A few weeks ago I picked up the new Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2, and have had a chance to use it a few times, and draw a few conclusions, so today, we’re going to take a look at this new device. Note too that this is really my first foray in the wonderful world of Geoencoding, so don’t get too hung up on how I say things. I’m just finding my feet here. My terminology may be clunky, but hopefully you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to say.
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The timing of this GPS Receiver from Canon is perfect in my opinion. You might remember that when Lightroom 4 came out, when talking about the Maps module, I said that this was one of the things that I’d been waiting for, to finally get me geoencoding my images. I’d dabbled with creating tracklogs with my iPhone, but didn’t like how much battery it sucked up, at least with my old phone without multitasking. I’d also toyed with the idea of buying a dedicated unit, but I didn’t like the idea of adding an extra step to my workflow, using separate pieces of software to tag the images etc.
You probably already know that I’m just not one for adding extraneous processes that I don’t believe to be fully necessary, and geoencoding unfortunately fell into that category, until the Maps module was added to Lightroom 4 that is. With the Maps module, it became easy, and almost acceptable, to the point that I started to drag images to the map to geoencode them with the GPS coordinates of that location. I know where most places I visit are on a map, but for places I might not find, if I took a few moments to shoot an iPhone photo which are automatically geoencoded, I could use those images as a reference, so I finally started to get excited about Geotagging my images.
Then though, just as that functionality was added to Lightroom 4, Canon announced the GP-E2 GPS Receiver, which although not the first Receiver from Canon, seemed to fit with my idea of how easy this should all be. I could just slide it into the flash hot-shoe on my camera, and it would tag all images I shot. As we’ll see later, there are still reasons to open an application that Canon provide for certain things, but basically, once I have my images tagged in camera, they just appear on the Map in Lightroom. This is the simplicity I was waiting for, so I ordered a GP-E2.
The first thing that struck me when I took the GP-E2 out of the box is its size. I’ve seen how small the Nikon GPS receivers are, and was expecting something similar in size, probably around a third the actual size of the Canon Receiver. The big difference with the Canon GPS Receiver though, is that it is totally self-contained, with its own AA battery, and you don’t need a cable to connect to the camera, unless you want to use a flash or something else in the hot-shoe that would require you to keep the GP-E2 off the camera.
The benefit of having the Receiver sitting right on top of the camera though, is that it will not only tag images with the GPS coordinates, it also knows which direction the camera is pointing, and embeds that information into the images as well. This information is only viewable with the Canon Map Utility that comes with the GP-E2 though, and isn’t yet available in Lightroom. Looking at the GPS data in the EXIF information in Lightroom, I don’t even see this direction information, so I’m not sure if this will magically appear in Lightroom later, if Adobe build this support into a later version, which I am seriously hoping they will do.
GPS Lock-on Speed and Accuracy
When you first turn the unit on, it can take a good minute to 90 seconds to get a GPS signal. I have noticed faster, but the majority of the time I’m finding that it takes well over a minute.
In the screen grab of the Canon Map Utility showing the first day I used the GP-E2, literally minutes after I bought it, you can see that for a while after I turned the unit on, it tagged my images as being on the other side of the Shinjuku station, in a totally different area to where I was. I drew some rough notes on the screen grab, and you can see how far out the first shots were. Note though, that the GPS unit was still not even showing that it had a signal, so I thought it was actually quite good that it tagged the images at all. (Click the image to view larger.)
The rest of the shots on this first screen grab also shows a little bit of drift from where I was actually shooting, and I think this is because I was among the tall buildings of Shinjuku, which were probably getting in the way to a degree, and once you’re in a less built up area, accuracy increases, as we’ll see in a moment.
I had another day out with the Receiver last week, and this time, there were no tall buildings, although it was a park with lots of tall trees in some areas. You can see on this next map that in some areas the GP-E2 went a bit crazy. The spots where it looks like a kid has scribbled on the map with a red pen, are areas where I’d stopped to takes some photos under some tall trees and a thick canopy of leaves. The areas where the lines are less frantic, are the less wooded areas.
This next screen grab shows the Canon Map Utility with the images selected, so that you can see the camera direction information. Unfortunately, I can’t see a way to show both the image information and the tracklog in Map Utility, although that might be a pretty busy screen to look at even if I could. If you compare the last screen grab with this one though, you can see that most of the places where there is a concentration of photos being shot, there is a red scribble on the track. The one exception is the area close to the bottom about a third of the way into the map from the right, which is actually where we had lunch, so there are no coinciding photos shown.
As a test, during this visit to a local park last week, in addition to the Canon GP-E2, I used MotionX-GPS on my iPhone 4 to record a second track log for comparison. The iPhone 4 is supposedly not as accurate as the iPhone 4S but it still does a reasonable job, and this is really just to give you a point of reference.
You can see from the following screen grab of Google Earth with both track logs loaded, that the iPhone, which is the yellow line, doesn’t wander anywhere near as much as the GP-E2, which is represented by the blue line here. Some times though the iPhone over simplified things, though I believe Motion X was logging at 10 second intervals, the same as I’ve set up my GP-E2.
So, on the accuracy, I’d say the GP-E2 does pretty well when it has a good view of the sky, and wanders a little when there are buildings or trees around to block or hinder the signal. For me, this level of accuracy is plenty, but you’ll need to make your own mind up based on these results for your own use. Of course, you can also tweak how the GP-E2 behaves, or creates the track log, and a more experienced Geotagger, would probably get better results with it than I currently am.
Something else you might want to note is that the GP-E2 Receiver writes its track log files in what seem to be a proprietary format, which can’t be imported directly into Google Earth, or Lightroom 4. To get the track log into Google Earth you have to open the .log file in Canon’s Map Utility and export it as a .kmz file for Google Earth.
If you open the file, it’s just a text file, and I read somewhere that you can delete the first line and use it as another format, but that to me is even more trouble than exporting from Map Utility, so I haven’t really followed up on that.
As usual, I try to keep my workflow as simple as possible, using the least possible tools and steps to get to where I want to be. At the moment, with the exception of when I want to see camera direction, as long as I have the GP-E2 attached to the camera, I’m done. The images just appear on the Maps in Lightroom.
Syncing with Multiple Cameras
I will still have to use Canon’s Map Utility when shooting with more than one camera, to enable me to tag images that I shot without the GP-E2 attached. They won’t have direction information, but to their credit, Canon made it pretty easy to tag other images from the track log, with just a few mouse clicks, which I guess I’ll be able to live with, unless I spring for a second unit, which I don’t see me doing right now.
To sync multiple cameras though, you make sure you have imported the track log into Map Utility, by plugging in the GPS Receiver with a USB cable, and that is then copied to your local hard drive automatically. Then you select the images that you want to tag and hit a button to Automatically Add Location Information, and Map Utility adds the location from the log file based on the time the images were shot. This of course relies on you having both of your camera clocks set to the same time.