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blueSLR for Nikon combines GPS and iPhone remote triggering functionality  
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | by Rob Galbraith
XEquals, a new company based in Ottawa, Canada, has launched blueSLR, a combination of Bluetooth module and companion app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad that enables Nikon digital SLRs to be wirelessly triggered from the app while also embedding location data into picture files within the camera based on location information streamed from the iOS device.

blueslr_module.jpg
On Location: The blueSLR module for Nikon digital SLRs equipped with a 10-pin remote port (Photo courtesy XEquals)

There are three blueSLR models; they differ only in the Nikon models each supports. The three are:
  • blueSLR Nikon Essential Connects to the GPS port of the D3100 and D5000
  • blueSLR Nikon Advanced Connects to the GPS port of the D90 and D7000
  • blueSLR Nikon Professional Connects to the 10-pin remote port of the D2Xs, D3, D3s, D3x, D200, D300, D300S and D700
All three offer remote camera triggering from an iOS device with control over the trigger delay and how many photos are to be captured in a row. There is also a rudimentary shutter speed feature that allows bulb exposures of up to 10 seconds or, alternatively, this setting can be used to have the camera fire a multi-second burst of pictures when not set to Bulb. Autofocus can be engaged too, while the app also enables GPS-related preferences to be adjusted.

As of this writing, we're not clear on how accurate the location data will be from an iOS device that is not equipped with GPS, and we're following up with the company now to clarify this and other product details.

Any of the three blueSLR modules can be pre-ordered now for US$149/CDN$149 direct from XEquals. Shipping is slated to commence later this month. The blueSLR companion app is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad and is already available as a free download from the App Store.

The XEquals website indicates that Canon digital SLRs will be supported in the near future.

Update, December 10, 2010: We now have answers from XEquals' Derick Cassidy to several questions posed this week. Here's that exchange:

Q. The location data comes exclusively from the iOS device, is that right? If yes, how accurate is the location data in the iOS devices that don't have a GPS module?

GPS functions are performed on the mobile device, and then streamed to the blueSLR accessory via bluetooth. There are no GPS functions that are native to the accessory itself.  The accessory simply takes the data stream from the iPhone, for example, and encodes it directly within the picture EXIF data when a picture is taken.  The location services on the iOS device can be accurate to +/- 10 meters with iOS devices that have a GPS chipset, or off by +/- 5 kilometers on iOS devices that do not have a GPS chipset.

Q. How long will the battery last in, say, an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, when the BlueSLR app is active and GPS is enabled?

Battery life is a concern, as you can imagine.  For that reason, we have given you the ability to set the sensitivity and the update frequency of the GPS on the iOS devices.  From our help file:

The [Settings -> GPS] option allows you to define how accurate as well as how often you want the GPS data to be updated by the phone. The accuracy setting determines if you'd like to use the "best" possible location lock ( ie force the phone to try and acquired a hard GPS lock using satellite data ) or of you are okay with up to 3 kilometers of variance from your current location. This is akin to telling the iOS device that you are okay with it using a cell phone lock, a WIFI lock, or if you really want a full satellite lock.

Note: the more sensitive you set this value, the more battery you are going to use on the phone. 100 meters is normally sufficient, and with that, you'll get data in the picture to be able to map your memories. The distance filter setting tells the iOS device how often you want to re-acquire a new lock if you are moving. For example, when set to 10 meters, if the phone detects that you have changed your location by more than 10 meters, it will send new coordinates to the accessory. When set to 1 kilometer, you have to move more than 1k from your current location before the phone updates the GPS data being sent to the camera. Again, the more often you update, the more battery you use. 10 meters is usually good enough to get accurate readings, but not update excessively.

Additionally, to save battery on the camera, we can specify the number of updates / second that the blueSLR accessory actually sends to the camera.  In the [Settings -> NMEA Strings] option, when sending GPS data to the camera via the accessory, you can use this setting to determine how often the accessory updates the camera with its location data. Values range from once per second, all the way to 5 seconds between updates.

So, unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as saying a battery will last x hours.

Q. Is there a noticeable lag between when the trigger button is pressed in the app and the camera firing?

When testing, we do not notice any lag at all between the trigger button being pressed, and the camera firing.

Q. Canon cameras don't appear to provide a way for GPS data to be embedded into the picture file unless one the company's WFT transmitters is connected and the GPS accessory is attached to that. If that's right, does that mean that blueSLR for Canon will require a Canon transmitter as well?

We are currently working with engineering to determine if the GPS stream can be used via the USB port on the Canon cameras, or if it's only through the WFT devices.  If it is WFT only, then we will forgo GPS functionality on the Canon family of cameras. We will, however, expand the feature set significantly based on Canon's ability to do some serious features via the USB port.  So, what we might lose in GPS functionality, we gain in overall feature support on Canon.

The [Canon] feature list is not complete yet, but you can expect at least live view, as well as photo review from your iOS device.

Revision History
December 9, 2010: Corrected wording that suggested the blueSLR module itself captures GPS data. It doesn't, and instead relies on the linked iOS device to supply location information.
December 10, 2010: Added a Q and A exchange with XEquals Derick Cassidy.
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