I got a chance to try out the new Photo Finder from ATP Inc.. When Julie asked me if I would be interested in reviewing a product that geotags photos, I said of course. Now… please tell me what that means…
It turns out that geotagging is the act of embedding GPS location data in the header or EXIF data portion of an image file. Here is sample EXIF data from one of the shots I used in my test of this device.
Note that it includes latitude and longitude information (circled in red). This data was not included in the original jpg file as it came from my camera – it was added later by the ATP Photo Finder. We will discuss this in greater detail shortly.
The Photo Finder is an unassuming device. It is a bit smaller than a typical cell phone with a two line text LCD screen, three LEDs and three buttons.
The device runs on two AAA batteries. It comes with a mini-USB cable, as well as a mini-USB male to full size USB female adapter. The mini-USB cable allows you to connect the Photo Finder to a computer to view the GPS data log files. For a sample log file, view this text file: atp-photo-finder.log.
The mini to full size adapter allows you to connect a card reader to the Photo Finder for geotagging photos on cards other than SD, MMC, or MS – which are supported through integrated slots in the device (theoretically).
The Photo Finder also comes with a carabineer for clipping the device to your belt.
This helps to keep the device properly oriented with the antenna facing straight up.
When you turn on the Photo Finder, the center blue LED begins to flash indicating that it is attempting to find a GPS signal. Just in case you failed to read the manual and are unable to decipher this flashing blue signal, the LCD screen also indicates that it is Searching GPS Signal.
I was never able to get a signal lock indoors, but it did work pretty well hanging from the rear view mirror in the front windshield of my car. When you get a GPS signal lock, the device records the time stamp along with latitude and longitude information in its 128MB of memory (good for as much as 550 hours of log files). Every five minutes it checks location and records another time stamp/location entry in the log file.
In order to make this work, you have to set your camera to UTC time – Coordinated Universal Time as measured at longitude 00 00 00. You obtain this from the Photo Finder when it first obtains a GPS lock. The latitude and longitude data will alternate on the LCD screen with the UTC time. I was not overly thrilled to time stamp my photos for some other time zone, but acquiesced for the purposes of this review.
One of the main issues I have with this device is its tendency to shut down when it does not get a GPS signal for a few minutes. This means that if I step inside for five minutes, the Photo Finder will most likely shut down. If I don’t notice (and that happened several times during testing), I will have no GPS data to apply to my photos.
After I finished shooting several test shots during the course of a weekend following my son around North East Indiana to his various basketball games, I attempted to attach my card reader using the included adapter. My Canon 30D does not use one of the three directly supported card formats (SD, MMC, or MS), but the device is supposed to work through a card reader to geotag other formats.
I never could get this function to work. I tried connecting my card reader first and then powering on the device – both with and without a Compact Flash card inserted. I also tried powering on the Photo Finder followed by plugging in the card reader – both with and without a Compact Flash card inserted. All attempts ended with failure. Either the device simply powered down or it emitted a disturbing squeaky noise.
Ultimately, I ended up transferring a sample of twenty-four pictures onto an SD card and inserting it into Photo Finder’s integrated slot. This yielded more satisfying results, although still less than perfect. It failed to tag six of the files – probably due to a shut down and failure to log a GPS location within a reasonable time frame in relation to these six pics.
Using Google’s Picasa software, I uploaded my pics to a web album. This part of my testing worked pretty well. The Picasa Web album is a fairly standard interface for sharing photos online, but it adds a map on the left side of the screen with push pins indicating the locations where photos were taken. Here is my Picasa test album: http://picasaweb.google.com/bill.ray/ATPPhotoFinder.
I also used the Google Earth pick on the Tools menu to use Google Earth to view a map with markers for photo locations marked against satellite images. I don’t know how useful this is, but it really looks pretty cool. The following are screen captures from Google Earth:
I did a fair amount of driving over the weekend.
Here is a tagged photo of the front of my gym, Total Fitness of Columbus, Indiana, taken from the parking lot.
Several different shots taken in Wabash, Indiana. The two of the capital building are incorrectly tagged about two blocks away from where they were actually taken. This is probably due to the five minute gap between GPS log entries.
Okay, what do I make of Geotagging? I guess my experience tells me it isn’t quite ready for prime time. I don’t like the way it times out and powers off. I would prefer a button that lets me manually initiate a GPS log entry, rather than depend on the device to take a reading every five minutes. This would conserve batteries and memory space, as I would only need to take a single reading at any given location. Perhaps the device could add a manual mode?
I have three Canon DSLRs that all use Compact Flash media, so I need a device that actually works with more than SD, MMC, and MS media. That could be solved by making the card reader connection work, or by adding more card slots.
At this point, I cannot recommend this device, but I like the concept. I could envision providing my iphotosports.com customers another way to visually index my offerings.
Available Q1 2008