In the first review of geotagging applications for the Mac we will look at Apple’s iPhoto. Even though serious Photographers will prefer Aperture or Lightroom, iPhoto is very popular and has its merits in terms of usability. And its geotagging feature called “Places” has made a notable appearance when released with iLife ’09 recently. Does it do a good job, though?
See my previous post.
Places is the first go Apple has at geotagging. So it is little surprising that it comes with a fundamental limitation: you may only use a manual workflow, otherwise it expects you to bring along your ready-tagged shots. If you have a couple of hundreds of pictures to tag from a track log – look somewhere else.
iPhoto imports and reads my CR2 files effortlessly. Opening an image’s file information dialog (the little “i” symbol in the bottom right corner of the image) reveals a world map. By clicking into the location field, a rather speedy feature for looking up places by their names is available.
However, once you chose your location the pin is fixed to the map. If you decide that it is some way off the mark, you cannot just drag the pin to a new location. Instead you have to go back into the location field again and pick “New place…”. Not very convenient.
In the “New Place” dialog you can use a well-integrated Google maps window to reposition the pin and assign the location to the photo.
In order to enter a street or location name you have to enter it into the first line of the new Place.
It seems to me to be a typical North American thing that the info dialog from now on only displays the street name, but not the city (that is what makes European drivers mad if they forgot to hire a GPS with their car and try to decide which Californian city the “N De Anza Blvd” exit belongs to – if it wasn’t for the Apple Inc. signpost next to it.).
The column view now lists country, state, city and location (or street), even though it does not tell you which is which. Still, this is quite handy to narrow a search down to city level.
Despite the rather fuzzy metadata assignment we will have a look at the resulting files. Are the metadata headers filled properly?
iPhoto’s export option “original” outputs the previously imported file with no modifications, neither in the metadata nor in the form of XMP sidecar files. So we go for the JPEG option instead and tick the “include location information” checkbox.
However, the result is not what we expected. The resulting GPS tab information is extremely basic and… the EXIF tab has lost a lot of its previous content! Furthermore, the IPTC location information that iPhoto previously displayed in the info dialog is not stored into the JPG file.
iPhoto violates our “travelling standards” paradigm as it does not write any added metadata into the images or into sidecars, but instead keeps it in its proprietary database.
Conclusion: Smoothness and Reliability
iPhoto failed our test in all relevant aspects. It violates the travelling standards imperative, makes exact geotagging more difficult than necessary, and on export writes incomplete metadata, erasing previous content.
The good integration with its image catalog and its mostly very intuitive interface cannot make up for it being a real threat to your pictures’ life expectancy: it is highly unsuitable for use as an image archive. For the same reason it does not qualify as recommendable geotagging application.
Still, if it is the application of your choice, I strongly recommend to use a different geotagging application on your images before you import them into iPhoto. Running a pre-import timestamp script on those images will further reduce archiving issues.
EDIT : With the first release of Google Picasa for Mac out of beta (version 3.5), there is a serious contender to iPhoto with an almost identical feature set. And it is free. Picasa’s geotagging support is nowhere near perfect, but it is definitely the better choice for JPG users, as my review has turned out. If you are shooting RAWs and do a lot of geotagging, read my HoudahGeo review.
Test Results Overview
See my introductory post for more details on the Nine Requirements.
- All posts in “Geotagging” category
- Geotagging and the Mac (1) – Basics
- Geotagging and the Mac (2) – Test Scenario
- Geotagging and the Mac (4) – HoudahGeo
- Geotagging and the Mac (5) – Google Picasa
- March 12th, 2009: added preview paragraph to Conclusion
- March 16th, 2009: suggestion to geotag before importing into iPhoto added to Conclusion
- April 3rd, 2009: added “Related Posts” section
- July 9th, 2009: clarified batch time adjustment rating
- October 6th, 2009: reference to Google Picasa review added to Conclusion