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!