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
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