Apple iPod Video as a digital wallet
In the age of digital photography a digital wallet is an accessory that one would find quite difficult to do without. Whereas there, of course, are several alternatives to owing a digital wallet such as carrying a sufficient number of high–capacity CF cards or a laptop I personally find that the former solution is much more expensive on the per–gigabyte basis while the latter is not entirely practical for travel and extensive hiking.
Whereas digital capture has some indisputable advantages over the traditional (film) photography it has brought a few inconveniences, too, and one of them is that we now have to carry a greater number of electronic accessories as well as rechargeable devices to keep them working on the go. Traveling photographers (including yours truly) generally are very weight–conscious and the ability to converge several devices into one is always welcome. This is precisely where the iPod Video comes in—this very light and compact gadget can hold all of your music and several movies and still have enough capacity to upload your digital images onto it while on a major photographic endeavor.
The iPod Video is the fifth generation of the original iPod. It is considerably lighter and slimmer than its predecessors and features a 30GB hard disk (for more prolific photographers a 60GB model is available, too) and a 2.5-inch display which is bright and crisp enough to even watch movies. All of this is supported by the iPod's infamous user–friendly interface, long battery life (for music playback only, though—see below) and uncluttered stylish design. Although the subject of this review is iPod Video as a digital wallet for photography I will note in passing that I find iPod perfectly satisfactory for music and video playback. The only caveat in this respect is that battery life drops to fleeting two hours if you watch movies, though.
To use the iPod in the capacity of a digital wallet one, unfortunately, will have to also buy Apple's camera connector (USD29), which allows connecting your camera (or a card reader) to the iPod with the use of a USB cable. Once you connect your camera the iPod directly goes to the photo import screen and file upload is only one click away from there on. Each batch of files is stored into a separate folder and if you shoot JPG files a small preview (about 1/10 of the size of the screen) is shown on the display while upload is in process. JPG files can also be viewed on a TV screen if you buy (yet another) accessory and connect your iPod to a TV set (have a look here, though).
Upload times will depend on your camera's external interface (i.e. whether it features a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 connection, etc.), the fact that unlike previous models iPod Video does not support FireWire and, of course, CF card capacity and speed; depending on these factors, it might take anywhere between several minutes and over an hour. Uploading 174 RAW files from a full SanDisk Ultra II 1GB CF card inserted in my Nikon D70s consistently takes about 28 minutes (please note, though, that the D70s utilizes USB 2.0 "high speed" interface, which in effect is equivalent to USB 1.1 and allows transferring data at only 12 Mbits per second) and depletes more than half of iPod's fully-charged battery. The latter indicates that with the equipment mentioned above the battery lasts to empty only one CF card in the field.
All in all, iPod is not a dedicated digital wallet and, as such, has the following drawbacks:
displays JPG files only—if you shoot RAW then you will not be able to view the photographs on the beautiful screen;
as mentioned above, does not support FireWire;
as pointed out earlier, iPod's fully–charged battery suffices to empty only one 1GB CF card;
upload times might be insufficiently fast for prolific photographers who need to empty their CF cards in the field.
Although all of the above is very limiting I find that I can live with the shortcomings. First, I normally delete clearly unsuccessful images directly in camera and leave the rest to be viewed later on a proper computer display. This is probably a habit obtained while shooting film but I tend not to like reviewing what has been shot until I fully explore a subject and feel that my creative perception of it has been exhausted, which might last for days. Second, considering the fact that I still primarily shoot (medium format) film and my photographic approach is generally quite selective, I am yet to take more (digital) shots in a day than my CF cards can hold. And upload times or battery life are less significant once back at the hotel.
iPod Video also has one very annoying weakness unrelated to photography—no matter how careful you are its surface scratches way too easily. It was very disappointing in previous models and now that one can watch videos on it it is even more frustrating. Apple included a nice sleeve to apparently deal with this problem but what happens in reality is that the screen gets scratched anyway and the pale–gray coloured sleeve picks up dirt too easily, too.
Is iPod Video the ultimate digital wallet? Most certainly no. It can serve as one but only if its advantages matter to you and limitations do not get in the way with your shooting approach. I personally belong to a most likely small group of photographers who, as far as digital wallets are concerned, only need the very basic functions and put more emphasis on weight, size, sufficient capacity and the ability to combine what otherwise normally takes the shape of at least two gadgets. I do not think I will be looking into buying another digital wallet until something significantly better comes along. Do you reckon Apple will be able to combine all the features of a dedicated digital wallet with the traditional advantages of the iPod in an even smaller, lighter and more elegant package?