IMPORTANT! Tinkering with electricity is dangerous, and can be fatal to you or your gear if you don’t know what you’re doing. Instructions presented here are just broad suggestions and are not to be copied. Please consult a certified electrician or engineer for practical use. I’m not responsible if you follow my suggestions and something bad happens.
This chart isn’t intended to be accurate. Don’t use it to make your calculations. Please refer to the manufacturer’s documents.
Let’s start with Voltage
In electrical engineering, it is ‘traditional’ to keep the voltage constant, for two major reasons:
Firstly, current (flow of electrons/ions, rated in Amperes) is what drives or operates things. The more complicated the device, the more variable the current required will be.
Every electrical device will have a maximum current draw (maximum Ampere) rating. If more current than this flows through the circuitry, something is bound to blow. The major cause for this is the heat generated by current.
Secondly, you need a way to make devices work in tandem. By having a constant factor like voltage makes it easy for engineers to design objects that will work with the same power supply. This is how alternating current (AC) was designed, and the tradition has trickled down to all consumer devices, including batteries.
Fortunately, there are only two major AC standards:
- 220-240V, 50 Hz
- 110V, 60 Hz
Every camera in this guide comes with an AC adapter to run the camera, so why not use it?
Rule of thumb: If you’re indoors, and don’t need a mobile setup, aim to supply power through AC.
The adapter that connects to your camera offers some degree of protection, but not if there’s a lightning strike or a surge in current. For this, you’ll be wise to carry a surge protector/extension cord:
For extension cords that provide surge protection to many kinds of ports, I use Belkin exclusively. Aim for a 80 Plus Silver or Gold Rated device, which offers excellent protection with good efficiency. Some of these surge protectors come with a lifetime warranty and insurance against damage.
If you’re in an area with non-uniform or unreliable AC power, I strongly recommend a UPS from APC:
A UPS has the benefit of supplying power to the system until the mains is back on again. The higher the rating of the UPS, the more time you get. This is a crucial backup to have when powering devices that are recording while the power is cut. If the supply is cut mid-way, you might lose critical information.
If you’re traveling internationally, or working with devices that have been sourced from countries with different AC systems, then you will need a travel adapter or a voltage converter (transformer).
For a general adapter that will take both voltages, try the Kensington International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter:
This adapter can take about 250 Watts so your camera gear is covered.
Two other adapters are the Targus World Power Travel Adapter and the Travel Smart By Conair with Surge Protection.
If you need more wattage, then a simple adapter won’t do. For that you’ll need a step-up or step-down (depending on which way you are traveling) transformer, like the VT-1500 Step Up and Down Voltage Converter Transformer.
Even if you’re planning on using batteries exclusively, don’t think you can escape working with AC! You still need to charge your batteries using the mains, so don’t take AC protection lightly.
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself working in factories or industrial sites with a 3-phase connection. You should get in touch with the electrician on-site to get a single-phase supply.
If one isn’t available, there is a quick workaround. Caution! This is extremely dangerous and please don’t attempt it without professional help!
Switch off the supply and isolate the circuit by turning off the breaker. Remove the socket and you’ll find four wires – 3 for each phase and the neutral. In a country with strict electrical regulations the neutral will be clearly marked. Pick any phase and neutral and connect it to a regular single-phase socket. Let me repeat, this is dangerous if the circuit isn’t completely turned off and isolated. When in doubt, use an industrial grade tester or multimeter, and wear shock-proof shoes like the ones Caterpillar makes.
How to begin selecting an electrical device
The voltage is the center of the universe. Find a device that matches the voltage rating of your gear.
From the above chart you’ll notice that most cameras have a range of acceptable DC voltages, like the BMCC which accepts 12V to 30V. If you’re looking for batteries to power your camera, you’ll need to first isolate those models that are rated to work within this voltage range.
Sometimes you’ll find a battery with, let’s say 7.4V, but the rated voltage for batteries is 7.2V. Other times a battery system is rated for 14.4V but your gear is rated for 12V.
Even if a manufacturer specifies a voltage of 7.2V, there is usually a tolerance range so 7.4V might work without issues. However, only the manufacturer can confirm that, so ask them. Of course they won’t reply to your emails, and phone support is non-existent. What do you do?
You could buy a voltage regulator like the Elenco Variable Voltage Power Supply Kit:
This kit can output DC voltage from 1.25V to 15V, and that covers every camera in this guide. The input is 120 V AC.
A handy tool to have: Multimeter
One tool to always have in hand, whether you’re dealing with AC or DC devices, is a multimeter:
Here’s a video that explains how multimeters work:
Next, we’ll look at how to select batteries for your gear.