Seeing as last Photo Friday Sunday was only a quick one, I’ve decided to follow it up with another photography related post – this time dedicated to shooting in cold weather, especially long exposures, time lapses or simply what to do if you want to take your camera out in the cold for a prolonged period of time, and not worry about running out of battery.
I use a Nikon D200 camera with original Nikon MB-D200 battery grip. This lets me use two standard EN-EL3e batteries instead of just one, which especially in cold weather gives me a bit of extra time on batteries.
I also carry with me a second set of two EN-EL3e batteries, usually in an inside pocket of my down jacket to keep them warm. This way I can swap them around when the ones in the camera get cold, put them in my jacket to warm up and use the warm ones in the camera. By swapping the batteries like that, I can go through a week long winter trip and still be able to take pictures every day. The camera does struggle a bit towards the end of each day, especially if I use VR (Vibration Reduction) in my lenses, due to the cold, but it’s OK for just standard pictures.
What I did have a problem with, pretty much since arriving to Antarctica, is long exposures or several hours long time lapses. The best I was able to get out of my camera is about 3000 frames taken every second, which when assembled together at 25 frames per hour give me about 2 minutes of a time lapse movie. Not bad, but I’d like to do better than that.
Please note, what I’m about to tell you below, you can do at your own risk only. I won’t be responsible if you fry your camera. If you’re not comfortable with it, DON’T DO IT.
What I came up with after a bit of research online and talking to my fellow winterers (some of whom are working here with me as electronics engineers) is to use a 12 Volt 7.2Ah external battery pack (I personally used one of the APC UPS battery packs), two wires, a fuse with a fuse holder and some connectors to make it all work. The original Nikon DC power supply for the D200 is rated 13.5V 3A so it’s fairly close (and further tests show that 12V seems to be sufficient for the camera to operate).
How I made the cable
The first step was to try to figure out how to connect the external battery to my camera. It turns out Nikon D200 already has an external DC power socket. While it uses a proprietary, impossible to get (especially in Antarctica) connector with a weird enough shape, the socket itself has three pins, but only two of those are in use. On the picture below it’s the bottom one (which is Ground and I use a black wire to connect it to the minus (—) terminal on the battery) and the middle one (which is VDC, and I use the red wire to connect it to the plus (+) terminal on the battery).
I didn’t make an actual plug for the cable end that goes into the camera, instead I used two of micro plugs like the one below. These are similar to a single 0.1 inch female header receptor, similar to ones you can find on some of the PC mother boards to connect the LED’s or front panels to them.
I’ve put two of those on my cable, one on the red wire and one on the black one. It turns out these fit the pins in the Nikon D200 camera perfectly if a bit snugly.
I then put some heat shrink on the cable near the plugs and simply connected them each to its respective pin in the camera.
As the red wire is the one carrying the voltage to the camera, I’ve installed a 1A fuse in the fuse holder on the positive wire. Normally the camera uses around 0.3A when on, and around 0.6A when on long exposure, so a 1A fuse should be OK. The original power supply is actually rated to 3 Amp, I will however shoot at much lower temperatures than the typical user and also the fuses don’t blow instantly when there’s a higher current going through them, so it’s a good idea to have the lower rated fuse. It’s a little bit of an experiment now to be honest as to which one works best, so I’ll leave the 1A fuse in for now and see what happens.
The final piece of the puzzle was to connect the battery to the cable.
My plan is to put the battery into a dry bag (similar to the ones used in water sports or in caving to keep the content dry) and hang the bag on my tripod. This will add a little bit of weight to the whole setup, making the tripod a bit more stable, and at the same time keep the battery nice out of the way. The cables are just the right length for this. On the pictures below, you can see first the camera with the battery just standing on the ground, and then with the battery inside the red dry bag.
The added bonus to the setup is that when the external battery is connected to my camera, I can take the normal batteries out of the grip and put them in the pocket to warm them all up, to allow me to take pictures with greater mobility, while this setup is perfect for more stationary use (think panoramas, time lapse, long exposure).
Now all I need to do is to get out and actually try it out!
Sprytne, ale noszenie akumulatora …. trochę to uciązliwe; choć na statywie to może być rozwiązanie, szczególnie w takich ekstremalnych warunkach
Great idea! So, how did it go? I have a D200 as well and am looking for a similar solution.
Thanks a lot for your message. It does work fine, I’ve tested it out last week taking pictures and a time lapse of the lunar eclipse. The only thing I need to be careful with is for the connectors not to slip off the pins in the DC in socket on the camera. When it gets cold, I think the pins shrink a bit making the connectors sitting on them very loosely and it’s really easy for them to slip off. It probably won’t be so much of an issue for you if you’re not shooting at -30°C or below, but I need to come up with a better system of securing the connector; I’ll probably try to make a proper plug. There are some non-Nikon DC chargers out there on ebay and other sites (which should be much cheaper than the original Nikon one, which makes taking a plug off those a bit less of a pain), but being in Antarctica means I can’t get one of those until at least the end of the year, so it’s not really an option for me. It might be for you though!
thoe small pins remind me PC speaker connection to the old mother board, where did you get it from?
Any way I see you have excelent equipment in base. (those warm band covers)
Nice work !
For a proper power connection to the D200 you can use a Nikon EH-6 mains power adaptor (or a cheap third party unit) which will have the right connector. Simply cut the cable and add suitable connectors for the battery (cable). If you use the same connectors for the mains end, the unit is still usable as a mains adaptor should the need arise.
Thanks for that – I’ll have a look at this idea when I get back to the real world. At the moment, being in Antarctica, I can’t nip out to the shop and buy one!
A great idea, not so portable but ideal for timelapse. I use a portable car starter powertank myself but its mainly for the telescope mount, although it powers the Canon (sorry…) also.
Have read your solution with interest as I have done the same thing although I use the proprietary Nikon DC connector into the side DC receptacle. My question is …are you finding you have to still have to have a battery (batteries with MB200 grip) to keep the camera functioning. I use my D200 on a 30m Mast but have found that the camera depletes the battery power even when the d.c. supply is connected and the camera and my software program show the power to be coming from the d.c. supply. Once the batteries go flat nothing works even though everything indicates the d.c. is still connected and has sufficient power. Unfortunately Nikon don’t know the reason why either??
I would be interested in your experience.
I don’t use the D200 anymore and I don’t have it with me here in Antarctica, unfortunately, so I won’t be able to test this for you. My D200 had an issue with a shutter mechanism which would “jam” and not close fully. In warmer climate it was just mildly annoying (it would do that on the first frame shot, after which for several hours it would work fine), but in the cold, the issue was much worse and the camera would stop working after about an hour.
I don’t believe I had to use the Nikon batteries in the grip when the external battery was connected. I did keep the battery in, but that’s most likely because my connector was very flimsy – I think with the proper Nikon connector I would have tried not to have the batteries in at all. I couldn’t also be sure whether the camera depletes battery power from the Nikon batteries, as I was generally shooting in very low temperatures (-30°C and lower) and the battery would go flat just because of the cold.
Have you tried using the camera with only the external battery connected, and taking the Nikon batteries out? How about if you take the grip off? Is it the original Nikon grip or one of the aftermarket ones?
Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!
Almost exactly 3 year old post, but thank you for sharing that.
I have a small scooter battery (5Ah) for now. Its a bit more than 3 times the capacity of a normal EN-EL3e.
All I need now is a fuse and a proper connector.
Glad I could help and that this information is still relevant! Good luck with the wiring!
Thanks so much for sharing that. I was wanting a solution to enable me to use a D200 as a time-lapse camera for a construction project but I needed a battery that would last up to 2 weeks. I followed all your instructions to the letter and it worked first time. Loose leads will be less of an issue for me as the camera will be mounted in a box in a fixed position throughout. You can buy all the components in Maplin part from the connectors which were quite hard to find. They are called ‘Crimp Connector Housing: 0.1 inch pitch 1-Pin 25-Pack’ and I was able to get these from http://www.hobbytronics.co.uk. No soldering need. Nice snug fit just as you described.
Thanks a lot for your feedback, I’m glad you find the information useful! I’m also glad everything worked for you!
I have since upgraded my camera and no longer use the D200, but it’s great to know this is still relevant to other people.
what’s the thing you have installed between the cables that are plugged into the camera and the cables that are going to the battery
It’s a fuse. I don’t exactly remember the parameters, but it was there just to prevent blowing up the camera electronics in case the battery provided too much current.
Hope that helps!