ATP Photo Finder
Geotagging photos has become increasingly popular recently as GPS devices have become more popular. For those of you asking just what “geotagging” means, it takes a log of your travels from a GPS and matches up where you have been with photographs based on time. A geotagger can look at the timestamp of a photo, find out exactly where you were at that time based on the tracklog, and then encode information into the photo (hidden in the file) with the latitude and longitude the photo was taken. Then you can “map” your photos. This process requires several pieces to make it work, and they don’t always play nice together. Enter the ATP Photo Finder which aims to help with that process. How does it work, and how well does it work? Read on.
The ATP Photo finder is simple enough. The device is a simple small box about 3.25 x 1.75 inches and very light weight. Inside is a SiRFstarIII chipset to find your position, and a small internal memory to record a tracklog of your travels. On the top is a tiny screen which displays basic status information or your current coordinates, along with a few lights to indicate power, GPS, and memory status. On the side is a power button and two other navigation buttons. On the back is a battery compartment where you insert two (not included) AAA batteries. Battery life is described in the manual as being about 7.5-8.0 hours based on 1,000mAh batteries. I was using 900mAh batteries and was able to achieve about 5 hours of battery life.
Speaking of the manual, it needs a bit of grammar checking. While I’m far from perfect, the manual is almost entertaining to read due to the numerous grammar mistakes. If you read it aloud you will sound like Borat. Here are just a few of the highlights.
Page 1: To avoid any unpredictable reason cause the malfunction of
Page 2: Please backup you file
Page 3: Store data up to two month
Further disturbing is that they describe basic information about how GPS works and say that the satellites orbit “about 20 kilometers (about 12.4 miles) above us”… Last I checked they were in orbits between 20,000 and 22,000 kilometers above earth. The list of errors goes on and on.
The Photo Finder does come with a thin plastic lanyard with a clip and while I haven’t broken it yet, I’d probably want to rig up something more sturdy for my outdoor activities. It is nice to have however since to get the best possible reception you will probably want to clip it on to a backpack or perhaps your belt. The lanyard is at least designed so that when the GPS is hanging from the lanyard the antenna is facing up.
The first ATP Photo Finder I received wouldn’t turn on. In the end I discovered that the battery contacts were defective. The device simply wouldn’t turn on. The batteries also wouldn’t say in place unless the cover was on… they would just pop out of place which didn’t leave me with a good feeling that they would stay in place well. The replacement I received did power on fine, however the batteries didn’t seem to be held in place any tighter and wouldn’t stay in place (at rest) without sliding the cover on. During operation there were several times I found the device had simply powered itself off without me knowing about it and I suspect this weak battery connection had something to do with it.
The screen gives information such as if the device is turned on, if it has a satellite fix, etc. Unfortunately the screen is very dim and difficult to read outside. I was constantly removing my sunnies and shadowing the display with my hand to be able to read anything on the display while outside in bright sunlight.
By the way, the Picture Tracker is not waterproof, nor water-resistant.
So the idea is pretty simple. Turn on the GPS and let it record a tracklog of your trip. Take pictures at will. When you are done, take the SD card out of your camera, place it in the ATP Photo Finder, and let it geotag the images. Then use the tagged images in your own mapping application such as Google Earth.
The ATP Photo Finder does not support timezones…. it always works in UTC time. Since the tracklog needs to match up with photos based on the timestamp of the photo, your camera will also need to be setup in UTC time. This is a huge bummer for me. Now all of my photos are stamped several hours off from when they were actually taken. So in order to get the location information into the picture, the time of the picture needs to be incorrect. This would work if the photos were embedded with not only the time, but also the timezone, but they are not.
So out I went for a snowshoe adventure with the Photo Finder (aka GPS Picture Tracker). I turned on the GPS and fastened it to my backpack. I setup my camera with the incorrect time to match the UTC time on the GPS, and started my hike. Along the way I took a few photos from different spots. At four different spots along the route I checked on the GPS and found that twice it had somehow powered off. Hmmm… that can’t be good.
After my trip I took the SD card out of the camera and inserted it into the GPS. It started matching up photos with coordinates, taking about five seconds per image on the card. When it was done I took the card out, and downloaded the photos into my laptop.
Of the photos I took, only about half of them were geocoded. The others must have been taken while the GPS had mysteriously powered itself off. The others worked okay however. If you have Google Earth installed, you can download the KMZ file (approx 1.5 MB) I created which shows a few of the photos that were tagged. (You will just have to miss all of the other photos I took which were not tagged while the GPS took a nap.)
This photo finder is a fantastic idea. A small, light weight GPS to record a tracklog of your position. Better than other devices on the market that stop there, this device can also read an SD card and do all of the geocoding for you before you import the pictures to your computer.
But I’d wait for version 2 on this device. The power issues ended up making incomplete tracklogs which in turn caused many photos not to be tagged with any location information. I also didn’t like the idea of all of my photos having to be tagged in the UTC timezone.