Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I do quite a lot of photowalks and I'd like to geo-tag my RAW (CR2) files from my Canon 500D. I'm currently considering the following options:

  1. Use my iPhone 3GS with an application like Geotag that produces GPX files. My concern here is my battery life on a long walk though.

  2. Buy a standalone outdoor GPS like the Garmin Dakota 10 which can save GPX files natively.

  3. Buy a GPS enabled fitness watch like the Garmin Forerunner 110 which offers similar functionality to a standalone GPS except it can be conveniently worn on your wrist as a day to day watch and used whenever you need to record a second by second GPS log. The Garmin Connect site will produce a suitable GPX file for geo-tagging purposes.

Any comments, suggestions, guidance or recommendations?

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Lots of recommendations. I would do an internet search for issues with Garmin and updates before buying one if I were you. Garmin bricked my GPS with an update and then told me it was my fault. Their offer? I could exchange my bricked unit for a refurbished one, and end up paying $70 more than a brand new one from Amazon. I won't give them business anymore. Turns out, this issue has happened to several people. Do a search, and buy a Garmin only with your eyes open. –  Eric Jan 12 '13 at 18:41

12 Answers 12

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you are shooting in the wilderness, then consider a dedicated GPS unit. Garmin devices are great (map format aside). I used GPSmap 60Cx with Sirf Star III chipset, and it was reliable and precise even in narrow mountain valleys/gorges. Garmin doesn't advertise which chipsets they use anymore, but you can find this information from the third parties. I think a good chipset and battery life is what matters the most for outdoor use. Rugged case is the next. Devices from the more expensive series tend to have better chipsets than devices with similar or better features from the cheaper series (e.g. GPSmap is better than eTrex).

I didn't find GPS maps very useful (also for the lack of official maps for my region few years ago and no support of scanned geo-referenced maps until the very recent Garmin models). It consumes the battery when used actively, the screen is not large enough, and you still have to carry a paper map with you. So if I were buying a new GPS unit now, I'd not pay extra for the mapping features. If you want a lightweight, but rugged unit, consider also the Foretrex series, which is also a wrist GPS.

Smartphone-based GPS trackers do not work reliably where there is no cellular coverage. Also, spare batteries tend to be much more expensive than spare AA- (or AAA-) batteries of dedicated GPS units.

P.S. If you buy a Garmin unit, just don't use its Save track feature, it makes tracks useless for geo-tagging. Otherwise any device is capable of writing a GPX-track today. And there are plenty of free software packages to geotag photos later without hassle (ExifTool included).

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I ended up buying a Garmin Dakota 20 and its awesome. I in fact use the Save Track feature and convert the newer format GPX file as needed for my geo-tagging software. –  Craig Nicholson May 23 '11 at 10:24
    
In what GPS units should you not use this feature and why? Owning a Garmin forerunner 110 myself, I know that you can convert the tracks into .gpx files later. –  damned truths Nov 3 '12 at 8:38
    
@damnedtruths I don't know if they fixed it in the newer models. Save track feature used to be avoided up to GPSmap 60 and 76 series, because this feature removed time data from the track. Normal track writing worked well. –  sastanin Nov 4 '12 at 11:00

I sometimes use the GPS in my iPhone 3GS when I run. Battery life can be an issue, wife the GPS, and the iPod going, I can go through the battery in 2.5-3 hours.

I'd feel like the Stand-Alone GPS would be yet another gizmo to carry around, put batteries in, etc. Plus I'd check to see if it works in your bag, the iPhone 3gs, does not seem to work as well when I slip it in a pocket or in a waist pack, I guess that some of the signal is blocked.

If it were me, I'd take a look at the watch style. You'll get decent battery life, not have to carry another device (I assume you wear a watch when you take the walks). And, for me, it would motivate me to exercise more

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JOBO makes a device called the photoGPS that attaches to your hotshoe and records your location every time you take a picture. Later, you use software to match the photos with the locations. I haven't used it, so I can't comment on how well it works, but it seems like it should be pretty camera brand-independent.

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I'd love to know how effective these are, as well as if they support export to GPX, etc. –  Rowland Shaw Oct 1 '10 at 12:33
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Does it have any Lightroom integration? –  jrista Oct 1 '10 at 20:29
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I like the idea of this device, but it becomes complicated when you want to shoot with a flash as well. –  Craig Nicholson Oct 14 '10 at 9:01

Having done a lot of work (4000+waypoints) w/ separate camera + GPS on botanical surveys, after-the-fact correlation between a GPS waypoint and a camera picture is a pain. If you don't really care whether the spot in question is at point X or 100 feet away, it's not too hard. But otherwise, it is very easy to forget which waypoint goes with which picture unless you are very diligent to write down the correlation between picture waypoint + gps waypoint in the field.

So if you're really looking for serious geotagging, I would find a device that can connect/communicate with the camera directly for geotagging.

The idea behind the photoGPS (as Evan mentioned) seems nice in practice -- you should be able to correlate the timestamps very easily, even if there's a fixed time error between the camera and the GPS receiver. But it seems like it might need to have the flash turned on to enable it.

I've also seen memory cards that claim to do geotagging automatically (see this one).

Good reference page for geocoding photos.

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Software does all this for you, interpolating the timestamped locations to align with the timestamps of the photos... –  Nick Bedford Oct 1 '10 at 23:03
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Nope, wrong. That only works well when you are smoothly moving in a straight line. If you need <100' accuracy, and you are not moving steadily, but instead are stopping for a minute, then moving for 30 seconds, then stopping for a minute, then moving for 30 seconds in another direction, then stopping for 97 seconds, etc... it fails to try to correlate your captured waypoints with photo timestamps: you can never do it without losing confidence in at the position of at least one waypoint. –  Jason S Oct 2 '10 at 2:01
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There's one exception I know of, and that's if you have a GPS that is taking track points (in place of / in addition to waypoints) at regular intervals with decent positional accuracy, and your GPS is synchronized with your camera. The GPS's I've owned, unfortunately, make it very inconvenient for you to manage large #'s of tracks, so I don't do it that way, preferring to just be diligent about manually correlating waypoint ID's and pictures when I'm out in the field, so that I don't have to worry about it. –  Jason S Oct 2 '10 at 2:04

I went for option 2 some time ago and bought a Gisteq PhotoTracker Lite.

The upside is the batterylife, you can go on long walks and only have to recharge the battery occasionally. I also like the fact you can choose if you want to log based on time interval or distance interval.

The downside is that file+GPS matching is time based and you need their software to sync the photo's (Raw or jpg) with the GPS data. Usually though it does it's job quite nice. I only had to manually fix some points when the signal was weak or lost (between buildings etc).

If you go for a Gisteq product choose the PhotoTracker Mini instead of the Lite version. The hinge of the battery compartment is fragile and broke off on my Lite. I believe the Mini has a better design.

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@Andres added in a now-deleted answer that there is third-party software that can be used with this GPS instead of what comes with it.... –  mattdm May 22 '11 at 17:48
    
Yes, I highly recommend GeoSetter. It's way better than Gisteq software and has support for RAW files. –  Andres May 23 '11 at 18:12

My personal solution was to buy one of these: http://www.i-gotu.com/
I tried to find the cheapest thing I could, and this works! :D

Adding details asked in comment:

  • Battery life is approximately 30 hours. Recharges via proprietary-connector-to-usb-A cable, included.
  • Comes with geotagging software, which I didn't use since it's Windows® only. There is an open source program which can extract the data here: https://launchpad.net/igotu2gpx
  • With the above software, I get .gpx files. Don't know about the original software.

I'm sorry I can't help much on the workflow, since I'm using Aperture and it... well, just works.

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What's the battery life like? What's the software like to match the photos to location? What format files can you get from it? –  Rowland Shaw Oct 1 '10 at 12:15
    
Fair questions, @Rowland! I added the relevant info on the answer :) –  Agos Oct 1 '10 at 22:23

I use an app called Trails on my iPhone, which exports (via email) GPX files. It's quite configurable (especially good if your speed is highly varying, e.g. driving then walking), and does intelligent things like turning off the screen after a short time period, resulting in pretty good battery life. Unless your long walks go for more than 3-4 hours, I wouldn't be too concerned with battery life. You can always get a little battery pack if you need it too (there's plenty of small and inexpensive ones around.)

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I have been using Runkeeper on my iPhone4 for geotagging, and on a full battery it easily lasts for 4 hours. This is really a fitness tracking app, so it will also tell me how many calories I have burned on my walk ;)

I don't know how long exactly it will last because I have never drained it completely, but I suspect that it would do 6-7 hours on a full battery.

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I use a Garmin Vista HCx, which is a slightly older model of Garmin dedicated GPS. You can find them on sale at REI for $150. I simply turn on the GPS, toss it in my bag, and forget about it.

When I get home, and download my images, I put them in a temp folder on my desktop. I hook up the GPS to my computer, and then run GPSPhotolinker, free software that will download the tracks from the Garmin, and then match them with the timestamps of the images in my temp folder.

This is one or two extra steps, but is very simple and mostly automated. Once I get the GPS metadata in my RAW images, I then import into Lightroom and follow my normal workflow.

This Garmin unit is bulletproof, waterproof and relatively simple to operate. It has a high sensitivity GPS chip, and USB port.

Other recommended software in HoudahGeo...but GPSPhotolinker is free. HoudahGeo costs money, but has many more features and more automation.

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Another vote for Garmin - I went for a Garmin Legend HCx after finding that capturing a trail on my iPhone killed the battery. The Garmin stores trails on a micro-SD card, so for very little money you can easily store a couple of weeks' worth of trails without needing to download them to a PC (great when travelling).

When the time comes to copy them off the device, Garmin's BaseCamp software makes it very straightforward to download trails to your PC and export them in GPX format. As a final cherry on the cake, I then use Jeffrey Friedl's excellent Geoencoding plugin to automatically tag all my images in Lightroom.

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I agree on using Jeffrey Friedl's Geoencoding plugin, it really works well with Lightroom. –  Craig Nicholson May 30 '11 at 15:58

I use a AGL3080: Amod AGL3080 GPS Data Logger, about $80. Its small, runs on three AAA batteries. The recorded log is standard NMEA format, which you download to your computer (Windows or OS-X). There are many websites that convert the NMEA format to proper GPX (XML format) for free.

Lightroom 4 will read the GPX file and apply the locations to your images using the Mapping section.

Works well with my Canon 50D

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Good GPS trackers do

  • Record geo data right into your raw files, no additional software required
  • Draw power from your camera
  • Don't block your hotshoe

Though, your camera must support these features. For example Nikons D90, >D5000, >D3100, D300, D7000, D600 etc, while D50, D70, and point'n'shoot cameras don't.

As of the general GPS loggers, see Skott Kelby's review of Jobo photoGPS (spoiler, he recommends di-GPS).

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