I really like the idea behind geotagging photos. ((For a long winded explanation of geotagging go HERE.)) Many of you know I have been wanting to get my greedy little hands on the Jobo Photo GPS unit since they first announced it two years back. For whatever the reasons, Jobo had a series of delays releasing this unit. Finally in December 08 they released the product and I got my hands on the little guy. ((One note, this is a completely different unit than they had planned to release. The original one had a led display on the back and a higher profile. I am not sure if this unit is made by someone else and distributed by Jobo with their name on it or if Jobo is producing it for Geotate under the name Kato. No biggy, manufactures do this all the time. Just an interesting fact.)) Only to have my excitement dashed as they did not have Mac software for it only Windows. So I have this tiny sexy little gps for my camera sitting on my desk for the past month or so waiting for the release of the Mac interface. Finally a few weeks back they released it. (Remember, click on any images to view them larger.)
I downloaded the software and right away went out to my front yard to shoot two or three frames to test the unit. I returned to fine the software was not finding any locations. It recorded the shots and the times, but no locations. I had heard from Jobo that this was supposed to be so specific that the software would not only record the latitude and longitude but also the street name. This I wanted to see. But nothing.
So I emailed and called Jobo with not much luck. Finally they wrote and told me I must have a defective unit. I don’t think so. Here’s why; In a last desperate attempt I went out into the city and just drove around and shot with the unit on my camera. I came home and found that several locations where in fact recorded and even had street names. Hurray! So I went out again yesterday to do a more detailed test.
Before I get into the workflow let me describe the actual unit its self. It is really small. It is about 2 inches by 1 inch. It is mounted on the camera flash shoe and records a position every time the shutter is fired. The one gripe I have about the actual unit is that the hot shoe connector does not have a lock of any sorts. The unit just slides on and slides off. It fits snugly on the shoe, so it won’t fall off if the camera is turned on it’s back. But not that tight to give me any comfort that it would not get knocked off while the camera hangs upside down on my BrackRapid strap. This just seems like an design over site and very risky.
The gps is always on and in standby so unlike other gps units it does not need to find the satellite. I am not going into details of how the GPS unit works. For some of you that is important. For me it is not. All I need to know is that it does work, and it does. What I struggled with was not the gps unit but the Mac software.
So once you have taken your images and return to the computer to download them you need to run the Jobo software, PhotoGPS. The software is simple and easy to use. But it does become an extra step in the download process. You will want to run the PhotoGPS software before you load your images into LightRoom. The reason being is that LightRoom reads your metadata and records it into each file. So it will read the gps coordinates on import once PhotoGPS embedds it into the RAW file. You can run the PhotoGPS software after import into LightRoom. But, once you add metadata to each file after import, like the gps coordinates, then you will have to have LightRoom re-read each file for the new metadata and that just gets complicated and time consuming.
So once you open the PhotoGPS software you are given a two paneled screen; one side for the gps data and the other for the photos. (See the image to the left.) The Jobo gps unit plugs into the computer through a USB 2.0 cable. PhotoGPS sees the unit and tells you it is there and that it is charging. You are given two ways to read the gps data, either by reading it directly from the unit or by downloading the data to the computer and storing it in a folder on your hard drive. I tried reading it from the unit first. The software thought a long time then crashed. I tried again, and it thought a long time, then started to download, then crashed again. This was not encouraging to say the least. So I tried the other option of downloading the data. I told it the folder I wanted the data to be stored in and told it to download. It thought, and thought and thought and…well, you get the picture, it hung. I quit the application and restarted it. This time it loaded the data fairly quick. Overall in this process the PhotoGPS crashed or froze several times. It is clear there is an issue with the Mac software. Finally the images all loaded. The next step is to match the data with the images. This is done simply by a push of a button. So I pushed the button and prayed; this time no issue. All the data matched up to all the images. Then the last step is simply to write the data to the RAW files. To do this you push the “Tag Photos” button and it writes the data to a XMP sidecar file where you have the photos stored, in this case the flash card. Apparently it write it directly into the EXIF data in a JPG file. Again, it went off without a hitch.
Now you just proceed to import the files like you would normally do into LightRoom. Only this time you will see two new metadata fields. Yes, two. One for the gps coordinates and the other for the altitude. Fun. One more thing that is kind of cool, but needs some tweaking, is that on import all the street information is imported at key words. Very cool! This mean you do not have to key word on import the location of your shoot anymore. But here is the downside to this and where it needs tweaking. What I found was that the location did not import as multible key words but one single entry. Normally I would inter key word and they would look like this: Malaysia, Penang, Tanjung Tokong. Each place or name separated with a comma. But when PhotoGPS entered the key words they came out like this: Mukim 18 (Tanjong Tokong) Penang Malaysia. To be honest, I am not sure if this is really and issue or not. But it does make for some very long key word sets in LightRoom.
Once in LightRoom you will find the Metadata field that holds the gps coordinates you will see a small button next to them. (See image) If you click on that button you will be taken to Google Maps and shown where the image was taken. For the most part the data was very close to the spot I stood. The difference might be at the most 50 yards, but much of the time it was within a few feet.
Another LightRoom add on is the Flickr plugin that Jeffrey Friedl has made. This will upload your images to Flickr with the gps coordinates and then visitors can view them on the Flickr map.
So, over all what do I think? I really, really wanted to love this product. I love a lot of Jobo’s product like the Gigaview Pro. I love the concept and the unit itself. Jobo, or somebody did a great job designing a small, low profile gps unit for the camera. It does what it was designed to do and for $159 it may well be worth it, especially once they get the software kinks worked out of it. But what I really dislike is the Mac version software PhotoGPS. Not because it is hard to use, it is not. It is very simple. It is just glitchy, really glitchy. It took so much time to load and then reload the images due to all the snags. I am just not sure it is worth the effort. I guess it all comes down to how important is GeoTagging your photos. For me, at this time it is mostly just for fun. But there are important uses. When I went to Sumatra in Feb 08 I needed this unit, but it was delayed. The NGO I was shooting for really wanted to know where the images of each people group I shot where taken. I had to just point them out generally on a map after the trip. This would have been really handy. The PhotoGPS is a group effort between Jobo, Geotate and it uses the data from the OpenStreetMap project. This product has a lot of potential. With all that said it still is a far cry better than the way I was doing geotagging before. A lot fewer steps and I thing this is all correctable in the next version update. But for now. Just be ready to fight with the software if you really want your photos tagged.