There are few scenarios as stressful for location photographers as watching your laptop charge steadily wane when the job isn't close to being done. There’s no shortage of portable battery packs on the market, but few are from trusted camera accessory manufacturers. Tether Tools offers the Onsite USB-C 87W 26,800 mAh PD Battery Pack, which has everything a location photographer needs to keep photo devices, laptops, smartphones, and additional devices powered and recharged.
The latest Mac and Windows laptops have generally standardized on a USB-C connection for charging. Camera manufacturers are also standardizing on the USB-C connector but don’t allow charging while capturing, which would be useful for wireless captures. But a portable battery pack with an appropriate cable connection can still be used to charge a camera when not in use.
How many devices you can power and for how long depends on how much charge the battery holds. The capacity is rated in milliamp hours (mAh). The greater the mAh rating, the greater the capacity and flexibility but also the greater the size, weight, and cost.
Tether Tools has struck an acceptable compromise for photographers with the 87W Onsite 26,800 mAh battery. It features one USB-C port that’s used for charging the battery pack as well as output, and two USB ports. The USB-C port is designed primarily to charge your USB-C laptop or tablet, while the USB ports are more appropriate for charging a smartphone and other lower-power devices. The USB-C port also supports the latest power delivery (PD) protocol. Two compatible PD devices negotiate the fastest charging option available. The latest MacBooks are PD compatible.
In my testing I found that the battery pack charged my latest MacBook Air from one-quarter to full power in just under two hours while consuming only about half of the fully charged battery’s power. It was also capable of charging a more power-hungry 15-inch MacBook Pro from three-quarter to full power in about one hour while consuming less than half of the battery’s power. This test was conducted while I worked on the computer. It also easily recharged both batteries in a Z 6 Nikon MB-N10 Multi-Battery Power Pack when I finished shooting.
Battery power level is indicated by four blue lights that go dark as the available power decreases. Unfortunately, I found them to be essentially useless in full daylight. They’re much too tiny and a dim.
Measuring 3.15x7.1x1 inches and weighing 1.3 pounds, the size and weight are reasonable for a battery of this capacity. It fits comfortably in camera bags and backpacks. The list price of $189.99 is comparable to other top batteries of identical capacities but possibly without the ability to deliver their power to power-hungry USB-C laptops.
Not be overlooked with a portable battery pack is recharge time. This varies with the rating of your charger. With my 30W charger, the charge time from discharged to full capacity was just over 3.5 hours. Tether Tools charges an additional $29.95 for its 61W charger, and it’s worth the cost. The Tether Tools charger reduced the recharge time to about 2.5 hours. Phone chargers in general are rated at 5W output, so charging from your phone charger is not recommended.
The appropriate connection cable to transfer both power and data at maximum speed is as important as the proper charger. The battery includes a 3-foot USB-C to USB-C cable of unspecified wattage, primarily useful for charging the battery.
For greater distance between battery and computer, Tether Tools has designed the TetherPro USB-C cable. It can handle data transfer up to 10Gbps (1250 MBps) and power up to 60W. This is more than enough for current cameras and smaller MacBooks. The larger MacBook Pros will be limited to 60W charging rather than their preferred 87W or 96W power charging.
I tested a 15-foot black TetherPro USB-C cable with a straight connector on one end and a right-angle connector on the other. It performed flawlessly for both charging and data transfer. The cable is also available in orange, with other connectors on one end, and in various lengths. Prices vary from $19.95 to $56.95.
I also tested the TetherBoost Pro USB-C Core Controller Extension Cable. This 16-foot extension cable incorporates an integrated power regulator to ensure no loss of power delivery or data transfer speed. It comes in black or orange at a cost of $69.95. In testing, I noticed no slowdown in file transfer speed, and charging seemed to proceed as expected. Both cables are excellent accessories for the battery pack.
Not having to power your laptop for a day’s (or night’s) worth of location photography is a relief. The Tether Tools Onsite USB-C 87W 26,800 mAh PD Battery Pack and Cables eliminates that stress.
Stan Sholik is a writer and photographer in San Clemente, California.