Our blogging buddy Mitch over at Sensory Metrics pointed out a cool device a few months ago, and I picked one up, full of hopes that it would solve my Geotagging needs.
The Trackstick devices are GPS receivers that simply save positions and times in RAM, then you plug ‘em into your PC to extract the locations as a GPX file, suitable for use with Google Earth or a bunch of other programs.
What I wanted:
- A device I could simply leave in my camera bag for weeks or months at a time. It would save it’s location at all times.
- When I would download the photos from my camera, I’d add an extra step – run some magic software that would parse through the locations and times, and embed geotags into my photo’s EXIF lat, long, country, city fields. Ideally it would work with Aperture and my Mac.
The Trackstick’s primary market is not photographers, and they clearly state they don’t work with Macs…
What I got:
- The Trackstick is well built. A nice solid design, well made and nice materials.
- It’s bigger than I thought it would be – 3cm x 11cm.
- It came with a belt clip, and a magnet attachment for sticking it on cars, I suppose.
- It comes with decent software – it was a bit finicky to install on both my XP and Vista machines, but it reads the locations out of the unit, has OK links to Google Earth, and exports GPX files OK.
- The unit has a switch on the side to turn it on and off, and a single LED that reports its status.
- Nice feature – motion detector! It detects motion – so it can go to sleep when the unit is still, and only wake up to detect motion. I was really hoping this feature would be useful for my use – leaving the unit in my camera bag and having it start tracking only when I move it.
- The unit worked right out of the box. Picked up its location, and started recording readings right away.
- The software works great with Google Earth – you can plot points, animate things, zoom in to view your track over time, and use the timeline feature to follow along on your trips.
- The unit is solid. I kinda busted the power switch when I was hacking around with it, but that’s totally my fault…
- Support is great. I got great support at both www.trackstick.com and www.trackstick.ca
- Battery life just isn’t working out for me. It’s lasting only a day or two – much less than the advertised “over a month” of travel histories. I’ve written to the Canadian and US dealers, and they both report the same thing. Once the device is inside, and can’t get a fix – you better turn it off, or you’ll drain the battery quickly. I guess the motion detector is not working the way it should.
- The unit comes with tons of “INSTALL THE SOFTWARE BEFORE PLUGGING INTO USB PORT” warnings. Stickers on the device etc. This is generally an indication that there’s something fishy going on – they’ve clearly had a lot of support calls about this. The software installation was not smooth on my XP or my Vista machines. I had to re-install a few times to get it to work.
- The software is adequate, not great. The various options are not explained. It would be nice to have some built-in settings I could use like “Optimize for long life” or “Optimize for rapid movement”, etc. It is not obvious how to use the software, but with some minimal clicking around and playing, you get what you need.
- The unit is not supported on a Mac. Just for fun, I plugged it in. The red light came on, it was detected by the Mac, but nothing happened, and the device then appeared to lock up. It would have been SO NICE if it just appeared as a USB drive with a single, read-only GPX file that I could download. I have to download the file on a PC, then email it to my Mac. Rats.
- Stick new batteries in. Every day.
- Put the device in an outside pocket on my camera bag.
- Go out and shoot for the day.
- Plug the device into my PC.
- Export the data as a GPX file.
- Email it to my Mac.
- Run GPSPhotoLinker to geotag the photos before they are imported into Aperture!!! You could also use HoudahGeo, but it seems to have fewer features.
- And, finally import the photos into Aperture.
So, it’s finicky, but it does the job, and my photos are geo-tagged!