GeoPic II Geotagging for Nikon DSLRs

In preparation for upcoming travels to exotic locales, including the Canadian Maritimes, Ecuador, and Peru, I figured it might be nice to automatically geo-tag the photos I take along the way. Geotagging refers to applying positional information to a data source, in this case the photos themselves. Such positional information can include the GPS coordinates, altitude, and even orientation from which the photo was taken.

While it’s certainly possible to record this sort of information manually using a separate GPS and then use a program like Lightroom or a site like Yahoo!’s Flickr to geotag your photos, it’s a real hassle to do it that way. Some cameras (and camera phones, of course) have GPS capabilities built in, but for higher end cameras, like the Nikon D300 DSLR I presently shoot, there is no built in GPS feature.

Enter the GeoPic II from Custom Idea.

I ordered mine from B&H Photo for just under $300 and have been playing with it a bit for the last week in New York City and have some pros and cons to share.

First and foremost, using a GPS geotagging device in the canyons of New York City is a bad idea. It just doesn’t work very well because the GeoPic II has a very difficult time getting a GPS lock with all those tall buildings around. And of course, don’t even bother trying to start it up indoors.

The couple of times I managed to find some open space, it did lock to the GPS satellites pretty quickly, and stayed locked until sky visibility became adverse again. I have now resolved myself to using the GeoPic II on my non-urban jungle expeditions – that should be fine with trips to Costa Rica, the Canadian Maritimes, and South America all coming up in the next few months.

The next thing to realize is that the GeoPic II is dependent on the power supply of the camera. For normal use this will reduce the number of photos you can take off a full-charged battery by about half. This design decision to use the camera’s battery creates a very compact geotagging device, but if things go awry with your camera (like leaving it on, in a backpack where there may be pressure on the GeoPic II’s sole button control), it can drain the camera’s battery to nothing. Fortunately, when it happened to me (being the anal retentive king of redundancy that I am), I had a spare battery available, which saved my day. My suggestion – disconnect the GeoPic II when not in use for a while.

That brings me to another point – the GeoPic II, at least on the Nikon DSLRs, connects through the 10-pin control port on the front of the camera. It’s a bit of a trick to be able to smoothly and quickly plug the device in, especially as you need to then rotate the screw-on base for a secure connection. That’s not easy with my big fingers, but I found I got better at it over time. However, one issue I do have is that if I use a remote trigger like the Nikon MC-36 it means I cannot use the GeoPic II at the same time, since the remote cords require the exclusive use of the 10-pin control port too. And the times when I want to use a remote trigger are the same ones (big lens, tripod, no shake – night time and/or nature photo) for which I would love to know where I was when I took the photo. I will have to work something out to juggle between the two uses of the 10-pin port – and once I do, I will probably post something here.

The final annoyance, a minor one, is that the user interface for setting the various operational features of the GeoPic II is rather clunky. It involves counting the number of blinks and color of a single LED, all whilst holding the shutter release on the camera half way down. I would have happily paid another $50 for a few more buttons (the GeoPic II has one button on it) and a small LCD display to give a real status of the device and far easier and better control.

All those things, however, don’t change the fact that the GeoPic II does do what it is supposed to (local conditions permitting), namely adding a GPS location and altitude to your photos. When you combine that with a program like Adobe Lightroom (my absolutely favorite photo management software), you can see where you took your photo from, since Lightroom allows you to go to Google Maps with a single click of the mouse on a geotagged photo (you need to click on the little arrow next to the GPS position in the photo’s metadata in Library mode).

If any of my opinions change in the coming months as I use the GeoPic II in the great outdoors I will add some notes here. However, for now, I give the Geo Pic II a 6.0 on The Richter Scale. That score could be improved significantly by better (more) controls and feedback from the device via an LCD or other read out, as well as some way to use the GeoPic II with with a remote cord.