[This information is from 2006. For the latest information on GPS loggers, please see my other blog, Richard's Tech Reviews.]
Compatibility: Microsoft Windows. Intel Macs with Mac OS X 10.4.9. PowerPC Macs not supported. Leopard 10.5 and 10.5.1 not supported. Supported on Intel and PowerPC Mac OS X 10.5.3+ (You can check a blog about using the GPS-CS1 on a Mac, but so far no one has reported success on PowerPC or Leopard.) Various versions of Linux are also reported to work.
Hardware: A simple, well-designed GPS receiver (with no display) and data logger, creates NMEA format GPS log files that you can download over USB. It is a completely self-contained unit - there is no Bluetooth or GPS mouse capability.
Software: GPS Image Tracker is a very basic and somewhat confusing version 1.0 Windows application that will match GPS tracks with photo times and stamp the location into the photo EXIF (geocode the photo). It does not require photos from a Sony camera.
Conclusion: This device does a great job of easily and automatically recording your location, for later use in geocoding photos (or any other application where a GPS track would be useful). You may, however, want to use a different software package to do the actual photo geocoding; the software provided with the unit is incredibly basic.
Note: I did not evaluate the additional software for Sony cameras, as I don't have one.
You can purchase the Sony GPS-CS1 immediately. I got mine in Canada from SonyStyle.ca for C$130. One place it's available online in the USA is Amazon.com - Sony GPS Unit For Sony Digital Still Cameras (note that they don't ship electronics outside of the States). In other areas, check your Sony stores as well as camera and electronics stores.
UPDATE 2007-03-03: Sony has released a new model, the GPS-CS1KA, they're calling it a "GPS Unit Kit". As far as I know, the main difference is that it adds the Picture Motion Browser software (otherwise you would need a Sony camera to get this software). They also provide a soft carry case. They now clearly state "compatible with virtually all digital still cameras". They're available now in the USA: Amazon.com - Sony GPSCS1KA GPS Unit Kit for Most Digital Still Cameras. ENDUPDATE
UPDATE 2007-11-23: See Sony GPS Logger On The Go - bridge to your Mac for one possiblity to use the Sony GPS-CS1 with a Mac or any other device that supports USB storage. Also see my posting about Mac GPS loggers for more info about this issue. ENDUPDATE
UPDATE 2007-12-15: You may want to check out my review of the GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Lite DPL700, which has a better chipset and software than the Sony, but with a similar form factor. ENDUPDATE
UPDATE 2008-01-16: The AMOD AGL3080 has the same "driverless" USB storage design as the GPS-CS1, but with a better GPS chipset and compatibility with Windows, Mac, and Linux. I recommend it over the Sony unit for almost all scenarios. ENDUPDATE
UPDATE 2009-02-08: Sony has announced a new model, the GPS-CS3KA. ENDUPDATE
Photo of GPS-CS1
(battery and pen included for comparison; neither is included in the package)
- Approx. 10 hours battery life with LR6 AA alcaline battery
- GPS 12 channel all-in-view tracking, -150 dBm sensitivity, L1 band C/A code (1575.42 MHz)
- Approx. 31 MB internal memory (can hold approx. 360 hours of GPS data)
- USB 2.0 full speed interface
- Logging approx. every 15 seconds
- Operating range 0 to 40° Celsius
- Approx. 87mm x 36mm x 36mm
- Approx. 55g without battery
Observations / Full Review
The unit is smaller than I expected.
What's in the package? (battery and pen not included - shown for comparison purposes).
Takes one AA battery, which it says will last for 10 hours (alcaline).
Battery not included.
The carabiner is a good idea but I am a bit concerned about the implementation - I'm always sceptical of the strength of plastic. You can either use the detachable string part, or you could connect it directly to the ring below the carabiner - neither look particularly sturdy to me. I'd be more including to just run a small carabiner itself through the attachment point at the top of the GPS.
Also, having it hanging off your belt loop may seem like a handy idea, but in practice this means it bangs on your leg with every single step - off of a backpack would be a better choice.
There are three LEDs and two buttons - GPS LED shows whether you have a location fix, battery lamp (steady green is good, flashing red means below 20% battery power remaining), MEM full LED shows you when you have filled all 31 MB of the device. Power button and a Clear button, both designed so they can't be activated accidentally.
Software install was as basic as you could get - one choice is the GPS Image Tracker application, the other is Sony Picture Utility Update Program, but the latter only works if you have pre-existing Sony camera software.
Operation is quite simple. Install the battery. Go outside and turn it on. Within a minute or so it should have aquired a GPS fix (indicated by a slow, single flash of the green GPS LED). It will automatically save the current GPS position to its internal storage every 15 seconds, until you turn it off. Each time you turn it on, it creates a new log file in the internal memory, the format is WG + date + somenumber.log (the number probably has something to do with the current time) e.g. WG20060913210637.log
Note: This is not a Bluetooth unit, nor does it provide live serial GPS data - you can only download the log after the fact to find out where you were, you couldn't use this device e.g. for live car navigation - there is no display of your current location, and you have to download the file.
You have two options for accessing the logs: you can use the provided GPS Image Tracker software, simply connect the unit, start up GPS Image Tracker, and select "Import Log Files..." However, you can just as easily browse it like any USB drive, the files are all stored in a directory called, appropriately enough, GPS, you can do anything you would do with a normal USB thumbdrive. That means you can use the data in other applications - it's in standard NMEA sentences, nothing proprietary. UPDATE: It appears to only mount on Windows; it doesn't show up as a USB drive on my Mac OS X 10.4.7 PowerBook G4. ENDUPDATE
Let's walk through GPS Image Tracker.
As you can see, it's version 1 software. Or version 1.0000 software, to be more precise.
First, you get a log file, using Import Log Files...
The software asks for your timezone, I found this very confusing, due to Daylight Savings Time.
Does it want to know my permanent timezone (GMT-5)? Or the current timezone, which is GMT-4?
The answer is, the current timezone, with any DST adjustments included (so I changed the dialog box shown below to GMT-4). I also unchecked "Delete all log files".
Here's my timezone info, so that you can see what I'm talking about
Then you select Add Picture Files...
The photos are automatically matched with any GPS logs it finds, as they are loaded.
Any images that support EXIF 2.1, with time stamp info, are fine; it doesn't have to be Sony camera photos. In the example below, I am using images from my Canon PowerShot S70.
Now, all that remains is to Save All... of the photos, at which point the location information will be added the photo metadata, the EXIF. Once this is done, any application that reads the EXIF (such as Flickr) will automatically be able to map the photo.
It next asks you if you want to update the EXIF, or save separate copies of the photos. I chose to replace the photos with the updated ones.
At this point, I'm not sure what happens if you have Sony images. If you do not, it gets VERY confusing. As I mentioned, I am using photos from my Canon S70. It said "Applying GPS information to the photo [photoname] is not supported. Do you want to continue?" At that point, I was quite disheartened. But it turned out, if you say yes, it will stamp the location to the photo EXIF. So when it says "do you want to continue", really it means "do you want me to try to update the photo EXIF anyway".
I have uploaded three photos that I geocoded using this software, they're in my Flickr set Sony Geocoded.
How good is the location match? Have a look at the map.
Not bad. The first one is pretty much exact. The second two are off by a few metres. If you want 1 metre accuracy, you're going to be disappointed with most any GPS I would expect. As long as you consider +/- 15 metres or so "good enough", you'll be pleased. In the photo below, I have indicated with arrows and green dots where the second two photos were actually taken - keep in mind this may also be a slight registration issue with Yahoo Maps - it's hard to get everything to line up accurately on the scale of meters.
In my previous posting I had posed some questions, now I have some answers.
1. Do you have to buy the GPS-CS1 to get "GPS Image Tracker"?
2. Is GPS Image Tracker new software, or just a Sony rebranding of some existing package?
A: It appears to be new software, given its version 1.0 nature.
3. Is the GPS-CS1 outputting standard GPS data in standard formats - e.g. could you connect it as a USB device to any computer and get the data out, or will it only talk to the Sony software?
A: The data is standard text file NMEA logs and
you can connect the CS1 to any computer that supports USB (e.g. Mac, PC). UPDATE: I have only been able to get this to work in Windows; it doesn't show up on my Mac. ENDUPDATE When you plug it into USB it shows up like a regular USB drive.
4. If I don't have a Sony camera, could I still use the GPS-CS1 (and any bundled software) to geocode photos from e.g. my Canon PowerShot S70?
5. Conversely, could you use other GPS logs as the data source for photo geocoding in GPS Image Tracker?
A: Yes, with some hacking. The Sony logs start with a line "@Sonygps/ver1.0/wgs-84". If it doesn't see that, it will say something like "unrecognized log file". But you can just use a text editor to add it onto any regular NMEA log file, then GPS Image Tracker will load it.
6. How does the GPS-CS1 / GPS Image Tracker bundle compare with other existing photo geocoding options?
A: The hardware is good. The software is pretty weak.
Is there support information?
A: So far as I could find, only on the Japanese site at present. Neither US nor Canadian Sony support listed the GPS-CS1.
Does it have to be powered on to read the files over USB?
A: No. Just plug it in with the device power off - it works fine using the USB power from the computer.
Lastly, you may be wondering about the GPS unit itself. At this point, I get way out of my expertise.
The Sony is a 12 channel unit, it doesn't say what chipset it uses. As long as you're moving slowly (e.g. walking around), in good GPS conditions (e.g. unobstructed outdoors) I would guess you're going to be fine. I did some comparison tracks with my Holux GPSlim236, which is a 20 channel GPS receiver using the SIRFstarIII chipset (the most advanced chipset for consumer GPS I am aware of). I'm not going to give you the raw data, but as you can see from a screencap, the Holux (orange) fares slightly better than the Sony (red) in a downtown setting with midrise skyscrapers as I rode the bus to work. (Ideally, both should be tracking the street grid exactly, as the bus stayed on the road....) The Holux is recording a bit differently though - I was using Navio on an Axim, set to 10 seconds and 10 metre change, while the Sony only records at 15 second intervals.
This last point may be an annoyance to hardware hackers, but a boon to those who love simplicity: as far as I can tell, you have no access to the Sony GPS hardware at all - that means no settings you can change, but also means no way for you to screw up the GPS settings.
All in all, I find it a great tool - I turn it on, stick it in my backpack, and wander around taking photos, what could be simpler? Given the rather hopeless state of the current software, I bought RoboGEO instead.
In order to use RoboGEO, just get the .log file from the GPS, convert it to GPX using e.g. GPS Visualizer, and then input it in RoboGEO step #2 "from a tracklog file". (Don't use the seemingly obvious "From a NMEA file" - whatever it is RoboGEO expects, it's not in either of the NMEA log files I have from the Sony or from Navio.)
If you want more information about this topic in general, I have an entire web page on geocoding photos.