Put a billion dollar satellite system to use

A few years ago, I went on a little photo trek and showed off the photos. I vividly remember getting grilled about the various locations by a friend of mine. “Where were these taken?” she asked me about a particular set of photos. “Hmm,” I replied, “I don’t remember. I took so many photos, I can’t keep track.” If only there was some automatic way to tag my photos with location information, so they’d be able to tell me where they were taken. Yet another thing I’d never have to remember ever again!

Well, my wish has come true–geotagging is here. Actually, it has been here for a while, but it’s finally starting to almost-sorta reach the mainstream.

Geotagging is the term for adding location information to your photo files so they automatically know exactly where they were taken. And it’s one of the coolest things ever to happen to digital photography.

So how can a photo know where it was taken? With GPS, of course! GPS, that system of navigation satellites that most of us now take for granted to navigate around in cars, is also a nifty way to geotag your photos. In a perfect world, a GPS reciever would be built into all digital cameras. But right now, that’s not the case. Instead, we need to somehow marry GPS and photography to make geotagging work.

I’ve recently been experimenting with what is surely the most elegant geotagging tool ever made. I’m talking about Red Hen’s Blue2CAN.

In my experience, a better geotagging solution does not exist. It’s a small gadget about the size of your thumb that plugs into a small port on the front of several Nikon Digital SLRs, including the D200, D2X, D2Xs and D2Hs. It communicates wirelessly to any Bluetooth GPS receiver (like the kind that comes with inexpensive navigation programs and sits on your dashboard).

Blue2CAN automatically tags your photos (both JPG and RAW) as you take them with GPS data (all the usual stuff: latitude, longitude, and altitude), and that info is automatically readable by mapping and organizing software. Take a few pictures with Blue2Can attached to your D200, and upload them to your Flickr page, for example. Flickr adds a “map” link to each picture–click it and you can see exactly where it was taken. Even cooler: you can view all your photos as pushpins on a map, so you can go on a virtual walking tour of that Grand Cayman vacation.

My first experience with Blue2CAN was on a little photo trek last weekend out past Granite Falls, Washington, in search of a few little waterfalls. I put the Dell GPS puck in my jacket pocket and just took photos normally. The GPS reciever kept a solid lock on the satellites–I never even had to think about it–and my camera, via Blue2CAN, kept sync with the reciever, as proven by the 150-or-so photos I inspected at home, each of which had embedded geotags.

Some of those photos were parts of a series of high dynamic range (HDR) photos, and I was disappointed to find that when I combined photos in Photomatix Pro, the GPS data was stripped out of the final composite image. But all the other shots did just fine, even after being edited in Lightroom and Photoshop. You can see a few examples of my geotagging expereince on my Flickr page, or just go direxctly to my map (which, at the moment, just just a few geotagged images, but that will no doubt change now that Blue2CAN is my new best friend).

Look for more about geotagging–including other ways to geotag your photos if you don’t own a Nikon D-SLR–in an upcoming Digital Focus newsletter. I’ll update this post when that issue goes live.

26 Responses to “Put a billion dollar satellite system to use”

  1. Spink Says:

    Wow, what a cool tool, particularly Flicker’s mapping tool. Does the GPS also give direction facing, or just location? I guess for direction to be accurate, you’d have to have the receiver mounted to the camera, as opposed to just being in your pocket. Something metallic in your pocket.

  2. Thomas Stromberg Says:

    I love the small size of this solution compared to the N2 di-GPS. Are you finding that the Blue2Can has any noticeable battery drain?

  3. Dave Says:

    Definitely. I initially left it plugged in all the time, even when the camera was in the bag, and found I quickjly had dead batteries. But since then I’ve been judicious — only connecting it when I head out to shoot — and the drain is almost unnocticable.

  4. Beth Wakefield Says:

    I know that the battery drain was an issue. They have updated the firmware to fix the battery draining problem. If you have a Blue2CAN that drains the batter, you just need to contact sales@redhensystems.com to have it fixed.

  5. Dennis Says:

    Hi,

    Nice reading. Can you tell me what GPS receiver you used with Redhen? Model Name/Number/Chipset?

    I’m trying a harder route. :-(

    I have modified an MC-35 cable to power a Bluetooth-RS232C adapter to talk to a Bluetooth GPS. The wireless connection works well. But Nikon D200/D3 seems to have problem interpreting/locking to a location (flashing GPS symbol on camera LCD). Works intermittently. People said it’s the MTK chipset in the Holux M1000 I am using that is not quite compatible with Nikon.

    That’s why I am interested in your Bluetooth GPS receiver.

    Thanks for your time.

    Dennis.

  6. Dave Says:

    Thanks for the note, Dennis. I’d definitely like to know how your experiment goes.

    I use a Dell branded puck-style GPS receiver. It’s actually rather old — I think I’ve had it for 5 years or so. I don’t know any of the specs, but it is model #BT-309 and logo’d as “Navteq on board.” I hope that helps.

  7. Navigationssystem Says:

    I have noticed that Garmin product is the best gps over all. This GPS is worth every penny, easy to use and the signal is always good.

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