Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Geo-tagging with Canon Powershot S95


No, geo-tagging is not a built-in feature on Canon Powershot S95. However, there is an interesting technology for doing that with your favourite camera. I was introduced to that three years ago by googler Mano Marks (of AppEngine fame) but I was not too impressed at the time (as I was not sure how to store that info). However, once I started using iPhoto I saw that application was aware of geo-location information and therefore it could be useful to have it in my pictures. This Christmas I've got a 2GB Geo Eye-Fi SD card as a present. I'm happy to report that it works nicely with my Powershot S95, where each image is shown as uploaded or not uploaded by means of an icon (Eye-Fi cards can wirelessly upload your pictures using wifi networks).

Uploaded images contain geo-location information, so when you import them into iPhoto they will include location information on where each picture was taken. This cards use the same Skyhook database used by other devices to pinpoint location based on the available wifi networks nearby. Therefore, you get no useful information when you are on the forest or dessert (as there are no nearby wifi networks there). This system is ok urban areas though.

And the beauty of it is that you can use it your existing camera as far as it supports SD memory cards (or compact flash cards, as there are adapters available for that too). Ranging from $30 to $190 these cards are more expensive than regular SD cards, but the extra features may come in handy. Please note that the feature set of each model is kind of tricky, so make sure the card you're buying performs as you expect (i.e. only Pro models will wirelessly upload RAW files).
Update: For reasons I did not understood all the pictures taken on a trip did not get any geotagging. In some cases I was positive it was an area rich of wifi networks. What was wrong? Well, eye-fi cards need to be powered on for a while before they can geotag. If you, like me, power the camera off as soon as you're done taking the picture and you do not power it on many seconds before the first shot there is a chance you won't get any geotagging at all. Card manufacturer says that the longer the card is powered the better chance your picture be geotagged (bump). Given the fact that eye-fi cards are much more power hungry than regular SD cards this "desired" usage pattern will have a big impact on battery time.

Powershot S95 has a good handling of this card, showing useful icons on the display to inform you when there is wifi activity and whether each photo has been uploaded or not. However, a second dissapointment has been the poor coverage of the Eye-fi card once inside the S95. I need to move the camera to the same room where my access point is for pictures to be uploaded to my computer. Transfer time could be better too but I'd say it is acceptable.

Yet another source of disappointment is the fact that location information is ignored if you take the card out of your camera and plug it in your computer. Location information is only ok if the image file is wirelessly uploaded to your computer.

Finally, the last nail in the coffin is the fact that Eye-Fi tells you to shell out more money if you want to upload your pictures to any on-line service (like Flickr or Picasa). It seems the 'x2' versions of their cards do include a lifetime free service but not the 2GB Geo. So the only free wireless upload is to your own computer and, while they say they are iPhoto compatible, uploads won't happen to your iPhoto library automatically. You need to import the pictures from the upload folder to iPhoto application.

Because all of the above I cannot recommend this product or technology. It is a good idea but I am not happy with the final result. The worst part is that you only learn location information is missing at the very end of the process (once you've imported the pictures to iPhoto).

4 Comments:

  • At 11:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Very helpful!

     
  • At 11:23 pm, Blogger Miguel Sánchez said…

    After using it for a recent trip to Beijing my opinion improved a little bit. Many pictures were properly geo-tagged but not in the Great Wall :-)

    Configuring the card to upload pictures to my laptop with no wifi access point around proved a living hell (and I have to use data roaming in my cellphone to fix it).

    What I like the most is that I do not need to open my camera so often to move just a few pictures.

     
  • At 10:24 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I find using Eye-Fi with the S95 to be inconsistent in Direct Mode. It seems that the S95, turns off its "Direct Mode" WiFi everytime the shutter is depressed (saves battery?)

     
  • At 6:09 pm, Blogger Miguel Sánchez said…

    I'm not sure what Direct Mode is. But I guess is only available for newer cards: http://www.eye.fi/how-it-works/features/direct-mode

    I think I cannot use that mode with my card. I'm sorry I cannot be of help here.

     

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