REVIEW: CANON GP-E1 GPS RECEIVER FOR THE CANON 1DX CAMERA

Geotagging photographs is becoming increasingly popular these days and there are now quite a wide range of geo-tagged guidebook resources available for photographers to aid in location scouting. If you carry a GPS and a GPS guidebook you can very easily find the location where a particular photograph was taken. If it is the first time you have ever visited an area and you are attempting to get to a well known ‘photo hot spot’ this could be a real time saver. I never put much stock in the benefit geotagging photographs could provide until my first trip to Antarctica where I quickly realised that it was just about impossible to keyword locations or record exactly where a photograph was taken without some sort of GPS tagging device. It is one thing to photograph a waterfall in a national park that is well sign posted and another to be shooting from ship, plane or zodiac where recording the position of a photograph is more difficult without some sort of GPS. Whilst it is possible to use an external GPS device to do this (or even an iPhone) I find it impractical to have to carry yet another device or to have to remember to take a photograph with my iPhone to record my position. The obvious benefit to an add on GPS to a camera (or better yet, built in GPS functionality) is the ability to record exact co-ordinates, time and direction at exact time of exposure with every press of the shutter.

Canon GP-E1 GPS Receiver for the Canon 1DX

The Canon GP-E1 is an optional GPS accessory for the Canon EOS 1DX Camera that automatically geotags images as they are captured with latitude, longitude and directional information that is then viewable in either the provided software or 3rd party software such as Adobe Lightroom. To get my only real gripe about the GP-E1 out of the way early I find it regrettable that Canon chose not to build a GPS into the 1DX but rather offer it as an optional add on accessory. I am sure studio photographers are equally lamenting Canon for the lack of inbuilt wireless capability. Not to harp on it, but I would have definitely preferred to see GPS functionality built into the camera rather than having to purchase an optional accessory.

The GP-E1 retails for approximately $330 Australian dollars or around $270 US from B&H, but can be had online for under these prices if you are prepared to shop around and wait for a ‘grey import’. I prefer to purchase these sort of things from my local professional dealer as the cost difference is minimal these days and I like the added peace of mind of local support and warranty through Canon Professional Services (CPS).

Canon GP-E1 GPS Receiver

What you Get in the Box

The GP-E1 comes in a box at least six times larger than is required for the actual GPS receiver in order to accommodate the included Software CD, Instruction Manual, Warranty Cards and associated packaging. The actual GP-E1 GPS Receiver is not much larger than my thumb.

Included in the box you get:

  • Canon GP-E1 GPS Receiver
  • Instruction Manual
  • Storage Pouch for the GP-E1 when not attached to the camera
  • Warranty Cards

As a Footnote: I really wish more manufacturers would take a leaf from Apple’s marketing department and give more thought to their packaging and the copious amounts of wasted cardboard that goes into packaging their products. Apple’s packaging is really second to none and a lot of manufacturers would do very well to follow Apple’s lead in this regard. Less packaging not only means less environmental waste, but it means a lower cost of production as well.

Packaging

Instruction Manual

A detailed ‘pocket’ instruction manual is included in the box with the GP-E1 in nine different languages. Like most Canon manuals it is fairly well laid out and the instructions are simple and easy to follow. Although I did not check the bundled software I would guess an electronic version of the manual is probably included on disc as well since most Canon products now ship this way.

Installation

Installation of the GP-E1 is simple and straight forward. The unit simply screws into the extension system terminal after removing the terminal cover. There is an alignment pin at the top of the GPS unit which makes aligning the unit straightforward. Total time to install the GP-E1 is less than a minute and is dead simple. I would assume that anyone purchasing a GP-E1 is already familiar with the 1DX and capable of installation without the included manual.

Terminal Point

Installation with a Really Right Stuff L Bracket

The observant amongst you will have already noted that the GP-E1 screws into the 1DX in the same position that you would typically find the side plate of an L Bracket, such as those from Really Right Stuff. The GP-E1 can still be used if you have the Really Right Stuff L bracket for the Canon 1DX installed on your camera but does require that the ‘L part’ of the bracket be moved to its farthest position. This is easily accomplished even in the field as the new L bracket from Really Right Stuff now includes a place to house the required Allen Key to move the bracket. Moving the bracket to the extended position does make an already large camera that much larger again and it would have been preferable if space could have been allowed for the GP-E1 during the design of the Really Right Stuff L Bracket. I am told that Canon could not supply a GP-E1 to Really Right Stuff during the design of the bracket and as such the decision was made to simply provide the ability to extend the bracket to accommodate the receiver.  Although it might look a bit awkward to handle with the L bracket in the extended position it actually provides a solid place to grip the camera when transporting it and is quite practical to use in this configuration. The only downside being the extra space that is taken up in the camera bag if you leave the GP-E1 attached to the camera and the L bracket in the extended position. I have not yet decided wether to leave the GP-E1 permanently attached to my camera and the L bracket in the extended position but I suspect I will be removing them at least for international and domestic airline travel just to save space in my camera bag. Once on location I will likely leave them permanently attached to the camera for the duration of my photography.

Really Right Stuff L Bracket and GP-E1

Initialising

In order to begin geo-tagging your photographs after installation of the GP-E1 you need to enter the cameras menu system and tell it you have attached the GPS Receiver. To do this you select GPS in the GPS device settings menu and simply set it to ‘Enable’. According to the manual signal acquisition takes anywhere from thirty to sixty seconds after you turn on the camera. In my own experience it was much faster than this taking around fifteen seconds. Although I was able to obtain a satellite signal inside my house I recommend you do this step outside initially to more easily acquire a satellite signal. A flashing GPS annotation is displayed on the small lower LCD screen on the 1DX prior to a ‘satellite lock’. Once ‘Lock’ is achieved the GPS text stops flashing and the camera is now ready to geotag images. At this point all you have to do is press the shutter and the GP-E1 will write its GPS data to your file automatically. Regardless of wether you are shooting RAW or Jpeg this information is written directly into the file and is not attached as a side-car file.

GPS Device Settings

Features

The GP-E1 records the latitude and longtitude of its location as well as the elevation and direction each time the shutter is pressed and adds this information to the camera generated image file (RAW or jpeg) The GP-E1 also records the UTC or Co-ordinated Universal Time which is essentially the same as Greenwich Mean Time. The direction recorded simply indicates the direction the camera was facing when the shutter was pressed and an exposure recorded. This information is displayed as Direction: NE 45 indicating that the camera was facing 45 degrees North East. This information could be useful if you were trying to replicate a particular photograph or wanted to know your angle in relation to the setting sun as an example.

The GPS information display also indicates either ‘2D’ or ‘3D’. A ‘3D’ display means the GP-E1 is able to record the cameras elevation at the time of exposure. ‘2D’ indicates the GP-E1 cannot record the elevation at time of exposure and thus will not record this information to the file. A more detailed explanation of why the GP-E1 might not be able to include elevation information is not included in the manual but I would surmise it is related to either signal strength or number of available satellites.

Positioning Interval

There are multiple options to set the Positioning Interval of the GP-E1. The positioning interval determines how often the GP-E1 queries nearby satellites for location information. Shorter positioning intervals yield more accurate location information but require more battery power and thus fewer exposures can be made on a single charge. The options are every: 1 second, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes or 5 minutes. I have not as yet had a chance to experiment how much of difference this makes in real world shooting; however, the manual indicates a difference of 200 frames between 1 second and 5 minute intervals. Until such time as I can test this in the field I will leave it set to every 30 seconds which would seem sufficient for most applications. Perhaps if shooting from a fast moving car, plane or helicopter it would be worth changing to every second. For most land based applications I would imagine  a setting of 1 or 2 minutes would be sufficient.

Digital Compass

The GP-E1 includes a Digital Compass which provides you with the direction the camera was facing when the exposure was made. The compass can also be used when shooting by pressing the ‘info’ button on the 1DX which will display the cameras inbuilt level and the direction the camera is facing. The compass is also displayed in Live View mode or movie shooting, but can be turned off my pressing the ‘info’ button. In order to take advantage of the Digital Compass feature the compass has to be calibrated and this is achieved by rotating and waving the camera laterally and vertically in at least a 180 degree arc. This process is well described and documented in the manual and only takes a few seconds. This process only needs to be performed once and not every time the camera is turned on.

GPS Time

The GP-E1 can be used to record the time of exposure with an error margin of +/- 2 seconds. For anyone who travels a lot like I do this is a real benefit as I am constantly forgetting to update my cameras time from my point of origin to the time at my current location. The GP-E1 can be set to automatically update which removes the requirement to manually update the cameras time or it can be manually updated by a force option in the menu. Comparing this time to the official local time as displayed on my computer the GP-E1 is extremely accurate and within the +/-2 seconds quoted in the manual (although it does not take into account Local Daylight Savings Times).

Power

Unlike the Canon GP-E2 the Canon GP-E1 is powered from the Camera’s main battery and does not require an additional battery to make it work. This is a real positive as I do not want to have to carry yet another battery type on a photographic shoot. The only down side to utilising the Camera’s main power source is that it does reduce the number frames that can be captured on a single charge. The number of reduced frames will depend on how often you have set the GP-E1 to update its location information and the external temperature in which you are shooting. Colder temperatures will result in fewer exposures before a battery charge or replacement is required.

Bundled Software

The GP-E1 is supplied with a Canon Software solutions disc which includes a Map Utility and ImageBrowser EX software. The map utility uses local information recorded by the receiver to show shooting locations and the shooting direction on a virtual map. Imagebrowser EX is used to update the Map utility. Since Adobe Lightroom is capable of reading the geotagged RAW files directly from the camera I did not bother to install and test this software as I have no need for it. If you use Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional Software (DPP) or other RAW image processing software that does not natively read geotagged files this bundled software may be more useful to you. I suspect anyone who is using a GP-E1 will most likely also be using Adobe Lightroom and therefore not require this bundled software.

Weather Sealing

The supplied manual does not state wether the GP-E1 is weather sealed. However, the unit is for all intent and purpose fully sealed and highly unlikely to fail due to exposure to the elements. Installation of the GP-E1 does require removal of the Extension System Terminal Cover; however, the GP-E1 is a very snug fit once screwed into position and I feel quite confident that there is likely to be no effect on the cameras weather sealing with the GP-E1 in position. I would happily shoot with the GP-E1 attached to the 1DX under any normal conditions I might subject the camera to and this includes heavy rain, snow, sleet, salt spray, dust, heat and cold.

Who is it for?

The simple answer is the GP-E1 is for anyone who has a 1DX and wants to record the exact location where their photographs were taken. Personally, I purchased one for the Arctic and Antarctic Expeditions that I lead as I find it difficult to otherwise record exactly where my photographs were taken when shooting from ship and zodiac.

Testing

Initial testing of the GP-E1 at parklands nearby to my house shows that it is highly accurate in recording the exact position a photograph was taken. Comparing its location information to that captured by the iPhone shows negligible difference.  Looking at the location information from my testing I can see that the GP-E1 was able to record accurate data about where each image was captured and thus it could easily be used to help add place names to images after a shoot.

Lightroom Map Module with GP-E1 Tagged Files

On import into Lightroom Raw files that have been geotagged by the GP-E1 automatically show up in the Map Module without any input from the user. I personally find the Map Module in Lightroom a bit of a gimmick but I suspect it may yet prove useful for working out place names where photographs were taken.

Although I have already conducted some testing of the GP-E1 I see the first real field test as the Jewels of the Arctic trip I am leading in August next year when I will be travelling on the Polar Pioneer from Longyearbyen in Svalbard to Greenland and Iceland. At sea there are no signs to otherwise record the position a photograph was taken so I will be totally reliant on the GP-E1 to record exactly where my photographs were taken. Based on my experience so far I feel very confident that the GP-E1 will work just fine.

In the meantime I will take the GP-E1 to Iceland for the two Winter Workshops I am leading there in March next year and again in July for my Summer workshop before I head North for eight weeks photography in the Arctic.

Conclusion

The GP-E1 is an easy to install, easy to use device for effectively geotagging your images with Canon’s 1DX camera. Whilst the addition of the GP-E1 makes an already big and heavy camera bigger and heavier yet again it does provide a rich feature set and geotagged files that can be natively read in programs such as Adobe Lightroom. I would have liked Canon to build the GP-E1 into the 1DX (since even my iPhone includes built in geotagging) but I guess I will have to wait for the 1DX Mark 2 for this feature. In the meantime I can see the GP-E1 becoming a permanent addition to my camera equipment. Particularly for the trips I lead to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Pros

  • Does not require specialised software to take advantage of the GPS co-ordinates (files can be imported directly into Adobe Lightroom where they are automatically tagged in the maps module)
  • Is powered off the cameras main battery and does not require a seperate dedicated battery like hot shoe GPS units
  • Small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive

Cons

  • Not built in to the Camera like an iPhone or many other current digital cameras
  • Makes an already big and heavy camera even bigger

One Comment

  1. Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Josh, without a doubt, the best review I’ve read of the GP-E1 GPS unit, most informative…Martyn

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