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Do you know what those little slide switches on camcorder battery are for? Yes, of course you do, they’re to remind you that the pack is full charged, or discharged, so you don’t get your batteries mixed up. Now, hands up everyone who uses them....


Not many hands went up. Most of us either forget, or can’t be bothered to set the sliders, consequently those of us with more than a couple of batteries on the go at any one time are sometimes left in doubt whether a battery is fully charged or not. Of course, you could slap it on the camcorder and see what the level indicator says, but we all know how accurate they are. Alternatively you could use a little gadget like the IQ Mini Battery Tester, so small and neat it’s on a keychain. The tester can be used with most popular 6-volt battery packs, including the ones supplied by Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic. There’s a set of spring-loaded pins on the back of the unit, these are pressed against the battery contacts; on the front there’s a set of five coloured LED’s. If just one red LED comes on the pack is virtually flat with less than a 15% charge;  a red and yellow LED together shows there’s between 15% to 50% charge remaining; red yellow and one green LED shows a 50% to 70% charge, two green LEDs means 75% to 85%, and three green LEDs indicates  85% to full charge.


We conducted a series of tests and found the indications to be generally reliable at the extreme ends of the range, where the battery was either almost flat or fully charged, though we wouldn’t take the percentage figures too seriously in the middle, but in all cases it would give a quick and easy to understand indication of a battery’s state of charge, so from that point of view it’s well worth having.



Make/model        Mini Battery Tester

Guide Price         £9.00

Features              5-LED power/charge indicator, metal key ring, chain and hasp

Fitting                    NP-style 6 volt, Sony, Canon  JVC and Panasonic packs                  

Dimensions         55 x 44 x 20mm

Distributor         JESSOPS, Jessops House, Scudamore Road, Leicester LE3 1TZ

Telephone (0533) 320033




Let the chain test the strain




We thought Aico were taking the rise when we first heard about Slik Graphic Tape, but no this is deadly serious. Graphic tape is designed to be wrapped around tripod legs, essentially to stop them feeling cold to the touch... No, it’s true, apparently someone at Slik has identified a problem with cold tripods and freezing fingers. The tape, which comes in a number of different colour schemes and patterns, is wrapped is non adhesive, so it can be easily removed and washed, just wrap it around each leg, and secure it at the end with a length of ‘Slik’ sticky tape supplied. The tape is made from a warm-touch plastic material and is available in green/black, camouflage, purple/black, yellow/black, and black/white finishes. According to Aico (who market Slik products in the UK) , it will fit any make of tripod and protect the finish against scratching, as well as making it feel warmer to the touch.


Okay, we’ll go along with that, but our credulity is stretched somewhat by the price, they’re asking £30 a packet, enough for three tripod legs says the blurb. Thirty quid, that’s more than some tripods cost! Sorry Aico, if you’re concerned about cold tripods our advice is to buy yourself a pair of woollen gloves, around £2.50 from Marks and Sparks, or leave your tripod next to a radiator.



Make/model        Slik Graphics Tape

Guide Price         £30

Features              patterned ‘warm-touch’ plastic tape

Colours               green/black, camouflage, purple/black, yellow/black, black/whit               

Distributor AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD

Telephone  (0635) 49797




Taping the pee



Originally we planned to feature the Cullmann Combi Pak in our Shop Window feature on video bags but we felt it was so unusual it deserved a little more space, all to itself. If you haven’t guessed by now it’s a rucksack, but with a difference, it has a built-in seat. The tubular metal frame folds out to form a small but surprisingly comfortable seat, perfectly capable of supporting a fifteen and a half-stone technical editor. The back pack is divided into three compartments, the largest one is big enough to take a full-size camcorder and accessories, there are no divisions, and little in the way of protection, but it is fully waterproof, and there’s a drawstring on the top to seal it off from the elements. Of course, you could always slip a camcorder bag in the compartment. There are three other compartments, on the sides and back, all of which are large enough to take a palmcorder, but again the thin material provides little protection against knocks, though they are all made of the same water-resistant material.


The straps which hold the top cover in place could also be used to hold a tripod, or something larger, a tent or bedroll perhaps. The shoulder straps are reasonably wide and well padded, is it’s fairly comfortable, even when fully loaded. Thirty pounds is not a lot to pay for a rucksack, but with the added bonus of the foldaway seat this looks like excellent value for money and is just the job for a spot of wildlife videography, hiking and camping, someone from Cullmann even admitted to using one for fishing trips -- we trust he took his camcorder along too...



Make/model            Cullmann Combi Pak    

Guide Price         £30

What is it?              Backpack seat

Features               one large compartment, three side pockets

Construction            folding metal frame

Dimensions           350x 440 x 280

Weight                 1.4kg

Distributor           CULLMANN UK, 9 Moorbrook, Southmead Industrial Park, Didcott, Oxfordshire, OX11 7HR. Telephone (0235) 511527




We’re never quite sure about monopods, they’re a good idea and all that, but most of the one’s we’ve seen are either too rickety to be of much use, or larger and heavier than tripods of equivalent stature. Many people swear by them, but we would probably have remained ambivalent towards them, but for the arrival of the Uni-Loc Explorer and Duo Pod. The Explorer is a fairly ordinary-looking two piece monopod, it’s quite substantial, sturdily built with a standard mounting bolt on the top; this can be screwed directly into the socket on the base of camcorder (or camera), or used as the mounting point for a pan -tilt head. However, the feature we’re interested in is the optional monopod support. It’s an articulated bracket that attaches to the lower section with a screw-on clamp. The bracket is in three sections, the clamp, arm and foot pad, the upper hinged joint can be locked with a small lever. Once attached the user simply places their foot, (or similarly heavy object -- a car wheel for example) on the base plate, steadying the monopod. Obviously it’s not as stable as a tripod, but it does mean you don’t have to stand there holding it up all the time.


Uni-Loc have taken the idea one stage further with the Duo Pod, this time the support bracket and foot pad are permanently attached to the monopod. The basic design is the same, though they’ve used thicker (and heavier) tube sections. The bracket is much more elaborate, with lockable joints on the tube grip and foot rest, and the arm is a two-piece affair which can be extended, the foot rest swivels from side to side and the lower joint can be locked. When not in use the bracket folds flush with the monopod


Both monopods are very well made, indeed the extension tubes are such a good fit there’s noticeable resistance as you extend or compress them, caused by air pressure which dissipates with a distinct hiss. They’re tough enough for pro use, yet the prices are within the reach of most home video movie-makers. We’re still not entirely convinced monopods are a substitute for a tripod, but having used these two for a while we can understand the attraction. They’re quick and easy to erect, and get into places tripods couldn’t hope to fit. They provide a stable platform, but with the added support of the second legs they’re almost -- but not quite -- as steady and as a tripod.



Ideal for outdoor types



Make/model        Uni-Loc Explorer plus Duo Pod Attachment and Duo Pod Pro

Guide Price         £30 (Explorer only, Duo Pod attachment £30)

                             £90 (Duo Pod Pro)

Features              Monopods with add-on or fitted support brackets

Max height             900/880mm

Min height          1.6/1.59m

Weight                1.3/2.2kg               

Distributor          JESSOPS, Jessops House, Scudamore Road, Leicester LE3 1TZ

Telephone (0533) 320033



making sense of monopods



The trouble is you can never be quite sure how much charge a nicad battery pack is holding, especially if it’s been sitting around for a while. The temptation is to give it a top-up charge, but that’s one of the main causes of cell-imbalance and the dreaded memory effect. A nicad battery can loose up to fifty percent of its capacity in just a few months with repeated top-up charging. The cells in the pack end up with varying states of charge, but fast-chargers -- the sort supplied with all camcorders -- can’t tell the difference and charge the pack until one cell measures a full charge, even if the others are still half flat, so the battery never reaches its full capacity. The solution is to avoid top-up charging as far as possible, and treat nicad packs to a regular deep charge/discharge, to equalise all of the cells and eradicate the memory.


That brings us neatly to the Aico TX400, a handy little pocket discharger for 6-volt NP style nicads. It also has a battery condition meter -- well, three coloured LEDS anyway -- to show the state of charge. They can only give a general indication, it’s almost impossible to accurately measure the state of charge of a nicad pack. The TX400 can be used with just about any NP style pack, even the Hitachi and Canon types which are not usually very well catered for. A fully charged 1Ah pack takes around two hours to discharge, 2Ah packs proportionately longer, after which a warning buzzer sounds. The unusually detailed instructions say discharging stops automatically but they go on to recommend it’s removed from the unit straight away. The stated discharge current is 500mA, with a cut-off voltage of 5 volts -- confirmed by our own tests --  both parameters are well within the safety margins for a 6 volt nicad pack. It works, the price is fair, and it could pay for itself reviving just one battery.



Make/model           AICO TX400      

Guide Price         £22

What is it?          nicad tester/discharger

What fits?           all popular 6 volt NP-style packs from Canon, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic and Sony

Features              LED power/capacity indicator, bleep alarm

Dimensions         101 x 66 x 26mm             

Distributor         AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD. Telephone  (0635) 49797



Pocket power saver




Ó R.Maybury 1994 2911



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