Friday, June 22, 2012

iGotU GT-800 GPS Logger - Review

iGotU GT-800 GPS Logger
I've been experimenting with different methods of geo-tagging my photos. The last experiment I tried was with my Samsung smart-phone, plus a free application from the Google market-place. It works fine but it made me realize that for long trekking trips, it would be more advisable to have a dedicated GPS logger. After some research, I decided to go with the igotU GT-800 (yes, I know its a very strange name). Reviews were mostly positive, and the price (though not cheap), seemed reasonable. The following features attracted me to this device over others:

1. IPX 7 water-proof (1 meter underwater for 30 minutes).
2. Small size (you can wear it like a watch, with the supplied strap).
3. Motion sensor which automatically puts it to sleep when not moving - thereby conserving battery power.
4. Comes with software to geo-tag your photos, and then show them on the map.
5. Has lots of bonus features such as pedometer, current speed, compass etc.

In short, a geeky device. Just my sort of thing.

I was a little wary of the battery as it runs on a rechargeable battery. Ideally, I would have preferred a device that runs on AA batteries, so that I could carry spares with me, when it runs out of juice. The GT-800 comes with a rechargeable battery that charges via USB. This would be a problem for long treks where there is no access to electricity, but since I have resolved that problem with a Voltaic solar charger, this should no longer be an issue. In fact, when I first received the device, I charged it with the solar charger, just to make sure everything will work in the wilderness, when we go for our trek in Ladakh next month.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Solar Charging Solution

Voltaic Fuse 4W Solar Charger
As part of my preparation for our 10-day trekking trip to Ladakh (Kashmir), I have been franctically looking around for a solution to keep my Panasonic GX1 camera charged, since we would be in the wilderness for the entire duration of the trek - with no possibility of finding an electric source for charging the batteries.

I ordered 3 extra batteries, and even purchased an external viewfinder for the camera, hoping it will extend the battery power, and allow me to complete the full trek without the need for any re-charging.

But real-world usage of the camera made me come to the conclusion that there was no way that the 4 batteries would last for 10 days. These new cameras, with their reliance on LCD or electronic viewfinders for composition, and electronic systems for controlling all aspects of the camera, simply need more juice than the traiditonal dSLR cameras that use optical viewfinders, and use the battery only for triggering the shutter, and saving the resulting image to the memory card.

I had 2 options. Buy more batteries - perhaps another 4 or 5 (which I would use only once for this trek), or look for other alternatives.

The obvious choice for me was a solar-charging solution. They are reasonably affordable, and instead of worrying about just charging the camera, the solar-charging solution would charge a number of other devices (most importantly, our mobile phones). Most of the solar chargers in the market seem to be targetted for charging just mobile phones, but I found an interesting device that is geared towards trekkers like me, and has the ability to charge camera batteries.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Geo-Tag your Photos.

View of Kuwait City - From Dasman Block 2.
I travel a lot, and I take a lot of photos. When I start reviewing the pictures, sometimes it is difficult to remember where the photos were taken.

Some modern cameras have built-in GPS which automatically put a geo-tag (latitude, longtitude, and elevation) stamp on each picture that you take. The Nikon Coolpix AW100 is an example of a GPS-enabled camera. Other cameras (especially professional dSLRs) have support for GPS. What this means is that you can hook up a compatible GPS unit to the camera, and the camera will read the GPS data from the unit and embed that information on each picture that is taken.

But what if your camera does not have a built-in GPS or support for an external GPS? My Panasonic GX1 falls in this category. Since I want to carry this with me on my trekking trip to Kashmir, I thought it would be a cool idea to geo-tag all the pictures that I take during the trip, in order to make it easier for me to sort them out later on.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can geo-tag your photos.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

I am now a FX shooter.

The Nikon D800.
My journey into dSLR photography started when I first purchased the Nikon D70 about 8 years ago (June 2004 to be precise). The D70 was a 6 mega-pixel camera and cost me an arm and a leg (with the excellent 18-70 mm kit lens). It was a massive leap from the Casio QV-3000EX, a 3 mega-pixel point-and-shoot I was using at the time.

The D70 made me focus on photography, and I started learning all the technical details of photography, and took some wonderful images in the process.

As technology kept changing, I kept changing the camera bodies - upgrading first to the D200, and then eventually to the D300. I purchased some great lenses - especially the awesome Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8. I think it was this one lens that kept me from jumping to the FX format when the D700 was announced, because I was getting great results with this lens - especially when it was paired with the D300.

But there was no denying the need to jump into the FX format, and I decided to wait for the D700 successor, which everyone was expecting to be released in 2010. So I waited. And waited. Eventually, the D800 was announced. And what an announcement it was!. 36 mega-pixels, Full-HD video, 51-point AF system, etc.

Friday, June 08, 2012

SyncToy: Keep your photo backups synchronized.

Microsoft SyncToy 2.1.
Have you ever been frustrated trying to keep a backup of a large folder in a separate location? The first time, you will just copy and save the backup, but when you go and change/add some files or folders, how do you copy just the changed files or folders?

I have an extremely large folder that I use for post-processing of all my photos. When I want to make a backup of this folder, I find it extremely difficult to figure out which folder or files have changed, in order to keep the backup synchronized on an external hard drive.

I was searching for a solution, and found this nifty utility from Microsoft. The cool thing is, it is completely free.

Once you download and install the utility, you just select the 2 folders to be synchronized, and the tool does the rest.

A must have on everyone's PC running Windows 7.

Download it from here. You will need to find out if you are running the 64-bit or 32-bit version of Windows 7, and download and install the correct package from the download page.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Electronic Viewfinder for the Panasonic GX1

The Electronic Viewfinder for the GX1.
The Panasonic GX1 mirrorless camera that I purchased, specifically for my trekking trip to Ladakh (Kashmir), has one major problem. Its battery can shoot around 200 pictures before it requires to be re-charged. Since the trip will last more than 9 days without any access to electricity, my shooting options will be very limited.

To overcome this problem, I purchased 3 additional replacement batteries. Even though the replacement batteries give better results than the stock battery, real-world testing made me realize that even with the extra batteries, I would not be able to shoot for 9 days straight.

The second problem with the GX1 camera, is that all framing and composition has to be done using the rear LCD screen. While the LCD screen is fine for indoor shooting, it becomes an exercise in frustration when you try to shoot in bright outdoor conditions (exactly what I will face during the trek). The screen is literally unreadable, and shooting becomes a game of hit or miss.

To overcome these 2 problems (especially the second one), Panasonic supplies the optional electronic viewfinder (EVF), the DMW-LVF2. This viewfinder slips into the flash hot-shoe, and can replicate everything you see on the LCD. This helps framing in bright-light conditions, and also conserves battery power, as the EVF requires less power than the LCD.

The EVF is a high-grade 1.4 million dot view-finder, but it is not cheap. Amazon sells it for $230, making it a rather expensive proposition when you buy both the camera plus the viewfinder. For me, I felt I had no choice but to buy it, rather than get frustrated during the trek. I found it a bit cheaper (around $200) on eBay.