Getting the most from your camera battery

An Essential Piece of Photography Equipment

 

The Camera Battery 

The humble camera battery….such an essential, but often misunderstood critical requirement of our photography. We charge them before going on a shoot and replace them as the power gets low. Beyond that, we don’t always give the battery the consideration it deserves.

This was highlighted on a recent photography workshop were I was approached by one of the participants. She was disappointed that one of her batteries was failing to charge despite the fact it wasn’t that old. This prompted me to look a little into one of the most important pieces of equipment in our camera bag.

You don’t need to understand the technical details of how the Lithium-ions move back and forth between the Lithium-cobalt oxide layer or the graphite layer to provide your camera the power it requires to function. However, understanding the correct ways to use and maintain your batteries assists in getting the most out of them.

What to Expect From Your Battery

A great place to start is setting some realistic expectations as to what you can expect from your camera battery.  Check the camera manual to determine the number of shots you can expect to get from a fully charged, healthy battery. Knowing this can assist you in evaluating the health of your battery. 

Just because it is a rechargeable battery doesn’t mean it is designed to live forever. The typical estimated life of a Lithium-ion battery is about 2-3 years or 300-500 charge cycles, which ever comes first. A charge cycle is considered to be when the battery goes from fully charged to fully discharged and then fully re-charged again. Most likely you are not charging your battery in complete cycles, but simply recharging it after every shoot. In this case you should consider the 2-3 year life expectancy as a measure of your battery’s life. 

Even though the battery has a life expectancy of 2-3 years, it does not mean it will perform as good as a new battery over the entire time of its life. The battery will gradually lose its ability to hold a charge and will deteriorate over time. There is nothing that can be done to overcome the eventual ageing of the battery. You can expect to lose around 20% of a lithium battery’s charge every year from its original manufacture date no matter how well you take care of your battery. 

 

A Common Battery Issue

One critical characteristic of the battery is that it will continue to slowly discharge when not in use. If you allow the battery to discharge too far it may render the battery unusable. The lithium camera batteries contains circuitry to prevent the battery from being abused such as over-charging it. This circuitry will also turn your battery ‘off’ and makes it unusable if you allow it to discharge too far, usually between 2.2 and 2.9 volts. 

This can occur when you replace a battery while out shooting and you place the ‘dead’ battery in your camera bag and don’t recharge it until the next shoot. If there is considerable time between shoots, the battery to continues to discharge until it goes below the minimum voltage. This puts the battery to ‘sleep’ which prevents it from recharging. The chances of this occurring are also likely to increase if you are using more than 1 spare battery and are not disciplined in recharging them before storing them. 

If the battery is put to ‘sleep’ by allowing the voltage to drop too low, it doesn’t necessarily mean the battery is no longer usable and should be disposed of, but  the original charger provided with the camera will be of no use. Only battery analysers with the boost function have a chance of recharging the battery.

 

How To Store Your Battery

Believe it or not, it is actually not recommended to fully charge your camera battery before storing it in your camera bag for any extended length of time. It is better to charge your battery to around 40-50% before putting it away and charging it before your shoot. Of course you often charge your spare battery to 100% before a shoot as well and if you don’t end up using it on the day, having it in your bag at 100% charge is unavoidable at times.  

Here are some recommendations to improve the life of your camera battery:

  • Charge or discharge the battery to around 50% of capacity before storing it.
  • Charge the battery to around 50% of capacity at least every six months
  • Remove the battery and store it separately to the camera if you won’t be using it for extended periods of time.

Store batteries at temperatures of between 8 and 20 degrees Celsius when possible.

 

Monitoring Battery Health

Check the date of manufacture which is usually stamped on the battery. As lithium batteries have an expected life of 2-3 years,  older batteries will deliver fewer shots than a healthier battery. 

Another way to monitor the life of your battery is to check the number of images you are able to take on a fully charged battery. Much older batteries will deliver few shots before needing to replace the battery on a shoot. 

Some camera’s, such as the Canon and Nikon allows you to monitor the performance of the battery as a feature. It provides information such as the remaining power capacity, the number of images captured since the last full charge and the batteries recharge performance. This can inform you of when it is time to buy a new battery. 

Writing this post prompted me to check the health of the 4 batteries which have been accumulated over the life of 3 seperate cameras. Three of the four batteries had the lowest performance indicator which recommends purchasing a new battery.  One battery was 10 years old and one was 11. I certainly cant complain about that! I will be popping out to purchase a new battery this afternoon.

Using an After Market, 3rd Party Camera Battery

There is quite a price difference between authentic camera batteries and those that are available from 3rd-party battery manufactures. The higher price often prompts photographers to purchase the cheaper after-market brands. 

Not all 3rd party battery manufacturers are equal. Some are more reputable than others and you can never be sure how good the batteries are or how they were manufactured. Some cameras companies have modified the firmware of the cameras to prevent the use of after-market 3rd party cameras. This may be worth checking out before buying the cheaper batteries. One of the main drawbacks of using 3rd party batteries is that it can void your camera warranty. 

Photographers have a reputation for liking to buy new gear – a nice new strap for the camera, new lenses, tripods, flashes and a whole range of gadgets and goodies.  Yet, when it comes to one of the most important pieces of equipment required for photography – the battery, we look to save money!

Batteries provided from camera companies have been designed and tested to specifically work with your camera. Batteries are one of the more critical components of your camera’s operation and purchasing the cheaper, 3rd party brands may actually be false economy. My recommendation is to stick with the authentic battery.

 

Battery Disposal 

Eventually the life of your battery will come to an end and it will need to be replaced. Please follow your manual’s recommended battery disposal instructions for a safe and environmentally friendly process.

 

Summary

Set realistic expectations in regard to your batteries life and performance.  Taking care of your batteries will keep you and your camera, fully charged! 

 

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Brian Bird
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