Automatic geotagging of your images

Geotagged image of a white cat

You’re geotagged, baby!

Six years ago I did an experiment after returning from a trip in France. I matched the time stamps of my digital images with the time stamps in the track from my GPS to be able to automatically place all my images on a map. At that point the trick included a lot of manual work, coding and hacking.

Fast forward to 2008 and there are a lot of software to help you do this. And I really like all solutions that can help me with automatic tagging of my images. Like most people I’m not too clever at manually tagging my images…

Time to find the best solution. My iPhone has a built in GPS and the best solution would be to leave a GPS tracker running on it at all times. Unfortunately that’s not possible due to the stupid fact that the iPhone doesn’t support proper multitasking. And it would probably drain the battery on my phone too fast.

So I’ll opt for yet another gadget. A small tracker that I can leave in my camera bag. It needs to be sensitive, fast and have a very good battery life. And it must support Mac OSX.

After some hours of research I’ve decided on the Qstarz BT-Q1000P. According to the reviews it is very accurate and sensitive. Due to the relatively new MTK 51 channel chipset. And probably due to a good antenna. The battery lasts for 32 hours continous use (according to a test the real life performance was actually measured to 36 hours). And it can be charged through a standard USB cable.

The Mac support isn’t out of the box but done with some third party software. Namely the MacTravelRecorder or the free bt747. I’ll get back here with my experience when I have received the device.

Geotagged image in google maps

Of course, I can’t just wait for that gadget to arrive, so I had to do some tests with my iPhone. I installed iTrail and went for a quick walk with my Canon 400D.

My camera doesn’t know anything about geotagging, but the beauty is that I’m now walking around with a device that records track points for where I am at any time (iPhone with GPS) and another device that snaps images and records the time when it was shot (the Canon 400D). And that’s the only thing you need to be able to place the images pretty accurately on a map.

Well back home I exported the track and used Gpicsync to do the work. The version of iTrail that I used doesn’t record time stamps for the track points, so the utterly intelligent Henrik Lied had to help me do some scripting to generate time stamps based on the start time and intervals. The author of iTrail promises time stamps in the next release. You point the software to the GPS track file and the folder with the images and it does the rest. It marks the photos with the nearest track point and adds tags for the actual location names. Meaning that you’ll not only get the coordinates, but actual tags with location names: “oslo”, “norway”, “marienlyst” etc. And the software will also make nice files for Google Earth and Google Maps. Here’s my experiment embedded:

And a direct link to Google Maps.

Don’t mind the boring images. This was not a test of my photography skills…

The nice thing about all this is that my image archive in Lightroom will be way better if I bring a GPS while shooting. Because of the fact that the software also adds names in the tags I can quickly find all images taken on a specific location.

Now, if I only had been smart enough to always bring a GPS the day I started shooting digitally. 🙂

Some resources on geotagging: » Review: Geotagging software comparison for the Mac
Mac geotagging software showdown
Qstarz BT-Q1000P Platinum Travel Recorder – Review
Qstarz BT-Q1000 GPS logger review
ImageIngester – Software for professional digital photographers
VCP Serial Driver (you need it for Mac compatibility on a lot of the dataloggers)

And the two other data loggers on my shortlist before I went for the QStarz:
AMOD AGL3080 – Mounts like a USB drive to let you download tracks, meaning out of the box mac support. But using the older SIRFstar III chipset and can’t be charged through standard USB.

GISTEQ PhotoTrackr – Native mac software is a plus. Motion sensor for power management is a plus. But the dpl700 can’t be charged through USB and seems less sensitive than the QStarz (after reading several tests). The rechargeable Gisteq CD111 is supposed to have been upgraded to the new chipset, but according to ThinkGeek and Expansys they’re both still selling the old version.

So I’m waiting for my BT-Q1000P…

I have recieved my Qstarz device and it worked very well on my Mac using this program:
Mac TravelRecorder

It will set you back $49,- but it works very well. First of all, I could download tracks and update all settings through bluetooth. No drivers needed. In addition to that I installed the USB driver and it also works through USB.

The same thing is supposed to work with another software – BT747, but that software didn’t work right out of the box. BT747 is completely free, but I decided to go with the extra $49,- because I didn’t have the time to make BT747 work (please note that I have something close to zero patience if I have an alternative that works. And with this device I had a $49,- alternative).

The tests I’ve done with the Qstarz device show what I’ve been reading elsewhere. It’s very sensitive. Gives me connection where other devices won’t. I haven’t done any extensive tests during travel yet, but so far I’m very pleased with the device.

I’ve used the Qstarz on my MacBook Pro through bluetooth and USB. And on my 24″ iMac through bluetooth. Both running the latest version of Mac OSX 10.5.

Automatic geotagging of your images

24 thoughts on “Automatic geotagging of your images

  1. I just received my own Qstars BT-Q1000P Power Pack via an eBay auction, but have not had the time to test it with my D40 digicam yet. Let’s see who’s first, and anyhow link to each others review (at least, if I find my review to be readable enough :-).

    Good luck, I’m really looking forward to see whether your conclusion will become the same as mine(!).

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with iTrail on iPhone 3G eirikso; yes, I’ve been talking with Justin re time stamp support too.

    I think your choice of a BT-Q1000P is a sound one; other MAc-compatible loggers not on your list are the Holux M-241 (great display, but battery life issues) and the GlobalSat BT-335 (no waypoint button). As for Mac software, my pick at this time would be GPSPhotoLinker.

  3. Kenneth Tangnes says:

    Have you by any chance read W.Gibson’s latest book ‘Spook Country’? If not, check it out. Some nice ideas on geotagging and art…

  4. In related news, cameras (not only mobiles) starts to come with build in GPS, like Nikons Coolpix P6000. According to the press release it seems to only records position, not direction which some pro DSLR add-ons do.

    Metadata with position and direction (east/west/up/down etc. and maybe camera tilt) with the added knowlegde of focal lenght of the lens etc. might give even more posibilities.

  5. Having a GPS built into the camera is a nice feature. But I can see two potential limitations:

    1. The connection time to the satellites. Will the GPS in the camera run continuously, or do you have to wait for the satellite lock after shooting an image? A lock could take from a couple of seconds to several minutes. Depending on the chipset and the coverage.

    2. I like the fact that I track the whole trip. It’s very nice to have when you look back after a couple of years and don’t remember exactly where you went.

  6. Yes. It works very well. Sensitive and fast with a very good antenna. Because I’m on a mac I needed to buy the Mac TravelRecorder software, but that works fine.

    If buying one today I would have considered the Gisteq as well. As far as I know they’re now available with the same chipset that the Qstarz use:
    …and they provide native Mac software.

    However, it’s difficult to know how it performs. I can confirm that the Qstarz works better than any other GPS I’ve owned when it comes to speed at locking and sensivity in difficult conditions.

  7. I’m still using my Qstarz. It’s still very sensitive and very accurate, but the process of getting the GPS data out of the device and into my mac is slightly time consuming.

    A full device spend a couple of minutes to transfer all its data.

    I’m currently using MyTracks for this:

    And I like that Aperture 3.0 have direct support for GPX-files.

    But, with multi tasking coming to the iPhone that device is starting to look interesting as well. It could record GPX files directly, it’s a device you always bring with you, and the not-so-good GPS in the iPhone is still good enough to record a track that would let you place your images pretty accurate.

    So: I’m currently looking at potential external batteries for my iPhone and want to see if that device could do the trick once multi tasking arrives.

  8. Using a Blackberry 9700 GPS to geotag pictures from a Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR…

    I’ve been looking for a while how to add GPS data (geotagging) to the pictures I take with my Canon DSLR. Nikon has a GPS add-on for its cameras, whereas Canon doesn’t. There are a number of possibilities out there,……

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