Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow
Illustration by John Hersey

Powering your gear


Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow

with Ben Long

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Video: Powering your gear

I want to talk to you about how you can get more power for your gear when you're traveling because it's an issue; when your batteries die, you need a way to recharge them. So there are a lot of options depending on what kind of trip you're going to be on and what kind of access you're going to have to outlets to plug stuff into. One of your big concerns of course is keeping your camera charged. Now one of the great things about SLR batteries these days is they last forever. Even a lot of point-and-shoot batteries will last a long time. Nevertheless, if you're going to be gone more than a few days, you probably need to think about what's going to happen when your battery dies.
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Watch the Online Video Course Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow
3h 8m Intermediate Jun 29, 2012

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Shooting on the road, whether it's on vacation or on assignment, introduces a variety of considerations for photographers of all levels. How do you store the shots, back them up, edit and enhance images in the field, and then merge those images with your master library at home? In this course, Ben Long addresses these topics and more from the perspective of several field-shooting scenarios, including city vacationing and backcountry hiking.

The course takes a look at the hardware and software issues behind field shooting: assessing storage and backup needs, evaluating GPS geotagging options, surveying power and charging issues, and more. After discussing each of the components, Ben shows how they fit together in different field setups, ranging from an extravagant laptop-based system to a no-computer setup that backs up photos to a compact digital wallet device. The course also spotlights some workflow strategies to consider when you get home, from transferring photos to merging them with a larger photo library.

Topics include:
  • Selecting the right gear, from cameras to bags
  • Bringing the right battery and storage equipment
  • Packing your camera bag
  • Getting to the destination with heavy equipment
  • Unpacking and setting up the gear
  • Geotagging photos on location
  • Downloading manuals for convenient access in the field
  • Wrapping up a shoot
  • Unpacking and transferring images to an editing workstation
Aperture Lightroom
Ben Long

Powering your gear

I want to talk to you about how you can get more power for your gear when you're traveling because it's an issue; when your batteries die, you need a way to recharge them. So there are a lot of options depending on what kind of trip you're going to be on and what kind of access you're going to have to outlets to plug stuff into. One of your big concerns of course is keeping your camera charged. Now one of the great things about SLR batteries these days is they last forever. Even a lot of point-and-shoot batteries will last a long time. Nevertheless, if you're going to be gone more than a few days, you probably need to think about what's going to happen when your battery dies.

Now you can carry multiple batteries, charge them up at home, and that's often a very good solution if you're wanting to keep weight down and you're not going to be gone for too long. Remember though that batteries do wear out. They lose both their shelf life and their--the duration of their charge. So if you're really going to go for a long time, you might want to spring for some new, fresh batteries for your camera. You can of course buy batteries from your camera vendor and your camera vendor will tell you that if you use third-party batteries, there's a good chance you'll damage your camera.

Third-party batteries, though, are much cheaper, and I've never had any problem with them. I've used a lot of third-party batteries. I just find them on Amazon, read the user reviews, and I've never had an issue. I've not damage the camera. So that's something to consider. Nevertheless, if you're cautious and you absolutely want the best performance, go with your camera manufacturer's batteries. This is a battery charger that I use for my Canon 5D Mark II. It is not a Canon one; I got this one third party and I decided to go with this for a couple of reasons. It's got some really cool features. First of all, the actual plate where the battery goes comes off.

So if you're lucky and you have the right configuration of cameras, you can carry this one thing and a couple of different plates, if you're carrying multiple cameras, and just snap the right one onto charge whatever battery you want. So that's very convenient. Another thing is it's got a jack here for plugging in an included car cigarette lighter adapter. The best thing is this is only like $20. It's very lightweight and again, it's so cheap if something happens to it, it's easily replaceable. No matter what gear you're taking, you want to be sure that the power adapter or battery charger for it will work with the voltage of whatever country you're going to, if you're going to a different country.

It's very easy to tell. On the back, there will be a section that says Input and here it says 100V-240V, 50 or 60/Mhz. That pretty much means this is going to work anywhere. The good news is these days, most power adapters and chargers are like that. Nevertheless, you'll want to check out yours. If yours doesn't look like it's going to work in the country you're going to, you may want to get ideally a cheap third-party one that will, rather than having to take a transformer, which is going to heavier and yet another piece of gear to carry. So that'll take care of your camera, or cameras.

And next, there's your computer, if you're taking one. Again, this should--most computer power supplies are switching power supplies; that means they will switch to the voltage of whatever country you're. Some power supplies, like this Apple one, you can actually pop the--this is where it plugs into the outlet--you can actually pop this off and put different connectors in. So I can take the one that's appropriate for the country I'm going to and just stick that in there. That keeps me from having to carry plug adapters. Now for this other stuff, of course, I'm going to need plug adapters anyway, so maybe it's not worth it. Just take a bunch of plug adapters and then you're okay.

Remember, there's a difference between an adapter that simply plugs the thing into the wall and something that actually transforms the power. With the switching power supplies, all I need are adapters. Now, you might be carrying a lot of gizmos that are charged up by plugging a little thing like this into the wall and then sticking in a USB cable that goes to your device. Your phone might work this way. Your MP3 player might work this way. Your tablet might work this way. If you've got a bunch of those, it can be a drag when you're in a hotel room to figure out where to plug everything in, because invariably, they put the outlets behind the bed or behind the TV or something like that, and you end having to rearrange the furniture.

I used to say "carry a power strip with you." The problem is power strips are very rarely switching power supplies, and so it's difficult to find one that will work under lots of voltages. I've blown up lots of power strips in lots of hotel rooms. They're also big and heavy. And these days, there's another option. If mostly what you're going to be doing is plugging in these USB-based devices, then get one of these things. It plugs into the wall just as normal, but on the other end, it's got a bunch of USB ports. This is like a power strip for USB devices. It's very small. It's very lightweight. I can get four of them in here.

Now one of the things about these USB chargers, whatever kind you're using, is they will deliver different voltages. You probably aren't going to damage any equipment by plugging things into the wrong one, but it will affect your charging time. For example, if I take my iPad, which has a 5V charger, and plug it into a smaller charger like the one for my iPhone, it's going to take the iPad a long time to charge. Maybe that matters to you, maybe it doesn't. I tend to just go ahead and use the iPhone one because it's better than carrying a bunch of adapters around. Nevertheless, this is a really handy way of charging multiple USB-based devices.

If you're taking flashes, radio remote controls for your flashes, anything else that uses batteries, AA batteries or AAA batteries, I would really recommend going with rechargeables. They last longer. You can recharge them on your own. Now there are a number of different kinds of rechargeable batteries these days. Pretty much the only ones you need to think about are nickel-metal hydride or something that are called LD nickel-metal hydride, meaning low-discharge. They last longer and they typically come charged up already.

I really like these Eneloop ready-to-use rechargeable batteries is what they're called. Now there's a trade-off between those two different kinds. Regular nickel-metal hydride batteries will hold more of a charge; they'll last longer. The problem is they don't hold the charge for very long and I never remember to recharge my batteries until I'm ready to run out the door. So I'm willing to sacrifice a little bit of that extra capacity for a battery that's going to last longer. If you're going to be on the road a long time, it's nice to have the longer-lasting batteries also because you can charge them up at home, carry a big bag full of them, and a month later know that they're going to be okay.

I really like this charger. This is the La Crosse Technology charger. They make several different ones. This is the BC1000. A few things I like about this charger. It's not that expensive. It's very careful about not overheating itself. That can damage batteries. It can lower their capacity. It can ultimately wear them out. It's also got a couple of different functions. It can test batteries so that I don't waste time charging batteries that have stopped working. It can also recondition a battery, which is--it will automatically drain it and recharge it. Now, rechargeable batteries come in different capacities that you will see written on it somewhere.

Here we go, milliamp hours. That's--I don't know if you can see this on there. That's mAh. This is a 1,900 milliamp hour battery. The higher the number, the faster the battery can be charged, if you have a charger that can do it. This charger can charge at three different speeds. You can even get chargers that'll charge faster. You can get some chargers that'll charge these things up in 15 minutes. They tend to get very hot and so you risk some battery life when you do that. Nevertheless, rechargeable batteries are really great tool, particularly if you're a flash shooter.

Now all of these things we've looked at so far are contingent on you having an outlet in a wall to plug them into. So if you know you're going to be staying in hotels--even if you're not going to stay in hotels all the time, if you're going to only be in a hotel once a week--maybe that's enough to recharge all your stuff. If you know you've got a week's worth of capacity, you can just gas things up when you get into the next hotel room. If not, if you're not going to be in hotel rooms that often, or you don't want to be dependent on it, but you know you're going to have a car, then maybe what you want to do is opt for cigarette lighter chargers for different things.

As I mentioned before, this camera charger that I've got here has an option for cigarette lighter charger, and it comes with that. It plugs in and you plug it right into the cigarette lighter. You can also get these kinds of things. This is a dedicated charger for my phone. Plug this end to the cigarette lighter, this end of my phone. It'll charge up. It's kind of big and heavy and if I've got many devices that need these, it's kind of a drag carrying all those around. But all of these devices that I'm talking about can be charged again off of a USB connector. So I really like this little thing. This is made by Griffin.

This plugs into the cigarette lighter socket and actually it fits flush with it so that the cigarette lighter socket just becomes two USB ports. And then I can just plug my USB devices in there and charge them up in the car. If you're trying to charge something and you don't have a cigarette lighter adapter for it and you can't one or one is not available, you might consider a transformer like this. I plug this into the cigarette lighter, and then I've got just a regular power outlet right there. This is a good way of charging up computers and other things that you may not have a cigarette lighter adapter for or that cigarette lighter adapters are very expensive for.

So I really like these things. This one is the CyberPower one and I've had good results from it. Now if you're not going to have a car, if you're going completely off the grid, then you may want to consider some alternative technologies, such as solar. I've got a few different solar chargers here, and for the most part, they all work the same way. There are series of solar panels, but they have a battery built into them. So during the day, you leave it out in the sun. It charges up the battery, and then when you get back to your camp or wherever you've left them, you plug your devices in and they can be recharged.

All of these work the same way. They have an adapter into which you plug a different tip, and there are lots of different tip heads that you can get for different devices. All the standard cell phone devices can be plugged into here and you can even find some more obscure camera devices and things like that. This is the Freeloader Pro, which I really like because it comes with this cool camera caddie. This is engineered to fit just about any camera battery. Your camera battery fits in there and this is spring-loaded and keeps it snug, and this thing actually delivers enough power to recharge most DSLR batteries that you'll ever find.

One thing about solar chargers is they take a long time to charge. It's nine or ten hours in direct sunlight to get this thing completely gassed up. What's nice about it is it will charge a device in only a couple hours, so they're pretty quick to get rid of their power. But you've got to have full sun for that. In partial sun, it's going to take longer to get any power out of them, and they don't necessarily maintain enough level current output to get your battery charged up completely. And these nickel-metal hydride batteries, sometimes that last 10% can be a little bit difficult.

That's still not a deal-breaker. If I can get my camera battery half-charged, it'll give me a couple of days of shooting and I can just keep charging it up a little bit at the end of every day with my solar charger. So these are very nice. They're lightweight. They're very easily backpackable. I take them on my motorcycle all the time. They work really well. One new technology that I don't have here because at the time of this shooting, it's-- there are people talking about it and trying to raise money for it and I'm seeing prototypes, but they're not actually out yet. They are kinetic chargers. These are little things that you just put in your bag and as you're walking around, the movement of your walking rocks them around and they charge up a battery, and then at the end of the day, you can, just like these charters, discharge that into whatever your device is.

So keep an eye out for those. They're not on the market yet, but I think they're going to be kind of a thing once they hit. So these are a lot of different options. Which one is right for you is going to depend on what kind of trip you're taking and what access you're going to have to regular power. Either you know you're going to be able to plug in and you just take the appropriate adapters to get everything charged or you're going completely off the grid and you might want to go with something like solar. Whatever you use, just be sure you have the right cables for them and that your voltages are all correct and that they will work in whatever countries you're going to.

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