When Black Magic announced their Pocket 4k camera, they started a race. A race for
improving their crappy runtime being the best battery solution for the camera. And it’s a hard race to win. (technically, Black Magic said they would release a battery grip in September, but we are still waiting…)
I would say that every P4K battery solution has its ups and downs. The trick is to find the balance between size, placement, and battery life. IndiPro Tools think they’ve hit the nail on the head with their brand new Universal Power Grip. An all-in-one solution for power, usability, and convenience.
What is it?
The IndiPRO Tools Universal Power Grip is a 70Wh universally adaptable power solution. Basically, it’s a handle with a built-in battery. The handle packs quite a few nifty features. Some of them are unique to this design. We’ll dive into review in a bit, but first, let’s talk about why powering the P4k is such a problem, to begin with.
The P4K battery issue
The P4k is notorious for its atrocious battery life. Boasting an unimpressive 20-40 minutes runtime on a single LP-E6 battery. It makes the original A7s look like a powerhouse. The P4K is marketed as a professional camera. The kind of camera you would probably put on a rig. Having to deal with such a short runtime is really not an option in this kind of setup. Just having to remember to manage the battery can throw you off focus, not to mention the actual ritual of swapping every half an hour.
Aren’t there a bunch of power solutions already?
Many solutions already exist for powering cameras. Here are some common examples:
A solution that uses a screwable NP-F plate, which you mount on a cage. NP-F batteries are cheap, airplane friendly, and distribute the weight nicely on a P4K rig. (This is my current setup). Sadly, if you are using a gimbal, you can only place this plate on the top of the rig. This solution also means that you have to set the battery plate on the top. Lastly, it limits your access to some of the buttons. Oh, this solution is limited to powering the camera only, so if you have lights or a monitor, you need a separate power solution.
Another common solution is to power your P4K with a V-Lock/Gold Mount battery. This is a huge step up in terms of capacity. These batteries have enormous capacity. Batteries like the Titon SL series, are seriously smaller than what you remember about V-Lock batteries. The downside of this solution is that it requires a rig. There are two common rigs: a base plate with bars or an underslung solution like Tilta’s. This adds a significant amount of bulk but provides almost infinite power. Not to mention, you could easily split the power to run a monitor, a follow focus, or even a wireless image transmitter. These batteries also tend to be pricier. Food for thought.
For the most part, when I’m in the field, and my P4k isn’t on a gimbal, I usually have a handle attached to it. I usually hold the camera by the top handle. This is why transitioning to the power grip was easy. The handle is very solid. It’s built like a tank. On the side of the handle you have a bunch of power options:
- 2x D Tap 14.4v 10A
- USB A 5v 2.1A
So with those outputs, you could easily power: a camera, a monitor, and a follow focus combo for about two hours. That’s all from a single source! Of course, a V-lock has more capacity, but its also bigger. The handle solution only increases a rig by the size of the handle itself (But then, you don’t need a separate handle, so maybe there is no size impact at all).
Also, the handle features overload protection and a battery status button. One of my favorite features is being able to turn the battery handle off. This means I can be sure that there is no unnecessary draw from my battery. With that, I kind of wish that turning the handle off would require a long press os it does not turn off accidentally. It’s never happened to me, but better safe than sorry.
The last feature I like is the 1/4″ screws in the front of the handle for mounting accessories.
Attaching the Handle
Attaching the top handle is done in a very clever way. IndiPro provides a plate that attaches to a cage. Then you slide the handle into the plate and screw it in. Once you have the plate on the cage, mounting and removing the handle is tool-less. (The plate does cover the built-in NATO rail if your cage has one). As far as I can tell, that is the only right way to attach the handle. While you probably can screw the handle into any available thread without the plate, I wouldn’t recommend that. The plate keeps the handle super-secure and prevents it from rotating.
If you are more into side handles, they also include a side handle adapter. That adapter securely attaches to the bottom of the handle. Personally, the top handle feels “fine”. Using the grip as a side-handle, though, feels very bulky and less comfortable. If you still want to go with the side-handle option, there is an anti-rotation Arri rosette, and two screws included.
So, it’s not as robust as a 98Wh V-mount, but it’s still miles ahead from the internal battery. The grip ran my P4k shooting 4k @60p RAW @constant bit rate-zero for over 3.5 hours. I actually had to format my 2tb SSD twice even to be able to run the test. In real-life situations the battery lasts closer five hours, maybe even six if you’re conservative
You cant swap the internal batteries for continuous use. Bummer. That means that when the battery is done, you are left with “just” a handle. If you are stationary, you can connect the handle to an external power source.
I tried checking how fast the grip charges. This was when I ran into my first issue. I couldn’t figure out which one of the ports is used for charging. (I got an early unit with no instructions). Regardless of which cable/port you connect, you get no indicator light for charging. I decided to have a go and leave the d-tap 16.8v 2.1a charger connected to one of the D-Tap ports, and leave it for a while. I came back and saw that it was charged by pressing the battery status button.
Some Fixes Needed
While I generally liked the grip, there are a few things that would move it from good to great:
- Make the grip… a grip: the handle is bulky and just slightly too big, make it smaller, even at the expense of battery life.
- Make the battery hot-swappable: being able to extend the runtime of the handle is crucial for longer shooting days / powering more devices. Carrying multiple batteries is easy; carrying multiple handles is not.
- Provide charging via all ports: Right now, the only port capable of charging the handle is the D-Tap. Between USB being everywhere and USB-PD becoming a common thing, it would make sense to provide more charging options.
- Voltage meter>LED Lights: The battery indicator is… not reliable. It stayed at 100% for a long time, then dropped to 20% rally fast. It might just be a pet peeve of mine, but I want to know when the battery is going to die. I have enough stress in my life as it is without continually looking at the red LED
- Arri locking pins on the front: I wish the handle would have at least one Arri anti-rotation locking pin. This way, I can use the front threads for mounting a monitor.
- Nato rail adapter: It would be cool to be able to attach directly to a nato rail
All in all, this is potentially an excellent solution for an otherwise daunting problem. The size of the handle makes it feel sturdy. The base plate is safely secured to the cage. The outputs make it a great option for powering other components. I say potentially, though, because there is definitely room for improvement. The main problem being the capacity of the handle. I would be willing to let the capacity issue slide if you were able to hot-swap the battery in the unit itself. However, the current configuration means that you have a fixed battery, potentially powering other things that you need to remove. This forces you to reconfigure your set up every once in a while.
The IndiPRO Tools Universal Power Grip is $360. It’s not a cheap solution to have, but it does replace a handle in addition to having an external battery solution. If there was a way to buy “refill batteries”, I would say get a bunch. At $360, though, I would recommend getting a single handle for when you need an easy way to move from a tripod-based-set-up to hand-held run and gun mode.