Geo-tagging photos gets cheap and easy
The Casio Exilim EX-H20G LCD screen displays a map, so you can instantly correct any cases of mistaken location. (Amazon.com)
We take photos to document our trips, but after returning home, we sometimes have trouble placing where a few of our images were shot.
(“What church is this, Santo Stefano Rotondo or San Giovanni in Laterano?”) With a GPS (global positioning system), a camera can accurately note where a photo was snapped and help a shutterbug recall more accurate memories.
Depending on satellites instead of our memories for photo location used to be outrageously expensive and intimidating. Two years ago, the only manufacturer to sell a high-quality camera with built-in GPS was Ricoh. That camera came with a $1,200 price tag and complex instructions.
But since early last year, top manufacturers like Canon, Casio, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony have been releasing less-expensive digital cameras (known as compacts and point-and-shoots) that are integrated with GPS, combining the geo-tagging technology of a typical cell-phone camera with the superior picture-taking quality of a full-function compact. Unlike mobile phones, compact cameras are high-zoom, high-megapixel devices. They don't merely tag the latitude and longitude to within an accuracy of about 30ft, they also identify the name of a landmark or town. They even pinpoint a shot's location on maps used by popular photo sharing services, such as Flickr, Panoramio and iPhoto, or on maps that are part of the manufacturer's software. Even better, the new cameras are selling for between $200 and $400, and they are easy enough for a Luddite to use.
I've made some "snap judgements" of the few widely available compact cameras with built-in GPS — from a budget-friendly $189 unit to a game-changing $310 one — to help sort out which option is best for your needs.
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
This 12-megapixel camera, Canon's first compact to add GPS, has a 14-to-1 optical zoom and a sensor praised for its ability to capture subtle shades of colour. In a rare function, the camera can also track the course you took on your journey, not merely the location of individual photos. But there can be up to a minute's lag time for the camera to connect to a GPS signal. Recently $329 on Amazon.com.
Casio Exilim EX-H20G
This purse-and-pocket-sized compact is unique for recording your location even when you're indoors and the camera can't get a clear GPS signal, thanks to a so-called "hybrid GPS" system. Its motion sensor uses a mix of an accelerometer, a pedometer and a digital compass to estimate where you've walked since you last checked in with a satellite. Maps appear on its LCD screen so you can instantly correct any cases of mistaken location. This 14-megapixel camera also has a 10-to-1 optical zoom. Recently $249 on Amazon.com.
New this spring, the company's first point-and-shoot with built-in GPS stands out for how it successfully operates while underwater — as deep as 16ft. This 14-megapixel device has up to 5-to-1 optical zoom. It's also the most rugged of the cameras in this price range; it claims to be shockproof, withstanding falls of up to 5ft, and freeze-proof, functioning at temperatures as cold as -10C. Recently $242 on Amazon.com.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20/ZS10
This GPS-enabled camera has an LCD-screen map function that contains more than a million data points for major landmarks, which is about 100 times more than comparable cameras, thanks to data from Navteq, the world's largest GPS map supplier. If you like instantly knowing the name of an attraction, this camera is for you. Capturing 14-megapixel exposures, this shooter has a 16-to-1 optical zoom, making it the best of the bunch for using telephoto to capture detailed close-ups of an iconic facade. Recently $310 on Amazon.com.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5V
Last year, Sony added geotagging to its signature Cyber-shot line, and the HX5V won awards in 2010 for "best compact camera" by the prestigious Technical Image Press Association and the European Imaging and Sound Association. Critics praised its innovation in being the first compact camera to boast a sensor that adjusts to low light situations but still captures the maximum detail possible. The camera was also admired for being an innovator in geotagging technology. This year, Sony is touting its successor model, the HX7V, which captures even more picture data (16 megapixel images) and comes with a 10-to-1 optical zoom; it was recently $300 on Amazon.com. But if you don't mind having last year's award-winning model, which takes perfectly satisfactory 10-megapixel shots, then you can buy it for a third less than the newest model. (Both models have a 10-to-1 optical zoom.) Recently $189 on Amazon.com.
Sean O'Neill is the tech travel columnist for BBC Travel