Four Ways To Power Your Camera and Devices In Remote Locations

Four Ways To Power Your Camera and Devices In Remote Locations

What is the best way to power all your devices on the go? Here’s a quick look at just a handful of the devices that keep my gear energized when I’m on the road.

Cameras, lights, and computers, oh my! The more gadgets you acquire over the years, the more likely it is that your “everything drawer” will quickly begin to resemble something of a power cord graveyard. I have no less than a dozen amazingly well-preserved power cords in my house that I have no idea what it is that they are supposed to charge. This would be bad enough if all that one cord with the bulky bottom piece was supposed to do was to charge up the first-generation iPod I still retain despite it not having made it out of the drawer in the last decade. But, when I suspect that it is meant to be paired with a piece of rarely used yet still vital photo gear, it can be a potential problem.

To be fair, usually, I end up in a scenario like this because I’ve come up with a better way to charge something over the years and simply didn’t need the mystery plug anymore. But the sheer number of devices that come with me to set these days means that I’ve taken to packing one bag that I bring to set which contains nothing but power adapters. Do I know what all of them do? Mostly. But, hey, if I don’t know, at least I know it’s in the bag for that one random time it will come in handy.

Of course, in the days of film photography, this used to be easier. My trusty Canonflex 35mm camera was fully mechanical aside from a watch-sized battery that fueled the built-in light meter for decades at a time. I even have some old movie cameras that work via spring-locked hand cranks and are perfectly capable of shooting your update to Lawrence of Arabia without harming a single watt.

But, lo and behold, I do live in modern times, and every trip to set requires Pelican case upon Pelican case of digital devices which all need to squeeze the juice to operate. This is relatively easy when working in a studio. No matter how many cords I have run across the floor, covered in brightly covered tape to avoid anyone, including myself, from taking a header over them, there’s a good chance they can find enough power outlets. But on exterior shoots, or at locations without easily accessible AC outlets, this can be more of a challenge. Certainly, this challenge can be addressed the old-fashioned way with larger gas-powered generators and a crew of grips to move them. And, of course, on smaller shoots requiring just a camera and a positive attitude, there’s always the basic logic to simply carry extra batteries. But what about the in-between times? What about when a job calls for you to be a one-man or one-woman band and the idea of having to transport a massive generator is, shall we say, less than appealing, yet using individual batteries for each device is equally problematic?

Well, I’m no electrical engineer, but I thought I’d share just a couple of the methods I’ve found to be most helpful to keep the lights on when working in the field.

V-Mount/Gold Mount Batteries

If you don’t shoot video, you can likely get through the vast majority of your shoots with only one or two small batteries a day. Even certain mirrorless cameras with less than ideal battery life can often carry on for long stretches if you take a few precautions such as turning the camera off when not in use. But if you do shoot video, you’ve probably come to grips with the idea that batteries just never seem to last as long as you would like. You’ve also likely concluded that when you have a rig that consists of everything from a camera to a monitor to an external EVF to a wireless transmitter to a separate audio device to whatever else you can think of that the notion that all of these things be powered by individual batteries which fail in their preferred timeframes can be a bit nerve-wracking. Especially if one of the devices on your rig has particularly poor battery life, you are likely to find yourself having to dismantle your perfectly balanced setup frequently throughout the day to change batteries in individual components. This isn’t only annoying. It can also be costly in terms of productivity as everyone on set waits around for you to make the necessary adjustments.

Well, that’s where V-mount batteries come into play. Gold mount batteries are a different version of the same idea. One big battery to rule them all. Rather than each device having its energy source, you instead fill each of your devices with dummy batteries and/or adapters then all of them tap into one big battery that has enough capacity to power everything. Instead of having to keep track of individual power levels for each device, you now only have one single power source to keep in mind. This not only gives you less to worry about when you're busy with production, it also saves time. Since the V-mount is likely mounted to the back of your entire rig for easy access, swapping one battery for another takes mere seconds and doesn’t require you to dismantle the rig. Once it dies, you simply pop one battery off, pop another battery on, and you are back up and running. This setup can also lighten your load going to and from the set. Instead of having to bring an assortment of batteries and chargers, you now only need to bring one type of battery and one type of charger. It’s an ideal setup.

Anton Bauer Titon Base

Except for when it isn’t. For most full production video rigs, having some sort of rail system powered off a single source simply makes the most sense. But you’re not always going to be in a full production environment. Sometimes, you need to be more run-and-gun, light on your feet. And the less you build up your rig, the better. For me, this is where the Anton Bauer Titon Base comes in.  

Though not the same as a V-mount or Gold Mount, the same principal of using on larger battery to power multiple devices applies. Except, instead of riding on sled on rails , the Titon Base has a screw at the top which is meant to attach to the bottom of your camera via the tripod socket (with additional holes on the opposite side so you can mount the entire combined system to a tripod if desired). I use this setup mostly when shooting long days of documentary video using smaller mirrorless cameras. I don’t want to give up the weight advantage of the small camera. But I also don’t want to change batteries and potentially miss the action any more than I have to. So, I will run a dummy battery from my mirrorless camera into the Titon Base and be able to shoot for hours without swapping batteries. Because the Titon Base has multiple P-tap outlets, I can also plug in an external monitor and/or an external EVF using the same power source, which gives me the advantage of a V-mount battery in a more compact form factor. 

Tether Tools OnSite D-Tap-to-AC Power Supply

While many of my still cameras can make it through a full day’s shooting without more than one or two battery changes, sadly, the same cannot be said for my laptop. My aging MacBook Pro is lucky to be able to squeeze out half of a day of work before fading to black.

As a commercial photographer who often has as many client representatives on set as crew members, shooting tethered is necessary. Communication is key when working with clients, and I want them to know exactly what I’m doing as I’m doing it to make sure that we are all on the same page. The tether station is essential and needs to be always available for review. So, I needed to find a solution to keep it constantly powered up throughout the day so that clients can hover around the laptop rather than over my shoulder.

One of the easiest ways that I’ve found to accomplish this is with the Tether Tools OnSite D-Tap-to-AC Power Supply. Essentially, it looks like a surge protector with multiple outlets, but it plugs into a V-mount battery rather than a wall outlet. As I mentioned in the previous section, I roll with multiple V-mount batteries when on set, so it’s easy to sacrifice one of them to stay attached to my laptop to keep it running all day or recharge it over lunch, as I did recently while shooting an outdoor campaign. It’s a relatively lightweight and compact solution and can keep everything from a computer to your crew’s cell phones charged all day long.

Jackery Explorer Portable Power System

Lately, I’ve been trying out a new option, the Jackery Explorer 300 Portable Power System. It’s a small-scale generator that fits into my grip case, but also has the option of being powered with solar energy. It's the same concept as larger gas-powered generators, but in a smaller and easier to transport form. You can charge it via a traditional wall outlet then bring it to set fully ready to roll. But the cool thing about this system is that you can also recharge it via solar power with the optional Jackery SolarSaga Solar Panel. This can be a lifesaver if you find yourself shooting in a location where you need to charge something right on the spot but have access to nothing but sunlight.  

The generators come in several sizes. I own the smallest one, which can provide power up to around 300 watts. So, I won’t be powering an M18 off of it. But I do have an Aputure Light Storm C300d, which I use for constant light on occasion. Just as a very unscientific test, I filled up the Jackery and plugged in the C300d at full blast. With the light set to 100%, the small generator was able to power the light for a bit more than 45 minutes. So naturally, if I needed to use larger sources at higher outputs, I would likely opt for one of the larger Jackery generators with additional capacity. But when needing to power smaller lights, computers, or other devices, even this smaller generator packs plenty of punch.

Perhaps one of the best uses for this size of generator would be an interview situation. Let’s say you are doing a shoot in the middle of the desert that requires an on-site interview with one of the subjects. You don’t know how long the person will talk, so you need to get constant power. You have your camera’s dummy battery to AC adapter, which lets you plug it into the wall and run all day. But there are no walls at this location. Well, that’s where something like this generator would come in handy. Ditto to the previous situation I mentioned where you need it to power a computer system for extended periods. It's aA very useful tool to have in your kit when the situation calls for power on the go.

These are just a handful of the small items I keep on hand for most shoots to make sure I have power available whenever I need it. But this is by no means an exhaustive list. What type of systems have you found best when needing to have access to power while shooting in more remote places? What is the best balance between the weight and power output that allows you to keep shooting all day with the minimum amount of fuss?

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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If remote stuff is at the core of what you are doing, take a look at what the van life people do, re second (deep cycle) batteries, which charge from the alternator, solar panels, and inverters.

I've got a deep cycle battery, which I charge from solar panels or mains, but not connected to the alternator; most importantly, it powers the fridge (fresh food and dairy, and cold water is awesome).

I recommend getting *as much* solar capacity as you can, especially if you are sitting for days at a time.

Check the 4WD forums for information, and *do not* mess with you vehicle's electrical system unless you know what you're doing, get a professional to do it.

Well worth the coin, but does come at a cost.

Something else I never researched deeply because of cost, is fuel cells; but if you have heavy power requirements, may be worth thinking about.

I don't have the solar panel for it, but I've been happy with my Jackery Explorer 300 for multi-day car camping trips to national parks, to charge my mirrorless camera batteries. It's small, light, and has enough power for three or four days, the way I shoot at least. Plus, it's good to have around the house in case the power goes out I suppose (haven't had to use it for that yet, but have come close).

There is hardly anything better than Kendrick portable power if you require heavy-duty gear.

I have been working in outback Australia over the last year The bigger Lithium generators devices are the best, I bought mine made by Hyundai a year ago , can recharge it by solar panels, has 240volt (I’m in Australia) power outlets, as well as usb outlets. Don’t need to carry petrol in the car so no stink. Love it