Geotagging – Third Party Tools

Date January 11, 2009

I’ve posted previously about my Gisteq PhotoTrackr GPS logger.  This slick little device keeps a log of exactly where it is geographically, at any given time.  The log it creates can then be downloaded and cross-referenced with the capture time of your photos to give the exact location your photo was taken.  Although the PhotoTrackr hardware is pretty good, the provided software leaves a lot to be desired.  

The software Gisteq provides is intended to be the one-stop-shop for all your photographic workflow needs.  It allows you to import your photos, download the GPS track log, cross reference them and keep a database of it all.  While this probably works well for most users, it’s not for me.  There’s too many bells and whistles for my liking, as well the user interface is not that intuitive.  

I just need something basic with the following features: 1.) download the GPS file, 2.) cross-reference the photos with the track log, and 3.) add the coordinates to the photo’s metadata.  Oh, and it has to work on RAW files and integrate neatly with my existing workflow (call this feature 4.).  Not too much to ask for, right?

Well, the Gisteq software definitely will do everything I need it to (features 1-3) if I purchase the Pro license to handle the RAW files.  But the problem is that Gisteq has locked down the application to a single install, requiring an activation code and a whole bunch of unnecessary security all in the hopes of preventing people from using the program without paying for it.  This prevents you from downloading your data on another computer (ie. laptop, or at an internet cafe), which would be very useful for traveling.  It’s a silly decision in my opinion, as the software is essentially useless if you don’t have their hardware anyway.  

Luckily, I’ve found alternate software to let me bypass the Gisteq software.  It’s free, and once it’s set up, it will integrate well into your workflow.

Downloading (iTU4l and sr2x)

Prior to this post, I was not aware of any other software besides the Gisteq software that could download the track logs from the GPS device.  To me, this was the most serious problem as it meant I could not download the device while traveling.  There is hope though.  I’ve come across some Perl scripts that seem to work pretty well.  Obviously, Perl needs to be installed on your system, but if you’re using a Mac or Linux, Perl is already installed.  If you’re at an internet cafe, you’re probably out of luck though.

The first script (iTU4l) downloads the device and saves the data to a file.  This is raw data so it’s pretty useless without the second script.  The second script (sr2x) converts the raw GPS data into a variety of track log formats such as GPX, Google Earth’s KML format, CSV, etc.  Very handy.  A shell script can be made to download the data, and convert it automatically to your liking quite easily if you know how.  If not, here is the basic code for one to convert to .gpx and delete the serial data (.sr) file:

#!/bin/bash
iTU4l.pl -am
sr2x.pl -i p gpx *.sr
rm *.sr

Cross-Referencing (PhotoGPSEditor)

There are a number of applications that perform the cross-referencing of GPS track logs to photos, and also embed the data with the photo.  From my experience, my favorite applications are GPicSync (for Windows or Mac OS X) and PhotoGPSEditor (for Mac OS X).  I’m not going to get too detailed with these applications as they’re pretty self explanatory but my reasons for choosing these over the plethora of others is that they are simple, intuitive, light (small file sizes and require few resources) and free.  I chose PhotoGPSEditor over GPicSync for OS X because it’s a bit more user-friendly.  I also found the picture/map previews were very useful to pinpoint the location of the image if your camera and GPS tracker times don’t mesh properly.  

One drawback of PhotoGPSEditor is that it does not use xml sidecar files.  I would prefer sidecar files to prevent potentially corrupting the image file.  Also, I noticed that PhotoGPSEditor did not like to process large quantities of RAW files.  When saving the data to more than 200 photos (last step in the process) the software became unstable.  I’m not sure if this was a resource issue wth my computer, or simple a software bug, but for now I’ll keep the batches to less than 200 images.

Conclusions

While there is still a lot of progress to be made, the software I’ve mentioned above is definitely on the right path to streamlining geotagging for those not interested in the all-in-one image management applications provided by manufacturers like Gisteq.  A simple set of tools to integrate into my workflow is all I need when using applications like Lightroom or Aperture.

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