Photography and GPS have been linked for a number of years. Not long ago, many brands and models had a GPS receiver built in that could provide all the photos taken with the corresponding coordinates. GPS is super handy if you can put all those photos on a map, like with the map module in Lightroom. You can then visualize a traveled route and the locations where all the photos were taken. This can be especially useful if you don’t remember when, but rather where the photo was taken.
Built-in GPS units are now gone in almost all cameras, I suspect because of power consumption. The GPS electronics are always on, until the battery runs out. You can choose to turn that function on only when you take a picture, but that’s no do. The GPS must first pick up enough signals to determine its position, and that takes some time. Time you need to take the picture. So many manufacturers have found another solution: GPS via an app on your cell phone.
You have two methods: a section in the app that records your walk and you send that data to your device afterwards, or your phone is continuously connected to the camera via BlueTooth and sends the positions live in a small stream of data. Apparently that technology is just a little more energy efficient for the battery in the camera after all. You just need a well-charged phone if you are going to hike and photograph for a day.
To avoid an empty battery, you can opt for an external battery pack. Depending on the capacity, you can then use your phone 3-8 times longer on that day. This combination does have a few drawbacks: an extra battery pack can add weight to your backpack and unfortunately the connection between phone and camera is not always stable, so you have to keep a constant eye on whether everything is still working.
A nicer solution is an external GPS logger, one that is accurate and easy to use. The most inexpensive solution is a GPS logger app on your watch or phone. MyTracks is such an app. You can install that and have it record your route. It is very accurate, but as mentioned earlier, the phone’s battery determines how long you can log, as does the battery of your watch. And you should not accidentally press a button during your activities that stops logging. I write this after several past experiences.
Buying an external GPS logger from camera dealers. That category was quickly dropped because most of these devices only come with Windows software. Those with a Mac will have to look for an alternative. However, Garmin recently introduced the eTrex SE to the market. It is a compact GPS unit that has several functions, but especially one that I find very important: an accurate GPS logger.
The Garmin eTrex is a very simple GPS navigator when compared to its more expensive siblings. This unit has a simple LCD screen that, however, is extremely visible in bright sunlight. The unit can log your activities (GPS) by using multiple signals: GPS, GLONASS, Gallileo, BeiDou and QZSS satellites. You can also Geocache with this unit, use a built-in electronic compass, view current weather forecasts and all for up to 168 hours on two AA batteries. The eTrex can also communicate with your phone via the Garmin Explore app allowing you to visualize a color map with your position on it, as long as you have a signal from your cellular provider available.
I won’t be using most of the functions so soon. Perhaps that will change in the future. For now, a GPX route file comes out of the app which I can then send via Airdrop to the Macbook in order to export it in Lightroom. If the set time of the ETREX SE matches that of the camera, I can sync all captured images in Lightroom and provide them with their GPS coordinates. If one of the two is ahead or behind, that will have to be corrected first.
Once all images are provided with their GPS values, only one operation remains and that is capturing all that information. For .JPG files, the coordinates are recorded in the images themselves and for RAW files, Lightroom will generate an .XML sidecar file.
The ETREX SE is easy to operate with four buttons. On top you will find an on/off button. If you turn the unit on, it will also immediately start GPS logging automatically. When you finish that day, you can save the session and synchronize the unit. From the app on your phone, a .GPX file will then automatically roll out. They can’t make it any nicer.
Oh yeah, just one more mention: the unit runs about 168 hours on two AA batteries. Enough to walk around in the jungle for a week. You’ll probably have more batteries to carry for your photo or video camera, though.
For the ETREX SE, there are also several accessories for sale to hang it or attach it to your backpack. Personally, I much prefer to keep the unit hidden in the backpack. I hate having dangling parts bumping into me and anything hanging in plain sight can get stolen. I have tested the unit several times in an inside pocket of me jacket while hiking and it proved to work extremely well.
Above the clip is an eyelet, which is for opening the cover for the two AA batteries or connecting the unit to your computer with a USB-C cable. The sealing on the inside makes it waterproof. As you can see, the exterior of the ETREX SE is very solidly built. Keep it well protected in your bag, and you’ll also keep the LCD screen in one piece longer. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any LCD protection that fits yet.
For those who want to learn more about the capabilities of the ETREX SE, I recommend searching Youtube. One or more videos are added almost every week.