The Sony Cyber Shot GPS-CS1 is a tiny GPS module that matches photographs to geographic coordinates. GPS units have been offered as accessories for professional digital SLRs for some time, but this is one of the first we've seen for consumer point-and-shoot cameras. Most digital SLR GPS units are complicated pieces of equipment that can easily cost more than $400. The GPS-CS1 costs less than half of that and doesn't require any extra equipment or complicated hardware setup.
Small and unassuming, the Cyber Shot GPS-CS1 is about the size of two D batteries and comes with a plastic carabiner so you can clip it to your backpack or any other clippable object. Controls? Not many. The only readily accessible button is its power switch. Once you turn it on, you can either let the GPS-CS1 do its thing or turn it off. A tiny, hidden reset button lets you clear the unit's memory, but other than the power button, that's it for controls. Its display consists of three LEDs representing power, satellite lock, and memory. The satellite lock LED is the only way to tell if the unit is working. If the light flashes twice every second, it's searching for a satellite. If it flashes once every two seconds, it has a GPS lock.
Using the GPS-CS1 is as simple as its design. You carry it around while you shoot, and it pages GPS satellites every 15 seconds to record exactly where you go. When you're done shooting, upload your images to your computer, then connect the GPS-CS1. An included program checks the time you shot each image and records in the image's EXIF information exactly where you were when you took that shot. Once that's done, you can load the files into Sony's Picture Motion browser, which features a Google Maps plug-in that automatically maps where your images were shot. The GPS-CS1 can record more than 300 hours of location data on its 32MB memory, and a single AA battery powers it for as long as 14 hours at a time.
Unfortunately, the system isn't perfect. For starters, the entire system depends on the time setting of your camera, a detail many users might forget to set. The GPS-CS1 can also have problems getting a GPS lock in cities or other awkward terrain. Our tests found mixed results. In New York City, one test run accurately recorded our photos' locations to within a block. Another test was off by almost a mile. This is likely because of interference caused by tall buildings that prevent a GPS lock. It's irritating, but it's also an expected flaw in any GPS device. Since the unit has no functional controls or informative display, you're limited to watching the flashing GPS light and hoping it flashes once, not twice.
While the EXIF utility works perfectly fine on its own, the GPS-CS1 also includes an upgrade to Sony's picture browser. The upgrade works only if you already have the image browser software included with Sony's Cyber Shot cameras. Fortunately, any image you take can be GPS-tagged, regardless of the camera or image browser you use. If you don't have Sony's image software, Google's free image browser and satellite map programs, Picasa and Google Earth can work together to produce the same photo-mapping effect.
The Picasa/Google Earth fix isn't the only hack for the GPS-CS1. The device stores its GPS data as an unencrypted text file that you can copy to your computer. This information can be used to trace paths, even without photos. That sort of use requires some advanced programming knowledge, but it's nice that the potential is there.
The Sony Cyber Shot GPS-CS1 is a nifty little gadget to take with you when shooting. It's overly simple and can't actively display where you are, but it's one of the best choices if you just want a simple GPS device so you can geotag your images. If you like exploring and photographing interesting things, this could be one of the handiest accessories you can get for your camera.