I’ve spent a few weeks with the GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Pro – a GPS datalogger that’s aimed at the digital photographer. The idea is to use a GPS receiver to embed location information in photographs which can then be displayed on a map showing where they were taken. It’s not a new concept but it usually involves a certain amount of effort to match the pieces of the puzzle together and things only get trickier when you are using the RAW files produced by modern digital SLRs.
The PhotoTrackr claims to solve both of these problems by being easy to use and supporting a wide range of cameras – follow the jump to see how I got on.
The PhotoTrackr is a relatively compact GPS datalogger – it’s a true “fire and forget” device. Turn it on, put it in your pocket, rucksack etc and forget about it. It will happily sit there all day recording locations to its internal memory until either the battery runs out or you turn it off.
The GPS tracker itself is about the size of a tin of mints – it sits comfortably in the hand and comes with a lanyard / wrist strap. The chipset is the popular 51 channel MTK receiver – it proved quite sensitive, getting a reliable signal even while being in my jacket pocket on the back seat of the car!
The user interface is quite unique – instead of a random assortment of blinking lights the unit talks to you to tell you it’s acquired a satellite lock! I found this a mixed blessing – outdoors it was useful feedback but when it started bleeping at me in the office while I had it connected to the computer I found it quite annoying. You can “stealth” the unit, but then all the lights go out too so you don’t even know if it’s turned on – not very useful.
Battery life is hard to assess – it’s quoted as 32 hours in continuous mode but you also have the option of engaging a power saving mode so you may be able to stretch that. Suffice to say I used it all day without a problem so as long as you have access to an overnight charge, power shouldn’t be an issue.
In the box
The package contains everything you’ll need to get started – you get a quick start guide, software CD + manual, wrist strap and (unusually) both mains and car chargers for the GPS.
The unit has 4MB internal memory which according to the specification sheet can hold 250,000 position entries. Some scribbles on the back of an envelope work that out to be enough memory for 57 continuous days of logging at 20 second intervals!
Logging parameters are quite flexible. As well as straightforward “breadcrumb” logging at set time periods you can also set the GPS up to log after a certain distance has been travelled or speed achieved (the picture on the right shows the settings dialog with all the available options)
Good software is the key to any GPS photo-tagging package. The theory is simple – take the GPS track log, match the dates and times with those in your photograph and record the nearest location in the photo.
Things get a little trickier when you have a more sophisticated camera and you’re shooting in RAW mode. Unlike JPEG files, camera RAW files are proprietary and unique to each camera manufacturer, creating a headache for anybody wanting to use the files. Displaying the photos is usually possible but stamping the GPS information back into them without corrupting the picture is often not supported. The usual way to tackle the problem is to write the GPS (and any other metadata) into a “sidecar” or “xmp” file which lives alongside the original photo and contains the extra information. The GiSTEQ software takes this approach and had no problems with the CR2 files from my Canon 40D. Most modern photo management packages can handle these XMP files – if yours doesn’t, now is a good time to upgrade!
So, functionality is all there – how does the package perform in day to day use? It’s pretty easy. First, use the wizard to download the track log from the GPS device. Next, add a batch of photos. Give the batch a name (called a “photo group” in GiSTEQ terminology) and the software will automatically search the track logs it knows about, match the photos with the locations and embed the coordinates.
A nice touch is something called “reverse geocoding”. This is where the software goes online to look up the address from the GPS coordinates. It’s quite useful as you get at least town and country information pulled in automatically. The sample photos also show a street address, but that never came back for me.
Room for improvement…
I found the software interface a little confused in places – for example, exporting the GPS track log to a Google Earth file is done by selecting the trip in the “photo management” section, rather than the more logical “trip records”.
The “slideshow” feature didn’t seem to like the RAW files from my Canon 40D, and I also had the software crash a couple of times when I was using it.
I also noticed an issue with the reverse geocoding function: While it worked when using the supplied software to view photos, the extra address information wasn’t included in the XMP files. What this means is that the address information only seems to be displayed when you’re using the supplied software. If you manage your photos in a separate application (and most serious photographers will) you don’t get the extra information.
Using Geotagged RAW files
The last step in the process is doing something with the images! Often that will involve a jpeg export or upload to a photo sharing website. The supplied software will handle uploading the photos to common photo websites for you, but if you want to do something else with them you’ll need RAW processing software that is GPS aware. I use Photoshop Lightroom, although others work just as well. Assuming your software can handle GPS tags in XMP files you don’t need to do anything else – when you process the RAW file to a JPEG you should find the location has been transferred over. Flickr, Smugmug etc will read this information and display the photograph on a map automatically.
The workflow becomes:
- Download GPS track log
- Download photos
- Use GiSTEQ software to sync photos with tracklog
- Use your normal software after this
GiSTEQ have done a great job on making a solid GPS Datalogger – the capacity, battery life and sensitivity are all first rate. I think the software could use a bit of polish but in terms of it’s main function (geocoding photos) it works well. The whole package makes geocoding photos pretty painless so I’d say they’ve achieved what they set out to do.
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[...] recently looked at (and liked) a GPS solution for the digital photographer in the form of the GiSTEQ PhotoTrackrPro. This time we have a slightly different approach to the problem of geo-locating photos in the form [...]
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