Solar power system upgrade

Like with alot of my technical gear, it was time to look into upgrading my solar charging equipment fro the upcoming coastal paddle.

Powerfilm R14

For my 2014 coastal paddle I had concocted a frankenstein monster of a solar charger. A Rollable Powerfilm R14,  14 W panel joined with a US-military ammobox which held all of the electric chargers, batteries, cables etc.  The system worked well during the trip, plenty of juice. However towards the end of the 7 week paddle I did notice some loss in efficiency in charging despite the fact the days were sunnier than in the begining of the trip! On the panel, there was a patch in one corner that showed signs of possible delamination, which may have had something to do with the power loss?  The biggest draw back in the system was the bulkyness of the set up. The panel was long, and even if it was waterproof and could be strapped to the back deck of the near 6 meter kayak, it did add more surface area for the wind to grab, not to mention the added weight AND bulk of the ammobox itself ! Another minor problem was that despite what the manufacturer claimed, the “inbuilt diode” DID not prevent reverse charging, ie draining the batteries during lowlight conditions!

This system was nice because it could be used while on the water and it was pretty robust (apart from the rollable panel),  but due to the bulk AND reverse charging  a definite NO-NO for future kayaking trips!

R14 Specs
– Operating Voltage 15.4Volts
– Wattage: 14 Watts
– Current: 0.9Amps
– Width (mm): 368.3
– Length (mm): 1066.8 unrolled
– Weight: 0.445 kg

Powerfilm F15-300N
2 foldable Powerfilm panels, with cigarrete lighter adapter USB charger

The next system I used was solely “use on dry land”. This basicly consisted of two 5 W , foldable Powerfilm F15-300N 5W panels, daisychained and charging whatever devices thru the cigarette lighter adapter plug.  Using the panel was limited to daylight hours and on land only, so available charging hours were more limited. The same problem of reverse charging was also present in this set up. After use during two paddling seasons the loss of efficiency has also been noticed with these panels!

For whatever reasons, the powerfilm solarpanels do not seem to be long lasting, least in my use…

F15-300N Specs
– Operating Voltage: 15.4V
– Power: 5W
– Current: 0.3A
– Size unfolded: 620mm  x 267mm
– Weight: 0.20 kg

Exibel 10W
The Exible 10W charger opened up in its nifty folder

Marko had acquired a 10W Exibel foldable solarpanel “folder” from Clas Ohlsson, a local “sell it all” store. Not normally known for particularly high end products, I thought “Sure , whatever!”  But after comparing my 2 x 5W powerfilm panels side by side with Markos single 10W exibel panel I had to admit that the Exibel panel worked more efficiently and in lower light conditions than the pair of Powerfilms ! In the field the Exibel continued to charge via USB cable smart devices long after the Powerfilm had stopped charging and begun draining the batteries/device.

The Exibel and 2 x Powerfilms side by side..

On paper the Exibel boasts upto 1.5 A charging in optimal conditions while the Powerfilms  single 5W panel  tells a max output of 0.3 A!  Sizewise the Exibel is (unfolded)60 cm x 27,5 cm whereas the the single Powerfilm panel , unfolded is 62 cm x 26,2cm. So not only is the Exibel more efficient, its also half the size of the 2 Powerfilm panels! The specs for the Exibel do not determine voltage at which the charger works, but since it has a dedicated USB charging port I would make an educated guess that the panel is a 5 V system..?

Then there is the price.. I’d paid 198 Euros back in the day for the set of two Powerfilm panels, and they have been on that same discounted price for more than a year now.. Meanwhile the price for the Exibel panel now on discount is 49.95€ !!!

Exibel charger folded. Mobile phone for size reference
Reasonably slim folder

I will try the Exibel panel. I will buy an extra A-3 sized waterproof mapcase where the charger will fit, and have the whole set up on the kayak backdeck during the day. Will get atleast some recharging done… hopefully?

The Exibel fits easily into an A3 sized Ortlieb and NRS Hydrolock mapcase

For now the initial impression for this is very favourable. How long lasting will this be? Dunno, time will tell.  This price range products generally have quality issues. One model may be top notch quality and work for a loongwhile, while the next one on the shelf may not be as efficient or then it may work only for 3 weeks! This panel will need to work for the one paddling season and it will have beat the Powerfilm counterparts in the “bang for buck” – department. Ofcourse it would be nice if it were to work longer than that. 😀

New camera

Before kayaking, I was an pretty avid photographer. That involved lugging and loving  a DSLR, with all the clunky, heavy and bulky lenses wherever I went. After all I could fit everything into a backpack! Thats not much ? Or is it?

The first summer of sea kayaking I faithfully lugged my DSLR with a couple lenses wherever I paddled. All was packed under deck in a waterproof Ortlieb camerabag.  For on the deck, on the water action I had a small Olympus waterproof PHD camera (Press Here Dummy). All performed sort-of-nicely. The PHD camera worked when wet.. but it was sloooooow to do anything other than use up the battery! The DSLR was great but I daren’t use it on the water. So while things were great on paper, things were’nt really working on the water.

“Ahhh what fun!” that first summer of lugging everything! I had waken up to the realization that a DSLR just wasn’t very practical when seakayaking. Sad but true.

I decided to minimize.. rely solely on the small PHD camera. Soon I learned that action photography was out. Taking pictures of the grass growing, rocks resting and when things got really wild: The sun going down was the best I could manage with the PHD!  And since I had no choice, I suppose I was happy, kinda like a average marriage?

Many years passed with this sad, passive existence, one camera followed the other. I went thru two Olympus waterproof PHD cameras in 7 years. All of them performed somehow. Low light image quality wasn’t that great.. actually piss-poor. Fine for FB postings and general documentation.  Camera start-up/Focusing speeds were low. Only enough time to get a quick snap shot of grass growing on a cloudy day! Batteries drained fast until one learned to switch off most redundant “helpful” settings! The only thing that these Olympus PHD cameras excelled in was that they remained functional in adverse wet conditions and careless handling!!  And they took better pictures than what I could draw.. so I was satisfied!

A separate camera carrier is available for the camera, this can be strapped onto a backpack strap, PFD, whatever. The carrier seems solid yet the camera can be picked out reasonably quickly for picture taking! The plastic/spiral  safety leash however isn’t very convincing!


On preparation for this years kayaking trip I realized that my semi-crappy-yet working olympus tough model…?? something something was getting slow and some of its buttons were getting a bit sticky, so I went out asking my trusty camera dealer if they had something to sell?

Shure enough, just like the previous two times, they sold me a demo model of a camera that was being discontinued! Wuhuu!  I bought a 12 month old, discontinued camera model, that had had limited demo handling and for a cheap price!

The camera in its “carrier” . The bungee cord is out of the way of the lense so the camera could be recording video while on the carrier!

Like the previous two times, this was a Olympus. Model Tough 860.  An added bonus was that it works with the same battery model as the previous model!  Size was about the same. Startup speed was quite a bit better than anything I had used uptil now, also it had a nifty “selfie” button and a tilt preview screen, which can be nifty in certain cramped photo situations. Whats best it has a “ULTRAwide angle” lense which is perfect for on the water photos!

As the model is a discontinued model, I won’t use more time to go through the characteristics, other than its:

A.) waterproof and pretty robust
B.) Takes pictures…
C.) Reasonably small
D.) Came be remotely controlled via smartphone
E.) ULTRAwide angle lense
F.)  Has a  nifty camera holder (sold separately) from which it can be taken out faster than a pocket..

These are the features I appreciate in this particular model.

What could be improved on? Well, startup speed could be yet faster . as well as focusing speed. But what REALLY REALLY bums me, is that during the 12+ years I’ve used Olympus cameras, they have been unable to do anything to clearly improve the lowlight image quality, ie. NOISE! Using ISO  settings above 400 is reminiscent of film times! Image is Noisy / grainy!  I don’t know if Olympus does this as a “retro” thing or what?

These are minor gripes because at the end of the day, the most important feature that I appreciate in a camera for seakayaking is that the darn thing keeps working, taking pictures even if its been wind and waves for 2 weeks in a row!

Camera carrier installed onto my PFD. Now I more room in my pockets for Snickers bars!!

Downside for the moment is: NO RAW capability.. but for the moment I can live with that…

Time will tell how long lasting this one will be?



A new toy..

I’ve never been too excited about live picture/video capturing. Have always considered myself a “still image” type of guy. Looks like that may change…

Marko had recently acquired a GoPro Hero4 Session camera and attached Ram Mount hardpoints where to install the camera on his kayak.

The GoPro Hero4 Session is a camera produces to my uneducated eye actually pretty decent net worthy video! Also it is pretty darn small!! In addition it has only TWO buttons to operate!! This is borderline limit for my feeble mind to comprehend.  Sounds like something I may learn to use?

The kit is pretty small. From left to right: GoPro remote, RamMount 6" Mount, GoPro Hero 4 session camera, Holder for the GoPro Hero 4 session camera with Ram Mount adapter ball for the Go Pro.
The kit is pretty small. From left to right: GoPro remote, RamMount 6″ Mount, GoPro Hero 4 session camera, Holder for the GoPro Hero 4 session camera with Ram Mount adapter ball for the Go Pro.

Also the Camera can be  operated with a separately sold remote control, OR a smart phone app. So if the camera is further away from the operator, one can still start and stop the filming!  This can be handy on a kayak!

I have the understanding that these GoPro Devices are reasonably robust and actually may operate successfully in marine conditions.. so this might be  working formula!

1" Ram mount ball on bow of the Beaufort
1″ Ram mount ball on bow of the Beaufort

The 1 inch ram mount B- size balls are reasonably low in profile, yet sturdy for intended use , particularly this small camera and has a large selection of adapters, gadgets etc available and whats best these were all  available from Finland without complicated, unsure, expensive “order from abroad and pay taxes” spiel!

1" Ball on the stern
1″ Ball on the stern

I acquired the necessary parts from local company nearby with excellent service and which pretty much covers the whole Ram Mount catalog of parts available: Yepnet. Whats best, the whole package was under 100€!! This hardly ever happens in Finland anymore!

Camera installed on the stern hardpoint. The white line is the DIY safety line for the camera. It will be attached onto the deckline.
Camera installed on the stern hardpoint. The white line is the DIY safety line for the camera. It will be attached onto the deckline.

Installation of the hardpoints was easy/hard. I used SS M4 Hardware + White SikaFlex 291i to attach the Ram Mount balls on the bow and stern. Evereything  else was easy apart from holding back the nuts while tightening the screws. Here and additional pair of hands was necessary.

So.. now I have another toy to play around with.. and if all goes well I might actually have some videos to post at a later date.. Ofcourse before that I will have to try to learn the complex world of digtalvideo editing! 😉