What one accessory can make or break a video shoot? Consider the following. Before becoming a "professional," everyone needs a paying job. Mine was, of course, a friend’s wedding. No major production. A one-camera set-up using the on-board mic. The outdoor setting eliminated the need (at least for my simple purposes) for lights. And I was pretty confident of my "hand-held" abilities, so the tripod stayed at home as well. I took several master tapes and a couple of back-ups just for emergencies.
Joe (as I’ll refer to this "former" friend) and I sat down two days before the wedding and mapped out the shooting agenda. Starting with before service activities like guest arrival shots, bride’s preparation and the jittery groom, I would lead directly into some music solos. Joe’s sister was a star pupil of the 6th grade choir, so I just had to record the talent for posterity. Then the vows would begin, with some time left over for reception antics. Joe requested about a 60 minute tape. And for the price he was paying, which wasn’t much, I explained no editing would be involved. Just a simple title card at the opening (which really consisted of me shooting the wedding program).Sounds easy enough, right? Too bad there was one accessory I failed to consider. One major glitch in my foolproof scheme. One downfall that ruined a friendship and tarnished my first foray into the world of professional videomaking. You see, I forgot about power. You know, juice, electricity, wattage. The stuff to turn those little wheels and illuminate that tiny viewfinder. The one accessory that definitely "broke" this video shoot.
I’ll spare you most of the ugly details. Let’s just say that after-the-fact recordings of the still photographer’s photos wasn’t quite what Joe had in mind when he said wedding "video." My "came-with-the-camcorder" battery died 20 minutes into the festivities. How was I to know that its life was coming to an abrupt end?
Providing power to run your camcorder (or lights) is probably the most important consideration when planning a shoot. You can get by without the proper lights. Sure the picture may be a little grainy, but at least an image is recorded. You can live without sharp sound. Bad audio can always be replaced with a music or voice-over track. And you can continue a shoot without a tripod. News crews and documentarians do it daily. But besides tape stock itself, no other accessory can halt a production like the absence of power.
Often, the battery sold with your camcorder is not enough. It’s a good starting point. But for professional jobs, you’ll need an accessory battery or power supply. Most camcorder batteries have too short of a charge and an even shorter life. Using a camcorder battery charger to recharge the units can be a hassle. And if you only possess one battery, you can count on regular periods of downtime as the camcorder battery charger goes to work- a process that may take 12 or more hours. How can you capture a breaking video event if your battery is hooked up to a wall outlet?!If you want your transition from hobbyist to pro to go smoother than my experience, you need extra batteries. Even if you just want to continue your position as family historian, more power can only add to your capabilities. Who knows the next time you’ll have a chance to capture Granny as she swims 50 consecutive laps at the summer family outing? Equipped with only a two-hour battery, one that’s half fried from taping your cousins’ chicken calling contest, may lead to your missing the septuagenarians historic aquatic event.
Before you run out and buy the first pack-of-power the salesman drools all over, a survey of the battery market, their features, compatibility and lifespans is a good plan. And what better place to get this info than from the very magazine gripped between your videomaking hands!Batteries can be categorized in several ways; by their chemical make-ups, size, technology, features and, sometimes most importantly, price. Since cash is always a concern amongst budget-minded videomakers, price is as good a defining point as any.
The high end of the battery market is dominated by the professional line from Anton/Bauer. Designed to power camcorders and lights, these batteries are consistently rated the highest in user satisfaction. And with Anton/Bauer batteries, the old saying, "you get what you pay for," definitely holds true. At the top is the Digital Pro Pac Logic Series NiCad battery. Developed for professional applications, this premium, heavy-duty cell is designed to deliver long life and high performance under high current loads. The Digital Pro Pac 14 ($539) weighs a little over 5 lbs., with a run time of 4 hours at 15 watts. Batteries, like just about every other product associated with videomaking, have their own line of accessories. Anton/Bauer’s Digital Trimpac is a new size and shape battery that was created in close collaboration with major camcorder manufacturers. Extremely thin and lightweight, the Trimpac 14 ($354) still has more effective energy than two NP style slides in batteries. Its shape matches most modern camcorders.
For those with major power needs (and a thick wallet), Anton/Bauer’s 30/13 battery belt ($814) powers virtually all portable equipment. It can handle 30 volt lights, all 13-14v cameras and VTRs. With a built in overnight charger, voltage display, circuit protection and an external, 1-hour fast charge option, this is truly a powerhouse. Again, this is more suited for the high-end professional, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Also residing in the high-end battery category are several offerings from NRG. The 880 Power-Pro+ ($324-$354) belt is targeted at the prosumer videomaker. It features a 7-stage electronic runtime indicator and individual removable packs for interchange and charging, with no interruption in recording. The dual-outputs on the unit allow the user to simultaneously power both a camcorder and accessory. Up a step higher is NRG’s 970 Power-MAX ($418-$488). This belt is designed for extended periods of power in situations where changing packs would be inconvenient or impossible. Created to meet the needs of industrial event videographers, the 970 comes with dual inputs and outputs.
The Campak series is NRG’s answer to those tired of short run times and piles of original equipment batteries. Available in 12-volt ($169-$184) or 13.2 volt ($219), these cells feature 2-6 hours of run time in an ultralight 2.3 lb. pack. The unit uses the same style sintered memory-free Ni-Cad cells as in NRG’s large belt packs. Each battery comes with a custom soft case, overnight charger and instruction manual.
Still Plenty To Spare
While the battery market resembles a third world country with the majority of the "residents" living at one of two price extremes, Markertek offers some models that fall somewhere in the middle. Their PRB-20 ($188) power belt features a rugged Cordura construction. At a hefty 16 lbs., the unit will power your camcorder for up to 20 hours. Its lead acid gel cells take 14 to 20 hours to reach a full charge and have a life of approximately 300 cycles. For those wanting an extremely long life cell, the EXC-5 ($134) promises nearly 1500 charging cycles. The Nickle Cadmium construction weighs only 3.25 lbs., and will power your camcorder for 7 hours. A 50 watt light can be run from the battery for a little over an hour.
Camcorder Battery Charges For All
After that tour with the aristocracy of powering units, let’s get into some of the more commonly found, and affordable, units on the market.
Sunpak carries a full line of power units for a broad range of video applications. The Sunpak RB-80UL (price?) has a multi-stage LED display that lets you check battery capacity at any time. The feature eliminates disappointing surprises, ones that come when you power up at a big event only to find LO BATT flashing in your viewfinder. The RB features a patented switching mechanism that provides complete compatibility with most major brands of compact 8mm and VHS-c camcorders. A lifetime warranty is included with the product.
Relieving the hassle of camcorder battery chargers, is Aztec Video’s Self-Charging camcorder battery (price?) It looks and feels just like a conventional battery except for its retractable outlet plug. The battery can be plugged into any standard electrical outlet for a quick and easy charge. A microchip inside the unit regulates the charging process. Aztec also offers a Self-Refreshing camcorder battery (price?). This cell ends one of videographer’s biggest frustration – watching a 1- or 2-hour battery deteriorate into a 20-minute battery. Patented circuitry allows the battery to discharge itself, and charges can be made at any time. Both the Self-Charging and the Self-Refreshing Battery are available in sizes for all leading camcorders. A 3-way model covers Sony, Palmcorder and Sharp camcorders. A 4-way model also covers RCA/Hitachi camcorders.
As the originator of memory-free batteries, Lenmar Enterprises carries a NoMem® for virtually any application. Their line of products (price?) use a proprietary gelcell formula that, unlike nickel cadmium batteries, has absolutely no memory properties. The NoMem® cells are 100% compatible with any existing cadmium camcorder battery charger. Guaranteed to perform without loss of capacity due to memory for as long as you own the battery, all NoMem units are warranted to be free from defects for one full year.For a long running, but attractively priced battery, Markertek’s PRB-10 ($94) fits the bill. The belt weighs 8 lbs. and offers up to 10 hours of charge time. Its lead acid cell can be recharged in 16-22 hours, offering up to 300 cycles of charging. Also from Markertek is the PBR-6.5 ($79). Weighing in at 5 lbs., the unit guarantees to run your camcorder up to 6 hours and a 50 watt light for 60 minutes.
Want to run your camcorder for 13 hours and still spend less than a C-note? The BES-012 ($94) from Markertek weighs 10 lbs. in a square, belt-riding package. Its baker’s dozens of hours charge time can be refueled in 16-22 hours. Two other power packs, the MM-5 ($56) and the HP-3 ($54) deliver 6 and 2.5 hours of operation respectively to your camcorder. Both can be charged in under 20 hours and provide approximately 300 charges within their useful life.In addition to the packs and belts mentioned above, Markertek carries an exhaustive line of Empire replacement batteries. These maximum output units start art a low $37 for Canon replacements to a high $84 for Toshiba camcorders. The batteries are packed in high impact plastic for guaranteed long life. The company offers a multiple page fax list and cross reference guide of all units available and can match virtually any camcorder in use today. Video lighting replacement batteries for Sima, Sunpak, Acme and Unomax can also be found in the Markertek listing.
Camcorder Battery Chargers and other ways to Accessorize The Accessory
As with any electronic product on the market today, an array of accessories is available to make life more bearable on the user. For batteries, these range from camcorder battery chargers to extension and adapter cords to dischargers to units that eliminate the need for a battery altogether.Often, a charge will be included with the battery purchase. But if it didn’t, or if you have more than one cell to charge at any one time, than an accessory charger should be on your purchase list.
Camcorder Battery Charger Quick Fixes
Anton/Bauer’s line of fast camcorder battery chargers should satisfy any videomakers’ need for a speedy power refill. At the top of the price hill comes the Quad Microprocessor ($1191). This four position fast camcorder battery charger uses the company’s patented InterActive Digital technology to assure extended life from all batteries. At $915, the Logic Series Dual is an all digital 2-position camcorder battery charger. It can charge in any combination any two Pro Pac, Trimpac, Compac or 30/13 batteries. Another dual position camcorder battery charger, the Q2 ($575), will sequentially charge 2 camcorder batteries to full service in 2 hours or less.
In addition to the camcorder battery charging gear, Anton/Bauer markets an automatic test module ($391). With the push of a button, the unit will automatically diagnose, calibrate and revitalize the cell. Test results are then displayed in the LCD of the quad charger or printed via a standard port.To power up the NRG line of batteries, the company’s Intelliquick Fast Charger ($224) provides 1-hour charge times with the Power Pro cell and 2-2 1/2-hours with Power-MAX. As NRG states, "custom micro-processor chips utilize negative delta monitoring for a full charge." What this means in layman’s terms is that your battery is powered up quickly and, more importantly, safely. The camcorder battery charger features standard, fast and maintenance modes. For nature videographers "out in the bush," getting a battery recharge may prove tricky. Unless you trailed an extremely long extension cord with you, finding an outlet might be tricky. Not to worry, NRG has just the product. Their Solar Charging Series ($223-$338) is designed to meet the needs of users having no access to conventional power sources. Sturdily built, the NRG Solar series utilize stable, high-efficiency semi-crystalline silicon solar cells laminated between sheets of EVA vinyl and "nearly indestructible" Tedlar™.Those that do long-distance shooting, but keep it within urban limits might want to check out NRG’s Car Charger ($158). The camcorder battery charger gives a quick charge en-route to a location, or may be used as a primary charger in areas lacking AC power. The unit uses computer controlled circuitry to give a fast, full charge even if a vehicle is not running or the battery is low. Full-auto shutoff and charge status indicators are featured as well.The AR series ($price?) from Frezzolini are auto-ranging computer-controlled camcorder battery chargers. The AR301 and AR304 will fast charge a 12V 4Ah battery in under one hour while a 30V 7Ah battery can be powered in less than two hours. The units are very light and compact, automatically adjusting to AC mains supplies worldwide. Both chargers incorporate a manually activated Recovery Charge program for batteries that may have been over discharged or misused, and are unsuitable for immediate fast charging. After the recovery period, the cells enter fast charge. Batteries can be kept in the AR chargers, as the maintenance charge keeps cells at the peak of capacity, ready for use.
The PowerMax Pulse Charge ($79) is good news for camcorder users because it recharges batteries in less than half the time of traditional discharger/chargers and costs less as well. The two-port unit sidesteps traditional charge/discharge processes. Instead, the product combines the two processes, eliminating memory buildup and fully charging in one automatic cycle. The PowerMax line can be used with virtually all 6 volt Sony, Canon, RCA/Hitachi, JVC, Nikon and Panasonic batteries.
What do you do if you’ve made an investment in a number of camcorder batteries, but want the long-term power afforded by a bigger belt unit? Get Sima’s PowerMax PowerPocket ($49). The PowerPocket eliminates the annoying need to "power down" when your in-camcorder battery starts to die, just to unlatch it and insert a fresh cell. The product is a compact, waist pouch which houses up to three of the user’s camcorder batteries and includes a simple switching mechanism. It will accept all popular 6V batteries. A camcorder is plugged into the PowerPocket, and when the "battery low" warning light begins to flash, the power is switched by the user to another cell.
Sima also offers a Universal Battery Eliminator ($34) for 6 volt camcorders. The product allows videographers to use their auto or boat battery as an infinite power supply. A six-foot cord attaches the battery eliminatory plate, standing in for a camcorder battery, to a cigarette lighter socket.
With all of the accessory batteries and camcorder battery charging options on the market, there’s no excuse for today’s videographer to experience the dreaded loss of power syndrome. By carefully matching your specific needs to the power supplies for sale, every shoot should come off successfully charged.
SIDEBAR 1: The Memory Dilemma
Probably nothing in the world of video power is more misunderstood than the term "memory." This word has been a catch-all for countless numbers of bad experiences videographers have with their powering products.
But memory is a coined term applied to a phenomenon more correctly referred to as voltage depression. Voltage depression is a small dip in voltage that starts near the end of discharge, and then over many charging cycles, slowly moves towards the beginning of the cells discharge. This voltage drop may fool the user into suspecting a loss of battery capacity because the equipment being powered usually reads the drop for an empty power pack, resulting in a premature shutdown.
Ni-Cad cells experience voltage depression after a period of overcharging. . This occurs when either a charger fails to sense charge completion or the user does not follow the battery manufacturers instructions. The problem becomes extremely evident when a fast 2-hour charger is paired with a battery that is not designed to charge in less than 12 hours. The excessively quick charge, combined with inaccurate power sensing, causes voltage depression in many batteries.
Luckily, the problem is easily erased. But this is little known amongst many users. The slight dip in the discharge "profile" ( a graphical representation of the battery’s power discharge over a period of time) that results from the cells voltage depression can be erased. A proper discharge profile is restored by discharging the pack fully and recharging it.
SIDEBAR 2: The Cell Choice
There are really only two classes of batteries used for auxiliary video power; Lead Acid and Ni-Cad. Lead acid cells, which have been around since the mid-1800’s, have the advantage of being very affordable to the videomaker. Able to withstand poor charge habits and high rate discharging, lead acid batteries have no memory effect. And, the cells can be stored for long periods if they are exposed to a constant or pulsed "float" charge. One major disadvantage of the lead cell is its low energy-to-weight ratio. This means that lead acid type batteries weigh substantially more than a Ni-Cad power source providing the same power. Short cycle life is another downfall.
The power-to-weight ratio of Ni-Cad cells are excellent, weighing 20-50% less than other types of equivalent power. These batteries however are traditionally higher-priced than their lead-acid counterparts. Memory is bantered around as a problem of Ni-Cad energy sources, but their discharge profiles are superior, as is their ability to deliver stable voltage to any connected video equipment.
The bottom line; lead acid cells are great for low-level consumer work where initial cost of the power source is a factor. For the serious and responsible videographer who looks at equipment as an investment in his future Ni-Cad batteries are a must.