Solar charging dSLR cameras away from civilization? This article covers everything you need to know to take your laptop off-grid.
Editor: Graham Morfitt, BSc (Physics)
This note is provided as a guide to those who want to solar power their digital SLR camera while outdoors & away from household power. For the purposes of this note, we will limit the discussion to cameras that use 7.2V or 7.4V lithium battery packs. (some may even say 7.0V)
Other articles in this series: Charging compact cameras that use 3.6/3.7V battery packs
Your solar dSLR 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 options…
Modern Outpost stocks a wide range of DC 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 7.2V or 7.4V) and capacity (ie 800mAH). Go to our charger page and find the charger for your particular model. OR, take a look at the universal chargers that can adapt to any camera you wish to use. If it is not listed, send us an email to find out about availability.
Popular DC camera chargers…
- Ansmann Vario
- Ansmann Vario Pro
- Ansmann PL Vario (USB)
- Ansmann Vario Easy (USB)
- Canon LP-E6 Charger
- Nikon EN-EL3e Charger
Now that you have the DC charger cradle for your camera there are two scenarios for using it:
1. charge the battery pack directly from a solar panel
2. use solar panel & solar power storage battery combo
Let’s take a look at these…
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 few 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 7.4v battery packs & chargers will usually work well from 5W, or 7W solar panels. Although as mentioned, only the sunlight from the middle of the day, when the panel output is greatest, will be available for charging your camera battery due to the consumption of the charger itself. 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, 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
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 storage battery between the solar panel & your new DC camera charger. Doing this allows you to plug your charger into the battery at any time for fast, consistent charging, while the solar panel captures whatever energy it can. This also means you can usually get away with a smaller solar panel too.
What do these solar power storage batteries look like?
The most popular & reliable model we carry is the Voltaic V72 which covers 12V & USB chargers. Among our USB batteries, the Enerplex Jumpr Prime 10400 is an excellent choice.
For a look at all the models we carry, visit the Battery Pack department.
Here are a few examples of popular dSLR-supporting solar power systems.
Panel, Storage Battery, Charger…
- Kayak 7 Package : Powerfilm R7 panel + V72 Battery
- Trek North 10 Package : Powerfilm F10 panel + V72 Battery
- Nepal 6 Package : Voltaic 6W Panel + V44 Battery
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 20-30% of your power.
If you really need household AC power, then send us a note, and we will design a system to meet your needs.
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. In the photo shown here, the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery pack can be coupled with the Goal Zero AC Inverter sidecar add-on to get low-power AC output for things like camera charger cradles when DC is not possible.
Examples of small inverters that plug into vehicle power ports…
Samlex SAM 100W,
Samlex SSW 350W,
Samlex PST 120W
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.
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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