Hack 14 Stay in Charge of Your Batteries

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The Achilles heel of digital cameras is that they need power?lots of it. But what do you do when you're in the middle of nowhere and you want to keep shooting?

I'm going to start out by saying that you should always have an extra battery on hand. Digital cameras are power-hungry beasts that behave only as long as you feed their insatiable appetite for electricity. Once the juice runs out, they're about as useful as the box they came in.

When you're traveling, be sure to take your charger and extra battery with you. Each night, put the battery you've been using all day in the charger and put the spare in the camera. Then, when you take off the next morning, pull the freshly charged battery out of the charger and put it in your camera bag. Continue this rotation throughout the trip.

If you have a particularly demanding shooting day, that extra battery will be as welcome as the Calvary when the first one fails. Just remember to charge both once you return to the room.

1.15.1 Car Chargers for Road Trips

The previous routine should work great for 90% of your travels. But what do you do on extended road trips and hikes in the backcountry, when an electrical outlet isn't right there beside your bed at night? You could take enough extra batteries to last the entire trip. If you figure one cell a day, you're probably safe, with a little discipline. My problem is that I always want to review my images at night, and that uses battery power. So I find that the one-cell-a-day regimen is a little stringent for my diet. Not to mention that most rechargeable Lithium batteries cost US$50 or more each.

Car travelers have a great alternative. Almost every camera manufacturer makes a cigarette-lighter attachment for their chargers, as shown in Figure 1-15. Your charge-and-use routine is a little different when using these tools. Instead of recharging at night, while you sleep, you charge up during the day, while you're driving. The trick to car chargers is to use them while the engine is running; otherwise, you'll drain your car battery. Running out of juice for your camera is one thing, but a dead car battery is a whole new level of distress.

Figure 1-15. Cigarette adapter for car charger

Once you get your routine down, you can span the entire country with just two camera batteries and your car charger. If, for some reason, your camera doesn't have an optional car-charger accessory, all is not lost. Every electronics store carries DC to AC inverters that will also do the trick. You plug the inverter into your cigarette-lighter socket and plug your regular battery charger into the inverter. Yes, this system is a tad more bulky than the dedicated car charger, but it works just as well.

1.15.2 Solar Chargers in the Middle of Nowhere

If you plan on spending some extended quality time with Mother Nature, you'll discover that it's much easier to recharge your mind, body, and soul than it is to recharge your digicam. This is the most challenging scenario.

Solar cells have become more efficient and definitely more portable in recent years. One impressive example, the Brunton Solarroll 14, rolls up to a 12" 3" cylinder for easy travel. It weights only 17 ounces but produces 14 watts of power. When it's time to charge your camera battery, just roll out the mat, attach your battery charger to the solar cell, and put Mother Nature to work for you. Solar power might be free, but the Solarroll isn't cheap. It costs about US$399.

Certainly, there are cheaper alternatives that you can construct yourself. Solar World (http://www.solarworld.com) is a great resource for build-your-own solar projects. They carry a variety of modules that you can custom-configure for your needs. Just make sure you have enough cells to recharge your camera battery in a six-hour period. Otherwise, you might not be able to keep up with your camera's appetite for power.

For every power challenge you might encounter on the road, there's a solution. The key to success is planning ahead and gathering the right equipment so that you and your camera can stay charged and shooting for the duration of the trip.