I’ve been experimenting with Geotagging. Geotagging is labeling your photographs with the GPS location at which they were taken, expressed (usually) in latitude and longitude. Altitude and direction you were facing when you took the picture are additional features.
Why would you want to geotag your images? One reason is to make absolutely sure you can find the same spot again, on or off road. Another is to be able to document your photo trip; if your images are geotagged, it saves an awful lot of note--taking. All you have to do is apply your geotagged images to google maps or google earth or via Flickr, Locr, or Smugmug.
Of course, as with most things in life, there are concerns with geotagging and posting the geotagged images. First is security. You might want to think twice about identifying your house on Google (though it’s probably there already!). You might also want to protect some of your special places for bird photography or a hidden waterfall you don’t want the whole world to know about.
I started looking at this technology because I’ve had various assignments lately when I needed to be sure of where a given barn or other structure was located. And this summer I’m taking a 2-month trip to Alaska via the Yukon and NW Territories of Canada. Definitely a time for geotagging!
A number of point-and-shoots come with a GPS receiver built into them, and some of these can record directly to your picture’s EXIF data. More expensive cameras usually don’t have built in GPS units, though some, such as Nikon’s more recent cameras, are equipped to receive GPS data from a Nikon-compatible GPS unit.
If you don’t have a built-in GPS, there are two ways to go. One is to use an external GPStracking device, of which there are many, to record your location at intervals from 5 seconds to 10 minutes (depending on the model). At the start of your trip, make sure that your camera’s clock exactly matches the GPS unit’s time. Then, when you get back and have downloaded your pictures to your computer, you download from the GPS and use any of a variety of apps to tag your photos with the matching time from the GPS. If the times don’t match, you’ll either get no tag or an incorrect one – which could conceivably be fatal under some exotic circumstances.
The other way, if your camera will let you take GPS data into it’s files, is to get a GPS tracking unit that writes straight to your EXIF data, eliminating the need for a post-processing workflow to tag your images.
For the Nikon, there are three such devices. One is the GP-1 from Nikon. This unit fits on your flash shoe and plugs into the 10-pin socket on your D200, D700, D300, D3, or other recent Nikon. It costs $195.00, and while it works well (by repute) it also interferes with your on-camera flash. Another unit is the Wolverine, available form Adorama or Amazon, which is $129. This unit, like the GP-1, draws power from your camera.
A third unit is the EasyTag. This unit costs $169, complete with software, gps tracking unit, USB cable, and 2-gig microSD memory card – enough for a decade of normal use!
The EasyTag has an internal battery with a 10 hour life (and a 4 hour recharge time). If internal power gets too low, the unit will draw from your camera.
The EasyTag will function as an ordinary GPS recorder, allowing you to download stored tracks to your computer, so you can use it with any camera, but its ability to put data into EXIF files was the real draw for me.
I obtained an EasyTag and offer some comments on its use and operation.
Inside the box:
EasyTag unit with pre-installed , appropriate cable for your camera, USB cable, remote shutter trigger with USB connector to EasyTracker unit, mini CD with software and directions on PDF, a USB card reader to read your data from the unit and send it to your computer, plus a simplified sheet of printed directions.
Make sure the memory card is installed in the appropriate slot on the EasyTracker. Install the unit into the hot shoe of your camera. Then connect the cable to the port on your camera and to the unit.
Next, calibrate the unit so it knows which way is North. You do this by pressing a button on the front of the unit, then, while holding a level horizon, make two slow clockwise circles. This gives the unit’s magnetic compass its orientation.
Turn the unit off, then back on, and wait for the green signal lamp to light steadily. When the unit is feeding data to your camera, the small GPS indicator in the camera’s data window turns solidly on.
At this point, the EasyTracker is going to feed data to the camera every few seconds and store that data with each photo you take. You can see the results when reviewing images.
Note: the D700 has a default setting that turns puts the camera into standby in a few seconds while the EasyTag is sending data. This is to save the camera battery. You can over-ride it if you want by following these steps:
Pros and Cons
The unit works well, but it can take a very long time to acquire a solid fix from the satellites. The best way to get a fix is to put the camera on a tripod or fence post away from buildings, then just wait for up to 10 minutes (though that’s rare; 2-3 minutes is more common). Once the unit has the fix, it will keep it, even if you put the camera down on the seat of your car and drive around.
Physical construction quality. The unit is very light, which is good, but it doesn’t seem robust. The little rubber flaps that cover the various ports on the unit are definitely not very sturdy. If you’re tough on gear, you might have a problem, but if you are careful with your camera, the EasyTag should hold up OK. I’ll let you know after a couple of months on the road in Canada and Alaska this summer. The little green led that tells you if the unit has a fix is dim and hard to see in bright light, but the indicator on my D700 takes care of the problem.
EasyTag comes with a mini-CD full of software.
Most of this applies to PC-users, and I can’t comment on it other than to say there are many such programs available, some for free, on sites such as Flickr. The only included piece of Mac software is JetPhoto Studio. You can use this to create albums of geotagged images, but if you want to upload them directly to Google, you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version of the program at a cost of $25.00
I store my travel pictures on Smugmug, which can directly read Exif files with GPS data, and will display your pictures on a Google map if you select “map this” while looking at a picture which has the geotag attached.
Frankly, I haven’t needed to buy the upgrade for JetPhoto Studio, so haven’t really explored the software in depth. I will update this report if I do get more into it.
If you want to geotag and like the convenience of not having to coordinate your gps and your camera, then tag images by time taken, the EasyTag may be for you – especially if you have a Nikon! The EasyTag site at http://www.easytagger.ca tell you whether your Nikon is compatible.
While I’d like the unit to be more robust and have a thumbscrew attachment to the hot shoe, this is more than made up for by the capacious memory card, self-powering ability, and the remote shutter. If you are serious about panos, macro photography, and long exposures, the remote shutter is well worth having. By themselves these shutters are costly, and to have one included with the EasyTag is a bonus that makes the value proposition unbeatable.