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Gear Guy

Can I get solar panels for my video camera?

I want to take my video camera with me on a trip to the Colorado mountains and hoping I can buy a solar panel to charge the battery. There seems to be some difficulty with finding info. It's a 6-volt battery and I have the adapter that plugs into a car cigarette lighter. Can I buy a 5-watt solar panel that is advertised to charge a 12-volt car battery and use it? Can I just wire up the cigarette lighter receptor to the panel, and then plug the adapter into it? Seems to me that ought to work. But, we don't know much about solar panels other than expeditions use them to charge batteries. Jeannette Singleton

A: Yes, you can do this, and there are several ways to get there. Perhaps the easiest solution is to purchase a unit called the Diogenes Personal Solar Power Pack from a company called Sundance Solar (603-456-2020; It sells for $199, weighs about two pounds, and is about the size of a hardbound book. It'll charge all sorts of things—AA batteries, cell phones, and camcorder batteries. Voltage can be set from 2-12 volts, and it comes with the cigarette lighter adapter. Ed Bender, who designed the Diogenes, which is built around Siemens solar cells, had a customer in a few days ago who bought a Diogenes for use with a Sony camcorder.

There's also a device called the iSun ($80) from a Canadian company called ICP Technologies ( It's a compact, easy-to-use solar unit that also is adaptable to charging a wide range of items. In its basic configuration, however, it's limited to 2 volts. You'd need to link three units together to get the 6 volts you need. ICP also makes a 12-volt unit, the BatterySaver Powerpak, that can be set to 6 volts and that has a cigarette lighter adapter. It's about the same size as the Diogenes, and retails for only $35, which sounds too good to be true, but there it is. I think the Diogenes has a little better solar cells, hence the price difference.

Keep in mind that none of these small units is terribly efficient. They'll work best in bright sunlight, although in Colorado you should be able to find plenty of that.

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