The Ultimate GPS Solution for Nikon?

The Ultimate GPS Solution for Nikon?

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Ever since I bought my Nikon D200 camera last year I have been seeing more and more DIY projects trying to create the ultimate GPS (Global Positioning System) solution.

Geo-Tagging which is the term attached to having positional data in your images. For people like me who are useless at taking notes when out shooting – this embedded location data is excellent. Many image cataloging applications can now show your gps-tagged images on maps and by location.

Nikon users and lovers out there will tell you the standard Nikon GPS solutions for their range of cameras is pretty poor. Firstly you have to go out and buy a MC-35 which is no more than a break out box converting the 10-pin Nikon connector to a standard RS232 9-pin connector, to boot it is also a wallet skimmer at over £80 ($120). You need to then follow up by buying a GPS unit which has the relevant RS232 output.

Once you have gathered all these bits and pieces together, you are left with a huge tangle of cables, connectors, and extra batteries for the GPS unit to worry about – not very neat or cool!!!

Sadly the 3rd party commercial offerings have been pretty poor – yes you will see people raving about there GPS units that they just spent $300 on, but from my point of view these units are rubbish. They are no more then off the shelf GPS modules mounted in a box with a lead coming out of them. In no way are they worth $300 and for that sort of money I can develop a solution which I know will work better.

As always with these kind of niche products – you always end up with products which are expensive but extremely low quality poor value for  money.

So as usual it is easier for me to design, development and make what I want – it ends up better and cheaper without any of the shortcomings.

Several people have managed to create some excellent DIY projects to correct the Nikon’s short falls. There are several approaches people have taken, simplest method has been to hack the MC-35 and hard-wire the GPS unit to it – removing the plethora of cables. The more complex being directly mating the GPS unit to the Nikon 10-pin connector removing the need for the MC-35. There are a couple of pages worth reading if you want more background information – Peter Miller and Stockholmviews.com.

Before I go on to describe my chosen solution I should point out, while this is a DIY project my solution will be beyond the ability of many people – I am an Electronic Engineer by profession and I also have an penchant for miniaturised electronics.

 

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30 thoughts on “The Ultimate GPS Solution for Nikon?

  1. Bryan

    I’ve finished my testing of the Easytagger, GP-1, and Garmin Geko GPS units as promised a few days ago. I took 10 images from a fixed location with each of the 3 units, and plotted the locations on Google Earth. I also measured my camera position against visual reference points in Google Earth, and was able to measure the deviations against the “actual” position. I input all of the GPS data from the 30 image files into an Excel spreadsheet to gain a little more clarity in the analysis.

    Interesting results, actually a little surprising. Based on my testing, I favor the Easytagger over the GP-1 for a few different reasons, mainly the Easytagger’s better functionality and value. There are a couple of watchouts to consider with the Easytagger as well, but these are things I can live with based on my shooting priorities and preferences. The Garmin Geko that I had so proudly rigged up a few years back really sucked, as it turns out. I thought it would have blown the doors off the others on a technical basis, and get knocked for its bulk and weight, but it didn’t even pass technical muster. Interesting results with lots of details.
    I’m curious to hear what other people may have to say based on their experience with any of these GPS units or others. Take this for what it’s worth. I’m not a professional electronics tester and I’m certainly not a professional photographer. I was just really curious so I figured I’d at least experiment and share my results, and see if others found value in it.
    Today I took my Easytagger out in the field to test it out on a long hike through the woods. The Easytagger did take a few minutes to acquire a good signal, but once it locked on, re-acquisition was nearly instantaneous over the next few hours, and the unit never failed to acquire. My photos were all successfully tagged after the unit had initially locked on. My exif data shows that I was locked onto 8 satellites for most of the day.

    After I got home, I took the time to install the included Lockr GPS software, which enabled me to easily read the tracking data and plot my path on a map (using either the Lockr map or Google Earth). I’ve got to say the Easytagger tracker function is amazing, maybe even scary! I didn’t realize that it had been tracking my movements every moment it’s been turned onto the “All” position since I received the unit a week ago. Wow, it shows me driving to my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, then walking around her neighborhood to work off a big turkey dinner (brought my camera with me on that walk). Today’s hike through the woods was also recorded. It shows every trail my wife and I took, and even the deviations away from the trail where we saw some interesting things to photograph off the beaten path. It even shows the path I took right before I put the GPS in the car and turned it off. It shows how I walked to the trunk of the car, spotted an interesting peak on a building, walked up to the building to photograph it, then walked a few feet away to get it from a different angle, and then return to the car. Using the satellite view, it shows the exact parking space I had used (you can see the lines in the parking lot). The accuracy of the tracker feature is impressive. Sure, every now and then it shows a deviation of a few feet (3-6 feet?) off the actual path I took, but this is probably where the unit was extrapolating between data points.

    The more I use the Easytagger, the more impressed I am with it. Anyone want to buy a brand new, hardly used Nikon GP-1?

  2. Sam

    Hi,

    I am also interested in your project and would be interested in any form you released, kit or plans.

    The one issue with the commercial units I see on sale is they all take over the 10 pin connector and many take over the 10 pin and the flash hot seat, so you can’t use them for remote shutter control or remote TTL triggering of flash. My Nikon does not have a built in flash, just a hot seat.

  3. dod

    Hi I have a D90 and would love to build one of these.
    I have smd skills and access to parts etc, can you supply a diagram and pcb and pcb diagram or a pcb 🙂
    Thanks, awesome work.

  4. Tarkan Post author

    Thanks for all the interest. I am still developing some other ideas and another form factor as well.

    I do hope to have something either in kit form or complete unit for sale soon.

  5. peter

    i came to your site to read about the ipod video mod, but found myself spending my lunch at work reading this article. i have a d200 myself and never really thought of going geotagging cuz of the price and bulkyness of it all. i’d definitely be interested though if your product went on sale.

  6. Ian

    Hello, I am quite interested in this project, I have a Nikon D200. I would like to hear from you about obtaining either built unit or a kit of parts with the programming done and I can assemble it myself.

    Thanks

    Ian

  7. Vali

    I’m also interested in a couple of pre-programmed PCBs (me & my neighbour). Please let me know if it’s possible. In my country GPS for NIKON isn’t yet available and price will exceed the one of your unit.

    Regards,
    Vali.

  8. londonboy

    hello i can see that you are perfectionist at what ever you do.
    how soon will you be selling the circuit board and chip for this project.
    ?

  9. Alexander R

    This project was great.

    Im interested in one of these if u decide to sell a complete unit or just populated board.

    The size of the thing is amazing.

  10. Tarkan Post author

    Hi people,

    I think the problem I face with this project is that it was designed to be a project from the onset!! I would have designed it differently if I was going to make them for resale.

    However, I have decided to make a few more complete gps units which I will sell, it will give me a feel for how long assembly takes.

    There is also the option of me selling the pcb board already populated and programmed with the buyer having to source the remaining components themselves.

  11. Rob

    Tarkan,

    If you were to sell them in kit form, how much do you think you would charge for them?

    Rob

  12. Mathias

    Yeah, it does look pretty small. It also does look like the best solution for this, though – by far actually. And since you have 59 spare boards, and already sell the ipod flash adapter i thought it might work out.

    I can see how production is complicated to manufacture, and kits will definite pose a challenge.
    Would you think pre-assembled ones would be radically more expensive than other offerings?

  13. Tarkan Post author

    I am thinking about it – for me to sell them complete I think would make them quite expensive, while kit form will make it complicated for normal users.

  14. Tarkan Post author

    Hi Corey,

    Yes as you have guessed I am a hardware kind of guy!! The software was not that complicated the basic requirements are easy and I only used 3 i/o ports from the microchip to control the GPS module.

    The hard part was that the module has single on on/off pin which toggles the module on and off for each high pulse. So the software had to also determine if the module was on/off depending on what was needed.

    I did cheat a little as I used picbasic, I found that to be easier to understand then direct assembly to carry out the logic functions I was after. The only buggy issues I had was to get accurate timings for the sleep mode and timeout mode.

    All in the code ended up being just under 200 lines.

    I will take a picture of the unit attached to the camera and post it to the end of the article.

  15. Corey

    Tarkan,

    Great work. I enjoy reading about your projects.
    How much code did/does it take to control the GPS unit? It sounds like you are a hardware guy so I am curious how much software development was involved.

    Also,
    Do you have any pictures of the final product while it’s attached to the camera?

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