We 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 of the PhotoGPS from German company Jobo AG.
Jobo have been making photographic accessories for a while but this is their first attempt at a GPS unit. It has a uniquely different approach to the competition that mark this as being tool geared towards the more serious photographer.
The PhotoGPS is designed to sit on the flash shoe of an SLR camera – this immediately limits its use to higher end cameras, but because of this design it does ensure that the GPS unit has a good view of the sky at all time.
It’s light, small and somewhat bizarrely has no power switch! (I’ll come back to that). In the box you get a CD, simple instruction pamphlet and USB cable for both charging and syncing duties.
Power comes courtesy of an internal Li-poly rechargeable battery.
The installation on the CD goes to the internet to download the latest version of the geotagging application so you’ll need a live internet connection to install it. Not a big deal these days but something to be aware of. The install process is painless and quick after that though.
The PhotoTrackr we looked at previously, in common with just about every other GPS tagging unit out there is really a datalogger at heart. These devices track your progress, recording your location at regular intervals then use the date/time of your photographs to match a photo to the nearest recorded location.
The PhotoGPS does not take this approach. Thanks to its flash shoe location it takes a single location reading at the time you press the shutter release. There is no date/time synchronisation needed, no initialisation and – no off button. The PhotoGPS is in a permanent “sleeping” state, waking only to take a photo. In fact I left it for about 2 weeks between sessions and it still worked when I took it on an outing without a recharge.
The specification lists an internal memory capacity of 1000 locations and because of the way it only uses power when a photo is being taken the battery should last days if not weeks between recharges – which is unheard of for a conventional GPS.
The tagging software supplied is pretty simple to use – once you’ve downloaded the pictures from your camera you plug in the GPS. The software downloads the list of locations and matches them to the photos. Then the real fun starts. Like the PhotoTrackr it performs “Reverse Geocoding” to lookup more information from the basic location. Unlike the PhotoTrackr it practically overwhelms you with additional information – while I might appreciate knowledge of the Starbucks around the corner, I don’t need it existence permanently embedded into my photo!
The additional information can be extensive but with some tuning it is possible to get a very useful set of data including city, road name and nearby places of interest. These are automatically then turned into keywords and saved with the appropriate photo.
The end result of all this is that you can take photos knowing that when you get them on the PC they’ll be saved with relevant names and places attached, saving quite a lot of typing!
Given that the design points it towards DSLR use you’d hope it could cope with RAW files and so it proved – it had no problems with my Canon 40D.
It would be nice if…
While the PhotoGPS worked flawlessly during my testing, I have experienced times in the past where GPS devices can lose a fix, usually in dense urban environments. There is no obvious feedback on the device to tell you when it has lost a signal so you just have to trust that it will work – you will get green or red lights after you’ve taken the photo to tell you whether it got the location but you don’t know beforehand whether you need to give it some time to find the satellites or not.
Like I said, it worked for me out of the box so perhaps I’m worrying about nothing but some feedback on the state of the GPS reception would be nice.
The PhotoGPS is a very different sort of GPS and its camera mounted location has pros and cons. On the up side the device always gets a clear view of the sky and has exact knowledge of when each photo is taken. On the downside you can’t use a flash with it connected and it’s not permanently logging location so you can’t get a trip log out of it.
It’s that specialisation that will make the choice for you. If you want a GPS specifically for geotagging photos, the PhotoGPS wins hands down. The quality and quantity of data you get back from it is remarkable.
If, on the other hand you want to record a log of your location at the times you weren’t taking photos you’ll need the PhotoTrackr, which still does a good job of tagging photo locations but has the added advantage of continuous location recording.
3 Comments on “Jobo PhotoGPS reviewed”5:39 am
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Eli Says:March 14th, 2009 at 6:56 am
This jobo PhotoGPS sounds good to me. I have a question about the time coding. I usually reset my camera to local time when I am traveling. It makes sense for a sunrise photo to be time stamped 06:30 and the local day of the week, rather than whatever it might be in Boston MAssachusetts. What about all these GPS devices, or just specifically the jobo. I am going to China in May. Beijing is 12 hours opposite to Boston’s eastern time.
Will I have to leave my camera in GMT for the sattelites?
Camera is the Leica V-Lux1.
Anonymous Coward Says:March 21st, 2009 at 12:30 pm
It can’t lose a fix because it never has one. When triggered by a the camera’s hot shoe, it records 0.2 seconds of GPS timing signals and goes back to sleep. It can’t get a fix in that time, no GPS receiver can (on its own). A stand alone GPS system has to listen for up to 30 seconds to receive the ephemeris and other extra satellite data for a complete fix. The trick is that all that data is the same at a given time, no matter where you are. So there’s a server out there that is recording the extra data all the time. Then when you plug the PhotoGPS into your PC, it contacts that server to retrieve the rest of the data it needs to calculate a fix. Only then does it go to the third party server you mentioned to find out “what’s near”.
To more directly address your concern about the urban canyon scenario, I think PhotoGPS is probably going to come out worse than normal GPS loggers. Because if the GPS signal is unusable due to location in those 0.2 seconds, you don’t get a fix and you won’t have nearby track points a logger would have to interpolate from.
However, what’s keeping me from buying one is they don’t mention what is being done to protect your privacy. At least the second server is told every where you’ve been, and given the subscription model, it can’t be an anonymous query.
Neither of these might be of concern if you’ve got an open sky and are going to upload everything to flickr anyway. In that case it’s a cool gadget.
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