Winter in Ann Arbor, MI is typically cold and grey with rough road conditions that make e-skating very difficult. So naturally I’ve started to think about building a DIY E-Bike to commute around the downtown area. Using one of my spare electric skateboard battery packs, we’ve decided to repurpose it for a DIY E-Bike. Here’s Part 1 of our build.
Just wanted to share a new video series I’m developing titled “Duo Meet Your Maker” which profiles local hackers, tinkerers, hobbyists, and the tech-savvy makers to learn about their processes and highlight the things they create. My goal with this series to look beyond the gadgets themselves to explore the people behind them and what makes them tick. My first subject is Jeff Plott, a local mechanical engineer, who built a 45 mph electric longboard! Yikes! If you’d like to know more about how I shot those action shots check out my electric longboarding action rig here.
Took another ride with my DIY Electric Skateboard and my buddy Robbie did a manual on the Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor. I had no idea it could do that. 🙂
My obsession with DIY Electric Skateboards is at an all time high at the moment and as promised, here’s a follow up video of my DIY build cruising through a college campus parking lot courtesy of my boy Patrick. After a few weeks of optimizing my VESC based on the Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor and Enertion 10S Space Cell, I came up with the best all purpose BLDC Tool setting for this configuration:
Motor Max: 60.00
Motor Min: -30.00
Bat Max: 30.00
Batt Min (Regen): -12.00
Absolute Max: 130.00
In BLDC mode, we hit a top speed of 28mph despite the rock salt, pot holes snow puddles and rough terrain on these Michigan roads. My RunPlayBack Sulaco V1 Enclosure was definitely put the test but held it’s own and protected the electronics from the elements. Check out the video above to get some more insight on how I make these things.
I was able to film Patrick while riding the Yuneec E-GO but it was nearly impossible to keep up with him. The torque of the E-GO’s belt drive has a bit more throttle snap than a VESC + hub motor combo but it’s simply no match when it comes to the top speed and coasting ability of the Carvon. Once you taste the speed of a DIY Electric Skateboard, it’s really hard to go back. I will conduct some range tests when the weather gets better but for now, I may need to build another electric board just to film this one. Stay tuned!
Full disclosure – as a kid, I’ve always enjoyed cruising around on a skateboard, mainly because I was terrible at doing tricks and too worried about getting hurt. Naturally, I gravitated towards computers and electronic hobbies from RC cars to drones and eventually Miniquad FPV racing. Fast forward to present day – the popularity of personal electronic vehicles has grown and with it – the electric skateboarding community which combines the gratification of DIY tinkering with a broader communal experience.
My earliest memories of electric skateboards were of metal behemoths fitted with lead batteries like something out of a science fiction movie. These days, parts have gotten smaller and slimmer which have allowed manufacturers such as Boosted and Yuneec to carve a out a very unique market of consumers who are not just skaters or tech nerds but those who are looking for alternate modes of transportation. To be fair, someone using an electric skateboard for the first time looks pretty ridiculous but those who fully embrace the technology make it look they are having more fun in life than everyone else.
I was first introduced to the Yuneec E-GO by Emm from Cheesycam. Paired with a gimbal, we used it as a camera dolly for super smooth tracking shots. While the experience was fun, I didn’t have an immediate gut reaction to purchase, which is what typically happens when Emm shows off some new gear. I was intrigued, but the price point kept me at a distance. It felt a little gimmicky, like a big boy toy for guys my age who don’t like to hurt themselves.
After about a year, I started seeing electric vehicles crop up around town and I began to feel left out. I was compelled to get my own big boy toy. And since I live about 2 1/2 miles away from my office, I figured an eboard would be the perfect way to commute. So with a little money saved I bought a used Yuneec E-GO display unit from eBay and immediately customized it with a new paint job and lights.
The E-GO is a rock solid entry level board, perfect for those who want to get their feet wet with electric skateboarding with little maintenance. Ask any hardcore DIY eboard builder and the Yuneec is not really a part of the conversation. But compared to a Boosted board, the E-GO has a very pleasant price tag for it’s components – nothing more, nothing less. It maxes out at 13mph which is slow for most but very reasonable for downtown city commuting where there’s more obstacles, unpredictable terrain and limited straightaways.
DIY ELECTRIC SKATEBOARDING COMMUNITY
Initially I thought about upgrading the E-GO to push it’s performance but after some research, it felt a little risky to modify a board whose only fault was being reliable. Like I never felt “cheated” by the E-GO if that makes sense. Plus having a production board to study for design research is always a good thing. Next, I started lurking in the Endless Sphere and ESK8 Builders forums, a cornucopia of knowledge for all things related to electric skateboarding. One thing that stood out to me was the pleasant attitude exhibited by many of the stakeholders in the community. Compared to some of the guys in Miniquad FPV groups, this was like a breath of fresh air. This is how I took my first plunge into DIY eboards.
FINDING THE PARTS
Every DIY eboard currently relies on components developed by many companies springing up to serve the market. These companies are developing batteries, writing code, engineering motor systems and figuring out pieces of technology at every point in between. This is a constantly evolving scene with DIY’ers providing some valuable nugget of R&D research hidden in posts across two major forums. It’s deep, but not alienating if you dedicate the time. With about a month of lurking, I felt I was caught up with the technology to make informed purchases. One thing to keep in mind is that many of these products are built by DIY’ers for DIY’ers which means its best to do your homework before hitting them with a barrage of questions. This isn’t like shopping for a sweater at Macy’s. Like all communities, it pays to play.
Supporting these guys with a purchase or two puts your skin in the game and as a customer they will give you personal attention and support for your build. You’ll need to have patience as products are made to order. My expected delivery times were off by about a week or two but since I placed my orders before Christmas and New Year, it was understandable. Waiting is hard. Really hard. But on the flipside, having something made to order feels special. Essentially, having a good customer attitude can mean the difference between someone going through the motions, versus someone really giving that extra attention to detail and a once over for quality control. I won’t get too wrapped up in specific components as parts will evolve way past what this article can provide but I can detail what informed my purchases which are entirely shaped by my personal needs.
CHOOSING THE PARTS
JET RADAR SERIES SPUD NIPS LIP DECK
I found this board through posts by Torqueboards and Siggs from ESK8 Builders. It’s 29″ length with a 21.25″ wheelbase seemed like the perfect size for my body dimensions and commuting distance. The nearly 40″ length of the Yuneec E-GO was comfortable but definitely a hassle for taking it on a bus or other form of public transportation. One thing that worried me was the rather large wheel wells and extreme concave but more on that later.
CARVON V2 SINGLE HUB MOTOR + MATCHING TRUCKS + WHEELS SET
To stay within my parameters of a stealthy, low key look, I went with a single hub motor from Jerry at Carvon. Carvon’s website FAQ answered all of my questions in regards to the advantages of hub motors and up to date photos of customer builds. Jerry was really helpful with shipping times and let me know that mounting the Carvon on the 29″ Jet Spud deck was possible but challenging due to the short wheelbase. Not one to shy from a challenge, I placed my order a week later and when it arrived, the product looked even better in person than the pictures. This may seem like common sense but being on the fence or wishy washy can only go so far when it comes to DIY. Once you soft commit to a purchase, be honest and follow through. It goes a long way to establishing a solid customer relationship.
ENERTION 10S SPACE CELL BATTERY
Jason at Enertion Boards has been developing and innovating within the electric skateboard scene for quite some time and it shows. From complete builds to individual components, Enertion is proof of concept that DIY and ready to run solutions can co-exist peacefully. So when it came time to choose a power solution, I knew the Enertion Space Cell was the best bang for the buck hands down. Without getting too deep into battery comparisons, the 10S Space Cell is a self contained unit with a battery management system, power button, charging port and voltage display. Jason was also kind enough to give me advice on my components, measurement specs for my enclosure and overall encouragement to see my build through. It’s almost like he’s on a personal mission to outfit every man, woman and child on earth with an electric skateboard and I look forward to where he takes Enertion by next year.
OLLIN BOARD COMPANY VESC – OPEN SOURCE ESC SPEED CONTROLLER
The VESC is currently the best electronic speed controller created specifically for electric skateboards by Benjamin Vedder. Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company was another helpful resource for providing recommended settings on my build and constant updates on the VESC’s features. Once it arrived, the VESC quality was top notch with heavy duty wiring and clean soldering all around. Like a master chef preparing an expensive meal, Jeramiah uses military grade, gold plated PCB’s along with a re-flow oven for soldering components and various stages of firmware testing to ensure maximum efficiency.
TORQUEBOARDS 2.4GHZ MINI REMOTE CONTROLLER
I wanted an affordable, reliable, small remote so I went with this TorqueBoards 2.4Ghz Mini Remote from DIY Electric Skateboard. It isn’t fancy and is not really in the same league as slick production board remotes but it seems to last forever on 2 double A batteries and well – it just works like hell. With it’s small compact receiver, zero dropouts and transmission errors, this remote had my attention but now has my confidence. TorqueBoards is also very active on social media so sharing your build with him there is a quick and easy way to get immediate feedback.
RUNPLAYBACK SULACO V1 ENCLOSURE
To house all of these electronics I created my own DIY vacuum former oven that was inspired by Psychotiller from Endless Sphere and James Bruton from XRobots. Using feedback from Jason at Enertion and Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company, I created an enclosure code named the Sulaco V1 that is designed to house the Enertion 10S Space Cell, a single VESC and a standard 2.4ghz receiver. No more, no less. The specs are L: 20″ W: 8″ H: 2″ and features 1/8″ thick ABS plastic for lightweight performance, flexiblity high impact resistance, and added durability. Since I live right next door to a major ABS plastic supplier I can provide these at a good cost.
Here’s a few odds and ends that I needed to complete my build.
As I waited for parts I decided to prep my deck by sanding away the sweet Jet Spud Lips design and spray painting it with glossy black. I figured the artwork would be covered with my enclosure so I didn’t feel too bad.
Next I added the MOB grip tape which is super coarse and probably too extreme for most folks. My hand actually started bleeding laying this stuff down so I threw on some work gloves. Ouch.
Once that was done, I binded the TorqueBoards remote to the receiver, then connected it to the VESC with a JST cable that was provided by Ollin Board Company. I added a ziptie as a cable lock to prevent the connection from coming loose and squeezed some hotglue to both the VESC and receiver for extra safety. Loose connections are a safety hazard so be sure to test the strength of every wire. If it can be pulled out with little force, it’s best to start over and do it right. Also adding some velcro on the bottom of the VESC and receiver will help keep things in place once you house it in the enclosure.
Next I prepped the Enertion Space Cell battery by adding velcro to the top. I found three strips placed equally across the length of the battery was enough.
On the other side I added a few strips of 1/4″ Neoprene as a cushion. This side faces the skateboard deck so it’s important to have a little bit of cushioning to guard against vibrations.
Next I prepped the RunPlayBack enclosure with corresponding velcro strips for the battery, VESC and receiver. I can’t stress how important it is to have an enclosure that fits your electronics like a glove. Everything should be firmly enclosed and not swishing around like loose change in a jar.
I carefully placed the Space Cell into the enclosure, making sure to align the power button, charge port and voltage display with the corresponding holes.
Next I added the VESC and receiver by first pulling the motor wires through the holes and securing everything into the velcro. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I connected the VESC to the battery and added a small flap of rubber as a cover.
You can get creative here and add an entire sheet of neoprene and rubber across the whole enclosure like the Yuneec E-GO battery system. Mileage will vary depending on your deck design and weather proofing needs. I highly doubt I’ll be riding mine through inclement weather so I didn’t go too crazy.
The Carvon Hub Motor and wheels were next. I picked up some 1/4″ Khiro shock pads and 1.24″ DBS Dank Bolts to mount the trucks to the deck. Similar to the Yuneec E-GO design, the rubber shock pads are great for added flexibility and a smoother ride.
I then mounted it all to the board, ensuring that each screw was tightened equally. I didn’t go crazy here, just wanted to get the tension secure.
Finally, with everything in place I secured the enclosure using #8-32 machine screws, washers and nuts from Home Depot. There’s many different ways to mount an enclosure to a deck. Most folks like using tee-nuts for a cleaner finish and as a faster way to pop the enclosure on and off. I personally don’t mind the extra time using nuts and washers and with the crazy curvature of the Jet deck, I needed a little more play in the mounting holes.
From my initial DIY product inquiries on 12/7/15 to 1/18/16, it took me approximately 41 days to complete the build. Slap on the downtime during holiday season and the process took much longer than expected. Yet the results were well worth it. There were a few times when I hit some speed bumps, particularly in the vacuum forming process where each failed pull felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. Like my brief time spent with Miniquad FPV’s, there were moments that zapped my creative energy. I wondered why was I spending all of my time on a glorified big boy toy while everyone else around me was living in the moment. It’s like, why didn’t I just buy a Boosted Board Dual Plus and call it a day?
Fortunately, with the help of a loving supportive family and encouragement from friends, this build became more than just some kind of self serving prophecy. With DIY electric skateboards, there’s an immediate gut reaction when you see one. Like the kid inside all of us suddenly leaps through the soul in our eyes and peeks through smiling. Once I tapped back into that emotion, everything made sense. Sharing each technical step with my 6 year old daughter and seeing her wide eyed reaction brought me back to reality. I didn’t make this build for me. I made it for anyone who ever felt weird in school. Who felt more comfortable tinkering on their computers and in their garage than on the football field. The minute you understand you can build something, however you get there, you’ll want to improve it and share it with the world. Once you DIY, you’ll never be the same again. Hit me up in the comments if you’d like to discuss and stay tuned for part 2 where I actually take this thing on the streets.
Recently, I explained how to build a Shape style shoulder mount rig for under $300 and one essential part of the kit was the Kayo Maxtar V-Mount Li-Ion Battery. The Kayo Maxtar is the best, pound for pound V-Mount battery out right now. With a whopping 177Wh 12000mAh, the Kayo provides all day power for your camera and accessories like field monitors, audio recorders, lights, etc. There’s also an independent 5V/2.1A USB output perfect for charging your smart phone. Another cool feature is the included D-Tap battery charger which is a bargain considering most brands require you to buy a seperate charger. The Kayo Maxtar V-Mount battery is currently $228.99 which is less than what you would pay for most 98Wh Li-Ion batteries. And with our custom coupon code: RSH8BJNK, you will receive a 5% discount. This promotion is for a limited time only so don’t wait too long.
Last week Arbor Day Pictures aka Nancy Mitchell, Hannah Mitchell and myself participated in YPSI24, a 24 hour shootout competition where we won second place amongst 40+ entries. It was an awesome experience to witness so many filmmakers of all levels express themselves using a variety of video techniques within experimental and narrative storytelling.
However, with a 24 hour time limit and a 3 person crew including myself (2 of whom were acting on camera), it was vital that I assemble an equipment package that worked for our story. Too much gear and I’d risk a lot of unncessary setup and breakdown time. Too little gear and I’d lose the visual storytelling that was essential for characterization. We were super honored to win an award and it may not have happened without our 24 Hour Shootout Survival Kit. So here’s how we did it.
A few weeks before the shoot, we bounced around some preliminary ideas, some that either proved too difficult or too time consuming. Finally, the night before YPSI24, Nancy assembled all of our initial ideas into a creepy story about supernatural revenge. Next, I fleshed out the summary into a rough, 5 page script which would be our blueprint for the day. We all agreed that the concept would remain loose in order to incorporate the YPSI24 “ingredients” that we would be given. Creating a script as a guide for our shotlist/schedule was definitely a critical part of our planning.
For Camera A support I went with the heavy duty yet light and portable 8.5lb ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs which are typically built for jib cranes but work great with a Manfrotto fluid head and Konova K3 slider as they can hold up to 80 lbs. It even has a super convenient mid level spreader for added stability and adjustable rubber or spiked feet for all kinds of terrain. At $120 shipped, the ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs are an exceptional deal for the quality.
Lighting was very minimal as we were mostly daylight dependent. For the ending interior shots we used a pair of budget friendly ePhoto 600 CN600HS LED Lights with Kayo Maxtar V-Mount Li-Ion Batteries. The Kayo Maxtar is a new addition to my kit and one of the best V-Mount battery options out right now. Fully charged, the Kayo can power these lights for up to 6 hours straight. Very impressive!
To keep our sound kit as light and simple as possible, I went with the Zoom H1, Rode Micro Boompole, Rode VideoMic Pro, Aspen HQ-S Lav Mic, P&C Handgrip and an audio extension cable. Our rule was that whoever wasn’t on camera would be the Sound Recordist. With some easy to remember sound recording basics and having a kit this simple ensured that no one would have to be a pro to capture quality sound.
THE CAMERA A KIT
Having some early success with the latest Panasonic V-Log color profile, I decided to use my workhorse GH4 mounted with a Metabones Canon FD Speedbooster and classic Canon FD glass – 20mm, 28mm, 50mm and 35-105mm. This combination would create a vintage, lived-in look that I thought would be perfect for a horror film.
I kitted out my GH4 shoulder rig with a Varavon Armor Cage, Aputure V-Screen field monitor, Fotga follow focus, Ikan Tilta V-Mount Plate and a Kayo Maxtar BP-GL175 Li-Ion Battery. With the Kayo, I was able to power the Aputure monitor and use it as a counterweight for the GH4. There’s also a convenient USB port located on the side which kept my iPhone charged at every location.
THE CAMERA B KIT
Our story included many scenes of walking through the woods so I wanted to incorporate gimbal tracking shots without having to spend any time balancing or breaking down the Camera A Kit. For this situation I went with the Ikan Fly-X3 Gimbal paired with the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera aka the $80 Chinese GoPro. Since these walking shots would include both Hannah and Nancy in the shot, it would leave me as the Sound Recordist. The Ikan Fly-X3 doesn’t have a 1/4-20 thread so I rigged a Joby GorillaPod to the handle and fitted it with a Rode VideoMic, Zoom H1, an audio extension cable and a pair of lightweight Auvio Headphones. With the shotgun mic I was then able to capture realtime location sound while also performing stable gimbal shots while walking backwards through the woods. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Another interesting rig we built was an Indy Mogul style DIY 3rd person POV action camera backpack. Designed with cheap PVC pipe from Home Depot, we mounted an Oben Mini Ballhead and the Xiaomi Yi on the rig to create the over the shoulder look during the “search” scenes in the woods. With the Xiamoi’s Wi-Fi app, I would be able to monitor the shots while giving direction to Nancy. We wanted to present an unusual sense of vertigo during these scenes since her character would become more desperate as day turned to night.
THE CAMERA C KIT
For a 24 Hour Shootout, it would be tempting to use the DJI Phantom 3 Professional as a shortcut for production value but we didn’t want to go that route. Our initial thought was that an aerial would take up valuable time that we could put towards characterization. Also, because of the hazardous weather conditions on the shoot day, flying a drone would prove too risky. However, nature was on our side when we had a small 10 minute window of clear weather. It was a tricky manuever as I had to fly through a 10 foot clearing in the trees towards a height that revealed just enough of the forest without showing any residential homes or highways. I fitted the Phantom 3 with a Polar Pro Polarizer Filter to prevent glare off the water and was able to get the shot in just two takes. However, flying the drone back to home point was nerve racking as I clipped a few small branches due to the wind and unstable GPS lock. Luckily I had Nancy and Hannah as my spotters on each side of the clearing to prevent the Phantom from going down into the water. The shot was definitely worth it as it created a vast sense of exploration for the Alice character, establishing the forest as a kind of supernatural playground.
THE POST PRODUCTION
We finished our last shot at about 11:30pm and after ingesting all the footage in Adobe Premiere, post production began at 12 midnight. By this time, I was exhausted but not completely tapped out. I knew that once I got past the hump of assembly I would go into creative mode, driven by pure adrenaline. With the help of a large iced coffee I finished assembly by 2:00am and edited straight until 9:00am. The GH4 V-Log setting was especially helpful in color correction for each clip. After dropping in the Panasonic Varicam 35 LUT, I simply adjusted exposure within Lumetri Color and did my best to match the Xiaomi Yi and Phantom 3 footage.
As the sun started to rise and the 10:00am delivery deadline looming, I did a few last touches and exported the file onto a flash drive. Since the YSPI24 rendevouz was a half hour away, I wasn’t able to do a final preview. At this point, I was completely delirious and just grateful that we completed our film.
YPSI24 was an insanely inspiring good time. From the cordial and energizing meetup with our fellow filmmakers to the hack-a-thon like shooting experience to the final screening at the 500 seat venue, YPSI24 reminded me of why I got into video in the first place. It wasn’t to win awards or make commercials. It was to tell a story using a language that didn’t require an army of people pontificating about the laws of Cinema. It’s a relief to know that the DIY spirit that’s shaped both my personal and professional life has never left me. Hashtag #setlife is not enough. Old traditions and new technologies are not enough. It’s the communal experience of being vulnerable with people that I care about which matters most. Check out our 2015 YPSI24 short “Always Alice” below and remember to always stay inspired!
Always Alice (2015 YPSI24)
We recently got our hands on the new Varavon Armor II A7S Cage, A7S Battery Package and the Atomos Shogun Cage. I’ve been anticipating the new A7S Armor II cage for quite some time and it was definitely worth the wait. As with all of Varavon’s cages, it features a unique, form-fitting design with plenty of clearance for accessibility and accessories. Other features include a leather hand strap, built-in Allen wrench, and rod adapter
The Varavon A7S Battery Package is a must have accessory since the A7S is notorious for having very weak battery life. The package features an A7S dummy battery coupler, a DC 7.5V external battery, and battery check indicator.
Finally, the Varavon Atomos Shogun Cage is another essential item for providing maximum protection for the Shogun’s plastic body which is often vulnerable to dings and scratches. The Shogun Cage features a variety of 3/8″ and 1/4″ mounting holes, L-Bracket for protecting the SSD drive and battery, cable clamps, and rubber dampers for shock resistance. For more information visit the Varavon website here.
Having the right amount of battery power is a constant essential for video shoots but with various camera, monitor and lighting systems it’s sometimes best to bring a power solution that can work across multiple devices. The Kayo Maxtar 12V is a portable and powerful battery that’s a great addition for your shooting kit.
The Kayo Maxtar 12V comes in a compact, hardshell zipper carrying case and has a rectangular design with a red and black colorway and glossy plastic finish. It’s lightweight with a minimalist feel. Although the Maxtar is meant to be stationary, it would have been great to have a 1/4-20 thread to mount it on to a small tripod or shoulder rig.
On the top is a high powered LED light which has 3 modes (flash, strobe and SOS) which lasts over 120 hours. While it’s not a crucial feature, it’s nice to have a flashlight handy during a night shoot.
A closer look at the accessories reveal a power charger, car charger, jumper cables, and various power connectors. One caveat is that the power cord for the connectors is short which means any device that you are powering must be stationed very close to the Maxtar.
Nothing can ruin a good shoot than backup battery power that can’t keep up with your usage. Thankfully, the Kayo Maxtar 12V is capable of multiple charges. It’s high capacity cells can fully charge an iPhone 6 at least 4 times, a Samsung S5 about 3 times, an HTC One about 3 times and a Mini iPad about 2 times.
The dual 20V 3.5A and 12V 2.5A is also a nice touch which is ideal for powering up small devices like an LED light or external monitor. Again, it would have been nice if there was a mounting solution for the Maxtar but some industrial velcro straps or zip ties should do the trick.
Another interesting feature are the included 12V jumper cables to jump start your vehicle. While I didn’t have an opportunity to test this out, it’s a nice addition and much more convenient way to jump start your car instead using another vehicle.
Overall, the Kayo Maxtar 12V is a highly affordable power bank that runs much cheaper than some other Li-Ion solutions on the market. Having this in my kit assures that I’ll have power available if anything goes wrong – like an uncharged battery – which happens sometimes. Sure it’s not immediately adaptable for video rigs but with some DIY techniques, it’s a much cheaper alternative than standard V-Mount style batteries. The Kayo Maxtar 12V is definitely worth considering if you’re looking to have an all in one battery backup solution for any situation.
This year’s 2015 NAB Show proved that camera technology continues to innovate exponentially every year so it’s important to have power solutions that can provide seamless integration and reliability. One of the major players in video production power is Switronix whose XP-L90S battery pack is a mainstay of most pro rigs. At their NAB booth we had a chance to preview their latest items on the floor like the VoltBridge, a battery level monitor platform that utilizes a Bluetooth transmitter and mobile app; the Hypercore Prime, a 2-part designed, TSA travel friendly battery pack and the Hypercine, a block battery that can be used to power multiple battery packs while providing 392wh as one unit.
For more information about these Switronix products and accessories, visit their company website at switronix.com
A few weeks ago I posted about the Switronix PTC-A7S Coiled Powertap Cable short circuiting inside of the Sony A7S. Switronix reached out immediately to examine the damaged cable and figure out the source of the malfunction. After running a series of tests – voltage, surge, runtime – the PTC-A7S passed all of them.
Once they shipped the new cable, I had some downtime to test it out at NAB and discovered that the Tilta Hyperdeck Shuttle distributor plate bypassed the on/off switch when both a D-Tap and 12V cable were plugged in simultaneously. This led us to believe that there was a freak, surge of voltage that happened when the Tilta Hyperdeck Shuttle plate sent power to the Switronix PTC-A7S dummy battery even though the switch was off. This was confirmed by Tilta when we visited their booth and demonstrated the glitch.
So shout out to Switronix for their patience with my freak out and super customer service – from testing the cable to also performing on-site quality control at their NAB booth. For the rest of the convention, the PTC-A7S D-Tap Cable performed flawlesly, providing hours of uninterrupted power with the Atomos Shogun. Look for more NAB 2015 coverage when we speak to Switronix about their new HyperCore Li-ion batteries and VoltBridge app. Stay tuned!
UPDATE: Switronix reached out to me about an hour after this post went live. I sent in the cable to be tested and examined by their technicians and the video below are the results.
It’s no secret that the Sony A7S has very dismal battery life so one solution that I was excited about was the Switronix PTC-A7S Coiled Powertap Cable which would have be a great addition to my rig. However, there was one major issue – the dummy battery block short circuited and blew its fuse inside of the camera body! I own the Switronix GH4 Powertap cable which performs fine, so I know this issue is far from normal. The above video has a further explanation of what happened.
Having 14.8 volts zap past the dummy battery and into the camera is a serious and dangerous issue. While the A7S continued working after suffering only a hard reset, I have no doubt the short could have bricked it. Besides internal damage, an explosive battery is just not something to take lightly whatsoever. Will I purchase a new D-Tap cable to do another test? Absolute not. That’s just not a risk I’m comfortable with taking.
I would highly suggest other ways to get extended battery life from the A7S such as Cheesycam’s Canon battery grip mod, Varavon’s A7S 7.2v battery pack, or aftermarket A7S Wasabi batteries which have a solid reputation for compatibility. I do hope the D-Tap cable was only a defective product as my Switronix Li-Ion batteries have performed flawlessly with the Atomos Shogun. But with 2 weeks of radio silence from Switronix about this serious issue I can only assume that the A7S voltage regulator is a manufacturer defect.
On a recent trip overseas, I worked alongside a videographer who was shooting with a Sony A7s on a Revo SR-1000 shoulder rig with counterweight. Although I’ve had passing glances at the Revo while browsing online, I’ve never seen it up close. Because of its minimalist, almost artistic design, affordable cost, and versatility, I got my hands on the SR-1000 and proceeded to add modifications to it. The Revo SR-1000 is currently on sale at B&H for $67.96, a savings of 15%, but only until March 9, 2015.
The SR-1000 is strikingly simple with clean, curved lines thats very attractive for video enthusiasts. There are rigs that make my back hurt just by looking at them but the SR-1000 is sleek and forgoes the chunkiness of universal compatibility for aesthetics. A single handle attached to a sliding baseplate allows for one handed operation with thin, curved rails that bend seamlessly with the adjustable the foam padded shoulder mount. An optional Revo Counterweight can then be added to the rear to complete the design. Although I took it off for my mod, it’s definitely a must have accessory when shooting with only the camera.
My first add on was the Varavon Armor Cage for the Pansonic GH4. The lightweight cage also features red trim that matches the colors of the SR-1000. The top handle can be reversed to attach accessories such as the Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder which hangs slightly behind the GH4 for even weight distribution across the middle of the rig.
For the rear counterweight, I detached the plate from the Revo Counterweight and attached it to the Ikan Tilta HyperDeck V-Mount using a standard 1/4-20 screw which connects to the Revo shoulder mount with the remaining screws.
The Ikan Tilta is then fitted with a Switronix XP-L90S Li-Ion battery and Fiilex D-Tap power cable. Because the Switronix battery is unusually light, I added a Flashpoint 2.5lb Counterweight to the Tilta HyperDeck using two short 15mm rods. This evened out the weight distribution for the rear.
There are countless ways to configure the Revo SR-1000 such as adding additional handles and accessories to the baseplate but I found this setup to be the most efficient for run and gun shooting. Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions.
I recently received the long anticipated Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder and paired it up with the Panasonic GH4 on a branded content shoot for ICON Q featuring Producer, DJ and Designer Emily Oberg. After reaching out to a few Shogun owners I came prepared with all the essentials necessary for this beast of a recorder: a few SanDisk Extreme PRO 240GB SSD drives, a Fiilex D-Tap Cable, Switronix V-Mount Batteries and an Ikan Tilta V-Mount Plate.
We used a GH4 mounted on a Varavon Armor cage and RedRock Shoulder Rig. The Atomos Shogun was powered by the Switronix XP-L90S Lithium Battery that doubled as a counterweight while attached to the Ikan Tilta HyperDeck Shuttle V-Mount Plate. This would be our main rig setup throughout the day as we had to run and gun across multiple interiors and exteriors throughout New York City.
The Shogun is a serious accessory for the GH4 which create a ProRes 10-bit 4K image that really does make a difference when compared to recording on SD cards. I noticed less artifacts when shooting in lowlight situations, deeper shadows and more detail overall. There are however, some caveats when shooting with this workflow.
Just when you got used to capturing loads of manageable 4K footage, the Shogun will immediately humble you. Shooting at regular ProRes 422 will give you about an hour and change with a 240gb SSD drive. While SSD drives continue to drop in price, having to copy these files to your edit and backup drives can quickly fill up space.
Another thing to consider is power. The Shogun uses standard Sony NP batteries but you’ll quickly run through them if you’re not constantly powering on and off. I opted for using Switronix V-Mount batteries to double as my main power source as well as a counterweight to the Shogun. One Switronix XP-L90S should get you through an entire day unless you’re powering other devices.
The Shogun’s image quality is top notch with a highly responsive touchscreen. A red outline and flashing front and rear lights let you know when you’re recording and the ability to auto trigger record through the GH4 body is also a nice touch. One major thing to keep in mind is the delay on HDMI output. It’s somewhere around 3 frames of delay which is pretty significant. Hopefully this will be improved with firmware upgrades but for now it’s manageable. The GH4 LCD screen should still be used as a way to double check your settings and also serve as a backup “real time” preview screen.
Overall, the Atomos Shogun is a hefty investment but worth the price tag for those who want to unlock the 10bit capabilities of the Panasonic GH4 and 4K capture on the Sony A7S. Just be prepared to shell out more money for extra accessories and a beefier, data heavy workflow. Be sure to check out the final ICON Q video featuring Emily Oberg coming soon.