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Garmin BirdsEye Satellite Imagery


This is something I’ve been longing a few years before… satellite imagery on a Garmin handheld. It was nearly three years ago when I wrote Why Aerial Images Matter and I feel no less about it today. Now Garmin has finally offered a supported way to add satellite imagery without having to build the map yourself. Welcome, Garmin BirdsEye.

The BirdsEye product will work similar to the DeLorme map subscription… pay $30 for the one year subscription and then you can use Garmin BaseCamp to transfer those maps to your GPS. The maps are described as high resolution, sub meter color imagery that “captures the world in brilliant clarity and detail”, although I doubt the entire world is captured at sub-meter resolution. 😉 If so– that would be insanely cool, but I doubt it.

The subscriptions are good for one device, and downloads get locked to that device. You can purchase additional subscriptions for different devices. The maps can be stored in internal memory, or on SD card. Garmin BirdsEye is compatible with the Garmin Colorado, Dakota, and Oregon models. I expect the new product to be announced on Tuesday.

I’m sure people will immediately make comparisons to the DeLorme subscription. The DeLorme subscription still has a few advantages, at least based on the information we have so far from Garmin. Garmin is offering aerial images, but the DeLorme subscription includes just about every map type that DeLorme has:

  • Vector topo base map with 100k contours, routable roads, etc.
  • USGS 24k topos
  • b&w aerial imagery
  • color aerial imagery
  • NOAA marine charts including the Great Lakes
  • Canada topos (new)
  • high res city imagery (higher res than the standard color aerial imagery)
  • Sat 10 imagery (low res).

51 Responses

  1. I hope it won’t be an US-only service. Would like Swedish maps.

    Blaufish - January 15th, 2010
  2. Looks like a interesting product – hopefully you can import photos from Google Earth as well.

    BlueGerbil - January 17th, 2010
  3. I have been a big fan of Garmin handheld GPS for years but so far I am very disapointed in the birds eye images. recently have been generating overlays with google maps and copying them in to my oregon 550 the birdseye images dont even come up to these semi quality images.
    at first I thought the demo was gimped whouch would bw dumb of garmin so I bought into the subscription and downloaded the highest quality image I could, and I used my air port as a point of refferance. Horizon air lands here so it is not a small airport and even there the quality is poor.
    I would hold off paying till you make sure the quality is usable.

    brad - April 4th, 2010
    • I just bought a Garmin 550t Oregon also, and was wondering

      How do you download google earth images (overlay) vs Birdseye? I got birdseye – but it hasnt been working so good.

      nathan - May 24th, 2011
      • this is a garmin link that has pretty good instructions.
        it is accually a pretty exciting capability.
        if the birds eye images lived up to what I was lead to beleve I would be in heaven. Garmin missed the boat on that.

        bradley - May 26th, 2011
  4. The Dirty Little Secret

    Garmin throttles download speeds to about 20KB/sec.

    That’s right – no matter what kind of connection you may have downloading Birdseye Imagery takes forever. This makes it practically unusable.

    Shame on Garmin for fooling us.

    Jim - April 17th, 2010
    • I second that opinion,i tried 2 times to download a free city’s map upgrade to a 2010 NUVI 1350,only to have it take 2 hours on 3g DSL line and it fouled both times,and the unit melted down after less than two weeks ,but only after the 2 nd down load attempt.if you rely on downloads the garmin may be in the crapper!

      ayTEEjune - October 13th, 2010
  5. Quatity of image very poor, particulary in Europe!
    Download speed make it unusable!!!!!!!
    I want my money back Garmin

    Willy Mollers - April 18th, 2010
  6. The images of the Kimberley are okay in most place. Similar to google earth images, but they are not the same.

    In the high setting, the file sizes are around 250mb, and the download speeds are slow, taking about 8 hrs. The more images I have downloaded, the longer it is taking.

    Not sure if its because of basecamp, but my imac has become a bit bugger since using Birdseye.

    Gary - April 18th, 2010
  7. I contacted Garmin regarding this “BirdsEye View” and they told me the downloads could only be stored on to MicroSD, not internally. This would render it useless for me as my maps that I use are on MicroSD and so I would not be able to use them simultaneously as not all the data I use would fit inside the internal memory. Secondly, I’m told by Garmin that the images come from none other than Google Earth…well, some of the satellite imagery off of Google Earth are more than 10 years old! Yes, 10 years old! Why would anyone want to pay an annual suscription of USD30.00 to download imagery that is updated only once every 4 to 10 years. Am I missing something? I would think using the Raster mapping feature is just as easy and it’s free. Comments are welcome. I’m using a Garmin Oregon 400t.

    Tom DeMicke - May 7th, 2010
  8. I’m using a Garmin Oregon 550.

    The maps can be stored and used internally. But be aware that the amount of internal storage space available is very small.

    The Birdseye imagery and Google Earth images are different. Sometimes Birdseye is better, sometimes its not. Looking at airports, its pretty easy to spot that there is a difference. and sometimes its similar.

    Im using a 8 GB Transcend Micro SDHC. I’m thinking that the 16GB and the new 32GB micro SDHC will work to, but would appreciate others confirming this if possible?

    Gary - May 9th, 2010
  9. Thanks Gary. Garmin told me that the maximum storage capacity the Garmin Oregon 400t can use is 4GB. I guess the Oregon 550 is very different in that you can use up to a 32GB, is that true? Have you confirmed that? I think either way, there is not enough storage space in the 400t. I would then have to load all my maps internally (not enough space) or externally, but then still there would not be enough space internally to load all the satellite imagery. Still confused becaus Garmin stated the images can only be stored externally, not internally. I don’t think this is a good deal all around and what turns me off the most is that I can’t see paying what they are charging for Google images of which some are 10 years old. Not a good deal…using the raster mapping is much better and free.

    Tom DeMicke - May 10th, 2010
  10. Hi Tom, my workplace has a Garmin 400 so I could provide some answers real soon as I will be asking them to subscribe to Birdseye next week. The IT people will need to approve this, but I will be asking:)

    I have just ordered the 16 gb and 32 gb micro sdhc cards. Hopefully they will be here before monhs end so I can give a definitive answer on compatibility with the Garmin 550 and 400 gps units.

    The reason why I like birdseye is because it can give me an image that is 40km x 40km (high quality), only taking about 3 minutes of my time to set up, and about 9 hours of computer time to download. The flip side why I dislike birdseye is that it been crashing very badly on my imac this past week. no idea why this is the case.

    The images that I have downloaded for my area (Kimberley region, Australia) tend to indicate that the images are less than 3 years old in regional towns. Areas outside of this, not much has changed in the landscape in the past 30-50 years so can not give good info in that regard.

    I haven’t used raster mapping. Why do you like it, and could you tell me how long of your time it would take to get an image about 40km x 40km at a resolution that is comparable to Birdseye (high quality) or Google Earth at Eye Alt of 1.00 km.

    Gary - May 14th, 2010
    • Hi Gary…Thanks for replying here. I like using Raster mapping because it’s free for one and it is very flexible. You literally click and move your mouse within the area you would like downloaded to your unit and voila it’s there. It only takes a few minutes and then I just backup what I loaded onto a sepeate file (just in case I lose it for whatever reason)on my computer and jot down the image date from Google, and when there is an update (that could be a few years apart), then I’ll just dump the old file and redo the process again. There is no downloading to speak of and the quality is probably just as good as Bird’s Eye except that it is free of charge. I’ll be waiting to hear your answer. But, 9 hours to download a map? No thanks…that’s way to primative for me. What speed do you have? I was told by Garmin that the Oregon 400t will only hold a 4GB SD Micro card, are you saying that the Garmin 500 series can use 16 and 32 GB????? That’s a big difference! Are you sure? Please let me know…Tom

      Tom DeMicke - May 15th, 2010
      • Hi Tom… Got my 16 gb microsd card today, loaded it onto my Oregon 550, with over 9 gb of birdseye images. It appears that all is good, as all the images can be viewed on the Oregon 550. How cool is that.

        The works 400 is out till Friday, so I can not comment on compatibility for the Oregon 400 till then.

        There has been some changes to Birdseye in the last week or so. The maximum download per image has been reduced to 5000 tiles, which is equivalent approximately 20km x 20km or 400km2 at the high setting resolution. The upside is that this image (70mb) can be downloaded in approximately 75 minutes. Just for comparison, when I download a tv episode from itunes (650mb) it also takes about 70 minutes to download.

        I’m also pretty sure that the cause of my grief with basecamp using the imac was having too many of the birdseye images in the “my collection” folders. Since reducing the number of map images to less than 10, things have been working good…Gary

        Gary - May 24th, 2010
        • Hi Gary! Sounds like things are working out for you but 75 minutes to download something is unheard of for me. Way too long though I may be able to do it faster since I’m in Japan, the country with the second best internet connectvity second only to Korea. Still, none of this resolves my issues, my Japan map will only work on an MicroSD card (cannot copy it and use it internally so they say), so that uses up my one and only MicroSD slot. Where would I use the Birds Eye view data since the internal memory on the 400t is so small. Not a worthwhile product for me, but I’m really glad it worked out for you. I’ll stick to raster mapping which is quicker, and free.

          Tom DeMicke - May 25th, 2010
  11. Hey Tom, I’m looking for an all around GPS that is suitable for hunting in high mountains of Montana to the plains of Iowa, then put it in the truck and get me back home and beyond to cities across the US. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a hundred times, but please make it 101.

    Thanks – Carl

    Carl Bailey - May 20th, 2010
    • Hi Carl! Actually, no. I haven’t been asked this question and your question is simple, short, sweet, and to the point. And now my answer: I highly recommend the Garmin Oregon 400t (or you can get the slightly new 450t or 500/550t models which are just a little better than what I have, but are more $$$. The Oregon would be perfectly suited for what you want to do. The “t” stands for “topography map” which is pre-installed in any model ending in ‘t’. Just what you need since you mentioned mountains.

      I live in Okinawa, Japan and have a very good Japan map installed (via the microSD slot) and it works like a charm. Then, I travel once a year to mainland Japan and it works just as great. Then, I travel to the U.S. and Germany once a year (having just done so this past March/April) and having had the Garmin Navigator North American and Europe maps installed, again, via the MicroSD port, it worked like a real charm. It got me to where I needed to go, and yes, it will give you turn-by-turn instructions which is how I found my way from Dover AFB, Delaware to McGuire AFB, New Jersey (I’m Air Force retired). It is an awesome piece of equipment. It is only 1 notch short of an onboard car navigation system only because the monitor is smaller and it does not actually talk to you. When I was traveling in Germany (on a train no less), it guided me all the way and was very entertaining.

      The best part was that it works great on an airplane as long as you have a window seat. I flew on military aircraft (military hops) and hung it near one of the port windows and even the aircrew members were amazed how this thing was tracking the flight. This thing is just awesome. I highly recommend it! Feel free to ask me more questions! Oh, I forgot to mention, I use it extensively for geocaching (www.geocaching.com) in three countries (USA, Germany, Japan).

      Tom DeMicke - May 21st, 2010
  12. Hey Tom,
    Thanks for the great info. Please tell me it doesn’t talk in the non driving mode but does while drving your car. Also how big is the monitor on the T models.
    Thanks Again

    Carl Bailey - May 21st, 2010
  13. Tom

    My bad, I meant to say does it talk while in the driving mode. I find it hard to drive and look at the screen long enough to see here it’s showing you to go and not run across four lanes of traffic. But then a hand held unit maybe easier than a monitor on you dashboard…

    Carl Bailey - May 21st, 2010
  14. Hi Carl…It does not talk at all but it will “beep” if you set tone to “on” and while it’s giving you turn-by-turn assistance, the monitor backlight will turn on bright to tell you there is a mandatory turn coming up. Please remember that’s the Oregon 400t is not meant to behave like a car navigational system, but believe me, it works and will get your there. The monitor is big enough for me but a little small to look at when you’re driving but you can get used to it. Again, if you’re looking for a car navi system, this is not one to buy, but if you use it for other things and ocassionally a car navi system, this is the unit for you.

    Tom DeMicke - May 22nd, 2010
  15. Hi.I need some help here! I currently have a Delorme PN 40 with the netlink service. This app is for mountain biking, mainly in San Diego and Los Angeles. I am thinking about changing to the Oregon 300 unit. I am trying to find better display quality and resolution. The netlink arial imagery doq is ok, the hi-res city imagery is a little better (but not available in San Diego)but I want the google earth type quality. What do you suggest?? And Im not too good with this tech stuff!!! Thanks

    Tim - June 6th, 2010
  16. Hello,

    I have a couple of questions in regard to Tom’s recommendation to user raster aerial images.

    1) will the Garmin road or topo data overlay the raster aerial image or is it one or the other?

    2) Can anyone point or provide a link to the steps required to obtain an aerial image, convert it to a geo referenced raster file, and then load it where it can be used by a Garmin Oregon?

    Bruce H

    Bruce H - June 6th, 2010
  17. This message is mainly for Bruce H in response to his question:

    Bruce asked:

    1) “Will the Garmin road or topo data overlay the raster aerial image or is it one or the other?” Answer: The raster mapping will overlay the map you are using and does so very, very nicely. At times it can be a little hard to read but usually it’s a very nice addition. You can, however, disable one or the other.

    2) Here’s a link to the exact instructions on how to obtain and aerial image and how to convert it to a geo referenced raster file and then how to load it into your Oregon:


    Happy trailing!!

    Tom DeMicke - June 7th, 2010
  18. Thanks Tom for the info and the link to Creating Custom Garmin Maps in Five Easy Steps.

    Did you ever find out if your Oregon 400t can support more than 4g on a the external memory card?

    Bruce H - June 8th, 2010
    • 4GB is the maximum my Oregon will handle. I tried “cheating” and placed all three maps on one disk (North America/Europe/Japan) and they all fit on just fine … but they don’t work when copied. The sellers say you must use the original disk only which doesn’t make sense because then how do people copy them into the memory of their unit. Also, my friend has a “bootleg” copy of the Japan map and it works just fine. Maybe it’s because I put all of them on the same disk. Not sure…

      Tom DeMicke - June 8th, 2010
      • Tom … I only have very limited knowledge on how Garmin does things, but I am thinking the original Garmin SD card has an ID number and Garmin embeds this number into the mapping data when it transfers the map to the card. If you copy the map data to a different card, then the unit can not match the ID number in the map to the card, and so things fail.

        An easy test is to copy just one map from the original Garmin card to another card and see if it works. If it fails, then you know size is not the issue.

        Also, the original SD standard went up to 2gb. Since you can read 4gb, that implies the card reader is SDHC, which goes up to 32gb for a std size card(and maybe a micro card too?). However Garmin could have a firmware limitation to 4gb. That was the case with some digital cameras, but updates came out as the card capacities increased to 32gb.

        Bruce H - June 8th, 2010
        • Okay Bruce…that’s good information and will try it out as soon as I get a chance. Not sure the same rules apply to the Japan map card since that is a third party company but good information never-the-less. Thanks!!!!

          Tom DeMicke - June 9th, 2010
  19. Just got my 32G microsd card, loaded it with 10G with of maps. Works fine with the Oregon 550.

    Just as a side note, the start up time for the Oregon 550 without a microsd card is approximately 12 secs. With a microsd card and 10G of maps loaded is approximately 62 sec.

    Gary - June 12th, 2010
  20. Ihave been a big garmin fan for years and I have been very disapointed in the birdseye product, I live in the middle of washington state and thile there is 2009 birds eye coverage the resolution is very very poor, beter images are available on google earth for free. I emailed Garmin and I was told that the 0.5 meter resolution was available in “most places” which from what I have seen is about 20 square miles in the whole of washington state. it looks like only the 2010 images have the 0.5m resolution. you can see this coverage in google maps under the MORE tab is a DIDITAL GLOBE tab then look for the 2010 scans. sorry Garmin keep trying,

    bradley hampton - August 1st, 2010
  21. I have a oregon 400i and works great on the lake. can this handheld be set up for imagery to use in hunting? preferably a view like i would see on google earth. im interested in looking at treelines and fields. nothing special. it also has a micro sd in it now for highways and backroads. no problems there. not sure what to do. any help would be appreciated.

    Dana - November 26th, 2010
    • Birdseye subscription can be a solution, but the images maybe a few years old which may or may not be a problem. I think you can download birdseye images onto basecamp without signing up? If so what you see on base camp will be very similar to what you will see on your 400.

      Another free solution is to use the Google Earth images and create your own Garmin custom map.

      Gary - November 27th, 2010
  22. Is it possible to use Google Earth images insted of Birdseye on an Oregon 450? I purchased the Birdseye only to get home and find the Google Earth images needed for my hunting area to be more recent.

    Steve Johnson - November 27th, 2010
    • It is possible using Garmin Custom Maps function, to use Google Earth image.

      Gary - November 27th, 2010
  23. I have a Oregon 450 and I bought the Birdseye for it and to to the the truth I am quite disappointed in it.The Oregon is hard to see in the sun light anyhow and with Birdseye it is even worse.Does anyone have any tips on how to brighten it up?

    Al - February 13th, 2011
  24. I find that turning the backlight all the way down outside works best…not all the way up but all the way down. You can aim the screen in a certain way when outdoors and it will work real good. Under cloudy skies it is difficult to see but on sunny days it’s great and I have the older 400t, so your’s may be even better. Best of luck!!

    Tom DeMicke - February 14th, 2011
  25. I have owned 3 other Garmin GPS`s over the years and this is the first that does not have a back light.How could Garmin leave this feature out?A person spends all of this money on Garmins GPS,Maps and Birdseye and you go outside and you can`t see it without being a contortionist.

    Al - February 14th, 2011
  26. Al: It does have a backlight and a good one. What you do is push and HOLD the on/off switch, you will see a new screen pop up. It will display your local time, allow you to lock or unlock your screen, and then you will see a picture of a light bulb…you will then tap on it (or a nearby button) to increase/decrease the lighting. It works fine. Let me know when you’ve figured it out.

    Tom DeMicke - February 14th, 2011
  27. OK,I found it.I`ll add this to my list of”Setting`s I did not Know I Had”.I Thank You Tom For your help and I`ll try this as soon as the Sun comes up.A person would think I never read the manual for it.I did, but there wasn`t enough pictures.

    Al - February 15th, 2011
  28. I`m going to get an External Hard Drive for my Computer.Can I transfer Birdseye,Mapsource,Basecamp and all of my Garmin files to it?I`d like to free up some space on my computers hard Drive.

    Al - February 17th, 2011
  29. Al: I don’t see why that would not work. I have three external drives and back up my files 3 times plus onto flash drives. Works for me. Best bet is to get an external drive with Firewire 800 hook up. It’s lightening fast!!

    Tom DeMicke - February 17th, 2011
  30. I was hoping I could move it all.I don`t have a Firewire port,Like me,the computer is getting old.So I was thinking a USB External Hard Drive.

    Al - February 17th, 2011
  31. Hey Tom,Am I missing something here?I downloaded Birdseye in all 3 Resolutions.Highest,High and Normal and I don`t see any difference.Except for the size of the file,could you explain the advantages of one over the other.And I downloaded a bunch of maps in the Highest setting,can I delete these and redo them in the normal setting to save space?

    Al - February 20th, 2011
    • Again, I don’t know much about BirdsEye View since I don’t use it but I would have thought that you should be able to notice a difference in quality because of the difference in file size. I don’t see why you would not be able to delete a map and then reinstall another one at a different resolution. Just try it and see what happens. Make sure you have backups of everything on your device. Let me know what happens…

      Tom DeMicke - February 21st, 2011
  32. Hey Tom,Me again,Does Birdseye have a 200 map limit on it?I just got done downloading #215 this morning.Now when I turn on my Oregon 450,it comes up to the menu screen then shuts right back down.I had no problems before I reached the 200 mark.I`m using a 16GB Micro card,class6.

    Al - February 20th, 2011
  33. Al…I don’t know much about BirdsEye View because I don’t use it. I download from Google and make my own maps but it sounds to me (and this may be just cooincidental) but that’s a sign that your battery is very low. Have you checked to see that your batteries are full? If you are loading the maps into your Micro Card, then it should not affect the overall operation of your device, simply stated that if you run out of memory on the card, you would have gotten a warning message to that affect. Not sure what’s going on here, but I would check the batteries. If that is not the case, I’d e-mail Garmin…they can help you out with that. Good luck and let me know what you find out.

    Tom DeMicke - February 21st, 2011
    • not sure about this but on the SD card size I think there is a limit of 4 gig, you can install a bigger chip but the unit can only access imagery in 4 gig blocks, that may also be where that 200 map limit comes from.

      bradley - May 26th, 2011
  34. Tom:Ok ,I do see the difference now,before I was looking at the maps on Basecamp and didn`t notice until I zoomed in,at which point there is a big difference.Also tried to delete Imagery and reload at a different resolution,found out that works also.As far as My Oregon 450 shutting down.The batteries are good.I loaded all my maps to the SD card.And I have a lot of memory left.I deleted 16 maps,then put the card back into my GPS and it works fine.

    Al - February 21st, 2011
  35. One downside of ruster images will be that they are just what they are- and image that you cut out of Google Earth(for example) and match on to some map. When zooming into it it will not show any greater detail- unless I am wrong or missing something? So it limits you to that square that you cut out at the resolution/zoom that was used when cutting it. BirdsEye is like having Google Earth on your GPS- you can zoom in for greater detail. I am thinking of signing up, but all the complaints about bad quality of images put me off a bit. After all no one wants to fork out $30 usd for a piece of crap…

    Max - July 20th, 2011
  36. I have a Garmin 400t. And I was thinking of buying birds eye to see the areas that I hunt. I,m in Ont/Canada and up by North bay.The area i hunt in is pretty small..Is it worth it.

    Andrew - September 20th, 2011
    • Don’t even go there buddy.
      Softwear has bugs, area you can download is limited by Gurmin to little peaces, download speed is limited by Gurmin to fk all like slower then on dial up. Most importatly the image quality is a complete fk up. e.g. look at Google Earth for your area, imagine twise worst imagenary- thats what you will get. Map of the area is much better and cleaner to understand with out Sht eye on it, if you put Sht on your map things are harder to see.

      Max - September 20th, 2011

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