The current iPad is minimalistic in many ways. It doesn’t have a camera, it doesn’t have cell phone features like the Galaxy tab, and it doesn’t have any connection ports other than the standard 30 pin dock connector and the headphone jack. “Luckily” Apple offers a camera connection kit, giving you a limited USB port and an even more limited SDHC card reader on the iPad. Read on to see if it’s worth the extra $30.

Many people use the lack of a USB port or card reader as a reason not to get an iPad, not knowing you can get this camera connection kit. Other people know of the kit, but think that the USB port and card reader should be built in. Rumours even have it the next iPad will have those features, but only time will tell. For now, we’re stuck with having to spend an extra $30 to get those features on the iPad. On one hand I think Apple could have made room for at least the USB port (even though the iPad is borderline too thin to fit one in), but on the other hand I know that there’s a reason why Apple and other companies use proprietary dock connectors- you can fit more in them. The 30 pins you get on the Apple dock connector not only handles charging, but also audio input and output, power output (for accessories that require power), video output, data input and so on. Having all that functionality linked to only 1.5cm of space on the device itself is useful both for the manufacturer and the user, though it does give Apple a lot of opportunity to make some extra cash on overpriced accessories.

How it works

The camera connection kit is called a kit because it consists of two separate adapters; one with a USB port, one with an SDHC slot. Third party manufacturers have improved upon this design by integrating it into a single unit that can also read microSDHC cards, but personally I chose the Apple solution because the separate units means they’re smaller than the single piece solution and more likely to work with cases that have cutouts for the docking port.

The SD adapter is the most useful to me, as it doesn’t require additional cables to connect to a camera. You pop out the SD card from your camera and insert it into the adapter. The photo application will then launch on the iPad and you get an overview of what’s on the card and the option to import the photos into the iPad. Unfortunately you can’t view the photos (other than a thumbnail) unless you import them first, which means there’s an extra step if you just want to look through what you just shot. It does import the photos without resizing or compressing them though, so you don’t have to worry about losing quality by storing them on the iPad. You can even import RAW files, which is a great feature for those who use DSLR cameras or top of the line point-and-shoot cameras.

The USB adapter is used if you want to connect to a camera directly, by using whatever cable came with the camera. It can also be used to transfer photos from an iPhone, which can be useful if you have lots of photos you want to transfer and don’t want to go through a computer or the cloud. Unfortunately it will only let you transfer photos, so forget about opening documents from a USB drive or anything of that sort. The USB adapter has a few extra features though; you can use USB keyboards and USB sound devices on the iPad with it! My wireless keyboard didn’t work on it so I haven’t had the keyboard part working myself, but I did hook up a Creative Xmod to it. Everything worked perfectly; the analog volume knob controlled the iPad’s volume, clicking it controlled play/pause, the sound came out with no problem and the equalizer features worked (they’re hardware features on the sound module, so that was a given if the rest worked). That feature is perhaps more interesting to many people than the photo features, as it means audiophiles can hook up DACs to it and it also means you can use USB headsets for Skype and similar uses (which is probably what this functionality was intended to be used for).

Conclusion

$30 is a lot of money for something that should arguably have been integrated into the iPad to begin with, but at least the $30 provide a lot more bang for the buck than many other things iPad-related. It’s a must have for photographers and with the USB keyboard and USB sound capabilities it might end up saving you some money if you planned on buying a Bluetooth keyboard or Apple headset. Still, it would have been nice to be able to open documents and other files from connected media as well, especially since Apple is claiming the iPad can be a productivity device (a marketing ploy I actually agree with). Flash drives are still used for document transfer all around the world and having the ability to open files from one wouldn’t hurt the iPads reputation.