Ever since I bought a camera, batteries have been an issue specially while traveling. A fully charged DSLR battery is enough for up to 1000 photos or more if used properly. But in places without electricity like when camping and cold weather, battery charge is an issue. I found out during my last trip to Lahaul Spiti that batteries lose their charge in cold weather much faster even when not in use and specially with long exposure shots. So I’ve been looking for a way to charging DSLR batteries while traveling without access to electric supply. There is some information on internet, but nothing really useful. Most people just prefer carrying 3-4 extra batteries or a complicated setup of wires and adapters for the purpose..
But I found 2 gadgets which make camera battery charging much easier with minimal amount of work and expense required. So there is no cutting, joining wires or similar work, just simple plug and play.
1) First is a portable solar panel easily available from a number of online retailers. I bought a 21 W capacity panel like this. These panels have 1 or 2 USB ports for output and weigh less than half a KG. Mine came with 4 carabiners and has 4 slots which makes it easy to just sling across the backpack or any surface. The USB slots are inside a pocket which is pretty handy of storing cables and charger or to keep them away from sun while charging. There are multiple type with different capacities and weight, but it’ll be preferable to get one with maximum wattage possible. It seems to be water resistant and strong. While hiking, it can be just attached to the rucksack and charge batteries while you walk. It will probably be useful on some DIY projects in home too.
2) 2nd is a DC input charger for the camera battery. Canon and Nikon DSLRs both have different batteries and will have different chargers. Mine is Nikon D7100 with EN-EL15 battery and I got EN-EL15 DC charger. Most Canon DSLRs will use LP-E8 batteries and these chargers will work LP-E8 DC charger. None of the chargers available are manufactured by camera companies themselves and the build quality is not great. Atleast the one I got is Chinese made and looks like one. But it’s working while it works. It has slots for two batteries as visible in picture below, but I’ve used only one till now. While charging the display shows a level and blue backlight. For some reason, it fluctuates while connected to solar panel and stable if connected to a phone charger, but charging seems fine either way.
These chargers use DC as their input supply unlike the normal chargers which use AC. If you have a normal phone charger or a power bank, these battery chargers will work with those too. If you’re willing to carry a high capacity power bank like these with you, you can use the setup to charge your batteries even at night. There are also some solar power banks available with an attached solar panel. But it’s another KG or so of additional weight with lower capacity.
Next step is just to plug the USB cable of charger in to the USB slot of panel and place it in sun. As I’m writing this, this setup charged my Nikon EN-EL15 battery from 60% to 100% in 150 minutes. But it took 3 hours yesterday to charge the battery from 20% to 62%. So even with good amount of sunlight, there seem to be some fluctuations. It’s also a good charger for other gadgets like phones, tablets etc. My 4 years + old Samsung tablet gets fully charged in 70-80 minutes with this panel.
The pictures below is the charging setup in action. Taken by a phone camera in very bright sun , so not very clear but good enough for the purpose. The red LED inside pocket lights up whenever the panels are exposed to sun.