I’ve talked about geotagging my photographs a few times over the last few years. It started with manually dropping pictures onto maps back in 2006 before moving on to using Garmin hardware in 2010.
Now using the Garmin is OK. But it does involve having to carry an extra bit of kit, remembering to turn it on before I start taking pictures, and keeping it in a pocket or bag compartment which won’t block the signal. All that isn’t too bad, but then there’s some work to be done. First, I have to download the data into the Garmin software, then export it from there into a form that Lightroom can use. The Lightroom bit used to be a bit of a faff, requiring the use of Jeffrey Friedl’s plugin in several steps. Now that Lightroom 4 has built-in support for geotagging, it’s much quicker and easier, but there is still the matter of getting that GPX file. On a recent trip, I’d taken a card reader for getting my pictures off the camera, but forgot to pack the cable I needed to download GPS data, which was annoying.
So, when I heard that Canon were producing a dedicated GPS unit, I was interested. Indeed, the potential of this little gadget was one of the factors that persuaded me to upgrade to the 5D Mark III. Not an overwhelming factor, but it helped.
I was a little put off by the UK pricing – as is often the case with Canon, we seem to be charged significantly more than customers in the US, even when VAT is taken into account, but decided (after reading a nicely detailed review by Martin Bailey ) that I really did want one. As Martin has described the use of the device in some detail, and included some pictures, I won’t go into that kind of detail here.
Actually getting one proved challenging. All the usual suppliers had it listed as available for pre-oder, but nobody seemed to have an estimated delivery date. Now I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks , and I wanted to have my new GPS solution working before then, so I did some more searching.
After drawing a blank for a while, I found a German seller on Amazon’s Marketplace with very high ratings, the item in stock, and at about 10% below the UK list price. I placed my order, and it turned up slightly quicker than I was expecting.
It was simple enough to set up – insert a battery (not included), attach it to the camera and switch them both on. With the GP-E2 attached, some new menu options become available, which allow you to set things up. The most important thing is to let the device set the time on the camera – if they’re not synchronised, things can get confused when it comes to tagging. The menu also leads to a screen where you can see the current location and elevation, once the device has locked on to the satellites. I tested this in the centre of Newcastle, and found that it locked on perhaps a wee bit more quickly than the Garmin device, and from the brief test I was able to do before the rain persuaded me to stop, it stayed locked on.
There are two settings available on the device itself – with the switch in the “On” position, it simply adds location data to each image captured, which you can preview on the screen (keep pressing the Info button until you get into the right mode). This covers my main requirement of knowing where my pictures were taken. It’s less of an issue when I’m out and about near home, but when I’m away, it’s very useful indeed. As soon as the images are loaded into Lightroom, I can see them on the map. Nice.
The second option is “Log” – this saves a log file on the device as you’re moving around. This can only be accessed by connecting to a computer and using the supplied Map Utility. The file is in a “standard” format, and you know what they say about standards. There’s an option to export to a KMZ file for use with Google Earth, but not to the more generally useful GPX format. There are software tools for converting GPS files, but they don’t quite work as yet. I’m told that there will be an update to GPSBabel that will cope with the oddness of Canon’s log file, but at the moment it’s a bit messy.
But why would I want the log file? Well, I had vaguely hoped that, like the files I get from the Garmin, I’d be able to upload them into Garmin Connect so I could log my walks and my photographs in one moderately easy process, but it seems that may not work. Looking at the file, it has a start time, and presumably some indicator of frequency, but not individual times for each trackpoint, which is what Garmin Connect is expecting to see. Standards, you see. It’s possible that a bit of file tweaking might produce the required result, but as my aim here is to reduce the amount of effort required overall, I think I’ll stick to using the phone to log where I’ve been, and the GP-E2 to log where the photos were taken. This also means I can switch off the camera and GPS to save the batteries when I’m walking but not actually taking pictures.
I know some people are wondering why the GPS function couldn’t be built into the 5D and other cameras. I can think of several reasons:
- GPS sucks battery life. As it would have to be on all the time to be of any use, the usual long battery life of a 5D Mark III would drop to very low indeed.
- High-end DSLRs have metal shells. These are very good at blocking radio signals, so getting an internal device with an antenna that works would be interesting
- Lots of users have no need for such a feature. Considering the number of people who complain about DSLRs doing video, adding more “unnecessary” options would only increase the moaning
- And hey, this way they can make more money…
But overall, I’m happy. With the GP-E2 attached to my camera, my pictures will be geotagged without any extra effort, and it’s smaller and lighter than the Garmin GPS. It also uses just one AA battery to the Garmin’s two, with a longer claimed life, which is good.
 A lot of people miss the detail that consumer prices in the US do not include sales taxes, while ours do include the eye-watering 20% VAT
 You don’t? It’s something like this: Standards are like toothbrushes. Everyone agrees they’re good to have, and nobody wants to use someone else’s.