Coping with COVID: Group Photo Gatherings During a Pandemic

Milky Way over Mt. Rainier  Just before Sunrise from the August Outing © Dan Clements
Milky Way over Mt. Rainier Just before Sunrise from the August Outing © Dan Clements

Photos and story by Dan Clements

While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended most people’s lives, it has especially impacted travel and gatherings of groups. Camera clubs had to switch to zoom meetings. Meetup groups canceled events. Opportunities to go out and shoot with a bunch of fellow photographers were virtually nonexistent. This is the story of how one nature photography club learned to live with COVID: what has changed, what has worked, and how we have managed successful group gatherings over the summer. It appears that we will be dealing with the pandemic well into 2021, so this is also a road map of how we will proceed in the coming months.

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Who’s In Charge? You Are With The Right Gear!

Photo of battery chargers from Sony, Nikon and Canon.
Battery chargers from Sony, Nikon and Canon.

Story and photos by Dan Clements

Are you the less-than-proud owner of a bulky, single-battery charger similar to the Sony, Nikon, and Canon models above? Wouldn’t it be great to have a lighter, more functional unit that charges two batteries at a time? Well, you can, as it were, be in charge.

My frustration with bulky external battery chargers peaked about two years ago during a photo trip in Ranthambore, India. By way of background, Nikon has been my go to camera system for decades, but the battery charger that ships with the D750, D850, Z, and other models is one of the most poorly designed accessories I have ever used. It is bulky, heavy, and the plug-in system looks like it was designed by Rube Goldberg.

At one point on our India photo trip I tried to charge batteries, but the charger kept dropping out of the electric wall outlet.  Yes, it was that heavy! I had to stack a piece of luggage and a field guide beneath the outlet to keep the charger, battery, and adapter plug from falling out of the wall socket. When we returned to our Seattle-area home, it was time to look for alternatives. There are many choices of third-party chargers, some better or better suited to my needs than others. After doing a bit of research and reading recommendations on Amazon, I purchased the EN-EL15 RAVPower Battery Charger Set unit for $38 US. It has performed flawlessly.

Photo of RAVPower charger plugged into international power converter (left) and power bank (right).
RAVPower charger plugged into international power converter (left) and power bank (right).

Here is what I like about it. For starters, it is smaller and less than half the weight of the Nikon MH-25 charger (4.5 vs 1.8 ounces). It also charges two batteries at a time. That is a big advantage for someone ,like me, who does a good deal of cold-weather and night photography, both of which eat up battery power.

Next, it utilizes USB to micro-USB charging cables, another feature I have really enjoyed. On the left side of the photo above, for example, the USB plugs directly into the CleverTrips power converter I use when traveling overseas. In the past year I have been in Morocco, Russia, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Finland, and France, and have not had to repeat the luggage/book trick to keep the charger plugged in.

The USB charging cable also has greater flexibility than a “regular” plug. The right part of the photo shows the unit plugged into the power bank I use in the field. It can also be plugged into the USB ports in most modern vehicles, so you can re-charge batteries while on the road.

RAVpower makes chargers for Nikon, Canon, and Sony camera systems. While the unit ships with a nice 15” flat USB to micro-USB cable, I use a multi-cable 3-in-1 charging cable to reduce the number of cables in my camera case.

While I have not done true benchmark testing of the time both units take to charge batteries, the Nikon generally takes about two hours to charge one battery, and I am estimating the RAVpower unit takes about three hours to charge two batteries. I shoot with a grip that contains a second battery, so almost never have two dead batteries.

So, you owners of bulky, single camera battery chargers, consider tossing those units and migrating to a lighter, more functional, dual-battery, USB charger!

Dan Clements is an adventurer who has a deep appreciation and respect for the world’s natural wonders and life in its many varied forms. He has climbed, skied, sailed, SCUBA dived, and traveled throughout the world: visiting over 75 countries. After a successful 30 year career in public finance, he is working to help develop a greater appreciation of our natural environments through photography, publishing, and travel.

When he is not photographing he enjoys back country skiing, distance running, mountain biking, and opera. Everett, Washington is base, and where he and his wife raised two sons.