All the major high-end[*] compact point-and-shoots have been refreshed recently:

None of them have GPS built in. There's even retrenchment: the G15 announcement came right alongside the Canon S110 announcement, and they took GPS away relative to the S100.

This question would be unanswerable by outsiders if only some of these lacked the feature and we weren't seeing retrenchment. It seems the industry as a whole doesn't want this feature in that class of camera. Why? There must be an objective answer to the question.

I can think of many things it cannot be:

  • It can't be battery life. It's a feature you can turn off.

  • It can't be cost. We're talking about cameras costing up to US $800 here. Besides, many cheaper ultracompacts have the feature. The chips to do it have to be getting pretty cheap, too.

  • It can't be poor reception. A camera isn't going to perform any worse than a cell phone in this regard.

  • It can't be space constraints. We're talking about relatively large camera bodies here, several times the size of a smartphone.

I ask because I'm looking to replace a D-Lux 3. Every generation, I tell myself the feature I'm waiting for, the one that will push me to replace a perfectly fine and functional camera, is GPS. I've gotten very used to having automatic geotagging due to the past few generations of smartphones, and I'm tired of manually applying GPS tracklogs. More, I'm tired of forgetting to start the tracklogger app on my smartphone, then getting home and having to geotag my photos by hand.

It boggles my mind that this isn't a standard feature in 2012.

[*] High end compact = raw format, big sensor, fast lens, manual controls...

  • possible duplicate of Where, oh where, are the GPS Point-and-shoot cameras? – Imre Sep 19 '12 at 6:51
  • @Imre: Not really a duplicate. My question is restricted to high-end compacts, and also has the time component. To my mind, this question changes with time, because we're supposed to be getting more features with time. It could be re-asked next year, and the answer might be different then. (Maybe this WiFi link to GPS-capable smartphone issue will be settled by then, for example.) – Warren Young Sep 19 '12 at 19:59

The answer is simpler than you think. GPS is not included because the manufacturer does not feel it would sell more cameras. It's the same reason they skimp on camera straps. If it does not sell more cameras, it is not needed, the manufacturer can sell it for less - even just a bit less - or pocket the difference.

Personally I could not care less about in-camera GPS but I understand it is something some people like and its even useful to some people. The original solution was to have GPS modules but they are cumbersome, stick out in odd places or keep the hot-shoe busy. However, WiFi which is starting to appear in cameras, now allows to get GPS data from another device much more conveniently. Not all WiFi cameras can do this yet but it has started and I suspect more of this is coming soon. It will allow users to bind the GPS of their choice to their cameras, rather than using the one placed in the camera by the manufacturer.

In the case of high-end compacts, manufacturers have to be very economical while putting in the features needed to make it high-end because of competition from mirrorless cameras (and entry-level DSLRs to a lesser extent). Only a few models like the Fuji X100 have managed to command a truly premium price and still sell enough to justify, although volumes are still very low compared to a Canon S100 for example.

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    Hate to have to ask this, but do you have any references to back this claim up? GPS chips are so cheap that the savings for a manufacturer may be dollars per thousand. If you have some kind of hard reference that actually states this officially, great. As it stands more, I think its speculative to say that its too expensive for camera manufacturers to put GPS in compact cameras when just about every smart phone on the market has both a camera and GPS. Especially given that a LOT of people want GPS in-camera. – jrista Sep 19 '12 at 3:31
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    @jrista: The expense isn't just in the cost of the GPS hardware, it's in the non-recurring engineering it takes to add it to the camera. The hardware in any camera you're going to want to carry is so tightly integrated that plopping an additional component into the design is a major effort. GPS is happening on some new cameras because it's become available pre-integrated on new versions of the processor being used by the manufacturer. – Blrfl Sep 19 '12 at 12:21
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    Of course, you won't get an official statement but I do get to see marketing research from most camera maker. The thing is that any saving is saving. Do you know how American Airlines saved $40,000 per year? They removed 1 olive per salad. Have you even noticed camera straps supplied with the camera? They are getting thinner and flimsier and it the difference probably costs much less than adding a GPS chip. – Itai Sep 19 '12 at 13:33
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    @Itai: Sure, camera straps get cheaper. But at the same time, I don't hear people complaining more and more about the crappy quality of their camera strap. On the flip side, more and more, on quite a number of photography sites and forums, I see people asking "Where is my built-in GPS?" You seem to indicate no one cares, but I'm not sure that is the case...and given the relatively low cost of adding a GPS chip...vs. the extensive cost in designing, developing, and adding quality image sensors and image processors...it is confusing why manufacturers aren't answering the call of their... – jrista Sep 19 '12 at 15:54
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    ...customers to add built-in GPS. The idea that WiFi connections to a companion device, such as a smartphone, is a viable alternative is rather ridiculous in my opinion. WiFi chips are probably just as cheap, however they drain considerably more battery power on a continuous basis so long as they are enabled. Second, unless you have a local WiFi network to utilize, or your smartphone seconds as a WiFi access point, WiFi will be useless out in the field...where as built-in GPS would work superbly...anywhere in the world. I'm not sure I buy the arguments against ubiquitous GPS. – jrista Sep 19 '12 at 15:56

I'd love to see a GPS in more (all!) cameras, but that's obviously not happening. My wife had a Nikon P6000, which has a GPS in it. The battery life because of the GPS was horrid. Even though you could adjust how often the GPS would activate, it sucked the battery dry very quickly. Yes, it could be turned off, but if you wanted to use it... well, you should expect that the battery will not survive the day.

Looking at my iPhone, the GPS drains the battery very quickly there, too, when constantly used. Some apps are smart and only activate the GPS when needed on at intervals, which helps a lot. Camera makers often seem to have questionable skill when it comes to software... perhaps creating a GPS that works well is just beyond their reach, so they remove it from cameras? That's my theory anyway.

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    +1 for the war story; it grounds the discussion. But, since my alternative to not having GPS in the camera is to run the smartphone GPS, it doesn't actually matter from a practical standpoint. I'd rather run my camera's battery into the ground than my phone's. If battery truly is the issue, make it bigger. Again, we're talking about relatively large bodies here. A MILC is too big for me, but I'm willing to tolerate a G15 size camera. Surely that's big enough to hump around a few extra joules for a GPS? – Warren Young Sep 19 '12 at 1:49
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    +1, forgetting GPS on is the only reason my phone battery dies unexpectedly in the middle of the day now and then. For a manufacturer, reviews concluding that battery life on their flagship compact is horrible would likely be worse for bottom line than skipping the feature. A bigger battery (we're talking about 4-5 times bigger just to be on par with a GPS-less model) would add costs noticeably (just check the price of an original replacement battery). On a lower end model, it's less threatening for manufacturer's reputation, and the owners are more willing to accept flaws. – Imre Sep 19 '12 at 6:55

The only answer to this is "Because the marketing department and the accountants compromised. More profits and driving you up the value/cost curve are the aims. GPS costs money. Presumably the model mix is aimed at maximising overall profit.

As noted by Dan, GPS tends to be energy hungry. I had grown used to DSLRs that had a standby current not much different than being turned off. My A77 was a rude shock when GPS as enabled. A battery that might last a long enthusiastic day of wandering tended to not do so with GPS on. I'v taken to either GPS tagging the early photos in a sequence or leaving the GPS off when location is obvious. For me that's preferable to turning the camera when not in use. Not that marketing or the accountants probably care.

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    More expensive cameras tend to lack GPS, too. (Or make it a dongle.) And again, I point to all the supercompacts with the feature. As for the battery hit, it has to be paid somewhere. If not in the camera, then in the dongle, or in a dedicated GPS, or in a smartphone. I also don't believe the corporate compromise theory. Canon may compromise. Panasonic may. Olympus may. Sony may. Nikon may. But all five majors, at once? No, something outside the boardroom is driving them all. I suspect market reaction. – Warren Young Sep 19 '12 at 2:36
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    @Warren - I love having the GPS function on my A77. Of great value would be a "add GPS tag to this photo" feature that waks up the GPs and adds a tag as soon as it can. A 'time taken to add' count could be provided as time to attain satellite lock varies widely with time since last fix and satellite positions. Even a "wakeup GPS once every xxx minutes and obtain a fix " feature would be useful as it would keep the epemris current and assist startup times greaytly, while much reducing overall energy use. – Russell McMahon Sep 19 '12 at 6:04
  • @RussellMcMahon I was thinking along exactly those lines, too: only use gps when it's needed, for the shortest possible amount of time.... – Francesco Sep 19 '12 at 8:41

Why would someone pay the premium price for a point-and-shoot with a fast lens and big sensor? Because (s)he expects to carry it along, and do a fair part of photos in poor light. That usually means late evening or night-time, when people happen to be indoors at least 90% of the time, and GPS is useless compared to battery weight and recharging time needed to support the feature with reasonable battery life.

A camera meant for heavy outdoors use would have weather sealing, but that feature has also gained only a niche market, not found its way into the premium point-and-shoots. Rather, it can be found in those smaller and cheaper models, easier for an adventurer to slip into pocket. Hiking happens mostly in daylight, so they can cope with smaller sensors. And photography isn't their main obsession, so less manual control is okay.

The manufacturers have been providing GPS dongles for DSLRs for years, and sales numbers of those should give them a pretty good view how big the demand in upper market really is. Most photographers prefer to devote their time and money on stuff that will be seen on resulting images, such as composition, subject, optics, lighting.

After all, there are no masters of photography yet known for their particularly good geo-tagging...

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It may seem like a minor thing, but many compacts are sold as-is internationally, or are expected to travel widely. And GPS-enabled devices are restricted or forbidden because they are, technically, military technology.

It may be less of an issue now, with the ubiquity of mobile phones. (Which raises a counter-argument: are mobiles for sale internationally also found with fewer features like Wi-Fi, BT or GPS? I don't know.) But even less than a decade ago if you traveled to parts of Asia or Africa you had to be careful what sort of radio and satellite devices you "imported" to a country on your person.

Like many such hard-to-enforce rules, it wasn't about "import a phone, get arrested" but actually more subtle. You'd be in some remote area and suddently find yourself a person of interest because you happened to be near a sensitive location holding a device that may or may not be just a shortwave radio, or a camera, or a phone. I'm sure many amateur and pro photogs can sympathize with this scenario!

A camera that also gets to-the-meter resolution location data is one of those devices that even domestic paramilitaries care a great deal about.

So, I don't know if this impacted GPS ubiquity in cameras, either now or historically. I'm not going to oversell this theory.

But international electronics vendors have traditionally had to operate within some pretty interesting standards and best practices. Like I said, mobile phones may have ended this, but once upon not too long ago even a shortwave radio could be a problem traveling abroad.

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  • As you say, mobile phones change the rules here. In the US, GPS is almost a requirement in a smartphone now for various reasons. As for any restrictions that remain, it's easy to leave a GPS chip out of the build. Open a random electronic device and there's a decent chance you'll find at least one unpopulated footprint. – Warren Young Nov 25 '14 at 20:53
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    Yeah, I suspect economies of scale are at work here. I'll bet mobile handsets outsell by an order of magnitude, and are replaced more often, than compact cameras ever have (or will be). So the cost of having separate runs of hardware and firmware is easily amortized over millions of handsets. Less so for even the cheapest cameras. So, we are back to economic reasons (albeit slightly different ones) as discussed else-thread. But the fact is if you travel to some places with a GPS unit, it can still be seized as contraband. That has not changed. – user31502 Nov 25 '14 at 22:00

It must have to do with cost. Adding GPS adds to the cost and they don't want to out price the cameras on the market. In all honesty, I have GPS on a small compact Canon I had picked up and at first it was neat, until I realized how badly it drained the battery. Now when I use it, the GPS stays turned off. If you're not going to use that feature, my advice would be to stay away. If you want it, find a camera with it and pick up some extra batteries. Honestly, it drains my battery about 50% faster.

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