Adding GPS Coordinates to Photos’ EXIF data in OS X

As I mentioned in my last post, my Garmin eTrex Legend HCx has no real way to talk to my OS X laptop, where I do all of my photo processing. Since my Nikon D70s doesn’t support attaching a GPS to the camera and using it to embed GPS data in the EXIF tags, the fact that the USB connection on my Legend HCx wouldn’t be compatible with doing that is moot.

So, for a multitude of reasons, I can’t easily put my lattitude, longitude and elevation into my photos. The camera doesn’t support it, the GPS doesn’t support it and Garmin doesn’t support OS X. Luckily though, I’m not the only one that wants to do this. My friend Gowtham informed me of an application called GPSPhotoLinker which uses track logs to find the appropriate coordinates and enter that data into the photo’s EXIF data. (Track logs being a log stored by most GPS receivers containing information about longitude, latitude and elevation with a timestamp.)

Since my GPSr allows me to save these track logs to the microSD card I have installed, I can simply use a card reader to pull the logs. (Fear not though, the program claims to support pulling them off the device over USB.) Once I have the log on my machine, I simply load it into the program via the button at the top of the screen.


After that, load the photos. Upon going to the batch menu, you’ll be presented with some options. You can tell the program to ignore images with location data already in the EXIF tags (which I recommend) and set tolerances for how close a track point must be to the timestamp in the photo’s EXIF data. You can also set it to link to the nearest track point or a time-weighted average point.

GPSPhotoLinker - Batch menu

Once you’re done, simply push the “Batch save to photos” button and sit back while you wait.

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx

In mid-July, Garmin released an update to their eTrex Legend line with the eTrex Legend HCx, which is basically a Legend Cx with a high sensitivity chip. Garmin isn’t using the SiRFstar III in this unit, instead, they’ve gone with the MediaTek MT3. You can see a comparison of the two chips here. Basically, the MediaTek chip provides better accuracy while requiring less power. A real win for portable devices like the eTrex line.

eTrex Legend HCx

I knew going in that Garmin has horrible support on both Linux and OS X. In fact, basically the only thing you can do on OS X is upgrade the GPS receiver’s firmware. On Linux, well… don’t even bother. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty I’d have figuring their software out once I had it installed in Parallels on my Mac. While I got it working eventually, this isn’t something I’d expect my parents to figure out. What’s more, Garmin’s GPS receivers that use USB interfaces (like the Legend HCx) don’t output NMEA data streams. And of course, it’s a closed spec, so don’t expect to hook your GPS up to anything besides Windows and get a data stream. So yeah, Garmin ignores everyone who doesn’t run Windows. Those of us who have been free of it for a while are used to that though.

How does the unit actually perform? That’s the important thing. Simply put, the reception is amazing. If you need to know the exact position of your toilet in a windowless bathroom to within 3 feet, this is the unit for you. The reception is great, the only place I’ve been with it where I can’t get a fix on my location is the basement of an 8 story building. That’s no surprise though as it is basically a concrete bunker. It handles my car, the woods, valleys and even canyons remarkably well. Besides spelunking, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it anywhere with me.

What about battery life? It’s pretty good as well. The Legend HCx runs on two AA batteries (I use rechargeable NiMH ones) and Garmin says you get 25 hours on a set. I’m seeing closer to 30 hours per charge, but I’m using 2650 maH batteries.

Storage isn’t a problem either. While the unit doesn’t have much built in, the microSD card slot in the battery compartment means effectively unlimited storage space for maps, tracks and routes. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of this storage to put better maps on the unit. The Legend HCx basemap is incredibly sparse and only shows major highways. Features on the landscape are often out of place as well… more than once the GPSr claimed I was walking in Lake Superior as I drove along the highway.

Auto-routing with the unit is pretty good… though it has it’s moments of sheer frustration. On a recent trip to Green Bay, the GPSr really wanted to route me over a particular bridge. There was only one problem… the bridge had been torn out to be replaced. I obviously couldn’t drive over it and the Legend HCx doesn’t have a way for me to tell it the bridge is gone (like on a Tom-Tom). So, I backtracked, drove to another bridge and crossed the river, at which time the Legend recalculated my route… and directed me back over the bridge. Luckily traffic wasn’t heavy at the time and I was able to use the street maps on the device to navigate my own way the last few miles. Beside that one incident though, the unit has been spot on using maps from Mapsource Metroguide (Garmin’s mapping software). Once a newer version of City Navigator is out, I’ll put out the $150 for that.

eTrex Legend HCx

All in all, I’ve found the Legend HCx to be a good product, and it is probably one of the best GPS receivers I’ve ever used. Garmin’s interface is easy to learns, the auto-routing is pretty good overall and it’s performance under cover (outside and in) is outstanding. This is a solid win for Garmin. For those considering buying one solely for auto-navigation: look at a Tom-Tom, you’ll probably be happier with one of those.

Has it been a month?

I guess it has been quite a while. Where to begin? I suppose work is always a good starting point. It’s been crazy in DCS (Distributed Computing Services) lately. Our new storage array (EMC again) arrived and we’ve been working on getting that set up. Thankfully, EMC pushed off their original date to come set it up (it was supposed to be yesterday) to this coming Monday giving me a little more time to finish the wiring. Our new fiber switches are in and installed along with new fiber trays to attach to our ladder rack. Tomorrow we should finish running the obscene number of cables required to get all 5 of our new cabinets on the network. Then we just have to configure the connections.

We’ve also been working on a number of other projects:

  • We moved one of the air conditioners to the middle of the data center and will be moving the other one once Telcom finishes moving their telephone racks. This should improve our cooling efficiency.
  • The second UPS and the flywheel will be installed soon – thankfully I have no responsibilities with either of these projects.
  • We’re beginning to run into space limitations in our racks and on our switches. Vendors are coming to help us decide what to do with our patch panels. Recabling those if we have to will keep me busy for the better part of a year. Hopefully they can suggest a way to simplify our cable management (we have 2Us of cable management for every 1U patch panel) that will leave our existing patch panels the way they are.
  • We’re looking at ways to seal our cool rows from our hot rows to increase the efficiency of the AC. We’ve been attempting to get big sheets of plexiglass mounted in the spaces between our populated racks, but that has been pushed off for a while now due to all of our more important projects.
  • There’s quite a few other projects that are still being evaluated, so I probably shouldn’t say much about those except that they’ll all be keeping me busy for the foreseeable future.
  • I’ve been traveling quite a bit as well. Recently I picked up a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx with the intent of using it to insert GPS coordinates into the EXIF data of my photos along with auto navigation and perhaps geocaching. I’ll post a review of the unit later, but simply having it has been invaluable during my trips.

    I’ve been doing a bit more on the photography front than I did earlier this summer. My motivation is returning and I’m beginning to go places just to take pictures again. I think the lull was definitely good for me. I’ll end this post by leaving a few photos and some links.

    I went to Porcupine Mountain State Park with my friend Gowtham in July and discovered some amazing scenery. You can find the photos in a flickr collection, but I want to show everyone this one (I think it’s one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken:
    Preque Isle River gorge-1

    I also attended an autocross and took an astonishing amount of pictures. What made it onto flickr is only a smattering of what made it home with me.
    Car 26

    My most recent photo expedition was simply a trip around downtown Houghton. I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about black and white photography, so I stuck my 50mm f/1.8 lens on the Nikon and headed out. It’s simply amazing what black and white does for the atmosphere of a photo. Sticking with just the one focal length made me focus quite a bit more on where I was in relation to my subject and my framing. It was definitely a good learning experience.
    Old McDonald's drivethru