Solar Charging : Compact Cameras

This note is provided as a guide to those who want to solar power their compact digital camera while outdoors & away from household power. This encompasses cameras that use 3.6V or 3.7V lithium battery packs.

Articles in this series cover camera that use AA batteries, USB charging, 3.6V / 3.7V Lithium, 7.2V / 7.4V Lithiumbatteries in dSLR cameras & video camcorders.

Your 3.7V solution…

Most manufacturers include an AC charger with their cameras, so this is likely the charger you have been using. This is the small charger that plugs into the wall and into which you snap your small camera battery.
Unfortunately, this little charger will not work direct from solar panels, as solar panels are 12V DC, and that little charger wants 120V AC. We could create a portable AC power solution using solar, but it would be larger, more complicated, & costly than you really need.

So, let’s look at your DC charger options…

Modern Outpost stocks a wide range of AC & DC combination chargers for digital cameras. These work just like the one that came with your camera, but these let you charge your camera battery from your house power, car dashboard socket, or solar panel kit. A much better idea!
To find one for your specific camera, first look at the label on your camera’s battery pack. It will tell you the model number, voltage (ie 3.6v or 3.7v) and capacity (ie 800mAH).
Go to our charger page and find the charger for your particular model. Universal battery chargers are often the best solution, as they are able to handle battery packs for any cameras you may purchase in the future.
If you don’t find your camera listed, send us an email to ask about availability.

Now that you have a DC charger cradle for your particular camera there are two scenarios for using it:
1. charge the battery pack directly from a solar panel
– or-
2. use solar panel & solar power storage battery combo

Option 1 : Solar Direct

In a DC-direct configuration, we connect the solar panel directly to your new DC battery charger. This is the simplest, and least expensive method, since all you need is an appropriate solar panel to go with your battery pack & charger. The one drawback is that the charger itself requires some power to operate, and so the first 1-2 watts of your solar panel’s power output will be consumed by the charger, and only power above this threshold will go into your battery pack. This simply means that it will take a little longer to charge your battery.

What panels are best for your battery pack?
In our experience, most 3.7v battery packs & chargers will usually operate well from a 5W, or 7W solar panel. If you would like to charge other equipment each day, or would like to be able to charge your battery faster, then consider the next size up in solar panel size (ie 10W, 12W, 14W). These are usually the best way to go in terms of performance when using a solar-direct system.

Option 2 : Solar Panel with Solar Storage Battery

You might have noticed that in the solar direct option, you can only charge during daylight hours, and even then you are at the mercy of the sun. The way to improve the situation is to add a solar power stoage battery between the solar panel & your new DC camera charger. Doing this allows the solar panel to provide charge to it all day at whatever rate it can, while you have access to the storage battery’s reserve any time you need it. This also means you can usually get away with a smaller solar panel too.

What do these solar power storage batteries look like?
Here are the most popular models that we use with the smaller solar panels…

Here is a diagram that shows how these two options plug together…

Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 in canada. Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 canada.

Here are a few examples of systems we provide to our clients…

NOTE:
At this point, we are still talking about a DC-only solar power system. Using a DC charger will help save some of the precious electrons your solar panel produces. By not using an inverter to create household AC power, only to convert back to DC for charging your battery, you will save approximately 15% of your power.
If you really need household AC power, then read on…

The Portable AC Power Option…

When using a solar power system, it is always better to not waste any of the power provided by the solar panel. You don’t want to spill any electrons when travelling through the power desert. Keeping your system operating through DC voltage will avoid the 20-30% power loss associated with the use of a standard AC inverter. However, there are times when you cannot provide a DC solution, and an inverter must be used to provide household AC power from your solar charging system. ie come larger camera batteries are in the 11.1V range, and therefore cannot be charged from 3.7V or 7.4V chargers.

In a digital camera scenario, this means storing your solar panel’s power throughout the day in a battery pack, and then plugging an AC inverter into the battery pack for using your proprietary battery pack charging cradle.

Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 in canada. Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 canada.

Examples of small inverters…

The main advantage to using a complete power system is that it is usually large enough to provide power to a variety of other electronic devices, so while you are charging your camera battery, you can also be charging a GPS, phone, storage device, or even laptop. The solar panel can remain connected to the battery while your electronics are plugged-in, so that all power generated can be stored & used when needed. For more information on this type of complete AC & DC charger support, consult our Compact Portable Power article.

A few words about inverter technologies…
There are two types of inverter: modified sine wave and pure sine wave. Which type is for you depends on your budget and the type of equipment you plan to operate with it. The terms “modified sine” and “pure sine” refer to the smoothness of the AC waveform. A pure sine inverter most closely resembles normal household grid power, while a modified sine inverter simulates the waveform in a series of steps.

Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 in canada. Solar battery chargers for digital cameras : Application note part 2 canada.Should you care? Well, if you plan on running audio/video equipment, sensitive research equipment, or any other electronics which would be susceptible to “noise” from its power supply, then you need to consider a pure sine option such as our compact 150 Watt or 300 Watt models. If you plan to run equipment which has its own AC adaptor (like a notebook computer), or motors such as power tools or pumps, or lights, then the modified sine inverters will perform well for you and save you some money.

Please send us your questions

We’d like to hear from you.
Where are you going this coming season, and what equipment do you need to keep charged?
We’ll help you get the best charging system to meet your needs.
Email details to: mail@ModernOutpost.com


Articles in this series cover camera that use AA batteries, USB charging, 3.6V / 3.7V Lithium, 7.2V / 7.4V Lithium batteries in dSLR cameras & video camcorders.


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Articles in this series cover camera that use AA batteries, USB charging, 3.6V / 3.7V Lithium, 7.2V / 7.4V Lithiumbatteries in dSLR cameras & video camcorders.


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