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"Geotagging" with your Nikon. Review of the Promote GPS N-1
|Nikon 10-pin remote terminal.|
|Portable or dedicated? | Promote GPS N-1 | Cold & hot start | Verdict|
What is "Geo-tagging?
Professional and semi-professional Nikon cameras with a 10-pin remote terminal as well as some mid range models with a dedicated port - like the D90 - are capable of automatically writing geo-referential meta-data into image headers (Exif), popularly known as "geo-tagging”.
When a device records these meta-data in real-time, as is the case here, we refer to it as "instantaneous geo-tagging".
The meta-tag data consists in latitude, longitude, altitude, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and heading*, which a GPS (Global Positioning System) device connected to the camera stores automatically in the header of every shot - once connected, activated and after acquiring so-called lock-on with the GPS satellites in its range.
Geo-tagging is a useful reminder of where & when a picture was taken, and can help you to find a wide variety of online information on its geographical location.
You can also use these data in specialized sites such as Google Earth and Flickr, to locate the image automatically on a map, such as on Google Maps and Wikimapia, or on sites capable of extracting Exif from published images.
For an example click here, on the page that opens, click the camera icon at the top of the image to view the Exif/IPTC information.
After the break: Nikon cameras compatible with instantaneous geo-tagging.
* Shown only if the GPS device is equipped with a digital compass.>
Nikon cameras compatible with geo-tagging:
Nikon D4, D3-series, D2-series, D1X, D800/E, D700, D300(S), D200 (with MC-35+portable device, Nikon GP1+GP1-CA10 or dedicated GPS), D90, D7K series, D600, D5K series, D3100, D3200 (with Nikon GP1+GP1-CA90 or dedicated GPS)
Note 1: The D40(x), D60, D70, D80 and D3000 are not instantaneous geo-tagging capable.
Note 2: There are currently no Canon cameras compatible with instantaneous geo-tagging.
Note 3: I'm seeing an increasing number of posts indicating that the newer Etrex models (like the Etrex H) are not compatible with the MC-35. Be sure to check before you buy!!
GPS: portable or dedicated?
There are two alternatives to capture GPS data in a Nikon camera. The first is to connect a portable GPS device via the MC-35 adapter cable to the remote terminal of the camera.
The MC-35 has one (male) 10-pin plug on one end of the connection cable, and an additional 10-pin terminal (female, for the connection of other 10-pin devices) plus a serial D-sub (RS232-female) on the box, allowing you to connect the serial cable from the GPS manufacturer – which, in turn – plugs into your portable device.
Nikon certifies portable devices from Garmin and Magellan for suitable cameras, all of which meet the NMEA 2.1 standard.
It is important to point out that certified cameras are only compatible with portable GPS devices with a serial interface but not USB - even with an adapter – because these have a different signal path.
I have experience with the Garmin eTrex Vista, which worked with no problem whatsoever on my D1X and D200.
The advantages of this configuration are that a portable GPS comes with its own batteries, doubles for mapping, navigation, and does not usurp the flash shoe, unlike the majority of dedicated GPS devices.
The disadvantage, apart from price (a handheld GPS plus MC-35 cost from about $ 300 up) is that it is a little awkward, as both a portable GPS and a (long) serial cable are heavy. The only alternative - if you dare - is to shorten the serial cable considerably.
|Nikon MC-35 cable and serial cable for Garmin GPS (eTrex Vista)|
The second alternative, more economical and much more manageable, are dedicated GPS devices. These are simple GPS receivers, usually in the form of a small, black box that mounts on the flash shoe and connects directly to the remote terminal.
The advantage of these is, that they are very light and do not require an additional adapter cable. Their main disadvantage is that they cannot double for mapping and navigation, block the built-in flash (if available), occupy the external flash hot-shoe, and – usually – get their power from the camera.
The category of dedicated GPS is currently quite competitive, starting with Nikon, who launched their GP-1 a little over a year ago.
However, with a price of $ 270 it is a good example of what Nikon can – or pretend to – charge their fans, since any other dedicated GPS costs almost half that.
In addition, Nikon does not reveal details about the GPS chip used in their device, generating at least doubts about whether or not it is last generation.
Competition comes from Garmin and Magellan portable GPS’ (from ± $ 180 plus the MC-35), and dedicated GPS’ from brands like Wolverine, Geometr and Promote, amongst others (from ± $ 125-150).
I will not go into details on how I arrived at the device more suitable for me; it suffices to say that the people at Promote Systems have a concept of customer service I have rarely witnessed before.
They promptly answered all my questions (by Email), warned that Amazon probably would not dispatch to Chile, assisted in the buying and choice of the most appropriate delivery method, and dispatched just in time for the product to arrive in a very narrow time window between two specific dates.
Promote Systems GPS N-1
Price paid: U.S. $ 147, plus dispatch via U.S. Parcel Post (U.S. $ 25)
Purchase Date: January 2009.
Similar Products Used: Garmin eTrex Vista
Store: Promote Systems online shop.
Description and use of the product.
The Promote GPS Receiver features the last generation SiRF Star III chip, which excels at acquiring and maintaining GPS signal lock, even with poor visibility of the sky (trees, clouds), or even zero visibility.
It includes latitude, longitude, altitude and UTC (dd-mm-yyyy, hh:mm:ss AM/PM) in the image header (Exif), meta-data which can be displayed in processing software from Nikon and Adobe, amongst others.
It consumes less than 55 mA directly from the camera, and turns off in parallel with the exposure meter - depending on its configuration - in models posterior to the D2X, D200. However, with the latter you should turn off the camera or GPS manually to save power, since it does not power down with the meters.
20-channel GPS receiver with support for WAAS / EGNOS / MSAS.
Instantaneous geo-tagging. You do not need a computer to import the data in Exif.
Saves its satellite registry in memory for a quick hot start.
Made in the USA.
Compatible with: Nikon D4, D3-series, D2-series, D800/E, D700, D300(S), D200, Fuji S5 Pro, IS Pro.
Promote Systems offers as an additional benefit a free software called “Geo tagging Suite”, which can "fill-in" GPS data in pictures without.
If at least the first and last of a series taken at a specific location contain GPS meta-data, you can geo-reference the whole series, even those without GPS Exif.
|Icon indicating that the GPS is connected (top screen of the D200).|
Cold & hot start.
Cold start refers to the time that it takes a GPS device to capture signals from satellites in a new location, or after having been turned off for a long time.
The GPS icon on the top panel of the camera blinks until the so-called “lock-on” is acquired, which means the device has established and locked communication with the satellites needed to fix its position (at least 3). After lock-on, the camera icon goes steady.
The GPS N-1 may take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, depending on the location and visibility of the sky.
With an unobstructed view and a clear sky, this delay is rarely more than 45 seconds, in my experience.
On certain cameras it may be necessary to keep a button pressed in order to keep the meters activated (Shutter, AE-L/AF-L), which avoids the GPS to power down before acquiring lock-on (e.g.: D3, D300, D700).
Hot start refers to the time it takes a device to re-establish its position in a location previously acquired and/or after a short shutdown period.
With a clear, unobstructed sky, the GPS N-1 rarely takes more than 5 to 10 seconds.
Moreover, even entering a space with zero visibility of the sky and without turning the camera off, it generally manages to maintain lock-on. In case of signal loss, it suffices to go near an unobstructed window to re-lock position quickly, in most cases.
Comments and conclusion:
The Promote GPS N-1 is small and lightweight: measuring 4,5x4,5x2,5 cm. and weighing only 68 g..
In my experience, it is generally faster than the eTrex Vista to acquire lock-on, in both cold and hot start, and is definitely superior in maintaining signal, even with zero visibility of the sky.
It has a shoe with a tightening ring to fit it securely on the flash shoe, and does not extend over the back of the camera, thus avoiding hitting your head when looking through the viewfinder.
However, because of its forward extension, it does obstruct the built-in flash, while also taking over the optional flash shoe.
When in need of flash, the only solution is coming up with a DIY trick to fix it to the camera strap, or just leave it dangling from the remote terminal, which - although it does not seem to affect operation – is not exactly elegant.
Plugging it into the remote terminal can be a bit scary the first time, because there is no alignment mark on the plug.
Moreover, its fit is pretty tight, and one must feel comfortable that it is properly aligned before daring to exert the necessary pressure to assure it is properly seated.
Unlike later cameras, on the D200 it will not turn off with the meters, and while its power consumption may be considered minimal, it will contribute to the depletion of the camera battery in about 3 to 5 hours of continuous use.
This dedicated GPS does what it promises, is lightweight and - compared to a Nikon GP-1 or portable GPS set-up - cheap. Akin its direct competitors, it blocks the pop-up flash and takes over the external flash shoe.
To users who consider this a critical flaw and are not prepared to invent an alternative fixation, I suggest reviewing the Wolverine, which comes with a Velcro attachment between the shoe and “box”, allowing to take it off and fixing it directly on the camera strap.
The disadvantage of this system is – according to some users – that it tends to come off of the shoe too easily.
Promote Systems GPS N-1, notes:
Operation: 5. (Fast cold & hot start, accurate measurement).
Build Quality: 5.
Design: 4. (No alignment indication on the plug, blocks the pop-up flash).
Value for money: 4. (Slightly more expensive than its direct competition, considerably cheaper than a Nikon GP-1 or portable GPS + MC-35).
1 = poor, 5 = excellent.
Geo-tagging Flickr images: the coolest game on (Google) Earth.
Competition for the Nikon GP-1. Promote Systems launch their GPS-D90 for the D90 and D5000
For more about geotagging, visit the Promote Systems blog