You may recall that following my Macau “photo safari,” I decided that a GPS unit for my Nikon DSLR would be a good idea. We’d walked so far and turned so many corners, without using a map most of the time, that I had a poor recollection of where certain photos were taken or if I’d ever be able to find some of those spots again. Geotagging is also a popular enhancement to photo sharing.
A few weeks back, I went to the camera stores on Stanley Street in Central. I found Nikon’s own GP-1 GPS unit but was put off by the price, well over HK$2,000. The shop also had a GPS device from a company called Phottix selling for about half the price of Nikon’s add-on, but I’d never heard of Phottix and had no idea how the product would compare to Nikon’s. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post and, much to my amazement, within a day I received an email from someone at Phottix who saw the post and offered to loan me one of their devices for me to test and review on the blog. That device, the Phottix Geo One GPS, arrived at my house today.
Over the past few weeks, I learned that where photos are concerned, there are two basic types of GPS devices. The first is a stand-alone device that will give you readings of your location; you then note these in a journal or a piece of paper and then, using a variety of methods, combine the info with your photos once you get home. It sounds like a tedious way to do this. The second type plugs into your camera and embeds GPS information directly into the metadata of the photos you shoot. This is what I wanted and that’s what the Phottix GPS does.
I’d like to mention that I have no prior experience with GPS devices aside from the one in my iPhone. I can’t directly compare this device to any others on the market. That’s why I’m separating my review into two separate posts – my initial impressions now and final impressions later on – to give any readers a chance to give me tips on things to try or to look out for, or to ask questions in general before I finish the review and send this back to Phottix.
The Phottix Geo One GPS arrives in a small cardboard box.
Inside the box is a smaller cardboard box and the unit is displayed face out.
To give you an idea of how small it actually is, here’s the Geo One removed from the box. It is, to the best of my recollection, identical in size and shape to Nikon’s device.
Tucked away inside the orange cardboard box are these cables and accessories:
- Camera-specific connecting cable – for Nikon, this plugs into the same 10-pin connector on the front of the camera where you would plug in a wired shutter release
- A USB cable – you can also connect the Geo One to a laptop computer for logging your location – based on Nikon’s product page, their GP-1 does not do this
- A wired shutter release – since the 10-pin connector is being used for the Geo One, Phottix includes this in the package – a very nice touch and Nikon’s GP-1 does not include this accessory!
- A small plastic piece that allows you to mount the Geo One on a shoulder strap instead of the camera
- A wrist strap
- A small cable with mini-plugs
Why don’t I know what that last cable is for? The answer is that there was nothing else in the box – no instruction sheet, no warranty card, zilch. (I’ve written to Phottix and they will be emailing a PDF instruction sheet to me.)
Luckily, I was able to figure out 95% of what I needed to know about this within a minute despite the lack of instructions. You mount the unit in the hot shoe on the camera, connect the cable and you’re good to go. There is no battery – the Geo One draws its power from the camera’s battery. The only display on the unit is a small LED – glowing red when it has not acquired position data from satellites, and then green once it has acquired the data; blinking or steady green depending on how many satellites it’s reading (I found this out via the Phottix web site). It weighs practically nothing so added weight isn’t a concern.
The set-up menu on my Nikon D700 has GPS options built into the firmware, accessible through the set-up menu. You can view the acquired location data, set some power-saving features and allow the GPS unit to update the camera’s clock.
I wanted to get out and use this right away! It’s been unusually foggy for the past few days so I knew in advance that the pictures I’d get wouldn’t be the best, but that wasn’t really the point. I drove along Sai Sha Road, between Sai Kung and Ma On Shan, looking for some places where I could pull the car over and take a few shots.
I got out of the car, turned on the camera and went to the GPS menu option. I wasn’t using a stop watch, but my guess is that the location data was acquired in well under a minute, perhaps just 30 seconds. I took a dozen photos. Then I turned off the camera, something I habitually do whenever I change lenses. Oops! What would happen with the GPS? How long would I have to wait once I switched the camera back on? The answer was a pleasant surprise – GPS data appeared almost instantly.
Here’s one photo I took today. Taken at 5 PM on a foggy day, I won’t claim that there’s anything special about this photo; I’m just using it for demo purposes here:
So the GPS data is embedded in the photo’s metadata. How do you access it? That depends on what software you use. I use Picasa for JPGs and Lightroom for RAW files. First I examined the RAW photos.
Lightroom doesn’t have GPS capabilities built directly into it, but there is a free plug-in you can download from here that adds this functionality.
As you can see in the screen capture above (click on the image to view full size), the plug-in allows display of an additional line of data when you are in Library mode and Loupe View. Labeled “GPS,” it displays the GPS data stored with the photo. Press the little arrow icon to the right of that and you are immediately whisked off to Google Maps, with your location tagged on the map.
See that little green arrow there? (Well, you can see it if you click on the image above for the full sized version.) That’s exactly where I was standing when I took the photo. Whoa!
Picasa is a different and even easier story. Geotagging is built directly into the program – you don’t need to download any plug-ins or install anything additional. In grid view, thumbnails of photos with geo-data automatically display that small red thumb-tack icon that you’re familiar with from Google Maps. Clicking on “Places” (lower right hand corner of the screen) displays the location on Google Maps inside the Picasa application. This functionality works when you’re viewing either the thumbnails or an individual photo.
In other words, I’m able to take advantage of the geo-tagging feature in the software that I already use. Photos uploaded to Flickr and presumably other photo-sharing websites (but not Facebook) can also use this data.
Conclusion, Part 1
After my first trial with the unit, I’m 99.9% happy. It’s easy to use, works as advertised and includes accessories that Nikon doesn’t include despite the higher price.
The only negative I can find so far is the lack of any instruction sheet in the box. I can’t see any reason to choose the more expensive Nikon device over this one – especially since this includes accessories and capabilities that Nikon’s doesn’t. As of now, I anticipate that once I return this review model to Phottix, this is the one I’ll be happy to buy.
Note that, as with all similar GPS units, this can only be used outdoors. Unlike the iPhone’s GPS, this obviously does not work in conjunction with the mobile network to give an approximate location if it can’t read the signal from the GPS satellites.
As I mentioned previously, I don’t have prior experience with GPS units. So I invite those of you who know more about this to suggest any tips or tests that I might do while I’ve got this. And for those of you who are like me and new to all of this, feel free to ask me questions about anything I haven’t covered (or didn’t cover in sufficient detail).