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My Newest Tool in the Tool Box: gps4cam

December 2, 2011

I have lusted after an accessory for my cameras for a long time:  A device that would give me the ability to add latitude/longitude coordinates into the recesses of my images files along with the time of day, exposure speed, and so on.  I don’t always take the most complete notes, and as such it is tough for me to remember sometimes where I have made images.  This is especially important when it comes to working a big property like Cook’s Slough Nature Park in Uvlade.  It is much easier to point to a map and say, “I saw the Black Setwing at this location.”

I have seen standalone devices for upwards of $100 that would take time stamps from a GPS and match them up the pictures shot.  I have also seen the reviews on some of these that reflect spotty performance at best.  And worse yet, they are one more darned device to account for when I’m getting ready to shoot and one more device to make sure I have charged batteries in.

A couple of months ago I finally crossed over to the dark side and bought an iPhone 4.  I did so for a lot of reasons, but I liked the concept of having a GPS receiver with me at all times.  I thought (incorrectly) that it would replace my dedicated windshield GPS system (it didn’t).  And then it hit me, if my Runkeeper app can track where I am on a run, there has to be an app that records GPS information and can add that to my RAW files.  Sure enough there are a few of them, but the one that I ultimately went with is called gps4cam.

My trip out to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center on Sunday was my trial run for the app.  I was thinking with as little time as I had that I’d only shoot a few pictures to see what the app was capable of on a short run of images.  A few became a few hundred (as usual) so instead of going easy on the app I instead turned it into a marathon.

This app was easily up to the task of running the marathon and producing accurate results of my trip.  Here’s how it works in a nutshell:  Before shooting decide how precise you want the tracking data to be (I used GPS captures one minute apart).  Start the app when you start shooting.  Take a picture of the 2D barcode that is displayed on the screen at the end of the session.  Download your images from the memory card and then run the desktop application.  The app will do the messy work of combining when you shot the images with the corresponding GPS data.

The Good:  Accuracy was far more precise than I would have imagined.  All images got GPS coordinates.  A click on the GPS metadata in Lightroom took me directly to a Google Map with a pin on the coordinates.

The Bad:  Bad is a pretty strong word.  How about “The Slow?”  Processing the images took a long time.  It easily tripled the amount of time I would normally take to get the images from the card to the hard drive and ready for import into Adobe Lightroom.  If I’d been a good blogger I would have timed how long it took to process the images, but I didn’t.

The Ugly:  Nothing.  It worked great.  Maybe the only ugly is for those manufacturers who are still trying to sell their standalone GPS solutions.

I’m sold on the app.  It worked the way it was supposed to.  It used an acceptable amount of battery power on my phone.  It automated an incredibly time consuming process.  And it did it for about the price of a Tall Cafe Mocha at Starbucks.  And it recorded the information when I wanted the information recorded.  Granted I use my camera nearly exclusively for nature and wildlife work.  But in the odd chance that I might be doing street scenes or pictures of my home for practice, it would only add the data if for some reason I wanted to record the data.

The app is available for both iPhone (Version 3 & later) and Android platforms.  It is not compatible with the iPod Touch because of the lack of internal GPS on the Touch.  It is also compatible with the iPad but I would think that would add a significant amount of bulk to a photo shoot so I couldn’t imagine using it.  The website (gps4cam.com) is informative and useful.

This one is a winner.  After my initial use of this software I recommend it unconditionally.

About the Image:

Okay, there is no image on the post, but the image of the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly from the last post, as now posted on Flickr, had the GPS information embedded into the EXIF data.  That meant that when I went to Flickr to put it on the map, Flickr knew immediately where to put it.  That is probably a minute or two time saver every time I post a Flickr image.  Brilliant!

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