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Geotagging with external GPS receivers now possible

GPS receivers: Holux, QStarz, Transystem

A few weeks ago, we released app and firmware updates that enable a handful of external GPS receivers to be paired directly with the Unleashed, to provide GPS location data for geotagging without the need of a smartphone.

This is great news for those customers that were unhappy with their smartphone’s location precision, or simply prefer a more independent geotagging solution. This might be to extend battery life of the smartphone, or to enjoy longer battery life of external GPS receivers, especially on long trips off the grid.

The compatible GPS Receivers are:

  • Holux M-241 Plus
  • QStarz BL-1000ST
  • QStarz BL-1000GT
  • Transystem GL-770

After pairing one of these GPS receivers with your Unleashed through the app (Menu->Your Unleasheds->Edit Unleashed->Accessories), you will see new GPS Modes in the first picker of the GPS settings. In addition to “OFF” and “Smartphone”, you will now also have the options “External GPS only” as well as “External GPS with smartphone fallback” (We hope the new icons make it clear which is which). The first new option will exclusively use GPS data from the external GPS, and not of the smartphone, whereas the second option will use the external GPS while it’s available and providing valid data, but will automatically fall back to using the smartphone location otherwise.

We’ve also added a few new LED colors/sequences to make using the Unleashed without the app a little easier:

  • Lightblue: when an Accessory (such as a GPS receiver) is connected, but the app is not connected, the led will slowly pulse lightblue instead of turqoise.
  • Red blink: alternating with the normal sequences, the Unleashed will blink red to show that there is an error, until now mostly GPS related errors. You can then start the app to see details about the error, or simply check that the the external GPS receiver has a Fix and is connected. Some of these errors are:
    • External GPS receiver not connected (even if it then uses Smartphone fallback)
    • GPS data not valid (even if using last known position)
    • GPS accuracy too low

Comparing the receivers

The Holux has the Unique feature that it uses a single AA battery, for which you can buy replacements anywhere in the world, but at the same time battery life is not as good as with the rechargeable Li-Ion batteries of the other options. The QStarz devices provide a little more data than the other two receivers [update: Transystem caught up], and we’ve implemented a neat little feature where you can use the POI button on the Receiver to trigger the camera. But they are also the most expensive. We recommend the BL-1000ST rather than the BL-1000GT, since the Unleashed will not make use of the 10Hz update rate, so it is not worth the extra cost. The Transystem device is more affordable than Qstarz, while providing just as precise position data, but has a quirk that it uses a non-standard USB-A to USB-A charging/data cable. So don’t lose that!

Right from the start, we had planned to make the Unleashed directly compatible with external GPS receivers, but technical challenges forced us to decide against pursuing backwards compatibility to GPS receivers using Bluetooth Classic. Unfortunately, at the time of Launch that basically left us with no options, since virtually all GPS receivers used Bluetooth Classic. However, in the past few years, the above devices were released, so we put a lot of effort into making the Unleashed compatible with external accessories in general, and added support for each of the GPS receivers one after the other.

While we had to reverse engineer Holux’s Bluetooth Protocol (and we got the Date portion wrong for a while), QStarz was kind enough to provide documentation that allowed us to implement support for their devices much more quickly. Transystem went one step further: They used a standard protocol defined by the Bluetooth SIG, and when we found a small issue with their implementation and had additional wishes, they swiftly made changes and added support for those in a firmware update. So a big thank you to both QStarz and Transystem for your support!

So, finally, the Unleashed now enables direct geotagging with external GPS receivers for Nikon as well as Canon DSLRs!

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Nikon D5500 – no more integrated GPS

So, just in time for CES, Nikon announced the D5500, successor to the D5300. The D5300 was Nikon’s only DSLR that had GPS built-in. Its successor, however, no longer does. It seems the function was either not popular enough, or did not work as well as it was supposed to. My guess/experience: Both! (The worst was the battery drain). As usual, you can read the details on dpreview.com or engadget.com

At CES, I went over to the Nikon booth, to test our Unleashed on the D5500 there. Luckily, one of the guys there was curious enough himself to let me test it – even though they were just prototypes, and he wasn’t supposed to let me.

Nikon D5500
  • The good news: the Unleashed Dx000 works on the D5500 (see the GPS Satellite icon)
    Nikon D5500 screenshot GPS icon
  • The bad news: I was unable to properly test how well it fits the D5500, but can tell you it’ll be tight!
    Unleashed Dx000 on Nikon D5500Unleashed Dx000 on Nikon D5500
    It would have been necessary to remove the rubber flap to insert the Unleashed Dx000 completeley, and of course was not going to do that on Nikon’s prototype. The socket is a little more recessed than on other cameras, so I cannot yet promise that the Unleashed can be plugged in all the way, and therefore get enough contact to work properly. I will update this post when I know more – if you’ve tested it, let us know in the comments!
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Nikon Df – add GPS with Unleashed Dx000

Nikon launched yet another DSLR, just weeks after the D610 and the D5300. Catching up to the retro trend the Nikon Df (which stands for Digital fusion) looks similar to the classic FM/2 and the F3, but internally is on par with Nikons current flagship cameras. It contains the 16MP full-frame sensor and Expeed processors of the D4, and the AF system of the D610. Read more about the specs and features on nikon.com or dpreview.com.

Nikon Df in Silver

The Df does not have built-in GPS, but it is compatible with our Unleashed Dx000, which will sit nice and flat on the side of the Df, adding GPS capability to the Df, without adding bulk or cables, or getting in the way when you take photos, very much unlike the Nikon GP-1 :-)

Nikon Df with GP-1
The Nikon GP-1 on the Df – “less than ideal”

One more thing: there is no GPS icon on the top LCD, and the one on the info screen on the main LCD has changed to this: Df GPS icon

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Nikon D610 – no built-in GPS, Unleashed Dx000 compatible

Nikon announces the D610 as the successor of the D600, but only with minor updates. Many had hoped for built-in GPS and wifi, but again, Nikon did not add this. Instead they gave the D610 a new shutter mechanism, probably to put an end to the oil spot problem of the D600, but at the same time offering slightly increased frame rate (6 as opposed to 5.5fps) and a new quiet continuous shooting option. Read the details on nikon.com or dpreview.com.

Nikon D610

The good news is that our Unleashed Dx000 will still be compatible with the D610, just as it was with the D600. As such, it will also be necessary to completely remove the rubber flap covering the GPS Port, to allow the Unleashed Dx000 to fit properly. We describe a almost entirely reversible way to do so here.

Order your Unleashed Dx000 in our online-shop today!

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Nikon D600 – Unleashed Dx000 is compatible

We’re back from photokina2012 – a great show and a great success! As promised I headed over to the Nikon Booth, and tested our Unleashed Dx000 on the D600.

At first, my heart sunk: No GPS icon on the top LCD. Luckily, when I took photos, the GPS data was embedded in the EXIF data! I figured that Nikon might have simply not included a GPS icon at all on the top LCD. Looking through the manual (page 175 7) it is evident that this is not the case. – there definitely should be a GPS icon. Maybe I simply overlooked it, or the Model on display malfunctioned in some way. Sorry for this false information. Page 175 shows the INFO display, not the top LCD. Top LCD or “Control Panel” is shown on page 7, and definitely does NOT have a GPS icon.

D600 with UnleashedDx000

The Unleashed will fit nicely on the D600, the only problem being that the rubberflap is in the way. While it is possible to use the Unleashed like that, the pressure from the flap will, over time, cause the Plug on the Unleashed to break off the PCB inside, which eventually result in malfunction. There are two nice solutions for this:

  • Cut a rectangle out of the flap, just over the port – so the flap remains closed while the Unleashed is plugged in.
  • Remove the flap entirely: A customer figured out a great, almost entirely reversible method for this:
    D7000 Flap cut
    [image from georgle’s blog]


    by cutting the rubber hinges that wrap around the metal pin right next to the flap, it is possible to remove the flap entirely. By threading the hinges back under the metal pin, the flap can be replaced and will retain its full functionality.

Update:

I misread the manual: Page 175 shows the INFO screen, not the TOP LCD. On page 7 one can see that the top LCD really does not have a GPS icon – in other words, the D600 is fully compatible with the Unleashed Dx000, no “odd behaviour”, no doubt about it.

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Nikon D600 announced

Today, Nikon announced another full-frame DSLR, the D600. Read the reviews on dpreview, engadget or elsewhere.

Nikon D600

Of course Nikon added GPS support, again it’s not integrated, but via an external Module, such as their GP-1 and of course our Unleashed. According to Nikon, the D600 fits in right below the D800 and is just as much a Pro DSLR as the latter. Rumor had it, that this was going to be the first consumer DSLR with an Fx sensor, and there was much evidence to back this. One example is that the D600 does not have the “pro” 10-pin port on the front of the camera, which would have fit our Unleashed D200+. Instead, it is equipped with the port found on all the consumer DSLRs, on the side of the camera, making our Unleashed Dx000 compatible with the D600.

Nikon D600 GPS Port

D600 Ports (photo by dpreview)

In a couple of days, we’ll be at photokina, and will try the D600 with our Unleashed, just to verify it works, and get you some pics of how it looks.

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Adobe Lightroom 4 released – with extensive Geotagging support

More and more software is coming out with support for geotagged photos. Finally Adobe has caught on, and has released Lightroom 4, along with pretty decent geotagging features.

Lightroom 4 Senegal Map

“Map” is now one of the main views available in Lightroom, in which you will see a big map, with markers in all the spots on the map in which you took photos. If you zoom out, markers too close together are merged. Instead of an empty marker representing a single photo, a number is displayed on that marker, indicating the number of photos taken in that area. You can also choose to load GPS tracklog files, and have Lightroom 4 display these on the map. These tracks can even be used to indirectly geotag photos that are not yet geotagged, by matching the timestamps.

Lightroom 4 tracklogs

Optionally, you can blend in extra panels. The left panel contains three subviews:

  • Navigator – a smaller overview map
  • Saved Locations – a set of manually saved spots/areas, defined by location and radius. For each Location you can set a privacy option, if you want location metadata to be deleted whenever you export photos from this area (your home, for example)
  • Collections – what would be called “Albums” in most other Photo Managment software – not geotagging specific.

The right panel is your usual Metadata panel, in which you can see EXIF, IPTC and other Metadata, including the EXIF Fields with the GPS coordinates, along with button that will center the map to those coordinates. You can even choose to only display Location Metadata.

Along the bottom you have your film-strip panel. The photos in here all have badges in the bottom right corner, indicating whether or not they are geotagged. if you click on one of the markers in the map view, all the photos in that location are centered and highlighted in the film-strip view, so you can quickly see which photos were taken there. Instead of clicking on a single marker in the map, you can also apply one of three Location filters (along the top of the map view):

Lightroom 4 location filter

  • Visible on Map – highlights all photos in the filmstrip which were taken in the currently visible area on the map.
  • Tagged – highlights all photos in the filmstrip that are geotagged, and dims the photos without geotag
  • Untagged – does exactly the opposite.
The latter is especially useful for finding the photos where your geotagging device missed a photo or two without you noticing, so that you can manually add its location – for example by synching Location metadata from another photo taken in the same spot, or using a tracklog that you might have additionally saved.

I have not taken the time to dive any deeper into Lightroom 4 (I use Apples Aperture – which has supported geotagging for quite a while longer), who knows what other gems I might have missed – so feel free to add your own finds in the comments!

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Nikon D800/D800E – still no built-in GPS

A few days ago, Nikon announced the D800 and the D800E, and again they did not build in a GPS Receiver. While I’m sure this will happen in the future, Nikon do still have some work ahead of them to get this to work well enough for a pro camera! And contrary to what they say – it’s not (just) about the limited space inside the camera body. Read some of my thoughts here. Nikon did keep their 10-pin port for attaching external GPS devices.

Nikon D800 with its 10-pin port for GPS

Unfortunately, Nikon changed the physical design of the area around that 10-pin port in such a way, that our Unleashed D200+ no longer fits, at least not without modification.

The problem is that Nikon made the D800 smaller, the lens mount wider, and most contours of the camera more slanted. This results in less space near the 10-pin port to begin with, and that space decreasing even more as you try to push the Unleashed further into the socket – so much, that it is not possible to firmly plug the Unleashed into the socket. Electrically, it would still work, but physically it does not fit.

Nikon D800 Top view with Unleashed D200+ outline
Illustration of the problem area – proportions are not exact.

We now need to wait until we get a D800, in order to evaluate whether it might be possible to make the Unleashed fit by modifying its casing (i.e. cutting or sanding off the one edge of the back of the Unleashed) to fit the slanted edge of the lens mount, and how we will need to redesign the next version of the product to account for the changes.

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Nikon Interview – questions about GPS

I just read an interesting interview by imaging-resource with Nikon’s General Manager of Design: Toshiaki Akagi, amongst others. After talking about several aspects of the D4 and other general topics, they got to the topic of why there is no built-in GPS in the D4:

Dave Etchells, Publisher, Imaging Resource: We had a number of readers, also, asking about GPS, and why you can attach a GPS receiver, but people are saying why wasn’t GPS built into the camera?

Toshiaki Akagi: We always have a GP-1 GPS accessory, then we want to use a GP-1, and if we include a GPS function in the camera, the camera would be bigger. And GPS still has a little problem, so for example indoors, we cannot get GPS data, then we are considering now to adapt the GPS to the next model, in the future. While you are indoors, the performance is not stable, so that’s why we gave up to install the function in the body as of now.

There is more, so read the rest at imaging-resource.com (found via nikonrumors.com).

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Nikon D4 GPS with Unleashed D200+

We were at PMA@CES, exhibiting our products. On a slow morning I wandered over to the CES, heading straight to the Nikon booth. After admiring the D4 for a while, I seized the opportunity, to gather proof for everyone, that our Unleashed D200+ is compatible with the D4. I took my favorite GPS, which managed to keep a fix even inside the Convention Center hall and plugged an Unleashed into the D4. It fits beautifully.

Nikon D4 with Unleashed (front view)

After 3 seconds, the Unleashed had connected to the GPS, and the GPS icon on the LCD lit up:

Nikon D4 with GPS icon (top view)

Took a photo, and what do you know: it’s geotagged with our location in Las Vegas!

Nikon D4 with GPS data (back)


View Larger Map

So there you go: Proof that our Unleashed D200+ is fully compatible with the new Nikon D4!

PS. I went to see Canon’s GP-E1, which they announced 3 months ago! They did not have one with them! Can you believe it? I certainly couldn’t! On top of that, no-one at the booth had any knowledge about it, other than having heard it exists.