Deal 9: Hacking Photography mega-deal
Light as a feather and slimmer than most cell phones, the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger touts a plethora of features in a complete package.Ã‚Â The unit is tiny for a GPS receiver by any standard and packs the following highlights:
And more!Ã‚Â With a 2GB card, the unit can record up to 2.5 million track points.Ã‚Â It comes with software to geocode photos as well as create Google kzm and klm files to share your experience.Ã‚Â Let’s jump right into a real world test case with this exciting, dinky unit.
When this unit arrived I was a bit excited.Ã‚Â At this point in time, this is the only GPS Photo Data Logger that also has the ability to record voice memos and then later pinpoint them on a map.Ã‚Â The packaging is about the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of each other and the standard unit comes with:
The battery was charged and the unit was ready to go when I opened the package.Ã‚Â All I had to do was insert the supplied 1 GB micro-SD card.Ã‚Â The power button is found on the top of the unit and remains flush to prevent accidental activation.Ã‚Â Holding the button for three seconds brings the Columbus to life with a happy chirp.Ã‚Â Ok, maybe it’s just a chirp, but it sounded kinda happy.Ã‚Â The unit has three LED indicators on the front as shown in the photo at the top of this post.Ã‚Â Writing, Satellite and Bluetooth.Ã‚Â Holding the power button again will turn off the unit, with the chirp.
The Writing LED stays on and orange while the unit is in logging mode.Ã‚Â The light blinks whenever a track point is written to storage, every second.Ã‚Â The Satellite LED will stay on a solid green while the unit attempts to acquire a GPS signal and then flashes green to show it has locked on and is working.Ã‚Â The Bluetooth LED flashes blue while it tries to acquire a Bluetooth signal.Ã‚Â If no signal is acquired within 15 minutes, this light turns off.Ã‚Â If a match is made, either with a laptop, PDA smartphone or the like, the light stays solid.
The voice record button is located on the right side of the unit as shown in the picture.Ã‚Â To activate a voice recording, the button needs to be held down.Ã‚Â After about one second a chirp will be heard indicating recording has started.Ã‚Â A microphone is located on the top of the unit and while quality is not stellar, it works well.Ã‚Â Release the button and a double chirp follows indicating all is well.Ã‚Â It should be noted, as far as I can tell, the voice recording itself is not tagged with GPS information.Ã‚Â If that statement is proven false, I’ll remove it.Ã‚Â As far as I can tell, the tagging gets done when the supplied tagging program is run.Ã‚Â Sample Voice Recording
Charging is accomplished via a mini-USB data port in the bottom of the unit.Ã‚Â This port only functions to charge the unit (with supplied cable) and doesn’t not work for data transfer, which is accomplished with the supplied SD card adapter and your own card reader.Ã‚Â The power port could use a cover as I can imagine it becoming very clogged if taken on a long trip.Ã‚Â An AC adapter is optional and I found an iPod wall unit with the Columbus charge cable works just fine.Ã‚Â The unit’s power light turns red when the battery is low and while charging, returning to green when the battery is full.
After the initial learning curve was mastered, I headed out around town to give the unit a test.Ã‚Â While the instruction manual states a satellite lock in approximately 35 seconds from a cold start, it took about 3 minutes the first time the Columbus was turned on inside my truck.Ã‚Â Other on/off acquisition times after the initial start up were within the stated 35 seconds.Ã‚Â Otherwise the unit worked as advertised, staying on and tracking well for the whole 30 minute trip.Ã‚Â New track logs can be created with the device running by holding down the waypoint button for a second which is answered by, you guessed it, a chirp.Ã‚Â This is useful for chopping up a trip into individual segments.Ã‚Â Back at home I ejected the micro-SD card, placed it in the supplied adapters and then into my computer.
The Columbus comes with a program called Time Album, which is Java based, for tagging voice files and photos and exporting them to kmz and kml files.Ã‚Â A kml file will only contain the track and waypoints with pointers back to the voice and photo files, while the kmz file will embed the voice and data files as a package for sharing either in email or online.Ã‚Â The program also has the ability to offset the tagging as most cameras are not synced perfectly with a PC.Ã‚Â It can also link together multiple track logs with a simple highlight and click of the Link button.Ã‚Â The Options button allows for adjusting some of the export functions, such as track interval (an amount of meters or seconds so the maps doesn’t get too crowded) as well as the size of photos in the kmz files.
The Columbus’ accuracy is extremely close.Ã‚Â Looking at photos marked and actual locations, the difference is on the order of 20′ and that could be because of a slight difference in time stamps.Ã‚Â It would be very handy for most any trip that doesn’t require the accuracy of true surveying equipment.Ã‚Â The trip I took was mostly free of tall trees (i.e. not in the forest) with the unit sitting on the arm rest inside my truck.
Some information on file sizes as I myself was curious how much space the voice tags would require.Ã‚Â Files are saved as WAV files and a ten second recording used 63KB on the card.Ã‚Â A 30 minute track log with a point recorded every second used 168KB.Ã‚Â The track log was made using the professional mode, which records more data than the regular mode, so even more points can be recorded in regular mode.Ã‚Â With a 2GB card, the unit should record around 5000 hours of data.
The unit has a suggested retail price of $140 but can be found cheaper on the internet.Ã‚Â For my money, the Columbus V-900 GPS Data Logger delivers as promised.Ã‚Â While I personally won’t be using all of the features (it also has a Spy Mode, GPS program for Windows CE and the Bluetooth connection can be used with a PDA as previously mentioned) the voice recording is very handy and worth the additional cost, in my mind.Ã‚Â My only gripe is the unit only presents information in metric units.Ã‚Â I know, I know, just do the math, and I do.Ã‚Â But I’d like the option to switch to miles.
Peter is an avid photographer currently traveling through South America and Japan who enjoys travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.Ã‚Â He also hosts a Photo of the Day RSS feed found here.
October 3, 2011 03:55 pm
Thank you for any other informative blog. Where else may I am getting that kind of info written in such an ideal way? I have a undertaking that I'm just now operating on, and I have been at the look out for such info.
April 2, 2010 01:01 am
I bought a Columbus V-900 on 14 Jan 2010 for use in the southern hemisphere and it did not work.
After numerous correspondance with Visiontac about the problem they did not acknowledge that this is caused by the firmware on the device and it appeared as if it was the first time they ever heard of the problem.
They eventually asked me to ship the unit back to them on my own costs which I did the next day. This was done on the 18 th of February 2010. Since then I have enquired about my returned item on more than 4 occasions and they told me that the unit have been shipped to me but they have not been able to confirm this with a Tracking number or any other proof.
So be warned. Do not purchase this unit for use in the southern hemisphere if you cannot confirm the Firmware version beforehand.(if the problem is actually related to some firmware version)
January 17, 2010 01:06 am
I own a Columbus V-900 since October 2009. It was supposed to be a replacement for my old Globalsat DG-100 tracker, which I used for several years as a "always on" GPS tracker. Unfortunately, the integrated USB cable started malfunctioning after a couple of years. I guess it could be replaced, but I decided to buy the V-900 instead (it's smaller).
For those of you who are interested in the battery life: according to my experience, the Columbus V-900 will work for about 11-13 hours, which is *not* enough for me and far less than what I was used to with my DG-100 (which could sometimes work for 2 days straight!). I've not tried yet to change the default configuration, if possible.
Another really annoying point is that the V-900 is *really* noisy. It will beep loudly when you switch it on/off or when it acquires or loses the GPS signal. There's no way to disable this "feature", as far as I know.
Feel free to ask any other question.
November 20, 2009 06:04 am
I have an interesting question. I would like to use this logger during flying, but above 300 km/h it doesn't want to log the coordinates, just one in a while. ( once maybe in 5 minutes) And the setup for the overspeed alarm goes up to 300km/h. Is it related to this problem? Some website says the device is good up to 1000 knots. Does anyone have any idea what kinda settings I should use?
September 20, 2009 06:19 pm
I'm also very interested in the long term battery life, the spy mode claims 30 days, which is just too good. But if its even near that, it would be great for longer hiking trips. I hope you can give us some information on the battery life in spy mode.
September 8, 2009 06:41 pm
BTW batteries, I'm interested only in data logging mode (not spy mode), I would like to switch the unit in the morning, drop it in my bag and use it for a whole day. What is your experience regarding battery life?
BTW, Peter, I think it would be nice to write a little more in your article about Spy mode, as this is very useful for people going on a long trip where access to electrical outlets is limited. Being able to use gps logging for one month without charging seems like a great thing. Of course it doesn't log data as often as in normal mode but sometimes logging every 5 or 10 minutes seems to be enough.
September 8, 2009 06:32 pm
According to one guy who contacted cbgps.com directly problems on south hemisphere (the reason of bad reviews on amazon) were due to a firmware bug and it's fixed since July 2009.
Take a look here (last post from Nonosoley):
Can anyone confirm the battery life? One review on amazon says the battery lasts for max 12 hours. I don't expect 24h but if it's only 12h (or less) then probably I will buy Qstarz BT-1000X instead of columbus.
August 15, 2009 06:21 pm
I read on a topic that this logger have some problems in south hemisphere to capt signal.
Did you notice something about it ?
Thanks a lot.
July 3, 2009 03:11 am
I need a kind of PocketPC GPS software that could import logs (from V-900 card, original data or somehow converted by same PPC), visualize and use that data for tracking/backtracking/guiding.
April 20, 2009 04:40 am
Ront: Hi. Nope, Time Album does not support RAW file. It only works with JPEG.
April 19, 2009 07:52 am
Does the device and software support geotagging RAW files? I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to process my photos from RAW to DNG. Does the EXIF data stay with the photo?
April 1, 2009 09:46 pm
I just started using the 1.6 version of the software and have kept my settings the same. When I open my file I notice that the time does not match my computer & local time. I have always used -5GMT and this is what I am still using. My time is correct on my camera. Do you know if this is a problem with the new version of the software. I assume one can not adjust the time on the unit, as it is taken from the satellites?
Thanks for the help.
March 30, 2009 10:08 am
V 900 can't get voice to play through Google Earth, any suggestions? Will play in Windows Media.
March 29, 2009 01:41 pm
Hi! Im using the V-900 for an extensive trip around the world and after downloading the latest software something just issn't right... The program runs through my images and it says that it geotags them all but none of the pictures get any latitude or longditude information added to their Exif information. Anybody else experiencing this problem?
Another issue is also as ww said, the pictures you get in the GPSED folder lose some of their Exif information, like cameratype. Is this a regular bug?
March 1, 2009 09:08 am
I have a V900 GPS voice, photo data logger, works great, but I cannot get voice to play on Google Earth. The voice is on a file and I can play it on windows media. Do I need to add something to Google earth?
Any other software that the V900 can be used with, and get voice ?
February 25, 2009 07:09 am
Is it just me or does the Time Album software mess with the rest of the EXIF data. My photos have proper GPS on them but the time, date (time and place is correct in google earth) and other info seems lost or screwed up. Anyway to do it without the data loss/change? Thanks.
February 18, 2009 10:45 pm
You have been a lot of help! If I were asked to rate this unit, I would have to say that it is an excellent device. The only downfall is the instructions. The manual repeats itsself, where it could have described features further. For some people this would make a big difference as to reccomend it or not. It is amazing how much an effort is spent to make a product, yet so little to support it. I hope that some of these issues will be adressed in future released of Time Album.
Thanks again for all your help
Gennaro, Niagara Falls, Canada
February 18, 2009 09:25 am
@Graham: Yes, please follow the same steps recommended to Gennaro.
@Gennaro: Yes, you have to play with the time bar a bit to un-hide all the points, V or P flags. In general, if you are casually recording for a daily trip, 1 sec log interval (default) is okay but for a trip that is recorded over 7 days and more, the log file will have a lot of data, which will definitely slow down Google Earth. My suggestion is to stick with a 5 secs interval if you are not download your log records after every trip.
KML is the uncompressed version of the exported track for Google Earth. It only contains the track and no photos or voice files attached.
KMZ is the compressed version of the track and is is a packaged file with your audio and photo files together.
Hope this helps.
February 17, 2009 03:04 am
Thank you very much for the help. Taking the steps you described, did help. The symbols still do not appear as what seems is supposed to happen according to the manual. I did however notice that by moving the time bar, I was able to see the symbols as the points progressed along the generated path. Once I saw a camera symbol I was able to select the symbol and see the photo. My output was for every second as well as the photo to match. I am not sure if that was too much informatrion to output but the file is not that large anyway. I did notice however that by outputting every second, the path was much nicer in Google earth? Perhaps a suggestion?
I am not sure what “Built in photos with KMZ files” does, or a few other options do. Could you explain what this page does?
Also, Is there anyway of being able to post or send someone a file so that they too could see my journey on the internet. I am wondering if “Built in photos with KMZ files” can be used for this?
Graham, I am running Windows Vista 64 bit as well as XP.
I thanks you once again and I am looking forward to any advice.
February 17, 2009 02:56 am
Hi - V 900 - I thought I had it mastered after I had the first track on Google Earth - but going a stage further, no pictures or voice tag - does Gennaro test apply to mac, which I am using - thanks in advance for your help - kind regards Graham
February 13, 2009 06:26 pm
1) Could you please uninstall the Google Earth from your PC and re-install the version of Google Earth from the CD. The latest (or BETA) versions of Google Earth does not work correctly with playing back audio file.
2) Did you try to copy your photos and voice files (if any) to a local folder in your PC?
3) Then, with the trip loaded in the Time Album application, try to add the photos and voice to your trip and re-export the KML or KMZ file onto the SAME folder that your photo and audio files are located.
Please re-test and let us know your test result.
February 13, 2009 11:07 am
based on your review & that of Amazons, I purchased this unit and have yet to see any photos or voice tagging. I have followed their manual and I am very frustarted. Would you be so kind, as to explain how to get the icons as well as photos to appear on Google earth? Do I have to store the google file as well as photos and audio in the google directory, it's own! The unit is sleek and performs well, for tracking logging and enabling me to see my trip on google, but that is about it! All the help will be greatly appreciated!
January 19, 2009 09:04 am
thanks for the info MadGrin and Peter!
i think i'll be ordering one soon!
January 15, 2009 12:40 am
Davo, you set the time interval and amount of data by using a computer and the MicroSD card. The nice thing about the Columbus is you can bring extra MicroSD cards if need be and just keep filling them. As they have 4GB cards now, you've got a LOT of space.
TheMadGrin: I'm not sure if there's a program that will append the extra info you request (city, state, etc...). I know certain programs can infer this info, but not sure about writing.
January 14, 2009 07:46 pm
I used the device in a 12-days trip to Germany and it works very well!
I think you can't set the time interval on the device (either with or without a software).
The only thing you can do is decide, when you create the tracks at home, the sampling time interval.
You can choose if you want the sampling based on a time interval or on a distance and the value of the parameter you decide.
January 14, 2009 01:09 pm
i'm thinking of getting a gps data logger for my 3 months-long trip to south america. i'm not going to take a laptop with me on my travels and i don't know if i'll have access to computer very often. from the comments i've read, it seems like this device has some configurable settings (e.g. time interval) that can be done using software provided - could something like changing the time interval also be done with device itself?
January 7, 2009 01:58 am
finally I bought the Columbus and successfully used it in my Christmas Holiday in Germany! :D
Thanks for your precious article!
One more question: I was wondering if exists a method to add infos about the location (like the name of the city, country, state, street and, why not, the most relevant thing/monument/building/statue near the place where the picture has been taken) to the image file.
I'm thinking about a workflow like this:
1. picture geotag with TimeMachine
2. use another external program (??) to read the exif info from the geotagged pic and add other infos (in IPTC fields?) retrieving location data from the web.
Can you help me?
Can you suggest me a good software to do this?
I tried GeoSetter, GPSync and RoboGeo but without success. Maybe for a my fault ...
December 28, 2008 09:23 pm
Hi Joe - thanks for the info - I did, in fact contact cgps, poniting out our problems and they sent me the new downloaded version - all is now well - oh, and its a great datalogger! - Best regards Graham
December 28, 2008 12:51 pm
Sorry for the delay in responding.
This issue has been resolved with the latest TimeAlbum version.
1) Download and install Java (free, click here to download)
2) Download and unzip the Time Album application (see link above): http://www.buyGPSnow.com/img/products2/TimeAlbum_V1.5.3_ENG.zip
3) Launch the TimeAlbum application by double clicking on the unzip file above.
December 19, 2008 12:02 pm
I have Mac OS10 Leopard and cannot download the Java required from the supplied DVD - I am therefore unable to open Time Album which renders Columbus inoperative - nothing on Mac support I can find - would be grateful for some help - Ta Graham
December 18, 2008 09:13 am
Thanks for the info! :D
December 17, 2008 03:13 pm
1) When the unit lost GPS signal, the logged will stop. Logging automatically resume as soon as the GPS signal is regain, such as exiting a long tunnel. (Yes, same CSV file format)
2) The logged format, CVS file may be opened by Microsoft Excel or even Notepad or Microsoft Word or any kind of text editor program. In additional to the Time Album, you may try to use BT747 instead. We`ve just tested it to work well with some CVS files from Columbus V-900.
3) Yes, the interval in configurable using the TimeAlbum Java application.
@Shawn: No, Google Earth does not work with most GPS receivers except for some select Garmin units. You could use Columbus V-900 with Route Buddy (free trial version may be downloaded from their website)
December 8, 2008 11:20 pm
Another, final, thing: what's happen when the logger lost the signal?
Does it automatically restart logging when the signal is acquired again?
And in the same csv file?
December 8, 2008 11:05 pm
Hi to all,
I spent a lot of time looking for a good gps datalogger for me.
I'm interested in:
but I'm not sure which is the best for me.
I'm pointing to the Columbus V-900 mainly for the storage capacity, voice tagging and others stuff.
I have a few questions for who is using it:
-is it a limitation the use of comma separated values (CSV) as native log format? If I'm going to use others programs to make associations between pictures and csv could I have difficult to find a program to make this ?
-is the position interval configurable ?
Thank you very much! :D
November 29, 2008 08:38 pm
@Mika: Thanks for the link!
@Andrew: Thanks for the advice. It would make sense to look for software separately since they're already taking a GPS. And we're also looking at solar chargers since they seem to be a good buy as they provide a lot of power for their weight.
November 29, 2008 06:18 am
@Rachel: This device is also sold as a visiontac v-900. You'll find them at http://www.visiontac.com/v900_specs.htm the site is in english.
November 27, 2008 07:12 am
Can you use the Bluetooth to connect to a Mac running Google Earth? I want to see live data in Google Earth as, say, I'm in the backseat of a car driving down the road. Or maybe when I'm on a airplane. Are you supposed to turn off Bluetooth devices when on an airplane?
November 27, 2008 03:40 am
@Rachel: while I know nothing of this device (or comparables), since it charges via USB, it is possible to get an external USB powerpack that takes normal batteries. Using this could charge the device away from outlets. I would not be surprised to find a solar charger type either.
It might also be worth your while to get a regular GPS and find a geotagging software separately. On a long trip a real GPS could provide additional functionality.
@Darrik: You also seem to want more of real GPS unit functionality. At best this unit would output the raw gps log.
November 27, 2008 01:21 am
Yeah - I'd be very interested to see what the battery life is like - can you test the "24 hour" claims? I do a lot of weekend walking with overnight camping - would be great to get in 12 hours of logging done both days.
November 26, 2008 08:23 pm
My dad is doing a huge 2600km hike next year and this looks like just the gadget he's been looking for! Pity the manufacturer's website is in Chinese ...
Do you by any chance know if the battery life can be extended? Are there different modes that might make it last longer or is the solution to only have it on for short periods in the day?
(Thanks for the always interesting blog!)
November 26, 2008 07:35 am
I'm looking for something to put in my car that will track time at a certain location, commute time to/from work (average, fastest, slowest), best route based on previous time, etc. Does the software that comes with this do any of this? Can you tag certain coordinates with like "home", "work", etc. Is the data accessible (ie can I access it with software that I write)?
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