Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 14 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

Inside the EOS 6D's integrated GPS

September 17, 2012

"Without need of any accessories, the EOS 6D photographer can simply activate GPS and reap its benefits."

The EOS 6D is Canon's first EOS SLR with fully integrated GPS capability; no separate GPS accessory is required. We'll briefly explore its capabilities in this report, and give ideas of how this may be useful to some photographers in their daily work.

By fully integrating GPS hardware into the camera, the accessory shoe is completely freed for Speedlite use, or any other shoe-mount accessory a photographer may want to use. Additionally, the already-compact EOS 6D remains that way, without the added size and slight weight increase that an accessory like Canon's optional GP-E2 would add when mounted to the hotshoe.

It's important to note that the optional Canon GP-E2 GPS receiver can be used on the EOS 6D, and adding it does increase GPS functionality in a couple of ways. We'll discuss that later in this article. But many users will be attracted to the EOS 6D simply by the fact that no separate accessories are required to incorporate GPS location data into your digital imagery.

Geotagging images

This is the primary function most photographers think about when considering GPS and digital imaging. The integrated GPS on the EOS 6D allows GPS location data to be added to the "EXIF" text metadata that's produced for each photo you take. (Of course, the EOS 6D's internal GPS can be turned off whenever desired, or if the camera is used in regions where GPS recording is restricted or prohibited.)

GPS info recorded by the EOS 6D's internal GPS system includes:
  • Location: latitude, longitude
  • Elevation
  • Coordinated Universal Time Code (UTC)
  • Satellite reception status

This info can be displayed on the camera's LCD monitor when images are played-back (it appears when the INFO button is pressed to display a detailed playback view with two histograms on-screen). And, it can be viewed using any compatible image browsing software, including of course Canon's supplied Digital Photo Professional and ImageBrowser EX programs, as part of the camera's detailed shooting info for each image.

GPS data recording is user-activated in the camera's 2nd Set-up Menu:

2nd Set-up Menu > GPS > Select GPS device > Internal GPS (other options are External GPS and Disable)

Once activated, it takes roughly 30-60 seconds to establish firm connectivity to GPS satellites. The internal GPS receiver is located at the top of the camera, near the accessory shoe (under the EOS 6D's top cover). It will operate whether the camera is held horizontally or vertically, and whether or not a Canon EX-series Speedlite is attached to the camera. GPS remains active until you go back into the menu (as listed above) and intentionally disable it. When active, if you turn the camera off and then back on again, it will normally re-establish GPS connectivity with satellites within a few seconds, as long as you're in an area where continuous GPS reception is possible.

Logging function

It's also possible for the camera to take repeated GPS location readings, store this info in-camera, and then download it as a single file for each day. Using the included Canon Map Utility software, it's possible to view the location of each image taken, and to simultaneously view a path drawn on the map, indicating the camera's movements while the logging function was turned on.

The resulting data can be saved as a .KMZ file, and then imported into services such as Google Earth™, where they can be viewed and shared with others. It's a cool way to share images and show others where your travels took you throughout the day, whether you're on-foot in a foreign city, or on a wildlife safari in an exotic locale. And of course, the logging capability has significant benefits for nature and wildlife photographers, enabling them to pin-down where a picture was taken, hours or years after the fact. Business users, in fields ranging from insurance to law enforcement, may also find this an invaluable asset in keeping track of images, or documenting where the camera was when a particular image was taken.

The logging function is activated or turned off in the 2nd Set-up Menu on the EOS 6D:

2nd Set-up Menu screen > GPS > Set up > GPS Logger > Log GPS position – Enable

Other menu settings allow you to transfer the stored log data to your memory card, and to delete stored log data. Again, one file is saved for each day, regardless of the duration that GPS logging was active for. Once log data is transferred to the SD memory card, it can be downloaded to your computer, read by the EOS Map Utility software, and viewed on a detailed map on-screen (the mapping software requires an active internet connection, and displays your choice of a standard "road map", or a detailed satellite image view).

Time setting

Rather than relying on your watch and hoping it's within several minutes of the correct time, the EOS 6D's internal clock can be set using GPS data, with accuracy within ± 1 second. In the GPS menu screen (within the 2nd Set-up Menu), there's an "Auto time setting" listed: setting this to "Auto Update" allows the camera to use GPS UTC data to set its internal clock whenever you (a) activate GPS in the menu, or (b) turn on the camera with GPS already enabled. (Note that if the EOS 6D is set to "Auto Update", GPS takes full control of the camera's date and time settings, and they cannot be manually set by the photographer... if it's important for you to revert to a user-applied date/time setting in-camera, turn the GPS Auto time setting to "Disable".)

For photographers using two or more cameras at an event and requiring precise time synchronization for image-editing later, using two or more EOS 6Ds becomes an appealing option, allowing for precise time synchronizing of multiple cameras, within ± 1 second.

Finally, note that for GPS time setting to be possible, location data from at least 5 GPS satellites must be received – in some locations or conditions, this may not be possible, and GPS time cannot be set or updated automatically.

GPS Position Update timing

Especially with the EOS 6D's built-in GPS logging function, the frequency with which new GPS readings are taken becomes a factor to consider – and, it's user adjustable over a relatively broad range of time intervals. Out of the box, the EOS 6D is set to take a new GPS reading every 15 seconds, but this can be adjusted anywhere from one reading every second to one reading every 5 minutes. The following factors are among those influenced by the interval you select:

  • GPS logging path accuracy:
    The more frequently readings are taken, the smoother and less erratic map paths from Log data will tend to appear in Canon's Map Utility software, or when transferred to services such as Google Earth. The pace at which you're moving makes a difference, too. Walking through a downtown section of a city requires less-frequent readings to maintain a fairly accurate Logging data path than driving in a car or off-road vehicle.

    In general, you may find the default 15 second interval OK for logging while you walk with the camera; for logging data when in a vehicle, consider speeding-up the intervals to perhaps every 5 or 10 seconds.
  • How many separate Log files can be stored in-camera:
    With the Log function activated, one log file is recorded per 24-hour day, and saved in the camera's internal memory (they're not written to your memory card until you activate that in the GPS menu). They're relatively small files, but when the Position Update timing interval is increased, more readings are taken and stored, and the file size of each day's Log file becomes greater. Here's an approximate idea of how many days worth of files can be stored in-camera, at various Position Update intervals:

    1 second – 4.4 days
    5 seconds – 22 days
    10 seconds – 44 days
    15 seconds – 67 days
    30 sec ~ 5 minutes – 100 days

    With the "Transfer log data to card" function, data is copied to the memory card, and can then be viewed, used and saved in your computer with the Map Utility software. Data is not deleted from the camera's internal memory until the "Delete Log Data" entry is selected within the GPS Logger menu. If the internal memory should fill-up, the latest (most recent) GPS data will displace the oldest data.
  • Location accuracy for shooting data:
    The GPS location info applied to each image is based on the most recent reading taken. Thus, if you're moving, the shorter the interval between readings, the more precise it will tend to be. If readings are set to be taken every 15 seconds (again, that's the factory default), and you take a picture in-between separate GPS readings, the last data taken before the shot was captured is the GPS data that will be applied.
What about the optional GP-E2 GPS receiver?

For many users, the advent of a built-in GPS receiver in the EOS 6D will be all they ever need, and indeed for some may be a primary selling point for this camera. As mentioned previously, in spite of having a built-in GPS receiver, the EOS 6D remains compatible with the optional accessory GP-E2 unit. So why would someone want to consider that? Several possible reasons:

  • Recording accuracy: the integrated GPS receiver in the EOS 6D has an accuracy rating of within 98 feet (30m); the precision of the GPS readings from the optional GP-E2 are superior, and for users who require added precision, this may be a factor. As we've discussed previously on the Canon Digital Learning Center, no SLR-based GPS units are going to provide military-spec accuracy and positioning precision. But there's no question that the optional GP-E2 is often going to be superior to the built-in GPS in this area.
  • Compass/directional data: the EOS 6D's built-in GPS cannot record direction data, which can be important in some applications. Whether a nature shooter recording data in a landscape picture or a location scout surveying possible sites for a movie, if it's important to know what direction the camera was pointed in, you will need the optional GP-E2 GPS receiver.

For most users, we'd frankly suggest trying the internal GPS in the EOS 6D, assessing how it works for your needs, and then considering the optional Canon GP-E2 receiver if you encounter shortcomings with the built-in unit.

Some other limitations to be cognizant of: GPS reception is primarily an outdoor feature. While it often works well in cars or vehicles, it rarely can be expected to work in buildings, and can be affected by surroundings such as large trees, surrounding buildings on city streets, inside of tunnels, and so on. If the EOS 6D's GPS is turned on, and the small GPS icon on the camera's top LCD panel blinks on and off, it means that GPS reception has failed – either re-activate it, or move to a different location (such as outdoors, if you're inside) where reception will be more favorable. The icon appears steadily to indicate GPS is active and operating normally.

A few technical specs

The integrated GPS in the EOS 6D uses the "L1" GPS band (1575.42 MHz), a band normally used for civilian applications. Log data is in the NMEA-0813 format; as mentioned previously, the log data can be saved using Canon's included Map Utility software as a .KMZ file, and from there used in third-party applications such as Google Earth™.

Summary

For some old-timers, it only seems like a few years ago that we were shooting with film cameras, and if you wanted to recall any information about a picture you took, you either had to have a good memory, or have a notebook with you when you went out shooting. With digital SLRs, we have a wealth of camera info recorded and tagged to every shot – date and time, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, special settings and so on.

But as digital imagery has become fully mainstream, many advanced or business users have come to realize the benefits that location information can provide. Travel shooters can now precisely tell which church or monument a particular image is, even when their own recollections become a bit cloudy. Nature and wildlife users can accurately catalog images based on location. It's now possible for anyone to show viewers not only where they took pictures, but also where they travelled during a day. Business users have a firm way to document what they've photographed, and more importantly, be able to use that info months or even years after the fact.

The EOS 6D has the most complete GPS answer yet, and one that's abundantly suited to travel, nature and business users. Without need of any accessories, the EOS 6D photographer can simply activate GPS in his or her menu, and from there reap its benefits. And, when more precision or compass (directional) data is needed, it remains fully compatible with the optional GP-E2 accessory unit.

Even if you haven't longed for GPS data and the benefits it may provide, it's another reason to consider stepping up to the EOS 6D, and for pros working with higher-end EOS models to consider adding it to their EOS system.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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