I love the fact that my iPhone automatically geotags photos that I take when I am out and about. Once imported into Aperture, or other photo imaging application that supports metadata, it’s a simple click of the button to find out where on the planet the photo was taken.
But with bigger cameras, like the Canon 5D Mark II, there is a surprising lack of GPS tagging to be found. Oh sure, you could spend several hundred dollars for a GPS system that attaches to the camera, but the ones I have seen are big, and tend to get in the way. Since I always carry my iPhone with me, I went looking for a solution on the App Store.
The idea behind gps4cam is a sound one; you start a trip, and at predefined intervals, the application captures GPS data from your iPhone that later can be tagged to the photos you’ve taken with your more impressive (but GPS lacking) cameras.
gps4cam is really easy to use, but it may not be as accurate as you hope. There are four intervals that the user can select to determine when the application will capture GPS data; Standard (5 minutes, but that can be altered by the user), Precise (every 30 seconds), Manual (you shake it to trigger), and Energy Saving, which saves on battery power, but only updates when there is a change to GPS antenna. In the test I ran, I used gps4cam in a way that will not yield the best results – I shot pictures from my car while driving through the city of Hays. Considering variable speeds and the update times available it isn’t surprising that accuracy in my tests was going to be off.
The first time I tested gps4cam I set the interval to five minutes and drove through town. During that time I snapped 30 pictures, but as you can see from the map below, each tagged location was accurate to about a half-mile.
During the second test, I changed the time to 30 seconds, and the results were better, but there were a few times that photos taken about a hundred feet apart ended up being about a half mile from each other in the metadata results.
So, does this mean gps4cam doesn’t work, or doesn’t yield precise results? No. Where gps4cam can really shine is when you are hoofing it. Consider walking around a national park like Yellowstone. If you have gps4cam active, and you are driving from one scenic spot to the next, and spot some wonderful piece of nature out your window, chance are you aren’t going to be concerned with the precise spot the photo was taken. However, once you reach your location, get out of the car and start walking, gps4cam and the glorious pictures you take of Old Faithful or the surrounding hot springs, should be really accurate.
The only way to ensure an exact match to your images and GPS data is the manual mode, but really, unless you are being hypercritical, this mode may not be as useful as you might think. Imagine – take a picture, shake your iPhone, move to a new location, repeat. And what happens if you forget to shake the camera, and lose the out on the data? I think one of the automatic modes is going to work most of the time.
The really odd part of gps4cam is the way in which it exports the data from the iPhone to your computer; you need to take a picture of your iPhone screen displaying a QR code of your trip. It’s a weird, but necessary step.
When you arrive back home, you simply transfer the images from your camera’s data card, and then run the gps4cam desktop app that looks at your photos and exports them to a new folder with the metadata attached. The good thing is, your original photos are still available untouched, so those worrying that a glitch in the gps4cam conversion process will ruin their special moment need not worry.
BOTTOM LINE: WORTH IT
For $2.99 gps4cam is an excellent application for photographers who need to or want to tag their images with GPS data for organizing and categorizing later. It may not be as accurate as a dedicated GPS device you attach to your camera, but it also isn’t going to set you back several hundred dollars either. I say pick it up, and geotag your way around the world.