Let’s talk batteries. I know, a really exciting, glamorous subject, but an important one. I was recently working at our editing desk and looked down at the floor and was immediately confronted by what’s a normal thing around our office, huge piles of batteries charging at my feet. We, as most of you in this business, have a LOT of batteries. Like, a ridiculous amount of captive energy cells lying around. Two different sizes of gimbal batteries, two different models of Go Pro batteries, mirrorless camera batteries and bigger, much more expensive Canon batteries for our C200. Four batteries for our drone plus the internal battery that needs to be charged for the drone controller, and on top of that, we have two DJI batteries for our 5.5-inch Crystal Sky monitor. Add in eight Sony “L” batteries we use for powering various smaller LED sources and two of the Sony larger BP-U series for powering some larger LED panels.
Another couple of off-brand Chinese V-Mount batteries that we occasionally use to power cameras and our larger LED panels. The end result is that we are awash in a sea of Lithium Ion here, and to be honest, acquiring all of these batteries just sort of snuck up on us over the past few years.
Supporting the Battery Habit
Besides these huge piles of various size, weight and voltage batteries we use in our regular work, we also have a plethora of various charging devices. Cables, adapter plugs, third-party chargers—you name it, and if it’s for charging, we probably have one buried in a pile of cables here. The DJI Crystal Sky monitor that we recently purchased for our drone came with a battery, but DJI didn’t see fit to even include a compatible charger with the $500 monitor, so we had to purchase a separate, third-party drone battery charger because the DJI drone we own, it’s battery charger wasn’t compatible with the Crystal Sky batteries!
We even have three of these battery banks that we use to charge other batteries when we’re not near AC power sources. Think about that, batteries to charge batteries. Has it reached the point of ridiculousness yet? Yes, in a way. I get it that we use a large number of different size devices to shoot video, light scenes, power laptops, monitor and tablets and that each has a unique requirement for a specific voltage and amperage to function. But in the grand scheme of things, it seems as if many of us end up awash in a sea of incompatible yet required portable power sources.
I shoot documentaries and often find myself in inhospitable, difficult situations—on boats, remote mountain trails or driving around, shooting subject inside of cars—so I have a tendency to buy a large number of batteries for our main devices, simply because recharging them on the go, during shoots. often just isn’t possible, and there’s nothing worse than running out of batteries when you still have a shoot/story/subject in front of your camera that you need to keep rolling on. I look back on the days when I used to shoot on stages more often because one of the luxuries of shooting on a stage is AC outlets so you can continually charge batteries as you shoot. That would be nice to experience again. But not many documentary films are shot on stages.
What Have Batteries Taught Me?
I’ve been working with portable battery systems for film and television gear for quite a long time, and during that time, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about working with batteries. When you buy a device and need to buy spare batteries, you are typically faced with buying spare OEM batteries or buying third party batteries that will supposedly do the same thing. It’s always a tough choice whether to spend less and go third party or spend more and buy OEM. For some devices, you don’t have a choice.
The Canon C200 Story
Case in point, the BP-A batteries for our Canon EOS Cinema C200 camera. At the time we bought the camera, there simply were no third-party batteries available for the Canon EOS Cinema cameras so we HAD to buy the Canon OEM batteries if we wanted spares. Unfortunately, the BP-A batteries tend to be a bit expensive, about $400 to $500 for a relatively small battery (BP-A60) with only 90Wh capacity. When I compared this cost to other third-party Gold Mount or V-Mount batteries, it was easy to find a V-Mount battery with roughly double the capacity for about half the cost of the Canon.
V-Mount batteries are common all around the world, more common than the Anton Bauer Gold Mount, but of course, a 180Wh battery is going to be physically larger, heavier and less convenient to use than Canon’s BP-A60 battery as you then need to have a baseplate system that can support 15mm rods that can support a third-party V-Mount battery plate and you have to then plug-in a Lemo power cable from the plate to the DC input on the back of the camera. A lot more weight, bulk and hassle. So in the end, we paid the price and bought a few spare BP-A60 batteries simply to save weight and bulk. Canon engineered a battery pin system that’s either difficult for the third-party battery companies to backward engineer or Canon patented the pin layout and how it works because so far, there are only 14.4V third party batteries that all have a DC output for the Canon C series cameras. Because of this fact, if you own a Canon C series camera, it’s easiest and most convenient and efficient to just pay the price for the Canon OEM batteries, unless you like drastically increasing the size, bulk and weight of your rig.
Despite All Of The Complaints, Modern Batteries Work Well
I’ve been in production long enough to remember when we mostly worked with huge and heavy lead acid battery belts. It used to be that when you bought or rented a film camera or early model Betacam, you used a battery belt that had multiple cells on a nylon or leather belt that you had to wear around your waist because there weren’t too many battery packs or “bricks” around yet; those came a few years later. These battery belts were heavy (weighing 20 to 30 pounds at times!), bulky and inconvenient. They didn’t really power the device that long because the large, heavy camera systems of the day needed a lot of power to record images because they were physically moving either tape through a tape mechanism or film through a film gate and in and out of a film magazine, mechanical motors take a lot of power to do their job.
When I compare the huge and bulky battery belt of yesterday with the almost microscopic size and weight of the batteries that my mirrorless camera uses today, I realize that we have come a long way in the size and efficiency of the battery systems we use today, and for that, I’m grateful. The aforementioned BP-A60 Canon battery can power our C200 camera for about four to five hours of recording. On a single battery. When you put that into context, we have it pretty good with today’s battery systems, even though we may be drowning in the number of batteries we need to deal with. Just be glad that you don’t have to wear a battery belt anymore.