Personal Power

My first digital SLR camera was a Minolta 7Hi, and it went through AA batteries like I eat hot dinners. Many years ago several reviews pointed toward Fameart 2500mAh rechargeable batteries as the best on the market. I’ve still got them, but they no longer hold their charge for any long period. I can charge them one day and they’ll be dead the next, without them being used.

My Canon 5Dm2 and Canon 550D have their own proprietary batteries and so I haven’t needed the rechargeable AA’s in a while. But recently I’ve purchased a lot of sound kit, all of which use AA batteries. So I’ve started looking at the latest rechargeable technology to see what might work best for me. Many places online (including “The Gadget Show” and “Which?”) recommend the 3rd generation Sanyo Eneloop 2000mAh battery. They have “Low Self Discharge” technology, meaning stored power doesn’t ebb away quickly. In fact, they’ll still hold 70% of their charge even after five years in storage. That is incredible!

eneloop_HR-3UTGB-4BP

Digging deeper, there are other variations of these cells. The 2nd generation Eneloop 2000mAh batteries are quoted as retaining “75% of their capacity over 3 years“, whereas the 3rd generation are quoted as retaining “70% over 5 years“. Their latest variation is called the Eneloop XX, which hold 2500mAh, but I’ve read a few things about them that make the 3rd gen ones better. Namely, the 2500mAh cells have the same Low Self Discharge technology and can hold their charge up to 75%, but only up to ONE year, compared to three for the 2nd gen.  Also, the 2500mAh ones are rechargeable up to 500 times, compared to the 2nd generation recharging 1’500 times and the 3rd generation 1’800.

I guess it depends how power-hungry your equipment is. As an example, the Yongnuo 465 flashgun has been documented to last 360 flashes with the 2000mAh cells, but 460 with the 2500mAh.

hr-3uwx-4bp_01_01

On a day where I’d be using all the sound equipment I’d need eight AA batteries in total; 2x cells for the Sennheiser E835 wireless handheld microphone, 2x cells for the Sennheiser EK-100-G3-GB Diversity Receiver, 2x cells for the Sennheiser EK-100-G3-GB Bodypack transmitter  and 2x cells for the Zoom H1 digital recorder. That’s a lot of AA batteries.

Now, at the moment I don’t know how much power my sound kit will actually use in a day, but in essence it’d be nice to have a fully charged set in the kit whilst shooting, and a fully charged back-up set. Sixteen batteries! I’d also need 4x chargers in order to get the drained cells recharged whilst I was using the back-up set. Logistically, this seems a nightmare. However, it might turn out that the batteries last several days so there’d be no need to carry any extra kit. For the moment, I just don’t know but I will get back to you…

Sound Kit Composite

I should also point out overall cost here (and there is some maths involved so bear with me)… A standard 4-pack of Duracell Plus batteries cost £3.50. That’s £14 for 16 batteries, for one days use (for arguments sake). Whereas I can buy 16 Eneloop 2000mAh rechargeable batteries for under £28, and they will last up to 1’800 times. I could recharge and use the Eneloop batteries every day for nearly 5 years instead of just one day!! Financially it’s a “no-brainer”. But… you must also factor in the cost of electricity to recharge each battery. But this works out to be less than a penny to recharge each one.

The biggest spend is probably on a charger, if your batteries didn’t come with one. I’ve been recommended the PowerX MH-C9000 “ultimate” recharger, due to it’s built in LCD screen and clever electronics which will help keep your batteries in the best possible shape. It has independent charging circuits so you can charge 1, 2, 3 or 4 batteries independently. It has Charge and Discharge functions to extend the life of your batteries. It has temperature sensors which monitor heat during recharge, and it also has an Analyser to check battery health.

You can also be smart in another way by using some sort of solar powered battery panel to recharge the batteries… Now although the solar panel idea seems a little crazy, I currently own a Voltaic Fuse 10w solar panel kit with two rechargeable batteries. The solar panels will recharge a Voltaic V60 universal battery in 10 hours of direct sunlight. One Voltaic battery would recharge 8 AA batteries no problem. It’s free electricity, and environmentally friendly. Even better for me, the V60 battery has a switched output which means you can charge anything USB powered, or anything that uses 12, 16 or 19 volts. I use the Fuse kit to recharge my Macbook pro when I’m out and about, and use a cigarette lighter adapter to recharge my Canon DSLR batteries too! It’d be a fair point to suggest this only really works in the summer due to the British weather. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ll be fine.

I didn’t realise how ‘green’ I was till now!

UPDATE: The PowerX MH-9000 charger did attempt a “break-in” cycle to recharge the old Fameart batteries which initially seemed to work. However the batteries are still incapable of holding charge. Also, thanks to a seller taking advantage of confusion on the Amazon page, I ended up with Generation 2 batteries instead. Rather than send them back I’ve just kept them. As stated they came near enough fully charged, needing only 10 minutes in the charger to boost them to 100%. Brilliant. If you want a charger and batteries, go for Eneloop and a PowerX MH-9000.

A Symi Holiday: Day 4 – After Dark

I thought I had blogged enough for the fourth day. Alas, come nightfall I ventured out again with my camera for some night time photography!

As the golden sky evaporated at sunset to a moody purple and black, I headed back down the long steps once more. Only now do I realise why my feet hurt so much. This time I was armed with a tripod and a wide angle lens. I’d seen some lovely night time shots of Symi on the internet, and it was my time to try snap a few.

Several times I heard foreign tongues mention the word “fotografia” as my larger-than-average camera tripod towered out of my backpack and above my head as I trundled by the many restaurants still open late. I’d been the only person I’d seen carrying a tripod on Symi. #Fact. Definitely the only one out with one at 11pm. Still, I’m not convinced bringing a rucksack just to ship the tripod over in was worthwhile.

Out along the harbour I snapped a few here and there, trying different exposure lengths to get the look of sheet glass along the water. Of course, the longer your exposure, the more blurry the yachts are in the bobbing waves.

Symi by night

I travelled back along the roads I’ve come to know reasonably well, towards the shipyard containing the derelict Lazy Days cruise ship. Out  away from the harbour was a beautiful tall ship, which reminded me of one I had travelled and stayed aboard just a few weeks back. We too had anchored in the middle of a location away from marine traffic and lit ourselves up for everyone to see. I just had to take a snap against the starry sky. The brightest dot to the right is in fact the planet Jupiter, with the Pleiades star cluster in the top right corner. I didn’t catch the name of the ship, mainly because I couldn’t see it.

Symi tall ship by night

Low and behold, at the shipyard, known as Harani Boat Yard, Lazy Days by night was as spectacular as she is by day. Lit only by a single street lamp and the surrounding natural reflecting light, the wasting ship still stands out against the darkness. Chopper, the non-fictional guard dog with fictional ferocity, lay with one eye open monitoring my labour, barking only once when I accidentally hit a wheelie bin with a leg of the tripod…

Lazy Days, By Night

Lazy Days Starlight

Bear in mind, these photos were taken with very little light around. Yet they look almost staged. This is something I crave almost daily, seeing things in a less-than-ordinary way (hence the infrared photography in the coming days).

Being out on your own carrying expensive equipment and having a long walk back to where you stay is perhaps not the best situation to put yourself in. My sixth sense was always telling me to keep an eye out for anything or anyone unusual who may be part of some ploy to chuck me in the harbour and dash off with my stuff. Therefore I didn’t spend too long on the dimly lit streets of Symi. It was a case of ‘get there, get them, get out’.

Oddly, this is the same way I do clothes shopping.

The Right Stuff

My amateur photography hobby began in 2009. The noticeboard at work showed someone selling a second-hand Canon 450D. A Digital SLR was a step up from the point-and-shoot Casio pocket camera I’d been using for holidays and nights out. So I bought it. And then spent the whole weekend learning all the terminology of DSLR’s and reviewing various lenses that were well out of my price range (and still are).

Now I own a Canon 550D with several lenses, shoot HD video and time lapse photography as well as your usual stills. And it’s not just an amateur hobby anymore. I use the kit for professional work (more recently shooting inside the Big Brother house for Channel 5 where I was working as a House Director).

I carry my 550D and 28-135mm everywhere I go, as standard. The problem I have is that sometimes I come across a photo opportunity that would be better suited to one of my other lenses that I’m not currently carrying. So I’m hunting for a backpack that’s suitable to carry more kit, but still be a day-to-day backpack.

I’m looking for a backpack with shoulder straps (not a single strap) that’s modular and adjustable, spacious for kit, spacious for day-to-day stuff, inconspicuous and potentially able to carry a tripod.

The first camera backpack I ever bought was a Tamrac Expedition 6x

The Tamrac Expedition 6x, model 5586, is one hell of a crafted product. Waterproof rubber zips, spacious and modular. In fact it was far too much for what I actually needed. Yes, it held my camera and all my kit as well as my MacBook Pro. But there was ample space left over. And it really is massive. I also found the shoulder straps were further apart than usual, and so one strap was secure whilst the other was sliding off the other shoulder. It’s a true photojournalists backpack, but far too much for me. The 6x was therefore resold on eBay.

At the end of 2011 I started the search again and in PhotoPlus Canon magazine I came across a backpack which had a removable bag designed for camera gear that could be used separately.

The NewFeel FW10 with the additional NewFeel Reflex Camera Bag.


The bag is black but internally it’s bright orange, designed to allow you to see and find things easier. The smaller removeable camera bag (purchased separately for £17) is decent in quality and can hold a camera body with two medium or three smaller lenses. I found that I used the Reflex Camera Bag inside a satchel rather than inside the NewFeel backpack. This in itself is fine and has lasted well, but defies the point of the backpack. When the smaller camera bag is put in the backpack, it’s at the bottom of the bag and therefore buried under everything else you decided to chuck in there. It certainly doesn’t give ready-to-shoot access to your camera.

The problem with the NewFeel bag is that it’s just a cavernous space with no organisation. In saying that, I’ve kept a hold of it for a while as it holds all the kit and lenses in a protected way and is big enough for all the smaller items such as chargers, filters, batteries, mini tripods, quick release plates, etc. But all in one jumbled mess. Great for longterm storage and throwing in the car. But not great for walking, or hiking.

The third possible backpack I’ve  discovered is this one: The TamRac Aero 85

In a similar fashion to the Expedition 6x, the Tamrac Aero 85 is capable of holding all my camera kit in a modular and protected way at the bottom of the bag, and has a large padded pocket at the back for my MacBook Pro and has another section separate from the gear and laptop for other stuff such as lunch, a book, etc.

It felt great on my shoulders. The modular padded area is great for the camera and kit, and the laptop pocket is well padded and protected. The other selling point of this bag is that you have immediate access to your camera by swinging the bag across one shoulder and unzipping the side pocket. Ideal for some. But I’m left handed. And I’d swing the bag off over my left shoulder and over to my right in order to use my left hand, and the pocket is on the other side! No big deal, but not great for me. Also, the other ‘normal’ section just isn’t big enough for any extra stuff I might want to carry. Not that useful. I managed to get my wallet, a small book and a tin of deoderant in there before it started to become a jumbled unorganised mess. Almost pointless. So the Aero 85 is going onto eBay too…

Then there’s this backpack: The LowePro Flipside 300

Now, LowePro have made camera bag for frickin’ years. Could this be the one? It looks like it’ll hold all my gear in a modular fashion, has a separate side pocket for all the smaller personal items and has a tripod loop. It also has a removable zip pack that can hold wallets, cables, etc. There is also a 200 version too, which has a lower capacity (less lenses).

Does anyone know of any other bag that might be suitable or good for what I need?

UPDATE: As mentioned, I bought the Tamrac Aero 85 but I decided against keeping it. For hiking holidays I’d stick to the bag I had (the Newfeel) as it had done me good so far without damaging any of my other kit, and with a bit of space management I could carry a couple of other lenses in it. In the end I decided to buy something more longterm: A Pelican 1510. Pelican (who also own Storm) are the world leader in cases for the military. These things are crushproof, waterproof, bombproof, etc. They come in black, desert tan and yellow. I have a black version with lid organiser and padded dividers. It’s brilliant!

Pelican 1510