The perfect, portable camera, battery & audio storage? (Part 2 – camera / batteries)
We’d been guilty of repeatedly facing any cameraman’s worst nightmare with the lack of organisation in our camera storage. We’ve moved recently from doing most of our filming in one location to being out and about with it a lot more. So our storage hadn’t grown to accommodate that and we felt we needed a good portable camera storage solution. One issue we kept coming up against was battery management. We’ve accrued quite a lot of batteries over the years so there was no excuse for not having power other than just not planning and organising it well enough. So it all just needed a bit of what we usually do best… organisation! portable camera battery charging camera storage portable camera camera storage battery charging
What containers will we organise the kit into?
This is a bit of a monster project as we have so much kit. We really wanted to be smart about the way we do it. So we’ve selected a Nuprol case for the camera equipment and a Powerextra backpack for the audio kit. You’ll find a lot more background and detail on how and why these were selected here. Also there, we go into more detail about the principles and methodology behind our planned upgrade.
Our camera kit
Our cameras are Panasonic GH5’s and we use after-market batteries to go in these, from Dura Pro. It’s oddly more cost-effective to buy these in twin packs that come with a charger. So over the years we’ve ended up with quite a lot of ‘spare’ chargers. This seemed a waste, which is not what we’re about. But now, we’ve come up with a plan to put them to good use. portable camera battery charging camera storage
Battery charging station
To get our battery solution in place, we got a number of Sabrent 4-port USB data hubs. These are great as they extend 1 USB port to 4 with 4 individual power switches. This means when one battery port shows that the batteries are fully charged, you can switch off the power to that individual charger. Brilliantly, there is a battery level display on the charging unit too. Therefore we can see once one set are fully charged and use the switch to power off.
We also have the ability to be able to charge these batteries in two ways. Either through the power switch via a battery power bank, or traditional mains power. But obviously before we mounted all the parts and fitted it into the case we needed to ensure that our theory would work! So, we did a test run, and it worked even better than we’d hoped. So now, we were ready to go!
As a mobile solution, the USB battery chargers which are connected to the data hubs will be powered via a Satechi power bank. This offers us a whopping 50,000 milliamp hours. This would typically come with a figure-of-8 lead but for this project we replaced this with our own Retrak retractable figure-of-8 lead. Ours has a fold-out UK mains power plug at one end and a mains power adapter lead at the other end. This will just make it a little neater for us to cut into the storage nice and neatly. This will then run into the mains power adapter. Ours is a 20 watt adapter with a fast charge function (3 amp rather than just 2.4). This connects to the power bank via a micro USB.
Planning the layout of the case
Due to the way the case can be pulled along as an alternative to being carried, we needed to give some real thought as to what went where within the case.
For this we decided to put the camera gear closer to the ground / wheels. That way, if the case was dropped when being moved, the delicate lenses and cameras etc would be closer to the ground. But additionally, all the cameras and associated kit are a lot heavier than the lighter batteries etc. So positioning this way makes it easier and more balanced to pull along. portable camera battery charging camera storage
Creating the battery charging function
We first cut down a piece of Melamine to the size we wanted it for the battery section. Then, we had to add radiuses on two of the corners so it would fit perfectly into the Nuprol case. That was fairly easy to do after marking out the radius with our stencil set.
Next, we also took a set of our Nuprol large case inserts, custom made to fit in these cases. They come in packs of two with a 50mm sheet and a 30mm sheet included. We plan to use the 30mm layer in the lid and put our logo in it. The 50mm bottom sheet will sit beneath where the Melamine was going to lie. First, we cut a whole section off in the size of the battery station we’re making. Then, we took a section of about 30mm depth from what we’d cut off. By cutting an aperture right through it, we could position it beneath the Melamine to give space for our cables and aid airflow too.
Lastly, got this part, we drilled holes through the board so the cables for the chargers etc could be fed through. By using hot glue we could stick the apparatus onto the board for a firm attachment.
We used a Dymo labeller to number each switch to it’s corresponding charging station. This just means we can see one set is charged we can switch off that individual charger unit to save power.
The whole 16 battery set up can now be used to charge either through the mains or via the battery. And it cost around £245 in total. We feel that’s worth every penny in terms of saving time and never losing footage through no power.
Using the foam to store the cameras and lenses
As we always say when Shadowfoaming, planning is key. Usually sorting out as much of the layout as we could at this stage would be really important. We did also have to think on the hoof a little with this project though. Especially given the depth and shapes of some of the items we wanted to store. The first and main thing we wanted to cut in was our Panasonic GH5 in it’s small rig housing with it’s handle already on. It made sense to store it in the foam rigged and ready to go rather than dismantled. This will be a lot more time efficient when we’re out on shoots.
Our other camera and lenses can then be fit around that. Along with some small tins that we picked up which are really useful for storing small items like lint cloths, SD cards etc. Additionally we’ve put things like cables into some soft zipped cases to make them easier to cut into the foam.
So we have our foam and our cutting kit (containing our all important safety gloves). And with a rough idea what’s going where, now it’s time to begin cutting.
No sooner had we started than we hit a snag! But not an insurmountable one. With the depth and varying circumference of our lenses and also the fact that the small rig handle on the camera wouldn’t be in the foam at the depth it was, we needed to make some adjustment. Luckily we were able to use the remainder of the piece of foam we’d removed from the other end where the Melamine now sat. We attached it to the top of the existing foam using our spray adhesive. This meant that we could go a lot deeper into the foam. Now we can house the lenses much more securely and also ensure the full camera rig was secure in the foam.
So, with that done we could continue with the cutting and peeling process to house the rest of the kit. It’s always worth re-familiarising yourself with the best techniques for peeling the foam before starting your own project. Plus, for this job we also brought in the additional level of refinement that our smoothing foam spinners bring.
Just one of our lenses ended up being too tall, even when cut all the way into the foam. That was easy to fix too by cutting a corresponding hole in the top layer of foam. So now it would actually be protected by both the top and bottom layers. Important when the lenses are such expensive pieces of equipment!
In the end we were also able to include a full size, fold-up Sirui tripod. This will be super convenient and means one less thing to worry about bringing separately or forgetting!
All that remained then was to put our signature stamp on things. As always we hand cut the Shadow foam logo into the foam in the lid of the case. We did this just using a printed paper template cut a shallow outline through that. Then removing the top black layer shows our logo in the reveal. It’s really eyecatching with the pop of the red foam beneath it. You can replicate this yourself with any branding or personalisation you want to add to your own storage. We have more details and inspiration on that for you here.
So, here’s the finished result… what do you think?
Of course, the next step in the project will be sorting out the storage for the audio gear. Camera kit isn’t complete without all the mics etc that we use with this portable camera kit. So that project is coming up very soon so do look out for it