Canon and Nikon both offer GPS units for both stills and videos. What are the practical aspects of using these units during shooting and what uses and considerations are there for GPS data?
Both Canon and Nikon offer GPS units that can be connected to their respective brand DSLR cameras, with recent-models having built-in menu support with recording options.
With both brands, the GPS units are add-on devices that are designed to mount in the hot-shoe of the camera, though both can be mounted to a belt or otherwise with a cable. With the Nikon GP-1 a cable is required both to power the unit and to record data; the unit is a “dumb” unit with no electrical connection to the hot shoe; both the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 1D X (and perhaps other models) can use the GP-E2 cable-free with connection pins in the hot shoe taking care of connectivity. Not only is the Canon solution far more elegant, the Canon unit is much more capable in general. Curiously, this important ease-of-use fact is not mentioned in the 5D Mark III user manual or the GP-E2 manual! In fact, I initially used the cable with the Canon 5D Mark III, only to discover that it was completely unnecessary.
When Apple can build GPS into an iPhone of far smaller volume, one has to wonder why GPS is not built into at least the higher-end Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras. The add-on solution adds extra cost and bulk; neither camera fits well into my camera hip-pack with the GPS unit in the hot shoe.
The use of GPS will arguably be one of professional requirements: a botanist or researcher documenting the location of a plant or animal, mapping for technical articles, law-enforcement work, etc. In this regard, both brands offer good solutions. However, there is a certain coolness factor in seeing one’s photos pop up on a Google map in Adobe Lightroom (more on that later), so GPS might have broader appeal in general.
The Canon and Nikon GPS units both have the usual generic GPS limitations: in narrow canyons, heavy tree cover, etc, the GPS signal can be impaired or completely unavailable. Since I regularly hike in such locations this was a concern, but in my local testing, the concern proved unwarranted in “reasonable” locations.