Digital Camera Battery is about to flip the switch on production of a high-capacity Lithium Polymer (LiPoly) version of their portable power source for driving cameras, flashes and other DC-powered devices. The new model, however, is shaping up to be more than just the existing Digital Camera Battery with different chemistry under the hood. The Florida-based company has redesigned the pack to be modular, to give more feedback on charge status and to enable linking multiple batteries together for increased run-time.
And, by utilizing LiPoly cells, Digital Camera Battery has been able to about double the capacity of existing models in its current NiMH-based lineup without increasing the size or weight. The first LiPoly battery from the company, dubbed the Digital Camera Battery 80 Watt LiP, is expected to ship as soon as the end of January 2006.
The most obvious change in the LiPoly Digital Camera Battery is its modular design. Unlike existing NiMH models, the battery and electronics are housed in separate, connectable modules. In developing the LiPoly version, says Digital Camera Battery's Tim Dodge, the company had several design goals, including making the whole system more flexible and adaptable. By building the battery into one module and the electronics (including on/off switch, charge status light and connector ports) into another, says Dodge, they've taken the first step towards achieving that.
For instance, this new design enables a photographer to purchase one 2X-DCB Module and several battery modules, and while using one battery connected to one 2X-DCB Module, have the other batteries charging or otherwise waiting to replace the battery in use once it's spent. The 2X-DCB Module will also be compatible with future battery offerings, including two larger, ultrahigh-capacity packs that the company is developing for release later in 2006. The packs will have connectors for multiple modules, which will enable them to power several DC devices at the same time.
The 2X-DCB Module (the only electronics module to be available initially) incorporates two connector ports that are identical to those on the existing NiMH packs. It utilizes the same cables, is compatible with the same range of DC-powered devices and will allow for the same flash recycling times. The charge status indicator has been revamped, however. It's now one light, down from three, but it actually will provide more information on the state of the battery. The LED will glow green at 100-50% capacity, yellow at 49%-20% and red at 19% to shutoff (the thresholds may be subject to some final tweaking before shipment, says Dodge, but should be at or near these values).
Both the battery and the 2X-DCB Module are in a high-temperature urethane housing; gone is the sleek aluminum shell of the NiMH models. The materials switch, says Dodge, was made in part because of high-temperature urethane's superior insulating properties. This, he says, will markedly improve battery performance in cold weather. We've not seen the high-temperature urethane housing for ourselves (our only glimpse at the product has been several CAD drawings, including the one shown below), so it's hard to say whether the new shell design is going to feel as durable. The 2X-DCB Module and battery (the first one to ship will be rated at 80 watts) together are almost the identical dimensions and heft as the existing 40 watt NiMH model. In fact, they share the same soft-sided case (model DCB4002).
CAD drawing of 80 Watt LiP
Dodge is tight-lipped about what other electronics modules are on the drawing board, though he promises the company will ship at least one other module in 2006.
Power to the People
Utilizing LiPoly inside the new Digital Camera Battery brings about several advantages, says Dodge. First, the new chemistry enables a battery with twice the capacity at about the same size and weight, relative to NiMH. As noted above, the first LiPoly pack to ship will be an 80 watt model, but when mated to the 2X-DCB Module will be about the same size and weight as the 40 watt NiMH unit. LiPoly also holds a charge much better over days, weeks and months, making it a better choice for remote, longer-term installations and the chemistry can handle more charge-discharge cycles before battery capacity begins to drop off noticeably.
The only apparent disadvantage is cost: an 80 Watt LiP kit with charger, module and soft case will be roughly US$100-150 more than a similarly-outfitted 80 Watt NiMH kit, and roughly double the price of a 40 Watt NiMH kit. We'll talk more about pricing later in the article; for now, it's important to understand that Digital Camera Battery's new LiPoly offering isn't going to be cheap.
The company is also planning a 160-watt version of the LiPoly Digital Camera Battery, which will have twice the capacity of the 80-watt model and be double the length as well. No date has been set for its release.
Getting Charged Up
The 80 Watt LiP will ship with a single charger capable of topping up a fully-depleted pack in about 4 hours, says Dodge. The LiPoly battery module sports two charging ports on its side, however, which enables two chargers to be connected simultaneously for a 2-hour full-charge time (each charger takes care of charging half the cells inside in this case). It's also possible to charge multiple batteries off one charger, though with an increase in the total charge time. For example, two spent batteries mated to one charger will take about 8 hours to replenish. And, as the charging occurs simultaneously, not sequentially, both batteries won't be fully-charged until the 8 hours are up.
The charger itself will be somewhat modular, as it's comprised of a 12-24VDC output adapter that can be powered by either a standard automotive DC cable or a worldwide AC power supply. It features two power input connectors, one for DC input power (via a cigarette lighter adapter, for example) and the other for AC input power. Existing AC chargers are to be compatible with the LiPoly system as well.
The charging ports on the LiPoly battery pack itself can be used for more than charging the battery. They can also be used to link multiple batteries together for increased run-time. For example, two 80 Watt LiP packs connected via an accessory cable (one with right angle connectors is planned to help streamline this linkage) will deliver almost the identical capacity to a dedicated 160 watt pack, says Dodge. And unlike the current NiMH models, the LiPoly models have been designed to be fully-functional while plugged in for charging, without draining the LiPoly cells. In other words, the charger can act as a LiPoly battery bypass, enabling an external AC power source (i.e. a wall plug), a car's DC power or even a standalone 12V battery (such as a marine or wheelchair battery) to provide the juice to the LiPoly's connected electronics module, when it's switched on.
More to Come
Once the 80 Watt LiP is out the door, the company will begin gearing up to ship several other new products in the months ahead. These include the aforementioned 160 Watt LiP. Also in the works is the 400 Watt Pb, a sealed lead-acid pack that will accept multiple electronics modules to power a whack of compatible devices at the same time. At about 30 pounds, you won't be carrying this clipped to your belt. It's intended for more-stationary use.
They're also working on an 800-watt sealed lead-acid pack that will accept multiple electronics modules for DC-powered devices, just like the 400 Watt Pb, but it will incorporate a high-wattage output pure sine wave AC inverter for powering studio strobes also. The combination of all that capacity and an inverter capable of quick recycling times even with powerful studio strobes will add up to a beefy package, perhaps in the 60 pound range, says Dodge. But for photographers needing a lot of location AC and DC power, Digital Camera Battery's upcoming 800-watt gorilla could be an enticing new power option. The company has not set pricing on these future products.
The company is also evaluating whether to make a 40-watt version of the LiPoly battery, to potentially enable a smaller overall pack and lower the cost of entry to their new modular system. No decision has been made on whether to develop a 40 Watt LiP, however, says Dodge. Our recommendation? If you like the idea of a more compact, less expensive but still powerful LiPoly Digital Camera Battery, tell the company. We already have!
Buying the 80 Watt LiP
We're big fans of Digital Camera Battery products: multiple units of their 30 Watt NiMH (and later, the 40 Watt NiMH) plus a gaggle of cables and other accessories have seen heavy use here in the past 4+ years, mostly to recycle Canon and Nikon shoe-mount flashes and Dyna-Lite's Uni400JR. They've also been pressed into service to power Canon and Nikon digital SLRs in remote setups and to help keep laptops glowing on long overseas flights. While not perfect, the Digital Camera Battery has been the best DC external power source we've ever used, and we're excited to see the company growing their product line, starting with the modular 80 Watt LiP.
Digital Camera Battery has begun to take pre-orders for the 80 Watt LiP, for shipment direct from the company. At US$700, the new pack isn't going to be for everyone. That price includes an 80-watt battery pack, one 2X-DCB Module, one 4-hour charger and a padded carrying case. Though the Digital Camera Battery online store doesn't yet list the prices for these items separately, Dodge estimates that the 80-watt battery pack itself will be about US$400, the 2X-DCB module will be about US$200 and the 4-hour charger about US$200. Purchasing the components separately, says Dodge, will become possible once production is in full swing and the company is able to build up some inventory of each item.
The order page currently lists the 80 Watt LiP as shipping at the end of January 2006, though Dodge indicates that, as of this writing, anyone who hasn't already pre-ordered won't see their pack shipped until the beginning of February 2006 at the earliest. It's possible to pre-order the 80 Watt LiP through a Digital Camera Battery dealer, though Dodge made it clear that dealer stock will trail initial shipments direct from the company by several weeks at least. He also noted that the NiMH models will continue to be manufactured and sold.
For more information on Digital Camera Battery, see our June 8, 2001 article entitled Digital Camera Battery powers cameras, flashes and more.
• Added more information on the charging system and availability (January 6, 2006)