By June 17, 2009

ATP GPS PhotoFinder mini review

The ATP PhotoFinder Mini – photo geotagging made simple.

30grams, 16 hours continual usage, external display, simple one button operation, with docking station!  No, it’s not a phone, but a “geotagger” for normal cameras!

When Matt asked me to review this device, I was all over it like a 12 year old boy that had just found his dads stash of “private” magazines.  As some of you know from my previous reviews, I live in Malta. It’s a small country just off Sicily, about the size of a postage stamp and in the winter, has just under half a million people living there .  In summer, the population normally doubles!  It is a country full of heritage and has been attacked by pretty much every race that ever existed.  In short, it’s one of the most ideal places in Europe to take some really cool photos.

What’s in the box?

  • ATP Photofinder Mini (with built-in lanyard clip)
  • Docking station / card reader with LCD display.
  • Multilanguage “quick start” guide
  • 18 page user manual
  • A 1 month free voucher for a Locr Pro account (more on this in the review)
  • Multilanguage Manuals on in PDF format on CD
PF_mini_photo  The Official Press Pack Photo. (cards not included, and LCD screen by the looks of it!)

(Approximate) Specifications  of devices: 

GPS PhotoFinder Mini

Chipset SiRF Star III
Channels 20
Sensitivity (Tracking) -155dBm.
Reacquisition 0.1sec typical
Maximum altitude 18000 m
Maximum velocity 514 m/s
Update rate Continuous operation: 1Hz
Operating Temperature -20 to +60 degrees C (-4 to +140 degrees F)
Storage Temperature -20 to +60 degrees C (-4 to +140 degrees F)
Operating Time More than 16 Hours
Connectivity Card Complies with MMC Micro 128MB
USB Connector Mini USB to external power charger/ Link to PC
Memory card Optional 128MB MMC Micro memory card
Battery Li-polymer rechargeable battery 780mA Max.
External Power Adapter 100-240 VAC [email protected] 1.2A
Dimension 35.0 mm x 24.0 mm x 60.0 mm
Weight 30g

Multi-Function Docking

Display 128×32 Dot Matrix FSTN with backlight
UI Language English (Default )
Japanese ( Optional )
Traditional Chinese ( Optional )
Simplified Chinese ( Optional )
Operating Temperature -20 to +60 degrees C (-4 to +140 degrees F)
Storage Temperature -20 to +60 degrees C (-4 to +140 degrees F)
Connectivity Card Complies with Compact Flash Specification Revision 4.0
Complies with SD 2.0 SDHC
Complies with MMC 4.2
Complies with Memory Stick PRO/Duo
USB Interface to PC USB to Type A male connector cable
Power Jack Mini USB
External Power 100-240 VAC [email protected]
Dimension 83.6 mm x 93.0 mm x 51.0 mm
Weight 135g

Now.  Call me a bit suspicious, but when a device lists languages supported as English, then Japanese,then Traditional & simplified Chinese it normally means the device was manufactured in the reverse order.  It also pretty much guarantees that the user manual is going to be worth reading for spelling / grammarly reviews mistakes alone.  Boy was I not disappointed.

The first thing that struck me on the device, was even before I had opened the packaging.  Those little “we have changed our mind, or something wasn’t quite right when we designed the box” cover up stickers.   Noticeably, they were covering the operating temperature.   It seems that the website, and the original box claimed the device could operate at -20 degrees Celsius.  ATP amended that to 0 degrees C, and extended the range up by 10 degrees to 70C.  OK, not a deal breaker. You may not be able to take a picture, but at least you will know where you are when the fireball has died down.

I will warn you now, if you do not understand sarcasm, or “British” humour, then watch some Monty Python, and read this tomorrow.  It will all make sense in the morning.

The GPS module itself is actually so simplistic in design it scares the hell out of me.  It has one main power button, 3 LED’s,  a MMC Micro slot, with a 128mb card in it, and a rubber cover covering that and a mini USB hole.  It also has a rather nicely designed and sturdy Lanyard clip, with a well made heavy duty connector weaved, stitched, and covered also in rubber.  It’s Mirror black and silver design is appealing, and it looks just like a Bluetooth GPS mouse that we all used to lug around before HTC / TomTom / Garmin started to build them into their devices.

DSC_0265

DSC_0264

Sitting in its dock!

The cradle on the other hand is a bit plasticy, although it does have a fair bit of weight, and has a neat storage bit underneath for its USB cable.  I say neat, because it is also utterly useless, as you have to lug around a power supply. The cradle takes SD, MMC, MS and CF cards, and does work as a MMC Micro reader as well when the GPS unit is plugged in.  The display on the front of the unit is backlit, and easy enough to read.  understand NO, read yes!

DSC_0275

Storage for the USB cable, but you still need power to make it work!

How it works is simple.   The little GPS device records your position with the date and time every 10 seconds.  Then, when you get back to the docking station, it “reads” the time stamp on the photo’s, and inserts the geodata into each shot.  In theory…

At this stage I want to show you the “getting started guide” because that’s what I looked at on the box.  It’s printed there as well.

Tutorial

Simplicity in every way. switch on, take photos, plug card and unit into base, done..

Having received a few new devices over the years, and being a bloke, I don’t read manuals much. The box illustration lulled me into a false sense of security, and I wandered out, in the blistering heat, and gave it a road test!

OK.. So that was the plan and in true Murphy’s Law fashion, a couple of things didn’t go quite right!  First of all, I was doing a photo shoot for a client, one that involved me travelling almost all over the island in a single day. The prefect opportunity for testing.  Unfortunately, the customer didn’t agree to me using the device for testing, and I wasn’t allowed to keep the SD card that I had shot all my photos on.  (I was wondering why he handed me a brand new 8gig SD card when I started the shoot and asked me to use that!)

So, back home and suffering form heatstroke, I dumped my laptop and other kit, put on some shorts, grabbed my camera bag and the Photofinder, and headed out for a quick trip VIA water ferry to Valetta.  Knowing that it would take me about 90 minutes return trip using public transport, It would be an ideal time frame to get some good shots.  180 photos later, I was back home.

SO..  plug in device, insert card, press synch, set time zone, await result and upload into Picasa.  Easy as pie..

where2

Great English! 😉

That was the error I got almost continually.  no MAPPING FILE, Pease remove it!  This naturally caused me to scratch my head in frustration..  What is a mapping file, where should it be  and what should I remove?  I tried again, I swore, got on my messenger to Matt, re-read the manual, swore some more, scratched my head a bit then went on search of the website (and if anyone mentions PEBCAK, I will hunt you down!) A search through the site archives showed me a “technical manual” and FAQ, not surprisingly missing from the manuals, and then a reference to a wonderful firmware upgrade “in a few weeks” but with no date!.

I only mention this as a warning, and I have to post it.  I rarely pick a product apart so much, however..

Does the Photo Finder support CompactFlash or xD flash cards?
The Photo Finder supports all memory cards as long as they’re formatted using a FAT/FAT32 file system. For SD(HC) and Memory Stick cards, there is a built in card slot. For other memory card formats such as CF and xD, a standard USB reader (sold separately) can be directly plugged into the Photo Finder using the USB adapter cable (included).
??  where?  I have taken pretty detailed photos, so if you can see where a standard USB card reader can be “slotted in” please tell me! More importantly there was no cable to do this!

It takes a long time to acquire a signal from the GPS satellites?
It may take a long period of time to track a location depending on the positioning of the GPS satellites.  For the first time if it was placed at the area well exposed to the satellite signal, the device requires approx. 13 minutes (theoretically 12.5 minutes) to receive or update ALMANAC. Refer to trouble shooting guide when the signal is not received well.
Gotta love that clear concise English!

Is the Photo Finder compatible with Mac OS and Windows?
The Photo Finder will work in conjunction with any operating system which supported your photos without geotagging.
The Photo Finder actually logs and geotags without the use of a PC so there aren’t any compatibility issues with operating systems.
Tell that to my MONSTER of a PC, that the ATP Photofinder managed to bluescreen! (Specs & details below!)

Does the Photo Finder support RAW formats?
Unfortunately, the Photo Finder currently only works with JPEG type photo files.  ATP is currently researching the addition of RAW type format support.
OK..  point and shoot compatibility at least ! Shame I shot all my 180 odd photos in RAW, as I always do.

How long can the Photo Finder log GPS data for?<
With the built in 128MB storage, the Photo Finder can log up to 550 hours of location data.  This storage is also recycled so that you always have 550 hours of the most recently logged data.

At this point, I would like to draw your attention to the specs again! Do I notice a small discrepancy here?

Operating Time:  More than 16 Hours

How much more?  534 Hours? BTW  That’s 23 days, in a device that weighs 30 grams!  OK.. So you can basically have a holiday, and shoot a lot of photos, then synch everything when you get home, as long as you brought the charging cable.

Is there anyway to export the GPS logs from the Photo Finder?
ATP is working on a new firmware version which adds the ability to export route data using KML files.  KML files can be opened with Google Earth to view your logged routes.  This will allow for not only geographical viewing of your photos, but also the paths on which you took them.  This version should be released within a few weeks.
This worked on the firmware that I was using.  I GOT the log file, on my SD card, but not the geotag!

The ATP Photo Finder will not power on:
Open the battery cover and re-insert the battery.
The battery may not be inserted properly.
Check the rechargeable battery to see whether it is charged or not.
Now I pushed, pulled, twisted, tweaked,  breathed on and generally said every magic spell I know to open this fabled Battery cover.  It was no-where to be seen, or documented!

The ATP Photo Finder cannot connect with my PC and card reader:
You may be running on a low power batteries. Please replace the battery with new or charged ones.   ??? WTF?
Please check and make sure the USB cable is correctly connected in both ends.
Please ensure to use the alkaline battery (1.5V ) instead, as it is better than rechargeable battery. (1.2V) ???????
You may have used a card reader that the ATP GPS Photo Finder does not support.

battery

How is that supposed to fit in there?

Frustrated, I did what any tech guru does in this precarious position.  I searched for firmware, and found some!

At this point I would like to brag a little!

my-specs
That is a screen shot of my PC specs.  Yes, you are reading that right, I have 12gig of RAM.  It is the fastest processor on the market, and I have the fastest graphics card on the market to match! It rates a 6.5 on Windows 7, and only rates 5.5 on Vista due to an older 500gig hardrive!  The little ATP, weighing in at 30grams managed not only to cause an “out of memory error”, but ultimately caused a bluescreen!  Very annoyed that Matt put me through this torment of seeing a BSOD for the first time on my PC in over 6 years, I decided not to risk anything else on my machine, and use my laptop.  Guess what..  same thing!

So..  I started problem solving.  Out comes the GPS device from the cradle, and I decided to connect directly.  Works fine, shows me the MMC card as a card reader.  Perfect.  Lets have a look at the card contents, open explorer. Blue screen ensues.  I decided to buy myself a MMC micro reader,  and format the card.  Quick check of the manual.—–

Ok. cool. There is a format menu on the cradle.  Format again, after being forced to do a hardware test.  This time it works.  The GPS device, now void of all information again greeted me with blinky lights!  YAY!

You may be wondering why I went to all that trouble?  You need to load the firmware on the MMC Micro card to actually flash the device.

Device flashed, and apparently working, I looked down and realised it was 1am!  I had got home at 7:30pm.  Taking photos can wait until tomorrow!..

Day 2:

Camera charged, GPS module charged:  out into the wild I go.  Get home, plug in the card into the docking station and realise that I forgot to change the camera format to Jpeg!  DOH! Spend 2 hours trying to convert to jpeg whilst keeping the original time stamps, fail miserably.  go to bed.

Day 3:

Couldn’t be bothered to end my day on a low note: so left the device at home!

Day 4:

SUCCESS!

Yes I finally managed to crack the damn problem!  I set the camera to Raw + Jpeg, went out and tested it.

Important is that you do actually test!  Don’t go running out and doing a 3 hour shoot.  I had to set the sync to GMT +2, I think because of British Summer Time rules even though i tried with +1 first.   If i had been out for more than an hour, it would have screwed everything up!

However, I was NOT impressed with the accuracy that i received from the GPS module.  My Touch Pro2 has GPS built in, and does provide me with a more accurate fix of my position.   http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/albumMap?uname=jugglesXP&aid=5344277372419381921#map  has all the details of the very boring photos that I took!

Have a peek at that Picasaweb map, and you will see what I mean.   I was deliberately sticking to an area about 500 meters from my house.  I wanted to see how accurate it was before I take it out on an Island test tomorrow.  It only recorded 2 of the 6 locations as individual.

http://www.panoramio.com  displayed this a lot better!

actualPointer is where Google says I am, Red dot is where I was!

When i left it on, but sitting on my front room table for a few hours, this is what it recorded..

table

However, it is much better when travelling, Download my little tour file from www.freelanceitmalta.com/TandM.kmz

So. My verdict..

Great little toy when it works.  I would have LOVED a USB version, that plugged into your PC / Mac and had a software that installed.  I think for the first time in my life, this is a product I actually think would be great with a program bundled with it.  The installer should do a couple of things..

Allow me to download the GPS data directly.
Set the time zone
See the pictures in a nice interface!
Tell me what the heck that error message means!

For geotagging photos with “ease” the ATP is not great.  For logging where you were on a trip.  Its the bees knees!”  Oooh..  and just in case someone from ATP reads this, please outsource your user manuals to a company that specialises in writing them in English!  Cant wait for the RAW support though!  I did mention one thing right at the top, the Locr Pro “one month free” voucher..   Seriously guys..  It has a “value” of less than 2 dollars.  You could have saved yourself the hassle.

Posted by: Piero (MVP)

Posted in: Reviews

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