Guell Park, Barcelona, Spain

Portable Battery Chargers for Travelers Pros and Cons

Before I traveled to Barcelona, I told my self that instead of taking heavy photography gear equipment (DSLR + two lenses in my case), I will take only my iPhone 5S smartphone, and this will be my main camera. Quite a bold move, but I prefer to travel light and to check the cons and pros of this arrangement.

For hundreds millions of people, a phone is their main camera. Even when traveling, many people prefer to just put their hands in their pocket and take out their phone to capture a shot. The phone is easy to carry around and it gives you effortless way to share your photos with your loved ones (considering you have a wireless Internet plan; most people do).

Among the reasons I usually prefer shooting with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera:

  • It gives me better control over the depth of field, especially when shooting with my fast 50mm f/1.8 prime lens
  • It provides me with significantly better low-light performance (can literally shoot in almost total darkness)
  • I can shoot above 1000 shots without worrying about the battery dying on me in the middle of the day
  • It’s easier to compose your shot via the viewfinder when shooting outdoors. The mobile phone screen is one of the things that wastes the battery most, and if you reduce the brightness you can’t see anything on a bright daylight
  • For me it’s more comfortable shooting with a larger camera and clicking a shutter button than tapping on the screen while composing the shot (some phones do have a dedicated shutter button, but ergonomics just plain awful with mobile phones, at least it is for me)
  • Image quality is better in general

These are among the reasons why I prefer shooting with a DSLR camera. Mirrorless cameras are also a good option, but because they don’t have an optical viewfinder, the battery life is relatively short compared to a DSLR, can be two times less or even more.

While visiting various places in Barcelona, I encountered almost any possible issue that can happen (almost):

  • The battery died on me 3-5 hours into the day
  • I had to use a high-brightness to clearly see what I was shooting, but that ate a lot of battery
  • I couldn’t use the GPS because it completely drained my battery
  • Tapping on the screen to shoot wasn’t comfortable, although not too bad either
  • Low-light performance was not good, especially when I needed to shoot images at the museum without flash (oh, you don’t know how I wished I brought my 50mm f/1.8 or the 50mm f/1.4 lens with me)

So most of my issues were related to low-light performance and battery life. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed shooting with my phone. In fact, if you have a larger phone it’s going to last longer, but larger phone are less comfortable to carry around in your pocket.

I said to myself that I’ll be fine with the low-light performance, it’s not that bad. The only thing that I needed to solve is the battery issue. In fact, I think this is the main thing you encounter when shooting with your phone abroad. You find yourself taking a trip that can take several hours and you want to capture lots of images and videos. You don’t want the battery dying on you in the middle of the day. You also probably be using a GPS, making some calls, etc.

There are a few ways to solve this:

  1. Buying or bring a second phone
  2. Upgrade my phone with one with a larger battery
  3. Buy a secondary conventional digital camera
  4. Buy a Cell Phone Power Bank (whether as a case or as an external accessory) to charge your phone during the day
  5. Charge the phone in a nearby electric outlet in a Cafe store, etc.

I found out that the best way to solve this is by using a Battery case. It’s not the cheapest way because external battery pack chargers are cheaper. The problem with external battery packs is that you probably not going to use your phone while the phone is attached with a cable to a battery pack. This is one of the biggest advantages of a Battery case like the Mophie Juice Pack battery cases. It adds bulk, but you can continue using your phone and take pictures without having your phone attached to an external device. You probably can use a large power cord and have your battery pack in a bag and shoot while the cord is attached to your phone, but who’s gonna do this?

I’ve checked Amazon.com and found out that one of the most popular products in the Best Sellers in Portable Cell Phone Power Banks are the Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350mAh ($9.99) and RAVPower 18750mAh ($31). Prices as of the time of publishing.

This means that people prefer carrying a small Power Bank device, which is also a very cheap solution. The Cell Phone Power Banks vary based on capacity and features. The only problem that I have with those chargers is that it takes a relatively long time to charge the phone. So these are less practical for me because I want to be able to continue shooting, without waiting for 2 hours or more for the Power Bank to charge my phone. Of course, keep in mind that you’ll need to put it in a small bag if you intend to buy the high-capacity ones. This is why the Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350 mAh Lipstick-sized portable charger is such a popular one; you can carry it in your pocket!

I had to decide which solution is best for me. The Anker is the cheapest solution, no doubt about. I’ve decided to get it because it’s cheap and I can use it during the day to charge up my phone if it’s dead. It’s great for people who just arrive at a place like via AirBNB and need toe remember where their house is. It happened to me several times. If you phone is dead, you can’t open Google Maps to tell you where exactly your house is located. So it’s an excellent product to have with you on day one.

Furthermore, Mophie is far less powerful than some of the high-capacity Power Banks that can offer more than 20,000mAh capacity. For example, you have a RAVPower Portable Charger with 26800mAh, the EC Technology 22400mAh, Anker PowerCore+ with 26800mAh with Quick Charge 2.0, etc.

Although it sounds really good to have a high-capacity Portable charger with you, don’t forget that it takes a relatively long time to charge the phone (depends on which phone you have) and it also takes a long time to charge the charger. It’s not an overwhelming practical solution for a day of shooting I would say. A charger case might be the best solution.

Keep in mind that there are cheaper alternatives to mophie, some are third of its price and even offer higher capacity. The prices vary, but you can find one like the SAVFY MFi Apple Certified 3100mAh slim removable rechargeable case for the iPhone 6S for around $35, the Indigi 10000mAh PowerBank Rechargeable Protective battery case for the iPhone 6+ and 6S Plus for around $23, etc.

At the end of the day, I’ve decided to buy the cheapest $10 external charger, as well as a non-expensive battery pack. The problem is where I found those in Barcelona? There are many places where you can buy them, but I need to look. I think the best thing to do is to come with those accessories before hand, so you’ll be ready starting day one to shoot all day long and not worrying about the phone’s battery dying on you during the day. Have a great trip!

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