Recently in Electric Vehicles

EV Car Camping for Photographers

The second thing that most folks ask me about owning an electric vehicle, after "how far does it go?" is what do you do while charging it?

IMG_0523.jpeg The back of a VW ID.4 prepped for sleeping.

My response is usually, "Depends on where I am." If I'm in the city and using high speed charging, then I check email or take a short nap. Most of those charging sessions are between 20 and 30 minutes. If I'm on the road and using a slower charger off the beaten track, then I go take pictures.

DSCF0032.jpeg Wandering with my camera at Ft. Ross State Park while charging the car. Photos by Derrick Story.

My First EV Campout

I was on my way to Gualala Regional Park for a campout. Ft. Ross was en route. It's one of my favorite places, so I decided to stop and have lunch there. I also knew they had a working charger. So all the better. Both me and the car get a top off.

My packed lunch was good. I captured some pictures that I really liked. And the car was ready to go. So back to the fun, twisty turns of CA Highway 1.

No Sleeping on the Ground for Me

Once I reached Gualala, I found my reserved camp site and set up. One of the reasons why I chose the ID.4 over other candidates, is because it drives like a nimble car, but has enough room for sleeping in the cabin. This is further enhanced by the panoramic glass roof that has a very open vibe when dozing off inside.

IMG_0526.jpeg Chillin' the back. I use an air mattress designed for SUVs that maximizes useable space, then add my sleeping bag.

When it comes to camping itself, I'm fairly spartan. I keep my JetBoil stove and other kitchen items in smaller cargo carriers that are easy to stash up front when I convert the back of the car into a bedroom. Everything stores neatly on the floor in the front and is protected when I lock up at night. I do keep the food, however, in the provided locker outside. Don't need any furry visitors tapping on my window in the middle of the night.

IMG_0528.jpeg A Spartan, but very functional campsite.

Little Tweaks that I Would Like to Make

When it comes to the car itself, it had one quirk that I would like to change. The ID.4 beeps 3 times when I open the back hatch with the key fob. I'm sure this is a safety feature. During the day it isn't an issue, but in the middle of the night, if I have to go out, it bugs me. Campgrounds are very quiet at 2AM. Those 3 beeps seem pretty loud then. But I haven't found a way to disarm that function. I guess I could go out the side door instead.

I keep one window cracked while I sleep to manage condensation inside and provide me with fresh air. I would like to design a little frame with a screen in it to enhance this, maybe about half the size of the window opening, for this use. I could fit it in the frame and roll up the window to secure it. This would provide the fresh air that I want, but without any buzzing visitors. Fortunately no bugs invaded my night in Gualala, but it would be great to have the screen for my next trip... just in case.

Additional Power for Devices

I couldn't resist uploading and processing the day's shoot on the laptop that night. I got carried away and used up most the battery on my MacBook Pro, and on my iPhone 12 Pro Max as well. I carry with me a Jackery Solar Generator 300 (with solar panel) to handle my small device needs. I could use the USB-C outlets in the VW, but I don't like turning on the car system, and leaving it on, just to charge devices. The Jackery works great, and I can refill its reservoir with the companion solar panel that I have for it. In fact, I've never recharged this unit any other way.

As a side note, this tandem is robust. I can connect multiple devices at once, including household items during an emergency. When camping, I also use it to power the pump to inflate the air mattress, juice the mini-vac, and anything else that needs electricity. And unlike the RVs in the campsite, my generator doesn't make any noise nor pollutes the air.

DSC_0044.jpeg Recharging devices with the Jackery Explorer 300.

Photography Is the Name of the Game

Because I spend so little time on the maintenance of camping (setting up tents, washing dishes, etc.), I have plenty of time to do what my goal was all along: take pictures. I average 2-3 hikes a day to test camera equipment and to capture as many photos as possible.

IMG_0532.jpeg A view of the mouth of the Gualala River as it winds its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Time to Return Home

Driving the winding road of CA Highway 1 on my return trip, I noticed that I was using very little power. This is a major difference between an EV and ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. The EV actually is more efficient off the highway because every braking occurrence is actually recharging the battery. (And you don't use a brake peddle, just pull back your foot from the accelerator.)

Even moving along at a good clip on Hwy. 1, I was getting over 4 miles per KwH. To put that into perspective, I have 72 KwHs available in the car (80 KwH overall), so that type of driving gives me about 290 miles of range. Compare that to about 2.75 miles per KwH while racing up and down the freeway at 75 MPH, with a range of only about 200 miles - just the opposite of an ICE.

Plus, all those batteries nestled in the floor of the car, combined with rear wheel drive, make the ID.4 a road-hugging beast. The trip home was a blast. I felt like a slalom skier rhythmically hugging each turn. It's a beautiful driving experience.

IMG_0535.jpeg Campsite clean and I'm ready to roll out!

Final Thoughts

EV adventure isn't for everyone. But for photographers exploring the world one back road at a time, it's a good match. I still think about the 1991 VW Vanagon that I drove for 18 years. I loved it. But I don't miss the 16 MPH gas mileage, nor the compromised performance at altitude.

For today's nimble photography, the VW ID.4 is working just fine.

If you're interested in joining our online group that covers all things electric vehicles, EV Explorers, just click on the link and I'll send you an invitation.

Product Links and Comments

There are product links in this article that contain affiliate tags. In some cases, depending on the product, The Digital Story may receive compensation if you purchase a product via one of those links. There is no additional cost to you.

You can share your thoughts at the TDS Facebook page, where I'll post this story for discussion.

VW ID.4 EV First Impressions

This ID.4 review is possible because of Volkswagen's Experience Event that I recently attended. They had four cars on hand, and you could take one away for a 30-minute spin, then ask questions when you returned. It was an informative morning. And since VW is accepting orders for the car online, "experiencing" the vehicle is helpful to decide if it's the right choice.


Leading up to the test drive, I had read as many reviews as possible. They varied from positive via the Verge and Mashable, to critical from the Wall Street Journal. Car and Driver was somewhere in between. So am I.

After reading those articles, I had specific things I wanted to investigate with the ID.4. And this 30-minute experience was just what the doctor ordered.

My bottom line, before we get into the details, is that VW has done a very good job with its first serious attempt at a full-time electric vehicle.

VW ID.4 Experience View from the driver's seat looking forward in the VW ID.4. Visibility is good in this car.

What I Liked

The car accelerated better than some of the reviews had indicated. I had no problem merging onto a busy freeway, and maneuvering from lane to lane. I thought the acceleration was smooth and fast enough to meet my needs. My other car is an Audi A3 with a turbo engine. I did not feel like I was giving up my mojo with the Volkswagen.

Something that I had not read about, but wanted to test, was the turning radius. I had become very spoiled with the Audi, and was not willing to go back to lumbering hippos that required 3-point turns. The ID.4 was nimbly impressive. I was spinning around on a dime in the parking lot before returning the car. I'm sure anyone watching was thinking that I had lost my mind.

The info system was fine, but I will be tapping CarPlay most the time with my iPhone. (CarPlay is on the must-have list, BTW.) Overall, I thought the cabin controls were intuitive and well-placed. I loved the panorama roof with sliding interior fabric cover. And the seats were very comfortable.

Speaking of the cabin, the fit and finish of the components were high-quality. This is another case where it felt like I was sitting in my Audi instead of what I would expect from a Volkswagen. They did a great job with the interior.

VW ID.4 Experience Due to my height (6' 7"), I had the front seat moved all the way back and reclined to accommodate my legs, which the car did nicely. There was still room in the back seat behind me as well.

I should also note that I'm 6' 7" tall, and there was enough head and leg room for me to sit comfortably. My impression is that you can seat 6-footers up front, and normal folks in the back, no problem at all.

Things I Didn't Like as Much

Per the reviews, The brakes do take some getting used to. They were not as firm as what I commonly expect, and I felt like I was pressing further into their arch to reach the stopping power that I wanted. I'm sure this is something that I would get used to, but it did jump out at me on the first drive. Plus I didn't have the opportunity to test "regen" braking, which I'm sure changes the feel as well.

Something that I had not read about, but noticed, was that the steering seemed sensitive on the freeway around 75 MPH. Whatever movements I made with the wheel were immediately conveyed to the car. There wasn't that little bit of play that makes for easy cruising. With a little more time, I could test the different driving modes. My guess is that "Sport" might tighten up the steering.

Again, over time, and after testing the different driving modes, it would be interesting to see what my final verdict was. On surface streets, however, steering was great. I'm thinking a mode change for freeway.

VW ID.4 Experience Plenty of traditional SUV cargo space, but not much more in the way of smaller pockets and cubby holes.

And finally, even though you have SUV-like cargo storage with with ID.4, especially when the back seats are folded down, there weren't many other more convenient spots to stash your stuff. The ID.4 doesn't provide any storage under the front hood, even though the motor is in the rear. And aside from the common side pockets in the doors, and some room in the center console, not much happening in the front cabin either.

The Bottom Line After My Experience

For an everyday bang-around car that can comfortably seat four and has enough cargo space for daily life, I think the ID.4 is a good option. Its respectable 250-mile range means that most drivers will only have to charge up once, maybe twice a week. And it's comfortable enough for longer trips if you don't mind topping off along the way.

What really impressed me, however, is how nimble and sporty it felt. Even though you get the cubic-feet storage that most of us need, it's fun to drive. The ID.4 is easy to park and maneuver in parking lots. And when it's time to merge on to the freeway, this EV has enough giddy-up to take its place among any of its fossil-fuel counterparts.

My sense is that Volkswagen wanted to design an electric car with wide appeal and a little flare. I think they accomplished that goal. There are enough new things in the ID.4 to delight, yet it still feels comfortable for folks buying their first EV.

As for me, I'm looking forward to logging more miles with it and discovering its true personality.