The Volta Cinema Top Handle is the company’s first product, designed with a simple goal in mind: create a top handle that can power camera accessories or even your camera via a D-Tap port. I had the chance to play with it for one month, and here are my findings.
Disclaimer: As usual, let me first say that I am not representing Volta Cinema in any way. Like with all our unbiased CineD reviews, Volta Cinema, or any other brand, did not pay me to write this article. However, the company sent me the product to review for free. This review is my unbiased opinion, as Volta Cinema did not modify, influence, or gave input about the article before its publication.
Who is Volta Cinema?
Material Possession ltd, the company behind Volta Cinema, is a relatively new film industry player. The British company is run by Tudor Chirila, which first launched a non-successful crowdfunding campaign for the version of its Top Handle back in November 2019.
But Tudor didn’t stop here. He worked hard on its product and idea to refine the design, improve features, and launch it on its own a couple of months later, in August 2020.
The Volta Cinema Top Handle immediately caught my attention when I first saw it. From what I saw, I found this product brilliant, with a simple design and a clear mission: power your camera or accessories via the handle. Other companies have tried this, albeit arguably not as elegantly.
The idea behind the Volta Cinema Top Handle was born out of frustration. As Tudor told us:
As a direct frustration with Tilta’s Nano motor which required a very specific input to perform well, I decided to have a go at designing a solution. Oskar joined me again so this time we actually ended up launching an Indiegogo campaign. At the time we didn’t have much of a prototype but the idea was clear: Someone had to put some high-capacity cells inside a top handle since it was such a mandatory piece of kit. Why not us?
A few iterations later, after much trial and error, testing, and sleepless nights, my vision came full circle and the handle was launched in August. Since then, the product has seen some solid improvements, including the custom pins (found inside the handle) which can now ensure 5A output, and the custom cabling for the batteries which reduced the internal resistance resulting in minimal heat output and longer recording times.Volta Cinema
A top handle to power your camera and accessories
The concept of a handle that can power your camera is not new, with products like the Soonwell PH70. However, I’m not too fond of products that have built-in batteries. It means that once you run out of battery, you have no way to pop a fresh battery pack and continue shooting. It’s a no-go for me in professional shooting conditions.
What is unique with the Volta Cinema Top Handle is that it is the first design I saw where you could swap batteries to use it infinitely if you have enough batteries. With very little information available on the Internet and no reviews yet, we reached to the company to see if it holds all its promises.
What’s in the box
I received the Volta Cinema Top Handle in two boxes. In the first one, there was the handle, a NATO rail with two 1/4″-20 screws, and some extra connection pins in case the handle break. There were two batteries with one charger in the second box. Also, they included optional accessories: a dummy D-Tap to LP-E6 battery cable and the monitor mount.
The battery charger has a micro-USB port, and I was a bit surprised that no charging cable was included. I reached to the company that told me:
The charger uses a standard micro USB PCB, and it can be charged with a plethora of devices, including wall plugs and power banks. To maximize the charging speed, it requires a minimum of 2.1A 5V connection.Volta Cinema
Fair enough, that’s not the end of the world as micro-USB to USB cables are very common in everybody’s house, but it’s worth mentioning. After all, even Apple decided to not ship their iPhone 12 with a charger anymore, which is curious considering its high price point.
I found the Volta Top Handle’s build quality itself to be really decent. All the parts are made out of 7075 aluminum, and it feels solid. The Volta Cinema logo is kind of “engraved” on one side.
The batteries are wrapped in a plastic housing that also feels secure and robust. Each battery has a “Volta 36” marking, which looks cool to me.
However, the batteries and the top handle both have a “V” sticker on them that indicates which direction you’re supposed to put the battery inside the handle. It only took me three shooting days before all of the stickers disappeared. Volta told us:
The stickers were a bit of an afterthought when we realized not many of the clients were actually watching the video guide before using the handle. It has resulted in a couple of instances where the battery was forced in the wrong way, and it broke the pins (which is also why we provide the supplementary set).Volta Cinema
I hope that in the next production batches, Volta will solve that with a permanent labeling or engraving technique. We’ll talk about the battery charger’s build quality and monitor mount a bit later in their dedicated sections.
The Volta Cinema Top Handle design is pretty “simple,” minimalistic, and I like its elegance. It consist of two main parts: the handle that doubles as the battery compartment, and a mount with the NATO rail and D-Tap port.
The main tube/handle is where you insert your battery. This tube is 16cm long with a diameter of 3.2cm, and the total weight with a battery inside is around 170g.
Then, this battery compartment is held in place by the round piece with the D-Tap port and NATO rail attachment. If you loosen the two “cinema-standard” screws – it’s important for the rest of this article – on the side, you have a bit of adjustment to slide the battery part back and forth inside the mount. This is nice to position the handle where it works best for you.
To install a battery inside the handle, all you have to do is unscrew the front cap with a coin. The battery door threads on the inside are pretty short, and it only takes you half a turn to loosen it fully.
I would have preferred longer threadings with a full turn or even a bit more. That way, it would avoid possible loosening problems, even if it didn’t happen to me during the making of this review.
When the battery compartment is open, all you have to do is align the stickers (if they are still here) of the battery and handle and push the battery inside. Jokes aside, even without the stickers, you can’t go wrong when you get used to the product. Put the connectors of the battery down, and there you go.
Two little pins inside the handle make the connection between the battery and the D-Tap port. These pins slide back and forth inside the groove when you adjust the handle back and forth.
The battery is held at the back of the handle by a screw. As you can see, one end of the Volta Cinema Top Handle is fully open. According to the company:
The reason there is a hole is to allow the user to easily remove the battery without having to tilt the camera, on top of the inherent advantage of heat dissipation which comes with an open design.Volta Cinema
This is a design choice, and after using it, I get why they did it that way. I would like to have the option to close it if I’m shooting in tough weather conditions. It would protect the handle and prevent dust/rain from getting in.
The batteries have two power connectors (plus and minus) used to charge them and connect to the handle’s pins. Also, there are small coded pins, so you can’t insert the battery inside the handle or charger in the wrong direction.
To make things even more secure, there is even a side of the battery with a cut-out. I have no worries about inserting the batteries inside the handle or the battery charger.
However, I was a bit worried about a possible short inside my camera bag between the batteries and whatever metal object they could hit. Volta Cinema told me that:
The batteries are best isolated from one another when traveling as long as there are other metallic components in the compartment. We haven’t yet experienced a short after months of use. They have short circuit protection, but as you know, in case it does happen it requires the user to connect them to the charger in order to restore them.Volta Cinema
I would suggest getting a case for transporting these batteries inside your camera bag. Maybe Volta Cinema will come out with a battery pack holder in the near future.
Let’s talk quickly about the batteries’ technology. According to Volta Cinema, the Volta36 uses the same 21700 cells as Tesla uses in their cars. These cells allow them to pack more energy in a smaller format.
Indeed, the Volta36 batteries are 36Wh/5A batteries; that’s a lot of juice in such a small package. In the graph above, you can see the capacity to weight ratio compared to other battery solutions.
Charging the Batteries
The Volta36 batteries can’t be charged through the top handle, so it comes with a specific battery charger. As I mentioned earlier, the charger has a micro-USB port so that you can charge the cells via a USB wall adapter or even a power bank.
There are two little charging indicators on top of the Volta36 battery charger that goes from red (charging) to green (charged).
According to the company, they had to use “an off the shelf 0.8A x1 or 0.6A x 2 PCB for the charger to sit within the Micro USB specification (2.1A x 5V = ~10W total, minus the loss in efficiency).” This results in long charging times. To fully charge two batteries, it took me close to eight hours.
To charge batteries, all you have to do is slide them into the battery charger. The pins inside the charger will align with the battery connectors, and it’ll start charging. However, the batteries are not locked into place in the charger.
Also, I had build quality issues with the battery charger, which is entirely made out of plastic. I’m cautious with gear, but after two days, I grabbed the charger by its casing, and it literally opened in two. Nothing broke; it still works perfectly. I secured the casing with some tape, so it stays as closed as it is supposed to be. However, I’m a bit worried about its longevity over time. I think that Volta Cinema could work on a better battery charging solution.
The Volta Cinema Top Handle attaches to your camera or rig via a NATO rail. The handle comes with an extra piece of rail and two 1/4″-20 mounting screws if you don’t have one.
The direction of the NATO rail mount can’t be adjusted, like other top handles on the market, which is a bit of a letdown.
Also, another thing that surprised me is that the NATO locking mechanism doesn’t have a spring inside. It means that when you unscrew it, the part that moves doesn’t follow the locking screw, and you might have to move it by hand. This is something minor and not a dealbreaker, but a small improvement that could be made in the next versions.
Finally, the Volta Cinema Top Handle has three 1/4″-20 mounting points at the handle’s back. The threading is really thin, and the metal is not thick here. While this is nice to have mounting points to store screws, I wouldn’t mount a camera accessory to it, even if I don’t see it breaking at all.
One handy optional accessory and nearly a must-have with the Volta Cinema Top Handle is the monitor mount. This piece, like the rest of the top handle, is made out of metal.
Once in place, it works nicely, but I had issues getting it in. Indeed, it came in two pieces in the box: the round part that slides in the handle and the piece that attaches to your monitor. I had to unscrew the two screws on the round piece to assemble the monitor as one piece like it should be.
First of all, the two Allen screws are not imperial, which is arguably more often used in the filmmaking world; they are metric-standard. Next, the screws were so tight I thought I would break them before even using the monitor mount. I had to put the round piece in a vice to unscrew these two screws finally. That’s not cool, but everything is in place, so let’s install it on the top handle!
To install it, you have to open the battery compartment and slide the monitor mount in place. Then, close the battery cap, and that’s pretty much it. The fit of the monitor mount on the handle is very snug, and there are no ways to lock it in place. The only thing that prevents it from slipping out of the handle is the battery cap (if it ever moves.) Update: Volta Cinema told us that the monitor mount comes with a small m3 screw in the box, that is used to secure it tightly to the handle, as the monitor mount is not meant to move around in any way.
To adjust the monitor mount’s tension, you can tighten/loosen the two screws on the side that holds the monitor bracket in place, but you always need an Allen key for that. A ratcheting screw/lever could’ve been a better way to do it.
Your camera monitor attaches to the mount via a 1/4″-20 screw. There is a rubber pad to protect the bottom of the monitor from being scratched.
Once your monitor is in place, you can tilt it forward and backwards, but within limits. Above are the maximum positions you can reach. Volta Cinema told me that the mounting screw hits the monitor mount and limits its orientation so that your monitor doesn’t fall on your lens or camera rig.
You probably got it; I’m not a huge fan of the monitor mount, it works ok, but it could be improved to make it perfect.
A quick word about the dummy battery that came with the top handle. There’s nothing revolutionary here, it’s a classic D-Tap to Canon LP-E6 dummy battery, but the cable has the perfect length to power a monitor attached to the monitor mount.
However, according to Volta Cinema, they “uses the legacy D-tap port which usually has a 14V output but in the case of our top handle, the output is only 7.2V.”
These dummy batteries are off-the-shelf and not made by Volta Cinema directly. Several models are available, including D-Tap to Sony FZ100, Sony FW50, Panasonic DMW-BL19e, Sony NP-F (the plate is from Atomos), Micro USB for the Tilta Nucleus, as well as custom ones.
Prices are not outrageous, starting at €15.00 per adapter, so it’s nice to buy these directly from Volta Cinema.
What can you power with the Volta Cinema Top Handle?
The D-Tap output port of the Volta Cinema Top Handle can give you 7.2V with a maximum load of 5A. The company has a full compatibility list on its website.
In a nutshell, the top handle can support most DSLR and mirrorless cameras, as well as cinema cameras, including the BMPCC 4K/6K, the RED KOMODO, and up to an ARRI Alexa Mini, which is impressive. Also, it should support most on-camera monitors and camera accessories, as long as they stay within the 7.2V/5A limit.
Volta Cinema Top Handle real-life test
I tried the top handle with a PortKeys BM5 monitor and a SWIT CM-S75F; both are not on the compatibility list but worked just fine. Also, I tried it with my Canon EOS R and did not have any issues.
In terms of battery life, I’d say it’s a massive improvement over a Sony NP-F 970 battery on the back of an on-camera monitor. On the SWIT CM-S75F, one Volta36 battery gave me close to four/five hours of continuous runtime. On the PortKeys BM5, my four hours shoot was over, and the top handle’s battery wasn’t dead.
The biggest benefit for me is that the Volta Cinema Top Handle removes weight from your rig and keeps it well balanced. Indeed, Sony NP-F batteries at the back of a monitor tend to be clumsy and not heavily enjoyable to shoot with. With this top handle, you feel lighter and gain freedom.
I used the Volta Cinema Top Handle during seven full productions days, it held all its promises, and it’s been a joy to use. It’s a nine out of ten usability score for me, because the one thing that I am missing is a battery indicator on the handle to see the battery state with a push of a button.
Is the Volta Cinema Top Handle perfect? Of course not, and like most products, it could be improved. But, I have mixed feelings about it. While the product feels incredible when you use it, many small details (the stickers, battery charger, monitor mount, etc..) make me a bit worried about its longevity.
I would say that it’s a nice and beautiful product that works as advertised, but there is a lot of room for improvements to make the user experience more “reassuring” and enjoyable.
However, Volta Cinema is a small team with only Tudor and his friend Oskar Woinski doing everything with love and passion. In that sense, you can’t judge and compare the product from a startup like a product from the big players of the filmmaking industry. But, as usual at CineD, we review every product equally and point out the things that can be improved. I have no doubts that the products and accessories will continue to get better over time.
Price and availability
The Volta Kit is available now and includes the top handle, two batteries, a battery charger, and a NATO rail for €140.00. The monitor mount will cost you an additional €40.00. You can purchase an extra pack of Volta36 batteries for €50.00.
In terms of direct comparison, the Soonwell PH70 battery handle retails for $279.00; it has double the Volta Cinema Top Handle’s capacity, but you can’t change batteries, and it is a lot bigger. Plus the Soonwell handle we have at our CineD headquarters can’t be turned on or charged anymore after it wasn’t used for about three months. For the price, it’ll be hard to beat the Volta Cinema option.
For more information and purchase it, please visit Volta Cinema’s website here.
What do you think of this battery handle from Volta Cinema? Do you think it would be a great addition to your setup? How do you power your on-camera monitor? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!