Researchers: Recording out in the field

We've been getting quite a few queries from researchers wanting to record animal behavior in the field, far from any power source.

There are all kinds of options, here are a few we've tried which will help get you started. By the way, this certainly isn't a definitive answer. There's undoubtedly plenty of room for improvement, so, please share your thoughts and ways to do this even better. Let's get a dialog going.

To record in the field you need:
1) A portable power source such as the Black & Decker Electromate 400, which retails for around $100. Such units available at GI Joes, Walmart, Home Depot, and camping supply stores. Campers use these to power their lights, TVs, radios, etc. The Electomate has two outlets. Black & Decker Home Generators: These are conveniently packaged with carrying handle and are weather proof.

More power can be had by using an "inverter" attached to car batteries. You can link a number of batteries together for a greater power supply. These aren't quite as handy as the Electromate as you'll need to shield them from the weather. Inverter FAQ - , Power Inverters by Xantrex, Vector , Inverter Store .

2) A monitor, to help aim and focus the camera. Because of the power a monitor consumes, you'll only want to use it temporarily. Be careful. Not many portable DVD players have audio/video-in capabilities. In fact, a lot of them have audio- and video-out ports. The Coby V Zone works well. (Google "Coby V Zone," or go to )

3) A recording device. A simple VCR will do if you only want to record a couple of hours, but you'll need, a security time-lapse recorder (Lorex Time Lapse Recorder ) if you want to record for a day or so.

The Hawk Eye can be plugged into, and recorded from any type of VCR, computer (with audio- and video-in ports and capture /editing software) or PMP (Personal Media Player) that has RCA (video- and audio-in) jacks.

Obviously, a standard VCR is only going to give you a few hours recording time, as it is limited by the VHS tape you use. For serious recording you'll need a surveillance recorder. There are many kinds out there. We've had great success with the Lorex Video Recorder, Lorex 1280 Hour Time Lapse / 40 Hour Real Time Professional Vcr: Such recorders are, however, real power hogs. We've run the Hawk Eye camera and Lorex Time Lapse VCR off the Black & Decker Electromate 400 power pack for 9 hours before losing power.

The Lorex recorder is really fascinating as you can put 40 hours of real time recording on a T-160 (2.5 hr.) VHS tape, or run it in time lapse mode for up to 1280 hours (106 days).

If you want to go high-tech, you can record using a digital recorder. Lorex and other surveillance companies also offer digital recorders, but these run in excess of $400, and require additional Gigabit hard drives. Such recorders are large (18" x 10" x 4") and heavy and not the most convenient things for lugging around in the woods. Haven't tried one, but would assume they consume less power than does the VHS recorder.

A much smaller alternative that solves the problems of weight, power consumption, the need for a monitor and a recording device is a PMP (Personal Media Player) We have tried one by Coby, (V-Zon PMP4320) with mixed results. While the one we tried consumed very little power, it was a bit temperamental, but could probably be made to work. It consumes very little power and we used the little screen for aiming and focusing and then successfully recorded to the 20 GB hard drive. The manual says the 20 GB hard drive will record up to 80 hours of video, but we found it good for only 15 hours. That figures out to 1.5 hrs./ 1 GB of memory. They also sell a larger 30 GB unit which would handle about 22 hours of recording.