Geotag Photos Pro Review
by Eric Leslie
Have you ever jumped on Flickr and just browsed around their map to discover images near your home or somewhere you're planning to visit? It's a great way to find new places to shoot or find inspiration. On services like Flickr, it is possible to map the image one at a time, but it's all too manual for me. Besides, I don't want Flickr to be the only place that owns that information. So lets talk about how to track the GPS cordinates while you're out shooting using your smart phone. Yes, both iPhone and Android are covered here.
I've been using this app over a year now, so I have plenty of data points to stand on. With the launch of Lightroom 4, this product is a no brainer. Let me explain. First of all, this app works by syncing the clock on your camera with your cell phone and later matching the timestamp of the waypoint with the image to embed the GPS coordinate into the EXIF data. You start with a new "trip" and you start recording. Like many other fitness apps that track your movement, this basically does the same thing. The difference here lies in how you can export a GPX tracklog file.
There are two different workflows you can use to offload the tracklog and sync it with your photos. Prior to Lightroom 4, I used Geotag Photo's companion desktop app to sync the files. When you're finished recording your trip and you're back on wifi or in range of data service, you can upload all the coordinates to their cloud. Back home, you offload the images from the card onto your computer. Turn on the desktop app, log into your account to find all of your tracklogs there ready to use. Tell the app where the images are and start syncing. Now the GPS coordinate is embedded into the EXIF data.
My only complaint with the above workflow is the number of steps and how long it takes to sync with RAW files. Though Jpegs were pretty quick I rarely shoot in jpeg. I normally offload my images straight from the card into Lightroom, so the extra step of moving them to the computer to sync before I could import them into Lightroom was a bit of a hassle. You can sync straight on the memory card, but that will take forever and a day to finish.
There's good news! The brand new Map Module inside Lightroom 4 (Upgrade is only $79) can sync the files with the tracklog and it's lightning fast. Since we're going to be moving the coordinates out of Geotag Photo's ecosystem, we have to follow some different steps to get our hands on the physical GPX file. After you done recording, touch the "History Tab" where you will find all of your past trips. Touch the blue arrow next to your trip and choose "Export by email". You can email it to yourself or if you have Google Drive on Android, you can pipe it right into your Drive folder. Super easy. Now this may also work with Dropbox. I have never used the iPhone version, so I can't speak to the integration of the cloud drive services.
With all of your images already imported into Lightroom 4, jump into the Map Module. On the bar of controls below the map, look for the zig-zag icon to the right of the lock. There choose to load a tracklog and find the gpx you just sent to you computer—either by email or Google Drive. Now you'll see a line showing your movement across the map while you were recording. Last step, select the files in the timeline below you want to sync. Once they're all selected, go back to the zig-zag icon and choose "Auto-tag Photos". That's it.
Final ThoughtsThere are two concerns I have using this app to track my position. Smart phones are notorious for having short battery lives. In my experience using the app I'm usually well out of cell range, so I like to turn on "airplane" mode which kills all the radios on the device. I was able to use my phone over a 3day weekend camping in Yosemite without a charge. Your mileage may vary. If you know you're going to be away for a very long time, you might consider an on camera GPS reciever which often have their own batteries or run off the camera's battery.
Sometimes I have accuracy problems. This is usually the case when I'm hiking around the bottom of a deep canyon where the GPS receiver has a tough time locking onto the satellites. The app will just skip that waypoint if the phone can't lock on to your position. Later when you try to sync the photos, it will place the photo at the next closest waypoint when the correct one is missing. This only happens in extreme cases. Most of the time the photos are spot on accurate. I think this accuracy can vary tremendously depending on the phone you're using because my first smart phone was terribly inaccurate. If you have a lot of problems, again, you may be looking to get a stand-alone GPS receiver that will store the coordinates in camera. Others say those types of devices are more sensitive and can lock onto satellites faster. That is, if your camera supports one. That is one of the greatest advantages this app has, it will work with every digital camera ever made.