GPS For Every Camera[N]o matter what kind of digital camera you own, you can use the GisTEQ Photograckr Mini DPL900 ($59) geo-tagging system to record the location at which you took your photographs. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has become a part of our daily lives; our cell phones use it, our cars, planes, and boats use it, and those of us who spend time in the back-country use it (at least as a backup). Still, many of us are not leveraging the power of the system for our photography. There are many times that I’ve thought that I’d like to return to a particular spot when the light has improved, or I’d like to create a map for an article, or I need data to track where I’ve found wildlife… and the GiSTEQ is an affordable solution. But is it the right solution for you?
If you shoot with a Sony a55, you already have built-in geotagging. Many Nikon SLR shooters have the option of Nikon’s GP-1, which offers an elegant (if somewhat more expensive) solution. But if you’re a Canon shooter, use a point-and-shoot, or simply don’t want to spend a ton of money, it makes sense to consider the GiSTEQ system. The GiSTEQ system offers unlimited camera model flexibility because, unlike some systems which attach to the camera and apply a tag directly to the metadata of the image, the Phototrackr system uses the time stamps of the GPS unit and camera to synchronize the location with the photograph after they’ve been transferred to your computer.
Before I get into the system’s details, readers will want to know: Does it Work? The answer is: Yes.
The more important question with a system like this is, how easy is it to use? Is it more trouble than it’s worth? Will it hold up to prolonged use? To settle these matters, I’ll provide greater detail below.
First, the matter of build-quality. Although the unit’s housing is plastic, it has a very solid, sturdy feel to it. The cap that protects the USB plug attaches firmly, so there is little risk of accidental loss. The power switch and way-point button both seem to be of good quality, although the power switch is somewhat stiff when new and would be tricky to operate with cold or wet hands, and virtually impossible in gloves.
Capturing GPS data with the unit is a matter of childlike simplicity: you turn it on, and carry it with you while you work. It has a lanyard so that it can be worn like a necklace, or it could be attached to a backpack or camera strap. Generally, GPS units require line-of-sight to the sky, so it should be carried outside of clothing, but here in the Seattle area, I find that I can maintain tracking even here inside my house, and pockets don’t seem to cause too much trouble either. I’m sure that in some areas, it will be important to carry it in the open, though.
It’s worth noting that the tagging software, from my limited experience, is easy to use, but does not tag RAW images without a paid upgrade, so you’ll need to either pay the fee or shoot RAW+jpg.[Note: I started writing this review in December 2010. In January 2011, the unit failed, and I was unable to finish testing it. The unit had been provided by a vendor rather than the manufacturer, and they did not send me a replacement unit. I did check with the manufacturer, and they suggested that I was dealing with a known firmware issue, and they offered to send me a replacement, though that was not practicable in my case. I’m doing a little house-cleaning in my draft archive, and I’ve decided to publish the information that I was able to gather anyway, in the hope that it may still be somewhat useful. ]