Travels with my iPad

Using the iPad Camera Kit

When I travel I don’t normally take a laptop with me ((Well, I do take my Windows brick when I go with work. I think my boss would not be happy if I left it behind then!)). Too big; too heavy; too fragile; too expensive; too inconvenient.

But the iPad is different. It’s smaller and lighter. The fact that it’s limited compared with my MacBook wasn’t going to a problem as I only had two main use cases for it: reading and downloading my photos.

I won’t say much about reading stuff on it. That’s already been well documented elsewhere and the abilities of both Instapaper and Kindle are known by many. I always have a substantial back-log of reading material squirrelled away in Instapaper and two weeks with a few long train rides would likely be helpful in getting this back under control. As for the Kindle, I’m still not entirely sold on e-books ((More around DRM and longevity than any particularly attachment to the physical book.)) but I bought one just before I went to see how it would work out.

As a reading device the iPad worked really well. I was able to carry around far more reading material than I would have managed otherwise. Previously I’d have brought a paperback and, maybe, a magazine. With Instapaper I had far more variety and with the Kindle I had a bigger book than I would have brought.

A hardware Kindle would have been smaller, cheaper and lighter but if I’d bought one of those I’d have missed out on being able to download my photos ((And being able to use Yummy on it. Sorry for the shameless plug.)).

The primary focus of copying my photos was as a backup. Taking pictures for two weeks without any kind of duplicate copies has always worried me. I’m so chicken that I avoid the mega high-capacity memory cards ((My current feeling is that around 4Gb is the sweet-spot. Since I have a digital SLR that pumps out huge RAW files, the speed of the card is also significant. The last cards I got were San Disk 30Mbps CompactFlash.)) so should the worst happen I theoretically wouldn’t lose everything.

Secondary was to show other people the pictures. The screen of the iPad is much nicer for viewing them for a start, people can figure out how to move between images (the wheel on the back of my 50D confuses many) and, most importantly, this would hopefully save some precious battery power from my SLR. Perhaps even more precious than memory capacity when travelling is battery power.

Like the reading side, the iPad worked well though with a few reservations and glitches.

In order to download images from a camera you need to purchase the iPad Camera Connector. In this you get two dongles, one accepts SD cards directly, the other had a USB socket. I needed the latter as my 50D uses CF cards. I would have preferred a direct connection which didn’t require the SLR to be powered on while the download was happening.

I nearly forgot a USB cable when I was packing and then thought I’d misplaced the dongle a couple of times while on holiday. Small is good in some respects but not others…

When you plug in the dongle and the camera, the iPad automatically opens the Photos app. It then downloads previews of each picture and you’ll find a blue “Import” button on the toolbar. You can also download selected images easily too. All nice and easy; typically Apple “Just Works.”

But there are those caveats.

Firstly, Photos kept crashing. I’m not sure if there was anything weird about some images or whether it was running out of memory or something else, but it got very irritating after a while.

Typically when you restarted it would recognise the pictures that had already been downloaded and offer to skip them. However on one occasion it seemed to forget about the previous import and ended up downloading a bunch of duplicates.

I don’t want to spend a chunk of my time when on holiday diagnosing computer problems so I just gave up at this point. Later in the holiday (when the above picture was taken in fact), I went through and deleted every picture on the iPad. By hand. There’s no “delete all” button. And then downloaded every image again. The same crashes happened again but this time each time it skipped the duplicates and I had all the pictures for show.

Back home I used the iPad to transfer into Aperture. I normally use a USB memory card reader, but it’s old by IT standards and it only USB 1.0 compliant. I assumed the iPad would be faster.

And it was. All the images were quickly imported. I was pleased to see that they were all the full sized versions and with all the meta-data intact. The only down-side was that Aperture had decided to download each day as a separate project. I assume that this can be changed, but it didn’t take long to merge them.

So, what’s the verdict? Would I take the iPad with my the next time I go on holiday? Yes. Even with the glitches ((I’d like to think they’d be fixed in iOS 4.2 but I don’t know for sure.)) it still worked out very well.