thus spend time ) every time the shutter release button is pressed, unless you have disabled the focus function where the camera focuses with a half-press on the shutter release button. In the camera menu (Button Customization) one has to set the focusing function such that the dedicated AF button on the housing is used for the focusing. But as soon as one has realized this, the dual AF-function in the remote control setup is a very useful and well thought of feature: One can either focus and shoot in one single operation or, one canpre-focus and then wait until the right moment to release the shutter.

And now then, it is just to place the camera on the ground / floor / rack or wherever you want

Figure 16

 

and then enjoy that you can stand / sit comfortably

 

Figure 17

 

while you select your focus point

 

Figure 18

 

according to your wishes
 

Figure 19

 

with just a mouse click or a finger tap anywhere in the camera's focus sensors' area.

 

Notice the glowing rims around areas that are in focus. This demonstrates that Focus Peak also works in the wireless remote control setup.

 

A further refinement is that you can enlarge the live view display on the control device to an 8X magnification. With a Pentax K-3 this corresponds closely to a 100% view (: one pixel on the sensor is represented by one pixel on the screen) around the selected focus point.

 

Figure 20

 

Figure 21

 

If you have a manual lens or a lens lens with quick-shift focus attached, the magnified view will also facilitate manual, critical focusing greatly - and if you need so, that may also be for changing focus to areas outside the selected focus point.

 

Figure 22

 

Figure 23

 

I bought the PENTAX FluCard O-FC1 for the sake of these features and in that regards I have not been disappointed.

 

4. Reliability / Stability .
The card promises a range of 7 ½ meters and specification definitely holds. However, in many situations one may not have to move more than a few meters further away before the wireless connection begins to become unstable. Actually, to me it is quite impressive that with such a small device encased in a camera body the designers have have been able to build a transmitter plus antenna that extends that far. The price for this performance is of course a certain power consumption, and therefore one does well to (remember to) turn off the FluCard when not in use. It is also my experience that the card requires a fairly high charge on the camera battery: Wireless connection becomes unstable long before the battery is fully discharged.

Some users have complained about frequent outages . IAs manioned, I set up my card in an environment surrounded by many other wireless networks without any troubles and up to now, I have not experienced such outage problems - other than a few, brief " glitches " of the type that you can experience with any wireless device.

 

 

5. Manual
I have already touched upon the manual several times. I It helps one to get started with the basics, but other than that there are many refinements that you either have to find by trial-and-error/guesswork or by searching online for other users' experiences . This could have been better and more user friendly .....

 

 

6. Conclusions

Some professional and semi-professional users will probably sneer at FluCard O- FC1 because of the limitations in respect of the file transfer options.

For me, the most striking limitations are those related to the inability to use a variety of useful camera functions such as self-timer, continuous shooting , bracketing etc, and one may be allowed (?) to hope for future firmware updates that will address this issue.

But actually, in all aspects the PENTAX FluCard O- FC1 does exactly what it promises. It does no more- but it does it very well !

 

 

 

Links

Compiled Pentax FluCard O-FC1 Manuals and Documentation

 

Pentax FluCard O-FC1 Review on Pentax Forums (including valuable information on set-up and operation not directly available from the manual).

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2014 - Steen G. Bruun