Article by Mike Barrett
A couple of months ago Nikon announced the latest in their range of Digital SLR cameras, the D3 and D300. These are targeted at the top of the range with a price tag of £3400 for the D3 (yes that is three thousand) and a slightly more affordable £1300 for the D300.
Today and tomorrow Nikon are putting on the Nikon Solutions roadshow where they are proudly displaying not just the D3 and D300 but also the full range of Nikkor lenses and lots of other accessories as well. Apart from the shiny, expensive hardware they are also running a series of seminars helping photographers get more from their imaging workflows. The most interesting feature here was the total lack of wet film... Everything was digital.
Normally we would not bother to report on something like this, but there is a GPS link here (pun intended...). Both cameras have a special 10 pin connector which amongst other functions allows you to connect a GPS to the camera. This then provides a NMEA datastream from which the camera can extract the positional information and stamp the image meta data with the location that the picture was taken.
Article by Mike Barrett
If all that sounds a bit daunting don't worry I will explain it a briefly below.
When you take a picture with a camera a number of attributes are stored with the picture. You can view this as 2 files of data one of which is the image itself and the other is a series of attributes which describe a number of things about the image. You will be used to seeing some of these such as the file name and the file date, some of you may also be aware of the File Created date. There is a defined specification for these attributes known as EXIF.
These additional attributes describe all sorts of technical information such as the camera make and model, the exposure settings etc. Amongst these data is a definition for GPS Latitude and Longitude. Of course there are very few cameras that can automatically insert this information into the metadata, but they are becoming more prevalent. In particular the new Nokia phones with embedded GPS place the position into the files, and of course the Nikon D3 and D300 have the capability with added hardware to do so as well.
This year I have reviewed a number of GPS systems that offer a mechanism to match GPS tracks to digital photos. Whilst these do work they add an additional step into the workflow and the possibility of errors creep in with each additional step. The beauty of having the camera stamp the image when the shutter is pressed.
OK so now we know what it is, but what use is putting this data in the file? Well I know a lot of photographers who always like to know the exposure settings of each picture, this system just takes it one step further and lets you know exactly where you took the picture. But the position is meaningless unless you can do something with it... Fortunately the likes of Google, Locr, Flikr and many others allow you to create Geo-referenced image libraries. This allows you to display your pictures in Google Earth or on Google Maps. This really takes the photo album to the next level!!!
Diversion over how does this work with the Nikon D3 and D300 cameras? Well apart from hundreds of levers, switches, and buttons they also have a propriety 10 pin connector positioned right next to the lens. This connector allows you to plug in a number of external add on devices to the camera.
One of these is specified to be a "GPS Cable MC-35". This allows any GPS unit outputting NMEA 0183 compliant data to be connected. The drawback here is that the interface cable is $99 or £50 and presents a standard serial interface, most modern GPS systems are using USB nowadays...
All is not lost though as I was talking to Jimmy Huang of Evermore Technology recently and they are testing an Evermore GPS receiver with a Nikon interface cable. No prices were discussed, but I wouldn't mind betting that it will be very competitive.
Another option available is the GeoPic II from customidea.com this is a device designed specially for the Nikon D3, D300 and other pro cameras. This cunning little GPS receiver is located in the flash shoe with just a short cable to the connector on the D300.
The GeoPic II is designed specially for tagging with digital cameras as can be seen from the design locating in the flash and the neat cabling. But it is not just the hardware that is set up specifically for digital imaging the functionality is too. The GeoPic II has three operational modes: Low Power, the GPS is only active when you are about to take a picture; Continuous, the GPS is on all the time; and Freeze, the GPS is off but the last position is reported. This last mode allows you to take pictures indoors or in areas where there is no GPS signal and still tag your images.
This solution comes at a cost though. The GeoPic II uses power from the camera and thus will shorten the operation of the camera. The GeoPic II is available for £200.
Apart from the GPS side of things the D3 and D300 are stunning cameras, with lots of new and improved features. My favorite was the Live View on the high density 3 inch LCD display. It also has video output to a HD TV using a HDMI connector. Helping you make use of the 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor. I also tried out the 18-200 VR lens and the 105 VR Macro lens on my D70 and these functioned really well, both in terms of focusing speed, operation at slow shutter speeds and sharpness.
My Christmas list is in preparation... Nikon D300 with 18-200 lens and 105 macro to back it up. What's that I heard my wife say? Something about Hell and freezing... :( Maybe I can persuade Nikon to let me test one.
In the mean time if you can get to Olympia in London tomorrow (November 28th) you can see the new Nikon cameras for yourself.
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Labels: digital camera, digital camera for professional photographers, Digital Cameras, digital cameras for prefessional photography, digital photography, Nikon D3, Nikon D300 GPS enabled cameras, nikon digital cameras, photgraphy guide, photography, photography blog