When Apple first announced the iPod photo, many digital photographers believed their prayers had been answered: At last, a compact storage solution that would allow you to snap pictures with a digital camera, dump the camera’s contents to the device, and then preview your pictures on that storage device. Regrettably, these dreams were dashed when it was revealed that the iPod photo would display pictures only after those pictures were processed by a computer and delivered to the device via iTunes.
Apple has finally dropped the other shoe with the release of its $29 iPod Camera Connector—a white adapter about the size of a thick Compact Flash card that connects to the iPod photo’s dock connector port and a USB cable plugged into your digital camera.
If you’ve used one of Belkin’s iPod/digital camera accessories, you’re well on your way to understanding how the iPod Camera Connector works. Plug the device’s dock connector into the bottom of the iPod and plug the other end into your camera’s USB port with the appropriate USB cable (USB cable not included). The device doesn’t work with other iPod models nor did it work with any media readers I tried. (An Apple support page mentions that the device will work with supported media readers but a linked webpage of supported devices lists cameras only.)
When you switch on an attached camera, the Import screen that appeared when you first plugged in the iPod Camera Connector displays the number of pictures on the camera and the amount of space they take up. Below are Import and Cancel commands. Select Import and push the iPod’s Select button and a Photo Import screen appears that displays the progress of the download (19 of 75, for example) as well as a preview of each pictures as it’s transferred to the iPod. You have the option to choose Stop and Save or Cancel during this process. Should you cancel, you’re asked to confirm that you really wish to and then the iPod displays a Cleaning Up screen. Once the iPod has finished cleaning up, the photos you imported prior to issuing the Cancel command are removed from the iPod.
After importing your pictures, the iPod provides the option to erase the camera’s card. This is something to consider because the iPod will reimport images that it’s already imported. For example, if you’ve shot a dozen pictures, imported them to the iPod, shot another dozen, and then reattached the Camera Connector, the iPod will import all 24 images even though it’s already grabbed the first 12.
A question on the minds of many of those with more expensive digital cameras is whether the iPod Camera Connector supports RAW images. The answer is “not exactly.” Although the device will download RAW images to the iPod, those images can’t be displayed on the iPod. In the thumbnail display you’ll see RAW images represented by the word RAW surrounded by a gray circle. When you select one of these images and press the Select button, you see this message:
This photo format cannot be viewed on iPod. Transfer imported photos to your computer and synchronize through iTunes to display them on iPod.
For professional photographers, this limitation may queer the deal.
Stored photos are treated just as they are with the Belkin devices. Imported pictures are accessed through the iPod’s Photos screen where you’ll find a Photo Import command. Select this command and click the Select button and you’ll see your photos listed in the resulting Photo Import screen. Each roll is numbered and displays the number of pictures it contains—Roll #1 (65), for example.
Select one of these rolls and click the Browse command in the resulting Roll screen to view your pictures as you normally would on the iPod photo—arrayed as thumbnails on a 5 x 5 grid or individually. And, of course, you can view the pictures as a slideshow just as you can any other pictures on the iPod photo (and yes, transitions work with slideshows of imported pictures just as they do with other pictures on the iPod). Television projection is another story, however. When you run a slideshow on the iPod photo you’re told that you must transfer the photos to your computer and synchronize them through iTunes to display them on a TV. The Roll screens also contain a Delete command, which, as you’d expect, allows you to delete the roll.
When you attach your iPod photo to your Mac or PC, you import pictures from the device just as you would if you used one of the Belkin devices. Plug the iPod into a Macintosh and iPhoto launches, displays an icon of the iPod, and offers to import your pictures. With a Windows PC you must mount the iPod as a removable drive and manually copy pictures from its pictures folder to your PC’s hard drive.
Download times aren’t overly speedy. When I attached my 60GB iPod photo to my Nikon D70 digital camera, it took 12 minutes and 45 seconds to move 180 photos (which consumed 253MB) from the camera to the iPod. It’s worth noting, however, that Belkin’s devices are no speed demons either. There’s only so much you can do over a USB connection.
I’m more concerned about how quickly the iPod Camera Connector drains the iPod’s battery. Unlike the Belkin devices, this connector has no internal battery—it pulls all its power from the iPod. And it shows. My iPod photo was about three quarters of the way charged and after sucking the contents of three Compact Flash cards from my camera (about 350MB of data), the iPod’s battery indicator showed a tiny sliver of red. Using the connector pulls a lot of power from your iPod so unless you’re near a ready source of power (and can afford the downtime it takes to recharge the iPod’s battery), you should use the iPod Camera Connector sparingly.
Because the iPod photo can’t display RAW images with the help of the iPod Camera Connector and extended use of the device drains an iPod’s battery in short order, this adapter may not be the perfect tool for demanding digital photographers in the field. For the rest of us, however, it’s an extremely handy gadget that delivers on the iPod photo’s potential.