At $29, the iPod Camera Connector accessory is a sweet bargain for iPod Photo owners who tote digital cameras, though there's no support for non-Photo iPods. Measuring about 1.5 by 1.2 by 0.3 inches, the Camera Connector is a USB-to-dock-connector adapter that draws its power from the iPod itself and is made of the same smooth, white plastic as the iPod Shuffle. Along with a firmware update 1.1 released in early March, this accessory lets you connect most popular brands of digital cameras (see the compatibility list) via USB 1.1/2.0 and facilitates the transfer of "rolls" of digital photos to the iPod Photo. Thanks to an onscreen interface that's uniquely photocentric, the process is simple and reliable. This experience is a breath of fresh air compared to the guesswork and patience needed for a device such as Belkin's Digital Camera Link, which is a brainless, battery-powered, hulked-up version of the Camera Connector.
The instant you mate the Camera Connector with the iPod Photo, you go into Import mode. Plug in your camera using a typical USB-to-mini-USB cable and turn on the camera; in a few seconds, you'll see stats such as: Photos: 49, Size: 41.9MB. Once you begin importing, a progress meter begins its ascent, and tiny thumbnails render onscreen. You can stop and save at any moment, and the final screen documents how many photos have been imported to the iPod. For the record, it took a bit more than three minutes to transfer 41.9MB from our Canon PowerShot S410 equipped with a SanDisk 128MB CompactFlash card to the iPod, or a very slow 0.2MB per second. Another transfer of 65.3MB from a Nikon D70 camera and an IBM-branded 1GB Microdrive came in at a faster 0.4MB per second. Owners with USB 2.0-compatible cameras will fare much better. A couple of performance notes: Once in our testing process, the iPod wouldn't respond to a Camera Connector-aided connection, even with the camera in viewing mode. Also, while Apple wasn't specific, the company mentioned that since the iPod hard drive is constantly in use during a transfer, iPod battery life will be lower than usual.
Before you browse your photos, you also get the option to erase the camera's media card. Your photos will show up as Roll #x, which behaves just like any album so that you can view photos optimized for the iPod Photo. Unfortunately, the process of getting photos off the iPod and onto your computer isn't automatic; AutoSync is still reserved for music only. Instead, you'll have to open up iPhoto or another iPod-compatible photo application and manually transfer photos. iPhoto will add your roll and create an additional optimized-for-TV version, which is then sent back over to the iPod.
Some folks will argue that their 256MB or even 1GB memory card is more than enough storage to last several days without the need for transfers. Others will contend that the iPod's 2-inch screen is not much larger than the typical digital camera's and that you can still output to a TV for big-screen previews--so why not spend your $29 on an extra 256MB media card? All valid points, but we think it's worth $29 to be able to empty your card and view photos in an intuitive, musical, and battery-safe environment.