All that expensive video and/or photo equipment you’re carrying with you in the wild runs on electric power. Keeping it alive in Western urban areas can’t be that difficult, although it comes with its own problems. In some areas of the world it can be quite a challenge to power your cameras, monitors, lighting equipment and everything else involved. How do you go about planning for electrical scarcity?
All modern photography and video equipment has one thing in common: it all depends on electrical power. That’s fine in the Western world and most parts of the Middle East, but when you wander off into areas where the delivery of electricity cannot be guaranteed or simply isn’t happening, you need to plan ahead. Even when you’re travelling across countries or continents, you might want to plan for compatibility problems.
Batteries and plugs are your greatest worry when you’re out and about. Batteries come with a whole set of problems of their own. Plugs are somewhat easier to deal with. Many countries, even in politically unified regions like the EU, have their own electrical plugs. Some countries have different voltage as well. If you’re travelling inside the EU, you’ll have to plan for at least four different power plugs. A UK plug differs wildly from the “standard” Schuko plug or the Italian power plug — even if all those countries use the same 220/240V voltage.
Planning for different power interfaces requires you to think over the amperage required by your equipment and the countries of origin. For example, the Rhino Motion motor for the Rhino Slider EVO comes with a self-switching adapter/charger that has a US-only plug. The adapter draws 1.33A, but others may draw more. A good place to start is the website of Swiss Skross to find out which type of adapter you’ll need. Do you need a 3-pole or a 2-pole adapter, or both?
For the Rhino Motion, I tried a Skross World Adapter MUV USB and found it will suffice. It will enable you to travel all around the world without having to carry a whole bag of converters with you, as they are all integrated into this one plug converter. Skross makes the best adapters, by the way. Their world plugs use a lockable sliding mechanism that gives you instant access to almost any type of plug used in the world. The MUV USB and others of the same type even have their own internal, replaceable fuse. Although it’s a bit bulky, the Skross MUV USB is indispensable if you want to ensure you’ll never be out of power, provided your device is self-switching.
If you need to switch voltage too, you’ll need a transformer. Luckily for us, most vendors these days include self-switching adapters with their equipment so you need only worry about the power plug. But in the rare case you also need to transform voltage, you’re in for yet another intermediate device. Velleman makes good quality voltage switching adapters, but their most powerful ones come with a bunch of loose tips and power converter fuses. You are at risk of losing those all too easily. Best is to opt for a model with everything rolled into one, except for tips.
For battery power I always recommend Powertraveller Powergorilla/Solargorilla or their line of Powermonkeys Extreme or Solar models. The latter are general purpose 5V and/or 12V Li-ion batteries that you charge using the sun. The former is bigger but can also charge laptops. I have used Powermonkeys on numerous occasions and they perform great. Of course, you can’t use them to directly power cameras that take Sony NP or Bauer batteries, but you can charge those using a charging device powered by a Powermonkey Extreme. This won’t work with Bauer batteries as they require special chargers, but most prosumer equipment doesn’t use the expensive Bauer type anyway.
Batteries are great but come with problems of their own. Here is some advice from Powertraveller on how to store, carry and use them.
- Lithium batteries have limited lifespan and recharge a large but finite number of times before they die. They need to be used ideally within a year of manufacturing and will last up to five years depending on the number of recharges.
- A battery stored on a shelf will lose condition after about two years. It will still work, but not to the best of its abilities.
- The best way to store batteries is by charging them to a level of between 60% and 80% and then keeping them away from heat and direct sunlight. Storing them in a discharged condition, increases the risk they will discharge to a point where they can no longer be charged at all.
- Frequent top-ups of a battery is better than running a battery flat.
- If a battery does become fully discharged, recharge as soon as possible.
Hähnel Industries has advice of its own:
- Heat is an enemy to Lithium-ion batteries. Their performance will reduce with increasing temperature. That’s why Powertraveller isolates the battery from the solar cells in its Solarmonkey Adventurer product.
- Try to avoid charging a battery in high temperature environments.
- Avoid storing batteries in high temperatures – doing so will accelerate their natural self-discharge.
- When you carry batteries in a bag, leave it in a case or have a contact cover fitted to avoid accidental short-circuits. You can also stick tape to their contact ends to avoid short-circuits.
- Lithium-ion batteries will not charge properly below 0°C but they will operate down to about -20°C, with reduced capacity.
Finally, if you don’t have a charger that came with your batteries, you can buy one that will run from 12V DC or from 5V DC. The power source for your charger obviously needs to have the same voltage as your charger needs on its input. However, just as importantly the power source must be able to supply the current your charger needs, which is specified on your charger as mA or as A. If the source is rated at more than your charger that’s OK, but ideally it needs to be at least what your charger needs.
If it can get this much current from the power source, it should be able to charge all of the batteries it is designed for. If it can only get a lesser amount of current from its supply, it may charge more slowly or it may not work at all.