Woman with DSLR taking pictures by the sea

Battery life – Power banks, solar chargers and other alternatives

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When your phone or camera turns from a practical device into a brick.

Even the most carefully planned trips often have some surprises in store – some pleasant, others less so. The latter includes the battery life of mobile phones and cameras, especially for photo enthusiasts. To avoid missing excellent photo opportunities because of a dead or weak battery, many turn to portable charging devices. As there are countless products on the market of many different types and styles, there are a couple of things to consider before making a purchase:

  1. How intensively do you use your camera?
  2. How often do you have access to sockets?

Fresh from the socket

Let’s start with the simplest case: you go on day trips and can connect your charger regularly to the power supply over a longer period of time. The power consumption of the camera depends on your photographic behaviour and your camera model. From several batteries per day to only one in 14 days, everything is possible. The best thing to do is to test it out beforehand. Apart from the possibly necessary socket adapter, one or two well-charged camera batteries are normally sufficient. These are offered by various third-party manufacturers for the most common cameras at low prices (10 -20 CHF), original batteries often cost many times as much (50-70 CHF). To recharge, it is worth investing in the purchase of a dual charger in order to make efficient use of your time in your accommodation.

Professionals swear by it – Battery handles

Digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) are expandable with battery handles that dock to the battery compartment and provide room for two batteries. Although this makes the camera heavier and more bulky, the maximum service life of the device is significantly increased. Another advantage is the improved handling, because the device offers more grip area due to the extension and is easier to hold, especially when shooting in portrait format or with heavy lenses. In an emergency, some battery handles can even be equipped with standard AA batteries instead of lithium-ion ones. Third-party suppliers offer battery handles starting at approx. 30 CHF, original parts are available from approx. 100 CHF.

Batteriegriff auf hellem Untergrund

Compact bundles of power – Power banks

If you are away from your accommodation for a longer period of time and photograph a lot, you might want to buy a power bank (sometimes called power pack). These portable power storage devices have much larger capacities than single batteries. Some models offer enough reserves to fully charge end devices several times and may have different connection options available. However, a USB port is standard, which can be used to power compact cameras, action cameras and some bridge cameras. The advantage here is that smartphones, MP3 players and other technology that you don’t want to do without during your holidays are compatible with it. With DSLRs, direct charging is usually not possible, but there are chargers that are supplied with power via USB. Alternatively, you can also use a power bank with an integrated charging slot for your DSLR battery or insert a special battery dummy (CHF 20 – 40) into the battery compartment, which you connect with a power bank.

Powerbanks mit USB-Anschluss

The capacity of the power banks is given in milliampere hours (mAh), just like that of rechargeable batteries. The higher the capacity, the more you can charge with it. Another factor to consider is the current output. If this is too low, devices whose energy consumption is designed for higher strengths will take longer to charge. Powerbanks are now available in a tremendous variety and in numerous price ranges, starting from less than CHF 10 to an average of CHF 30 – 50, up to several hundred Swiss Francs for professional equipment.

When the wildernis calls – Solar modules

Experience has shown that it is difficult to find a power socket on an extensive hike where you spend the night in the great outdoors. If the tour lasts several days or even weeks, the capacity of your electricity storage devices will eventually be exhausted and they will need to be recharged. For this purpose, solar modules are available in many variants: The larger their surface area, the more solar radiation is absorbed at the same time and the higher their output power will be. But this also means that the modules become heavier and take up more space. Some manufacturers offer portable versions for backpacks or power banks and solar modules in a combined device, but these are usually weak and not recommended for consumers who are hungry for electricity.

For DSLRs, for example, you should use solar modules with sufficient output, which cost around CHF 400 – 500 in a kit with matching power banks. If you do not use a DSLR, simpler solar modules and power banks are sufficient for a total of around CHF 100 – 200. You should always bear in mind that they are dependent on several hours of sunshine for charging – you can find out how many exactly on the respective product pages.

Tragbares Solarmodul liegt am Strand auf dem Sand und lädt ein Smartphone.

A special case would be the road trip, during which you may not or rarely be able to connect to the mains, but you can recharge your batteries or your power bank with the help of adapters (10 – 20 CHF) via the car’s cigarette lighter.

Work in progress – New alternatives

If, on the other hand, you travel by bicycle, there are even chargers (20 – 160 CHF) that can be connected to the hub dynamo, but which do not work efficiently enough to serve as a reliable solution. Other unconventional but not yet fully developed options include fuel cell power packs filled with lighter gas or camping stoves that heat a power module that generates energy.