Camera Batteries: Care, Types and Use

2. Camera Battery Types

There are numerous types of batteries suited for many different purposes. I'll lump the photographer's batteries into three categories:

  1. short-term disposable (alkaline)
  2. long-term single-use (lithium)
  3. rechargeable (NiCd, NiMH, LiIon)

Short-Term Disposable Batteries

These disposables are cheap and powerful. The old zinc-carbon batteries that once dominated the disposable market have been all but replaced by alkalines, which have far greater capacity and energy density. Alkaline batteries (trade names like Duracell, Energizer) are commonly used for brute force applications like hot-shoe flash. They deliver a lot of energy in a short time, unlike most rechargeables. But cheap as they are individually, the cost can add up when you expend a lot of them (in which case, you should consider rechargeables).

Handling of alkaline batteries is simple:

  • When replacing, always install a full set of new batteries. Mixing used and new batteries is not recommended because of the electrical discharge characteristics.
  • Don't use alkalines when very cold. Like most batteries, the power output is severely reduced when the batteries are cold.
  • Remove alkaline batteries from your equipment if you aren't using it for a while. Some equipment draws "trickle" power even when turned off, and any battery will self-discharge over long time periods. Fully discharged alkaline batteries may leak, and the acid can quickly ruin a camera beyond repair.
  • Avoid discarding used batteries into regular waste for landfill or incineration. Alkaline battery chemicals are toxic (though not as hazardous to the environment as sometimes reported). Most communities provide special disposal at no charge (pardon the pun).

Long-Term Single-Use Batteries

Coin Cells. These disk-shaped batteries look like silver coins (and cost a few coins too). While no battery is permanent, these are close when used in ultra-low-power applications. For digital cameras and film camera databacks, such batteries typically provide micropower to run date/time clocks and sustain non-volatile memory (e.g., user option settings). There are no real choices or special care required for these batteries, except to avoid temperature extremes. There are many sizes and different voltages -- be sure to replace with a compatible type. Since they can last up to ten years, most photographers don't carry spares. But remove them if no longer needed, as they can leak after being fully discharged and lithium can explode.

Lithium Photo Batteries. These come in various formats; perhaps most common is the 2CR5 6-volt package. At about $10 each, these are too expensive to be designed into equipment as short-term disposable. But they are found in many film bodies where they power the various motors, microprocessors, and even built-in flash. With heavy use (especially flash), a camera can consume these batteries at a rapid pace. My Canon EOS 5 (A2E) would get about 60 rolls from an Energizer e2 lithium, but some people reported as few as 10 rolls per battery. Canon also uses this battery to power the ST-E2 infrared remote flash controller, where it seems to last a very long time due to low power consumption.

Rechargeable Batteries

The real choice for photographers is among rechargeable batteries. While a given camera may be designed only for a certain type of rechargeable, the photographer might make the battery type a criteria in selecting cameras for purchase.

Rechargeables are commonly used in applications where the battery will be discharged routinely, over and over (600 to 1000 cycles is possible). They don't contain as much power or high-current capability as single-use disposable batteries such as alkalines, but you don't have to buy new ones all the time either.

With most rechargeable batteries, the service life is determined by the number of charge/discharge cycles. So note that each time you top off the charge, you're using up one of the available cycles. Generally it's better to let the batteries discharge most of the way before recharging, though sometimes this isn't practical.

Updated 11-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved