I recently bought a Nikon D810 as a christmas present for my wife. When I bought it, it was part of a package that included the body, a battery and charger, a memory card, a bag, and a GPS Unit. All for the price of the the body by itself.

The one thing that I'm curious about is, what is the general purpose of the GPS unit? Is it just to record metadata on the image so you know where the photo was taken, like if you took a picture of a waterfall or something? Or can one use the camera GPS for other things?

Normally I would just ask my wife this, but as it's a christmas present, I don't want to bring it up.

  • As well as "what they said": Some photo viewing systems provide access to a range of web based resources that use the location data. These include various maps, sites providing information about the location and adjacent areas - and probably accommodation and food as well :-). | In some cases GPS data is able to pinpoint photos taken in unknown locations. I took photos about 50 km from Guilin in China and did NOT have the GPS enabled - Google maps have v poor resolution in the area and I cannot find where some photos were taken which I'd love to locate more accurately. – Russell McMahon Dec 18 '15 at 16:05

Is it just to record metadata on the image so you know where the photo was taken, like if you took a picture of a waterfall or something?

Yup, that's pretty much it. The GPS unit can geotag your photos in the EXIF metadata as you take them, so you don't have to keep notes of where you took a photo, or sync the geo data from a track file into the photo metadata by date/time stamps. It's mostly used by landscape photographers, but can also be used by scientific shooters if they need to map specimens or the like.

The GPS unit can also accurately set/reset the clock in the camera based on the precise atomic clock signals used for GPS, but you have to turn on the Set clock from satellite setting in the camera menus.

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    It's also handy for vacation shooters or family documentarians. A lot of modern photo organization / presentation software (including websites like Smugmug or Flickr) can show you your photos by location. This is super-handy for quickly finding those pictures of that time we went to Rome.... – mattdm Dec 17 '15 at 21:08
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    @mattdm ...not so useful for indoor shots, though, given that it's only GPS. We're so used to smartphone geotagging; but cellphones can use GPS, cell tower triangulation, AND wi-fi hotspot mapping for location data, so the limitations of using GPS for geotagging aren't immediately obvious unless you've done it--and then ended up having to geotag by hand via maps. :) – inkista Dec 17 '15 at 22:38
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    Sometimes GPS units are also used to add accurate date/time information to each photo. I don't know if Nikon uses it for that function as well. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Dec 17 '15 at 23:33
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    @inkista For my contribution, you owe me a Nikon ;-) – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Dec 18 '15 at 0:13
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    @RockPaperLizard, wait--you can kibitz for cameras? :D – inkista Dec 18 '15 at 0:16

As @inkista says, mainly used for record metadata. This does have wider application than suggested. I bought mine as I was doing a lot of photography in China. Although the PRC apparently interfere with the GPS signal, it does give a better (and easier to use) location than maps for the areas I was working in where places can have (different) names in Tibetan and Chinese; and maps may use any combination of Chinese simplified script; traditional script; Tibetan; English; and transliterations through any sequence of the other languages (so the Tibetan name and the transliteration of the Chinese name into Tibetan give different results).

Nikon also provide a Windows driver for the unit, and indicate it can be used by any compatible mapping application. I have not used this option so do not know what range of software it works with, nor what capabilities they may provide.


The GPS unit is to record the location of the picture in the meta data, but the camera GPS menu will also show the current location of where you are now, if that has meaning, and if it has the satellites found.

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