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Digital cameras and batteries


Some digital cameras are supplied with a rechargeable battery, like this lithium ion battery shown with its charger and protective end cap.
Some digital cameras are supplied with a rechargeable battery, like this lithium ion battery shown with its charger and protective end cap.

POWER-SAVING HINTS

Digital cameras use a lot of electricity, especially when using the flash and the LCD viewfinder. Although some cameras can be used with AC power adapters, all run on batteries. Using your camera wisely can conserve battery power.

For example, it may seem obvious, but many people don’t switch off their camera between shots, sometimes allowing ten or twenty minutes to go by from one shot to another. If the camera is left on, it is using up the battery. However, you can overdo it. Frequently turning your camera off and on actually uses up more battery power than leaving it on when you will likely be taking a picture in the next minute or so.

In cold weather, keep your batteries warm. The cold will quickly cause batteries to lose their charge.

Many cameras have an optical viewfinder which, when used instead of the camera’s power-hungry LCD viewing screen, will save a lot of battery power. Some high-end digital cameras have an electronic viewfinder, which draws less power than the camera’s LCD monitor. Switch the LCD off unless you need it for picture-taking or you wish to review an image that’s already in memory.

Be sure to use the camera’s AC adapter and household current when down-loading images directly from your camera to the computer to conserve battery power.

Three power hogs of a camera are its LCD viewfinder, its power zoom lens and the flash. You are wise to limit your use of these when you notice that your battery power is running low.

If you have a break in your photography, take some time to top up your batteries by recharging them, even if only for fifteen minutes or less. You will have gained more shooting time. A note of caution, though. Some rechargeable battery types need to be fully discharged before you recharge them. See "Types of rechargeable batteries" below.


BATTERIES

You should always have at least one spare set of fresh batteries when you are taking digital pictures, and if you use el-cheapo batteries, you can expect to be changing them a lot. There are two basic kinds of batteries - primary (non-rechargeable) batteries and rechargeable batteries.

PRIMARY BATTERIES

The primary (disposable) battery with which most of us are most familiar is the alkaline manganese. It is relatively inexpensive, and accounts for more than 65% of all batteries sold. Alkalines have long storage life, perform well at low temperatures (to a few degrees below freezing), and high energy. Because most alkaline manganese batteries are primary batteries, they are not rechargeable and therefore must be disposed of when their power is exhausted.

Many cameras and electronic flash units operate on primary alkaline batteries. It's a good practice to always have fresh spares available.
Many cameras and electronic flash units operate on primary alkaline batteries. It's a good practice to always have fresh spares available.

Rechargeable alkaline batteries are cost-effective. You will thak yourself for having several of them, and keeping them all charged.
Rechargeable alkaline batteries are cost-effective. You will thak yourself for having several of them, and keeping them all charged.

RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES HAVE DISTINCT ADVANTAGES

Using rechargeable batteries in your digital camera can result in significant savings. Rechargeables cost more initially, and you have to purchase an appropriate charger (unless your camera doubles as a battery charger, which many do), but over the long run, the savings add up. The cost to recharge batteries is estimated at about two cents.

Another advantage of rechargeable batteries is that they hold their power until almost fully-discharged, whereas primary batteries lose their power gradually, just getting weaker and weaker. Adding icing to the cake, rechargeable batteries provide better performance in a wide range of temperatures.

If you are traveling with your camera, make sure to bring your battery charger with you. Although you can usually charge batteries while they are in your camera, a separate charger permits you to use a second set of batteries while the first is being recharged.

TYPES OF RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES

There are four types of rechargeable battery that may find use in your digital camera or electronic flash unit: rechargeable alkaline manganese (RAM), nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd), nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) or lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries

RECHARGEABLE ALKALINE MANGANESE

Please note that not all alkaline manganese batteries are rechargeable. You should never attempt to recharge primary alkaline batteries. The rechargeable version (RAM) is clearly identified as being rechargeable. This battery requires its own special charger, and should not be recharged in any other battery charger. You should avoid severely draining rechargeable alkaline manganese batteries of their power if you want them to last. Keep their power levels up, by charging them regularly after every use or at any time, really. RAM batteries aren’t subject to memory effect problems, and topping them up with frequent recharging will ensure they never fully drain.


NICKEL-CADMIUM

Although Ni-Cd batteries are the most common rechargeable, (or were a year or so ago), their disadvantage is that they must be fully-discharged prior to charging, otherwise they suffer from what is known as “memory effect” and may not accept a full charge. This battery is fairly lightweight and will continue to function well at slightly-colder temperatures than an alkaline manganese battery. The Ni-Cd is particularly useful in electronic flash units that are designed to accept them because of their ability to provide quick recycling at a steady voltage. Be sure to check your digital camera’s manual before using Ni-Cd batteries to be certain they are compatible.

NICKEL METAL HYDRIDE

Nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries are particularly efficient, claiming 50 to 100% more power than Alkaline and Ni-Cd batteries and the ability to be recharged 500 times and more. We have seen battery manufacturer’s test findings (based on using four AA batteries in a digital camera with its LCD panel continuously on) that report 88 minutes of run time with Ni-MH batteries, 33 minutes with Ni-Cd batteries, 21 minutes with rechargeable alkaline batteries and 42 minutes with a leading alkaline brand.

Ni-MH batteries don’t have battery memory effect, which means they don’t need to be fully discharged in order to be fully charged, and can be recharged at any time. Regular recharging of Ni-MH batteries is a good practice to follow to ensure you have sufficient power at all times. Bear in mind, though, that Ni-MH batteries do not tolerate continuous overcharging well.

With the right rapid-charger, some Ni-MH batteries can be fully charged in under an hour, but most Ni-MH rapid chargers take from three to five hours whereas a standard overnight charger may take around 14 hours.

The Ni-MH battery is lightweight and fairly tolerant of cold weather - about the same as a Ni-Cd battery, which is slightly better than an alkaline-manganese.

Note: Leaving a Ni-MH battery unused for a long time may cause a rise in the levels of substances that inhibit current flow, resulting in a dormant battery - one that is said to be deactivated. A deactivated Ni-MH battery's original performance level cannot be achieved.

LITHIUM-ION

More commonly referred to as “lithium” batteries and also known as li-ion batteries, this type of rechargeable is often supplied with a new camera and is usually the only battery that should be used with it. They are the battery of choice nowadays, and with good reason.

Lithium batteries are more compact and weigh less than other rechargeable batteries, yet supply high power for relatively long periods, and perform well even when it’s cold, extremely cold, on a plane with Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries. They have great shelf life (some as long as 15 years) and very high output and staying power. They are also relatively expensive.

Compact and light, lithium batteries, like this dedicated Nikon battery shown in its charger, provide plenty of power for relatively-long periods of time.
Compact and light, lithium batteries, like this dedicated Nikon battery shown in its charger, provide plenty of power for relatively-long periods of time.

Buy your batteries from well-known manufacturers whom you trust. Kodak's Ultra Digital alkaline (non-rechargeable) battery will last for up to 100 pictures.
Buy your batteries from well-known manufacturers whom you trust. Kodak's Ultra Digital alkaline (non-rechargeable) battery will last for up to 100 pictures.

BUY QUALITY BATTERIES

The manufacturer of the battery is important. Some Ni-MH batteries are inferior to others, in that they will hold less power after long shelf life. Sanyo and Panasonic are two producers among several who are known to make reliable Ni-MH batteries.

BATTERIES DISCHARGE EVEN WHEN NOT IN USE

All batteries self-discharge. Both Ni-CD and Ni-MH batteries have relatively high self-discharge rates (about 1% a day at normal room temperature) when not in use. Generally, if Ni-MH batteries have not been charged or used for more than one or two weeks, it is best to fully charge the batteries to get maximum usage out of them.

THE CAMERA AS A BATTERY CHARGER

With some digital camera models, the batteries can be recharged in the camera rather than in a separate charger. This can be a convenience, but keep in mind that the camera can’t be used while its is charging the batteries, and batteries can’t be charged while the camera is taking pictures. If you can't wait for the battery to charge, you should consider buying a second battery and a separate battery charger so there will be no need for camera down-time.


SAFETY NOTES ABOUT BATTERIES

  • Don’t mix your battery types. Voltage and operating times vary and mixing different battery technologies may cause leakage or even an explosion.
  • Never carry loose batteries in your pocket with your keys or loose change. You may short-circuit them.
  • If your rechargeable battery is supplied with a cap that fits over the end of the battery to cover the terminals, keep it on at all times when the battery is not in use.
  • When switching to a new type of battery, always read the battery manufacturer’s safety hints and product use notices, and confirm that your camera (or flash unit) is compatible with the battery type.
  • Always dispose of dead batteries in an environmentally-conscious way. Ni-Cd batteries, for example, contain toxins. Read the manufacturers’ notices regarding disposal and check with your local landfill authorities for any specific disposal requirements.
  • Never charge two different types or sizes of battery unless the charger manufacturer clearly specifies that the charger has been designed for that purpose.
  • Never attempt to charge a primary (non-rechargeable) battery.
  • Make certain when inserting batteries in your camera or charger that the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals are correctly aligned.

There are only two occasions when your battery's protective cap should not be kept on it - when it is in your camera or being charged.
There are only two occasions when your battery's protective cap should not be kept on it - when it is in your camera or being charged.