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What Is The Big Deal About Dongles For MacBook Pros?

This isn't going to be a post about photography per se, so much as it's going to be a post about dealing with some of the things that go along with photography, at least for some of us.

When Apple first came out with the new MacBooks that have nothing but USB-C ports, there was an almost constant hew and cry berating the lack of any other ports, and the need to buy and use dongles to adapt from whatever to the USB-C connector. I grant you that not having built in card readers might be a little inconvenient, but I'm not sure about that, either. I'll come back to why I feel that way in a moment.

The uproar about the USB-C-only MacBooks did eventually die down a little, but with the recent release of the all new 16" MacBook Pros, it has started up all over again.

And I just don't see what the problem is. The complaints seem to be centered on two things -- the need to buy all the dongles, and the need to keep track of them.

As far as the need to buy dongles, it's pretty simple, really -- it's part of the cost of doing business. You want to be a professional photographer? You need a laptop. You want a MacBook Pro? You need dongles. Get over it and spend the few bucks necessary. Sure, you may have to put that new lens off a little while, but good grief. Just spend the couple of bucks (and if you buy right, it's not that much), and get over it. Keeping track of them is not that hard, either -- with a little thought. I can't help the people who insist on not using a computer bag of some kind to carry their laptop around, nor the folks who simply must put their laptop into an already overflowing camera backpack. But for those who carry their MacBook Pro in an actual, purpose-designed laptop bag, I have a pretty nifty solution for carrying and keeping track of your dongles -- a Cocoon Grid-It, which serves two functions -- a place to store, carry, and organize all of the cables and dongles for the MacBook Pro, and, just as importantly, a visual check to make sure I haven't left something behind. One look before putting it back in the laptop bag, and I know I have everything, and nothing has been forgotten. My Grid-It is a 12" x 8" Medium version, in black (see photo above). They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and are available from Amazon, B&H, and any number of other outlets, for around $15.00. Once I decided on the dongles I would need on a fairly regular basis, and purchased them, I just played around with them and the Grid-It until I found a layout that worked. Since I use the original power block and cable for use around the house, I also purchased a second of each to keep on the Grid-It for travel purposes. That way, I never have to worry about forgetting them. The fully loaded Grid-It itself lives in the laptop case. For reference, in the photo above, the VGA dongle and the USB-C to HDMI cable are to connect to projectors or big screen TVs when I give lectures. The USB-A to USB-C dongle is to adapt all of the USB-A devices I might encounter (all of my portable HDDs already come with USB-C cables). And the USB-C to Lightning cable is to connect the MacBook Pro to my iPad Pro, so I can use my iPad as a second monitor. My computer case is a Rush Delivery LIMA 12L from 511 Tactical. It has more pockets and compartments than I've ever seen in a laptop bag, and while I do use almost all of the them for all sorts of things, the Grid-It rides in its own space, separate from the laptop compartment. There is even space for my 9.5" iPad Pro and my headphones.

Speaking of those extra pockets and compartments, that's where I put my external HDDs and their cables when I travel, along with a small USB hub and any number other tidbits. Remember at the beginning of this post, I said that the MacBook Pro's lack of built-in card readers might be a little inconvenient? Here's the reason I think it's not an inconvenience -- the advantage to the dongle approach that some photographers either haven't figured out, or are too busy complaining to see -- the SD card reader that almost everyone complains the computer lacks is going to be totally obsolete before long. There are already a number of cameras (the Nikon D5 and Z Series among them) that don't have SD card slots. They use a different card altogether, so having an SD card slot taking up space on the laptop is silly, especially when that space can be (and has been) given over to another USB-C port. Personally, I'd rather have the four USB-C ports.

Sooner or later, I'm sure I'll upgrade to a camera that doesn't use any of the cards the card reader I currently have supports. When that happens, I'll buy a new card reader dongle, and be done with it. But my computer -- and none of the built-in anythings -- won't be instantly obsolete.

So what can I say. With a little thought and just a few dollars more, the dongle problem is solved. Not that there was a problem to begin with.

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