GPS Geotagging with my Nikon D80

Geotagging photos is becoming more and more popular since photosharing websites like Flickr, Picasa Web Albums and others support close integration of geotagged EXIF information.

Added 2008-7-13: See here for a complete geotagging workflow on the Mac!

Manual geotagging is a slow and boring process – provided you remember the locations the photos were taken at. I’m convinced that it won’t take long until almost every cheapo digital camera comes with its own GPS receiver that automatically stamps the coordinates into the EXIF header but unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. So the main question is: how do I get the GPS readings into the EXIF header of the photos in my Nikon D80?

Unfortunately, the Nikon D80 doesn’t come with a data connector like the more expensive Nikon bodies. So there’s absolutely no way of directly stamping GPS information at photo-take-time. A less elegant approach works like this: A GPS logger device is permanently recording my current location and when I’m back at my notebook I download the GPS track log from the GPS logger and merge it with the photos I took on the same day. The EXIF information of all D80 photos contain the (camera-)time the photo was taken at so there’s going to be a close or even exact match of the photo time information and the recorded GPS logger coordinates and voilà: that’s the location the photo was taken at. I know this may not sound very sophisticated and involves some extra work but that’s as good as it gets with the Nikon D80.

Which GPS logger best suits my needs

My needs are:

  • Quick and easy battery replacement using standard batteries. Some GPS loggers come with their own (proprietary) rechargeable battery and charger and there’s always a risk that the battery isn’t charged when you need the device. I’ve got already enough chargers, cables and stuff with me when I travel so I’m really looking for something simple and stupid. Another advantage is that you can buy standard batteries almost everywhere.
  • The GPS clock and the camera clock need to be synchronized (the GPS clock being the master). I prefer to have a display on my GPS logger that shows the exact GPS time so I’m able to make sure both clocks are in sync.
  • Continuous run time of at least 12 hours and enough location storage for the same time.
  • Bluetooth support (my notebook has Bluetooth built in) so I don’t have to mess around with more cables.
  • Needs to fit into the outer compartments of my LowePro camera backpack.
  • Adjustable logging intervals.
  • PC and Mac compatible. I don’t mind installing some additional software and drivers on the Mac.
  • Low costs because there are going to be better loggers with better software support in the near future as geotaggig becomes more popular.

There aren’t too many GPS logger review sites but I do recommend Richard’s Tech Review blog for reviews on various GPS loggers. It seems that the only low-priced GPS logger with a LC display is the Holux M-241. The LCD even has a backlight which turns itself off after a few seconds after pressing a button. This is an advantage compared to the non-LCD GPS loggers which use bright blinking status LEDs which might accidentally interfere with your nightshots.

Richard’s review on the Holux M-241 wasn’t that positive but it’s the only device that suits my needs. Looking at the cons Richard lists for this device I can’t see a point that’s a show stopper for me. One nice thing about the Holux M-241 is that it’s fully functional when plugged into an USB port even without a battery (using the included USB/Mini-USB cable). This way you’re able to download the data even if the battery is empty.

As the Holux M-241 isn’t being sold in my country (Switzerland) I decided to buy one from eBay from a Taiwanese seller named “plum.bargains” for US$81 including shipping. I paid with Paypal and it arrived after one business week.

Holux M-241 LCD

The Holux M-241 sports a dot-matrix LCD module. I was quite impressed by its resolution.

Pedestrian use and static navigation

The Holux M-241 uses the MTK GPS chipset. I gathered from a few GPS-geeks forums that the MTK chipset is more optimized for speeds above 5 km/h than for pedestrian use. The feature is called “static navigation” (SN) if you want to google more information about it. It’s being said that GPS loggers with the SiRFstarIII chipset provide more accurate readings at slow speeds because SN can be disabled on those chipsets. I can’t really validate this claim as I only have a MTK based device but I can tell you that the Holux-M241 is pretty accurate in every situation as long as you take care that the side marked “up” always faces the sky. It’s a non-issue for me personally.

Geotagging photos using the Holux M-241

The provided Windows utility from Holux has a few ugly bugs so I decided not to use it at all. It won’t run on a Mac anyway and I was looking for a solution that covers both operating systems. Thanks to a link on Richard’s blog I found the BT747 project. It’s a platform independent (using Java) datalogger control software. It may not look extremely fancy but hey, it gets the job done. My Kudos go out to Mario from the BT747 project for his awesome work!

Holux Bluetooth settings

The firmware in my Holux M-241 is labeled “B-core_1.1”.

In case you want to run BT747 on a Mac, Richard provides some instructions how that can be done.

Once the BT747 software is up and running you can download (using Bluetooth or USB) the track log from the Holux GPS Logger and decode that information to various formats (NMEA, GMAP, TRK, KML, CSV, PLT…). The format you choose will depend on what software you plan to use to geotag your photos with. I’m currently using GeoSetter for Windows which works nicely with my .DNG Adobe Lightroom photos (converted RAW .NEF files from my Nikon D80).

GeoSetter location settings

Awesome: GeoSetter fetches the precise altitude for a given location and textual location information online from the web and puts them into the EXIF header.

I’m still looking for a similar software for the Mac that processes .DNG or .NEF files. Please leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

It would be very clever if Lightroom itself would be capable of geotagging my photos using existing NMEA track log files when importing photos from the camera.

Conclusion

The Holux M-241 combined with the awesome BT747 and GeoSetter applications are an inexpensive and powerful combination for everyone who owns a Nikon D80 (or almost any other camera) and wants to start geotagging her/his photos. Please don’t forget to donate to those projects if you use them.

34 thoughts on “GPS Geotagging with my Nikon D80

  1. I use a D80 to take aerial photos for the Civil Air Patrol.
    I want a GPS to imprint Location, Direction the camera faces ,and altitude if that is possible. I download to a computer and then download to a data base after I land. Is there a model that does these things? I will not be using bluetooth or anything else.

  2. Pingback: An ABC of geotagging photos on the Mac | bioneural.net
  3. My D7000 works with Eztag, Bluetooth one, independent battery, catches satellite fast and accurate.

  4. Another alternative for iPhone users is to use the app GeoLogTag [iTunes. It does a great job of using the GPS tracking on your iPhone to track locations, then to sync this with the photo on your camera. Just make sure the time on your camera and iPhone are the same.

    I haven’t tried this yet, I basically just installed it, I will be going out on shoot tomorrow to try it with my D80.

    Thanks
    Lee

  5. As long as you export the recorded data on the EEE PC into some useful format – yes.

  6. I travel with an eee pc with linux. Can I simply download the log data and save it to disk, then process it on a mac when I get home?

  7. Michael, yes you can. In fact I’ve been doing this since I’m able to turn Bluetooth off in the M241 to conserve battery. But there’s no driver that lets you access the M241 in file mode if that is what you mean. You have to use a program like BT747 which is able to download the track information and to export it to a well known format. One way to export the data is to a Google Map .html file.

    Here’s a sample: http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/763.....90313.html

    (Don’t click the link, save it to your Desktop and open it from there, it’s a Google Map protection thing)

  8. Jan,

    Can you sync the M-241 with a mac without using bluetooth if you’d rather stick with wires? Can I load a driver and then simply plug the USB cable in to get a downloaded track file? If I can do this, can I then use most geotagging programs to do the rest of the work, provided they support the track file format that the Holux uses?

  9. I’m thinking of getting the HOLUX M-241 too.

    But have 2 doubts.

    Would like to find out if it auto-start logging when a satellite fix is obtained. i.e.: You are logging. Then you go into a building for a while, and come out again, does it continue to log? Or do I have to press the button again?

    and

    Does it auto-off after some time when it couldn’t aquire a signal? If so, can the auto-off be disabled?

    Thanks in advance..

    .

  10. There is a new firmware version 1.12 available on the official Holux download page:
    http://www.holux.com/JCore/en/.....sp?pno=341

    New feature are:
    1. Backlight time ~ add new option “Always On”
    2. Display function of heading numeral (0′ – 359′)
    3. Log Height ~ change the standard of coordinate system from
    “WGS84″ to “Sea level”.
    4. UTC time ~ add the option “Minute”
    5. Add Bluetooth turn on/ turn off function (Including TC,SC,DE,
    FR,EN String)
    English : Bluetooth, on,off
    German : Bluetooth,EIN,AUS
    French : Bluetooth, allumez, éteinez

  11. I wanted to thank you for this write up. I had a Magellan Meridian handheld GPS lying around that has been given a new lease on life as a logger. I was able to successfully record a track to a small SD card and sync that track to some test pictures using GeoSetter.

  12. Thanks for the info
    Do I need to press any button on the logger for a position reading?? Or does it record automaticly??

  13. Just turn logging on. The GPS logger logs the current GPS information every few seconds. Once you load the GPS information into GeoSetter it will automatically match the GPS position to your photo using its EXIF header. The only thing that’s very important is that the camera’s internal clock is set to the clock displayed on the GPS logger. Errm… unfortunately I can’t explain the workflow any better than this.

  14. Hi 77

    I mite be a little bit slow… Simply instruction please…
    How do you tag your location on the m-241??
    How will it all come together on the pc??
    Any help with this is greatful

  15. It matches when both have (almost) identical time information as explained in the article above.

  16. Hi
    I also have the M-241, with the Nikon D80.
    Can you please let me how to log the M-241 to the d80 when taking photo, how does it match with the photo????

    Martin (Austraia)

  17. The firmware v1.11 fixes the main 3 issues of the M-241:

    – wrong readings in the southern hemisphere
    – autostart (added autostart option in settings)
    – 1Hz logging

    By the way. I live in switzerland too and am quite impressed by the little device until now.

  18. I’m always wearing it in my LowePro backpack, in an outer compartment. I recently visited Copenhagen and the readings were correct most of the time. I even forgot to switch it off on the flight back and it took readings from the gate until about 1 minute after take off. Maybe some other luggage fell on top of it in the overhead bin while the plane ascended.
    The autostart thing is interesting. What software version does your M-241 have?

  19. You appear to be happy with the accuracy of the M241 logger. I have one myself and I frequently get readings that are more than 10 meters out. Am I expecting too much?

    One of the issues appears to be this “that the side marked “up” always faces the sky.”

    For example I get bad readings, when I tie my shoes! I have the impression, that the reading is only good, if the device is perfectly vertical.

    How do you ensure the device is vertical?

    By the way I am also in Switzerland. Check out my sample track which shows me meandering in the middle of the road near Albis Pass – I would be dead by now if the readings were accurate!
    http://www.nussbaumerweb.com/G.....Sample.kml

    By the way – mine does autostart.

  20. One of Richard’s negative comments was that it doesn’t automatically start logging the moment you turn it on.

    Have they fixed it your v1.1 firmware?

  21. No, and I don’t think it will ever be possible over USB without the invention of a special USB protocol.

  22. I get a full day of logging with a non-rechargeable battery. The log is safe even if it runs out of battery power.

  23. How about battery operating time?
    Does it keep the log even if it runs out of battery power while it is recording data?

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