Anton/Bauer Tandem 150 Modular Power System
COW Library : Field Production : Helmut Kobler : Anton/Bauer Tandem 150 Modular Power System
These days, full-frame cameras and 3D rigs get plenty of attention, but camera power supplies and battery chargers? Well, not so much. But Anton/Bauer's Tandem 150 ($995 list) should be an exception. It's one of those rare products that can make a daily difference in a shooter's workflow, thanks to its ability to power a camera or charge a battery in just about any situation.
The Tandem 150 is a single-battery charger and camera power supply. It consists of two components--the head unit, called the QR-TM, and a power brick, called the PSU-150. The head unit is about the size of a small AB battery, like the Dionic 90, and weights .65 of a pound. The bar-shaped power supply is almost 2 pounds, including about 13 feet of cordage, but you can still easily stuff the whole enchilada into a camera bag pocket, large jacket pocket, etc.
Tandem Charge Head
So far, this sounds a lot like Anton/Bauer's Tandem 70 power supply/charger, which is also small and lightweight (smaller and lighter, actually, because the 70 doesn't need a 2 pound power supply). But the Tandem 150 can do a lot more…
Simultaneous Power Supply & Battery ChargerFirst, unlike the Tandem 70, the Tandem 150 doesn't act as a camera power supply OR a battery charger. Instead, the 150 is both, at the same time. You can attach the 150 to the back of your camera, and power it up to 75 watts, WHILE also charging a depleted AB battery, at full speed.
I'm sure plenty of shooters can see the benefit here. Personally, I've been in plenty of situations where I shoot b-roll in the field (ie, on battery power), then head indoors for an interview, then back out for b-roll, then indoors again for an interview. Normally, with the Tandem 70 or any other Anton/Bauer power supply/charger, I could use those indoor interviews to power the camera from a wall socket, but I'd still have no opportunity to replenish the battery(s) I had already used. On a busy day, that kind of work can catch up with you.
Tandem on Camera
With the Tandem 150, you have a chance to replenish those spent batteries over the course of the day. As a test, I attached the Tandem 150 to the back of a P2 Varicam (HPX2700, with a 42 watt draw), which was also powering a small Lectrosonics SR receiver and a Panasonic 7.9" BT-LH80WU field monitor (via the Varicam's D-tap, although the Tandem 150 has its own d-tap, too). While the Tandem powered this gear, I took a completely depleted Dionic HC battery, and attached it to the Tandem's backside. As the camera and monitor ran, it took the fan-less Tandem about two hours and forty minutes to completely recharge the HC battery (the Tandem uses a flashing red and green LED to tell you that the battery's charging, and another light goes solid green when it's finished). That's actually about a half hour faster than a Tandem 70 charger would need, as well as my bigger 4-battery Tandem Quad charger, since both of those chargers work at 70 watts, versus the 150's 75. Pretty cool!
There's just one potential hitch, though I doubt most shooters will ever have to worry about it: The simultaneous power supply/battery charger works as long as the Tandem's power supply doesn't have to power more than 75 watts of gear (my Varicam, Lectrosonics receiver and field monitor came in under that). If your gear load goes over 75 watts, the Tandem will simply act as a beefy 150 watt power supply, with no simultaneous battery charging.
Car Charger/Power SupplyAnother talent of the Tandem 150 is that you can power it off of your car's cigarette lighter, by attaching the Tandem's QR-TM head to an optional cable, called the CA-TMCL ($195 list).
Before the Tandem, charging a battery in the car meant buying AB's clunky 375 Inverter, and then plugging a conventional charger into that, creating awkward chain of boxes and cables. Now, the Tandem plugs right into your cigarette lighter (no need to bring along the unit's power supply, either), and acts as a 75watt charger. That means it will charge a battery faster than most conventional chargers, with a Dionic HC needing about 2.5 hours.
Tandem charging in a car
Of course, not many shooters will spend 3 hours in their car at a time, but, as you drive from one location to another, being able to add 25% or 50% charge to a battery can definitely come in handy. Also, if you're shooting in the field, you can always hand the Tandem 150 to a PA or producer who's heading off to do some errands. By the time they come back with lunch, you've got another 45 minutes of battery life.
I should note, also, that you can power you camera (up to 75 watts) off the Tandem's car charger as well. The CA-TMCL cable is 6 feet long, which is enough to reach outside the car's cabin to your tripod.
One more thing: in case you're only interested in using the Tandem as a car charger (or solar charger, see below), you can buy the Tandem's QR-TM charge head separately, and skip the PSU-150 power brick. It's a way to save a few hundred dollars, if you really don't think you'll need the Tandem's simultaenous power supply/charger feature.
Solar Panel ChargerBut the real stand-out of the Tandem 150's universe is its optional 60 watt solar panel ($1695 list). There's nothing like among any battery chargers I'm aware of, and it gives shooters operating out in the middle of nowhere a ton more flexibility for charging up their cameras.
But the real stand-out of the Tandem 150's universe is its optional 60 watt solar panel.
When it's packed up, the panel has a very small, light footprint -- ie, it's less than a square foot across, a little more than an inch thick, and weighs about 3 pounds. But the panel folds out to a sizable 5x3.5" rectangle. You can lay it on the ground, or tie it to a frame, c-stands, the roof of your truck, or whatever else, using the built-in rings sown around its edge. On the panel's side is a locking cable that plugs into the Tandem's charger head (again, no need to bring along the Tandem's bigger brick). Just put the solar panel in direct sun, attach the charger, plug in a battery, and you'll notice the Tandem's charge light start blinking away (with one caveat, see below).
It's easy to get excited about a 100% green battery charger, but you should temper your expectations a bit. A best-case scenario will see the solar panel charge a 90watt Dionic HC battery in about 3.5 hours, and that's with a strong overhead sun soaking the entire panel. Obviously, not everyone will have this best-case scenario. For me, I tested the panel in late January in Los Angeles, on a sunny day, but with the winter sun low in the sky. Under those conditions, it took about four hours and 10 minutes before I saw the Tandem's green light go solid, letting me know the battery was finished. Also, I had to move the panel three times during the charge, since the moving sun kept threatening to put my panel in shade.
Solar Panel unfolded
Finally, there's one potential hitch you should be aware of if you want to recharge a battery with the Tandem's solar panel, and that's to not completely drain a battery leaving not a drop of energy left and no reading on its LCD. If you try to recharge such a dead battery on the solar panel, it won't work. The battery needs at least a few volts left in it to be accepted by a solar-attached Tandem. Realistically, this won't be an issue for most people, because Anton/Bauer batteries will turn off a camera before they completely run out of juice. But if you're also powering a light or some other gear off the battery, it could be drained down to absolute zero (which is bad for the battery, and another reason not to let that happen). If you do happen to need to charge an entirely dead battery, you'll need to plug the Tandem into a wall or cigarette lighter for several minutes, to get a small charge going before plugging it into the solar panel.
Anyway, how practical is a single solar panel charger that can take 4 hours to charge a single 90w battery, and might need to be monitored for shade, not to mention theft? The answer is: not very practical for most shoots, even if you're out in the middle of nowhere. If I could only take a single panel with me on a remote shoot, I might find the Tandem's solar panel more trouble to manage than it was worth.
But if I could take two, three or four solar panels with me…well, now we're talking. Even four panels and four Tandem charge heads could fit in a standard-sized backpack, so I could easily carry them. Then, I could set them up at my base camp, and let them take their sweet time charging multiple batteries over the course of the day. By the time the sun went down, I could have recharged 4 or 8 batteries, and be ready for the next day's shoot. That's something you've never been able to do in the field (without bringing a noisy generator and fuel along), but the Tandem 150/solar panel combo makes it easy and convenient.
The Tandem 150 is the most flexible, capable battery charger/power supply I'm aware of. Its $995 list price may give you pause when you consider that it's a single battery charger, and that the Tandem 70 lists for $595. But the 150 lets you power a camera and/or charge a battery in far more circumstances than any other charger/power supply I'm aware of. For shooters that find themselves away from a wall socket for long stretches, that flexibility is easily worth the premium.
REVIEW RATING: 5 out of 5 COWS
About Helmut Kobler
Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based documentary & reality cameraman. He's also written three editions of Final Cut Pro for Dummies. For more information, go to http://www.losangelescameraman.com.