How Can You Power Your Video Camera?

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So, you’ve got your camera and now what? Whether it be of the digital cinema, ENG, camcorder, DSLR, or mirrorless variety, it is going to need power. Plus, you are probably going to want to add a few accessories, perhaps on-camera monitors/recorders, on-camera lights, wireless transmitters, lens motors, lens lights, or other accessories that require power.

Camcorder-Style Batteries

If you are working with a camcorder, it will no doubt accept its own specific type of battery, which leaves it up you to source a variety of other power solutions for your accessories. Many accessories come with interchangeable battery plates, and this will allow you to load up on the same batteries your camera uses, and simplify your battery-charging situation. It is worth noting that, depending on your camera, some of the available batteries incorporate a coaxial or D-Tap output. These batteries are usually from third-party manufacturers—that is, the batteries are not made by the camera manufacturer. One thing to be aware of is that camera companies will often put a chip into their battery, and this allows the battery to communicate with the camera. If this chip isn’t in the battery, then the camera won’t work with that battery. Third-party battery manufacturers have become very adroit at getting around this, and usually there are no issues. However, on occasion, a camera manufacturer will release a firmware update that may have the side effect of disabling the compatibility of third-party batteries. This is rare, but it has been known to happen. So, if you are using third-party batteries and do a firmware update to your camera, double-check that all your batteries will still power your camera before you go out on a shoot. Please also note, if you are using your third-party battery to power lights or accessories, upgrading firmware doesn’t seem to have the same potential side effect; at least I have not heard of it happening.

Battery Replacements

Obviously, most camera manufacturers will recommend that you only use their accessories, and I’ve had both bad experiences and good success using replacement batteries and battery systems—more good than bad in recent years, although it is a good idea to be wary when buying an unknown brand of battery. Battery-replacement systems usually require power-regulating cables for your camera, which are readily available. They also use a “dummy battery” or as some manufacturers refer to it, a “DC coupler” on the camera end. Some battery-replacement systems use multiple smaller batteries to power your camera for extended run times. You can usually find systems that allow you to choose from batteries that fit your camera or from ones that power your accessories. This type of setup simplifies your battery-charging situation. However, there are other systems that use larger batteries and a regulator cable/dummy battery to provide the power for your camera and accessories. The Core SWX Powerbase system, for example, uses a large professional-sized battery with a regulator. One of the advantages of this system is that you mount the battery to the bottom of your camera, and then mount the battery to your tripod, freeing you from the need for rod clamps, cheese plates, and other paraphernalia to hold your external battery.

Core SWX PowerBase 70 Battery for Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Professional Batteries

Another power option is to use a professional battery and a power regulator with a dummy battery. Although smaller camcorder-style batteries aren’t necessarily “amateur” and can often be used in professional applications, here the term “professional” refers to a battery with a large capacity, in either Gold-mount or V-mount, that supports high power draw through a power accessory port of some kind. Most battery plates for professional batteries incorporate a power port, usually a D-Tap, but many batteries also incorporate D-Tap power ports, and a few are now sporting USB power ports, as well, which can be useful for some accessories or for charging a mobile device while shooting. To mount a professional battery, you will need a battery plate of some kind, as well as some way to mount it on your camera. For mounting, you are usually looking at a cheese plate/rod clamp arrangement. A cheese plate, for those who don’t know, is a piece of metal with a variety of holes drilled in it that allows you to mount various accessories. The holes are usually tapped and threaded, but not always, and sometimes the drilled holes are left untapped. Some cheese plates incorporate slots, as well as holes. Often, when using a shoulder-mount rig, the battery can double as a counterweight, and many camera operators mount their battery system behind the camera, helping to balance the rig. Mount your battery plate on the cheese plate, don’t forget the rod clamps if the cheese plate doesn’t have it built in, and you are all set. When shopping for your cheese plate, don’t forget the Zacuto Zwiss plate.

Zacuto Zwiss Plate V2

Battery Mounts

There are two standards when it comes to professional battery mounts, Gold-mount and V-mount. The Gold-mount was championed by Anton-Bauer and gained great acceptance in the electronic news gathering (ENG) ecosystem in the US. V-mount is a derivative of the V-lock camera mounting system, and is the more popular battery mount for large cameras outside the US. Though your camera may come with a specific battery plate, there is often a replacement plate available if you wish to permanently change from a V-mount to a Gold-mount or vice versa. There are also adapter plates that allow you to put a V-mount battery on a Gold-mount plate, or for putting a Gold-mount battery on a V-mount plate.

Anton Bauer V-Mount to Gold-Mount Adapter Plate for Sony F5/F55 CineAlta Cameras

Distribution Boxes

A popular choice these days are battery plates that also provide a variety of other functions. Available from many manufacturers these “Distro-Plates” (for want of a better term), differ from regular battery plates because they provide a variety of different outputs and not just a D-Tap, which depending on the plate or arrangement can range from 5 volt for USB devices; 7.2 volt, 12 volt, and 14.8 volt. The plates use a variety of professional sockets, and some plates are designed for use with specific cameras, while some are camera agnostic, mounting either on a cheese plate, rods, or on your camera’s battery mount. Wooden Camera has its D-Box; some of these distro-plates, Core SWX with its JetPack series, for example, also incorporate a small battery that allows you to swap batteries without having to power-down the camera, as long as you don’t take too long to change your batteries. All in all, these distro-plates can simplify your battery needs by using just one professional battery to power your camera and your accessories, as opposed to using a separate battery for each accessory.

Wooden Camera D-Box for RED DSMC2 Cameras

Consider well how your battery choices will impact your shooting style. Will you have enough crew to keep track of multiple batteries or battery types, or will you be better off with just a single battery type that you can use to power your camera and accessories? You may want to consider how your power and accessory needs may change as you do more work, and allow for the inevitable expansion you will need as you use more and more accessories. Whichever path you choose to powering your camera and accessories, I hope this article has been useful in helping you choose. Please feel free to share your own power solutions in the Comments section, below.

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