Does that sound like a commercial pitch? I’m sorry, I’m just trying to be creative with these articles and the idea of writing about batteries, or rechargeable, storable and portable power might not tick too many boxes for those of us looking for a humorous review on the latest, greatest camera gear.
With that said, I can’t even begin to count the times over the past few years that I’ve been frustrated by low shot volume lithium ion, camera batteries. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing technology, and the lifespan on many of these batteries is so far beyond what older batteries were, but with all the power hungry features in todays cameras, combined with the ever growing desire to see these machines not only become more powerful, but smaller and lighter, power is going to be compromised. Anyone shooting an Olympus EM5/10 or Sony alpha camera can relate, I’m sure.
Enter Goal Zero, a solution for those of us who travel, shoot in the field or enjoy having some of the creature comforts while out in the wild, wild world. A very cool company producing some very cool products. C’mon in to read and see more…
My experience with Goal Zero came about while shooting a demo weekend for outdoor retail store employees. Believe me when I say that these demo weekends are way, way cooler than I’m perhaps describing, and just know that if you happen to work at an outdoor retail store, and a distributor asks if you want to go out camping/climbing/hiking/boating/playing for the weekend to test gear, do it.
While at this demo weekend, one of the companies represented there was Goal Zero. Goal Zero is a company that started off by providing portable, rechargeable and storable solar power to remote and impoverished communities throughout the world. Because there are a great many folks, from all walks of life that can benefit from generating their own power, using nothing more than the sun, the idea took off and the company as it is now today, is further advancing and diversifying their offerings.
The Goal Zero system is pretty simple. Think of it as a two part process, capture and store. Capture the sun via one of their solar panels, and store that power in a battery/power pack. Simple. From there, you just need to determine the power draw that whatever you’re looking to power, will require.
Goal Zero also offers a ton of fun, outdoor accessories that seamlessly run off of their batteries, and/or directly from the solar panels. Speakers, lights and camp fans were all on hand for us to play with and enjoy. You can daisy chain many of their accessories (think string of lights, with a speaker, ending in a table top lamp/fan). Everything is built to be outside, and often impervious to the elements.
This was all fine and dandy, and while everyone there (well over a hundred folks) were constantly charging their phones or laptops, or benefitting from the Goal Zero lighting that entirely provided nighttime light for the camp, I was more interested in how these products would work for me as a photographer in the field.
I have seen the benefit of the Goal Zero products in two, somewhat specific ways in regards to photography. First, small and light. If you’re going to be out for a shorter period of time, or really only needing to power a couple things, there are smaller battery packs, called Sherpas which are relatively light, and are good to recharge lithium ion batteries, phones and even provide power for a laptop. Great if doing a long weekend trek.
If you’re going to be running a computer, shooting tethered, along with the other power needs for a remote shoot, the Yeti line might be more your target. You wouldn’t want to be carrying this around on your back for instance, but think of it as a possible replacement for a low power generator, while if hooked up to panels, and getting good sun, will run pretty solidly though out a day if the demo experience was any indicator. There were no fewer than two phones, constantly on these things all weekend, along with camera batteries being charged via the AC plugs, laptops running and while it did require a few panels to be feeding power to it to maintain, they handled it well.
Okay, a third, arguably intriguing option are the Flip10 or Flip20 products, which are about the size of a tube of lipstick or large pack of gum, respectively. I’ve been using the Flip20 to recharge my phone (which it will do my iphone about 3-4 times) on my recent work trip to the Netherlands. It requires a USB port to charge from, so you can do it via a computer, one of the Sherpa or Yeti power packs, or in my case, I used my iphone wall plug to recharge the Flip, and was good for the week.
Do any of you remember when I lambasted Sony earlier this year when the a7II came without a battery charger, requiring the battery to be charged in camera while the camera was off? Yeah, I still think that not providing an external battery charger is total horse bleep, but one very cool side note is that the alpha cameras can take advantage of this type of charger! A Flip 20 can charge the a7 series batteries in camera, in the field! Of course, you have to have the battery in the camera, and the camera turned off, so it isn’t a situation where Sony has enabled a nice, easy and constant power source for things like long exposures or anything, but if you want to travel light, and own a Sony alpha series camera, this Flip20 should be way up high on your wish list. They’re pretty cheap and when considering that it can be a literal lifeline if your phone goes dead, or you need to charge a camera battery while trekking in the bush, the extra ounces can usually be easily excused, especially when comparing the alternative.
So, from a photography standpoint, why Goal Zero? Well, if you’re a working pro, or eager enthusiast, the idea of portable, clean, rechargeable power should be an easy thing to determine whether or not it is useful to you. Do you shoot remotely, hike, work in outdoor sport or lifestyle? Do you shoot tethered to, or process images in the field on a laptop? To me, this is the perfect marriage.
How about the rest of us? Okay, have you ever considered carrying your “real” camera, only to have it left behind because didn’t want to carry the weight around and you figured your phone would be good enough? Was it? I’ve been there, and for me, no, my phone while decent, was no where near what I wished I’d had, and after a couple of those trips, I’ve never not brought my “real” cameras.
So, let’s say you want to bring those real cameras, what do you gain from a Goal Zero setup? Well, for one, you won’t need to travel back to civilization to charge your camera batteries or phones if you’re camping, hiking or staying somewhere without a reliable power source. If you’re camping, especially near where you will park your car, then absolutely, this setup makes sense to me. One of the Yetis, or Sherpa 100 would be ample. Run lights, a speaker for tunes, watch a movie on the laptop and charge your camera batteries and phones at the end of the day.
If you’re carrying everything on your back for a multi day trek, I think something like the Flip20 makes sense as battery storage for your phone, GoPro or GPS device, but if you’re trekking around big cameras, you might want to look at the Sherpa 50 for a little extra juice. Honestly, if you’re carrying everything with you from your tent to your gear, I think you’d be better off just buying a few extra batteries and bringing them fully charged as it would ultimately be less weight, but if you have a base of operations, having a rechargeable energy source there could be hugely beneficial.
After spending a weekend with a smattering of Goal Zero products, along with multiple solar arrays, and being a little bit treehuggerish in my hopes for my own use of power moving forward in this world, I really like the idea of harnessing something that is already there and not being fully utilized while not creating any further waste. Solar power is getting more and more efficient, and Goal Zero has done really well to provide rugged and useful tools to capture, convert and store this energy whether that be for photographic purposes, or as a backup when our Pacific region earthquake crumbles half of the US into the ocean, driving us into chaos where power and water will be our two most precious resources. While my tongue is halfway across my mouth, headed for the cheek here, it isn’t a bad idea to have some backup power, and if you can also use that to better equip yourself to take pictures while out in the beautiful world of ours, then all the better.
You can find all of the cool products, and read up about the company its history and philosophy at the Goal Zero website HERE. They do seem to be running some holiday sale specials right on the front page currently too.
I’m not affiliated in any way with Goal Zero, and had no plans to write about Goal Zero until I found out about them while taking images for an entirely different reason. I’ve since talked my way into borrowing some of their stuff, and really, really like it. They have not paid me, although it would be pretty sweet if they did, so know that my thoughts here are purely from my own, sleep deprived mind. I do really think that these products are cool, and could be very beneficial to those of us out shooting in the wild.
Get out and shoot more. It’s never a bad idea to adventure our way through life, unless your idea of adventure includes poisonous snakes or alligator rides or some bat crap crazy stuff like that. For that, you’re on your own, but for the benefit of the rest of us, it wouldn’t hurt to have a fully charged POV camera on to record your demise, you know, for posterity and internet virality.
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Thanks for the read, and happy shooting!