Sunday, February 20, 2011

No-solder external battery solution for GH-2

One of the few downsides of the otherwise amazing Panasonic GH2 hybrid camera is the limited life of the factory battery. At 1200mAh, it stores less energy than the battery in the camera it replaces, the GH1. To make matters worse, Panasonic decided not to include an AC power adapter with the GH2 -- an accessory that was standard with the GH1. And spare batteries have been hard to get, since battery production is just now starting to catch up with demand.

As a result, some GH2 users have complained of being a little power-starved, especially those traveling in remote places or pros who use the camera for day-long event shooting.

It's not surprising, then, that people have started to come up with their own solutions (like Phil Hover's GH2 Custom Battery Solution). Phil, of Soar Productions, has put together a battery pack with about 50Ah of storage (!) for the GH2 using a lithium polymer battery pack from the RC vehicle world. This thing stores so much energy that the limit on video shot time becomes the size of your SD card!

Sadly for those (like me) who are not very handy with a soldering iron, Phil's idea requires a soldered connection between the battery pack and the DC Power Plug and Cable that connects to the GH2's DMW-DCC8 DC Coupler ($14.95 from Adorama). So I needed another solution.

Fortunately, my personal solution was already in my laptop bag. I've been using an old lithium-ion Duracell Powersource Mobile 100 for a couple of years to power laptops and cell phones on the road. Why not use it to provide mobile AC power to the GH2 through the DCC8? At 4Ah, it wasn't going to provide the marathon power of the li-poly, but it was the equivalent of 3+ of the GH2's battery packs -- plenty for a day long shoot and much more than I need. So, following Phil's example, I bought a third party Universal AC/DC Adapter for Digital Cameras ($25 from Amazon), switched it to the 8.4V setting, and plugged it into the DCC8:

Then I replaced the GH2's battery with the DCC8:

...and then plugged it into the little Duracell. It worked! No soldering required!

Since the Duracell is now out of production, if I were doing this from scratch, I'd get the Black & Decker 20W watt Power-to-Go AC Power Supply ($45 from Amazon).

So, for a total of about $90, you can have the equivalent of 3 GH2 batteries -- and shoot all day without battery changes. Not bad.

Or, if you happen to have one of the old Black & Decker VPX power tools, you can convert its battery output from DC to AC for about $16 with a VPX inverter. If you don't have VPX power tools, the standalone battery pack and charger are only about $50. So, you can buy the external equivalent of a GH2 battery for $66 -- and it's available now (as long as supplies last - the VPX has been discontinued).

This really makes GH2 power a non-issue. And with external batteries, you can swap out packs without taking the camera off the tripod. More power to the people!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Using the Zoom H1 recorder as an external mic for the GH2

24 bit, 96kHz sound was once the sole province of professional sound recordists. Today, anyone with $99 and a Zoom H1 recorder can record high quality sound for motion pictures or broadcast. These new recorders are also small -- small enough to consider using them as "dual-purposed" recorder/microphones for the new high-def hybrid still/video cameras.

Several people have asked me questions about this -- how to set the Zoom's mic input levels, for example, so I've put together a little how-to to show how my setup works. I hope you find it useful.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Welcome to the Revolution

Until now, it cost many thousands of dollars to get "film like" quality on the screen. When I was in film school 30+ years ago, "budget" indie narratives and docs were shot on 16mm cameras that cost $1000s (which was real money in the '70s). Renting a 35mm Arri BL or Panaflex was out of the question for the ordinary person. Clean sound? Forget it, unless you could afford a Nagra and a good sound person. Lights? Lenses? The story was the same. Unless you wanted to go into the film or TV businesses (and most likely starve), there was no way to tell motion picture stories to large numbers of people without mortgaging your house. I'm not going to go into the whole boring history of how it happened, but many people are now realizing that today, they can put high definition, shallow depth of field images and clean 24-bit sound out to millions of people for less than one month's rent.

So -- millions of people can now tell their stories with high-def video. So what? Some will say that this just means increasing the resolution of the hours of unwatchable garbage already on the screen.

But, many others believe that it also the dawn of a revolutionary new era in which millions of new voices with something worthwhile to say are empowered to tell stories that the world would otherwise not have heard.

I choose to believe the latter -- and the purpose of this blog is to share ideas on how new technology can help to make that revolution happen.

With apologies to Gil-Scott Heron -- this revolution will be televised.