Review by Mark Degner
Today’s society is becoming more and more dependent upon our electronic devices, and we outdoor and nature photographers are no exception. Our cameras, speedlights, flashlights, GPSs, tablets, smart photo, laptops, etc. all require electricity to recharge their batteries. When we’re at home or in an urban centre getting access to that electricity is no problem, but when we’re in rural areas or travelling, keeping our batteries recharged can become a serious issue.
There are a number of possible solutions to our problem, one of which is the Sherpa 50 Kit made by Goal Zero. The Sherpa 50 kit ($459.95) that I received to review included the Sherpa 50 portable recharger, Sherpa 50 110V AC inverter, Nomad 13 portable solar panel, AC wall charger and cord, and two 12V female cigarette adapters (one for 12V input and one for 12v output). The only thing that’s not included, but would be a very useful addition, is the 12V car charger that’s available separately for an additional $18.95.
The Sherpa 50 portable recharger is compact (11.4 x 3.8 x 12.7 cm) and lightweight (0.5 kg). It contains a 50Wh+ Lithium-ion (NMC) battery with built-in charge controller and cell output protection. It can be charged with the included AC wall charger in three hours, with the optional 12V car charger in three to four hours or with the Nomad 13 solar panel in six to 12 hours depending on the angle of the panel and the strength of the sun. On the front it has a single 15-25V (30W) input charging port, and three regulated output ports: USB port (5V, 1.5 A, 7W), 12V port (12V, 6A, 75W) and a laptop port that works only with certain laptops (19V, 5A 75W). There’s also a fourth output port on the left side that’s used to connect a 110V Sherpa inverter or for chaining with another Sherpa 50. In addition, on the front is the on/off switch, charge status indicator (shows in 20 percent increments), and a small LED light. On the back is a thin metal cable for securing/handling the Sherpa 50.
Attaching the Sherpa 50 110V AC inverter to the Sherpa 50 only slightly increases its overall length by four centimetres and weight by 0.16 kg, but it greatly increases its versatility as you can now plug in any standard 110V AC device (75W max.), like a DSLR battery charger. How much you can charge from the Sherpa 50 depends on the device and how drained it is. In one of my tests I was able to charge numerous DSLR batteries, an iPhone, and an iPad using only about 20 percent of the Sherpa 50’s charge. Recharging my iBook laptop from about 50 percent back up to full charge took pretty much all of the Sherpa’s power.
The Nomad 13 solar panel recharger consists of two 20×25 cm panels in a foldable nylon case. It’s lightweight (0.81 kg) and compact; when folded its dimensions are 27.3 x 3.2 x 9.3 cm, making it easy to carry around with you. It has eight attachment points so that you can attach it securely when carrying it or using it to charge. As mentioned above, you can recharge the Sherpa 50 with the Nomad 13 solar panel, but the Nomad can also directly recharge some devices through one of its two output ports; a USB port (5V, 1A, 5W, regulated) and a 12V DC port (13W max, not regulated).
Goal Zero produces a series of portable solar power systems (solar panels, power packs and accessories) that can power a variety of USB, AC and DC devices. Of the many different systems they produce, the Sherpa 50 kit provides the best compromise of portability and power output for the situations that most outdoor and nature photographers, as well as outdoor enthusiasts in general, would find themselves in. If you do lots of travelling in areas where electricity access is an issue then you definitely should check out the Sherpa 50 kit.