While the resolution and features of digital cameras are key to getting the best results, they are of little use if the camera is without power. Even though the cameras themselves can be used anywhere, regardless of the size of memory card they have, sooner rather than later they will run out of power, so ensuring that they are running an optimum performance is a must. The majority of digital cameras are powered using either a bespoke rechargeable battery pack or replaceable AA or AAA batteries. Whatever method of power supply a camera uses, there are a number of ways to ensure that each performs to its best to get the most battery life possible and to find the best type of battery to suit the usage levels the camera will be put to.
Different Battery Types
Digital cameras most commonly utilise three types of battery power. Rechargeable packs that fit inside the camera, disposable batteries, or rechargeable batteries. With the latter, both AA and AAA sizes are often found depending on the make and model of camera.
Disposable alkaline batteries are most affordable in the short term and while these are available at a range of price points and power levels, these generally lose power quickly during use and are better suited to low demand devices. Because of the needs of digital cameras, the best option if disposable batteries must be used is to use high power heavy duty batteries.
The two most common types of rechargeable batteries that are available are Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) and Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH). Nickel Cadmium were the earliest type of rechargeable batteries made available commercially. They are highly durable batteries under most weather conditions, but are seldom used for digital cameras. They lose power rapidly when not being used and are prone to losing their maximum power capacity if they are overcharged. They also need to be fully charged between uses - if this does not happen, then they have a tendency not to charge fully during future charges. In contrast, Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries are more lightweight and retain their charge for longer and are a more popular choice for cameras. As with NiCd batteries, these lose charge when not in use, but this is as much as 25 per cent per month.
Nickel Zinc (NiZn) Batteries
These are designed primarily for cameras with high power requirements that can't be met by disposable or NiMH batteries. Because of the power output provided, these can't be used by older cameras so caution must be taken before using these and the manual must be consulted. When not in use, they are known to discharge rapidly but in contrast, they also charge quickly so can be ideal for those who need battery power quickly. While not as common as other types of rechargeable batteries, they also have the advantage of being able to be used at lower temperatures which may be important depending on where the camera is used.
Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) Batteries
Li-ion batteries are the most common type found in battery packs. While costing more to purchase in the short term, they are more durable and can be charged more frequently than their counterparts. The key advantages of using li-ion batteries is that there is no loss of power after repeated charging and that they have much longer natural lifespans. However, this durability does decrease if the batteries are left without any charge at all.
Finally, there are alkaline rechargeable batteries available, although these should only be considered as a last resort option. They do not hold power for any considerable length of time and are known for losing their maximum charge capacity every time that they are charged, meaning that each time these batteries are charged, their capacity decreases. Even though these batteries are the most affordable of all the rechargeable batteries available, they will not provide a great deal of power in the long run and are only worth considering as emergency replacements.
Maximising Battery Life
While using rechargeable batteries is more cost-effective that disposable batteries, they will still need replacing during continuous use. Making efficient use of the camera and the batteries themselves is essential to ensure that the maximum amount of power can be extracted from them from every charge. It goes without saying that batteries should be charged and stored correctly, ensuring that they are also kept within their recommended optimum temperatures. Depending on the type of rechargeable battery being used, this can not only prolong the duration that the battery can be used for, but also its durability in the long-term. When it comes to the use itself, aim to avoid repeatedly turning the camera on and off during use. Digital cameras use an increased power load during this time while the camera goes through an initialisation period. Wherever possible, remove batteries from the camera when it is not in use for any prolonged period. Even this will cause battery drain for a number of cameras.
Types Of Chargers Available
Depending on the type of power cells that the camera uses, there will be different methods that can be used to charge them, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Chargers that are mains powered are the most efficient when it comes to achieving a consistent charge of the battery. In terms of obtaining a maximum charge in the shortest possible time span, as they can deliver a greater amount of charge to the batteries. However, they are not portable and that means being dependent on a local power source. Equally, if travelling with cameras overseas, the charger will not function without an international power adaptor resulting in an additional expense. There are different types of mains chargers available for standard rechargeable batteries and purchasing the correct charger is vital. One way to reduce costs is to determine what types of batteries will be charged. Many offer the option to charge a range of sizes and types of batteries, while others are dedicated to charging just AA and AAA batteries. If there is no need to charge multiple battery types, then a simpler alternative can be considered. However, it is essential to check what type of battery can be charged as not all chargers are capable of charging Lithium-Ion, Alkaline, or Nickel Zinc batteries. For custom battery packs, the chargers usually come with the camera itself so normally a separate charger will not be required unless an alternative power source is needed, or the need to charge the battery away from home is essential.
Solar Powered Chargers
Solar powered chargers are the most cost effective and can be used to charge both camera battery packs and rechargeable batteries and after the initial purchase require no further expense. While these can be used anywhere subject to lighting conditions, they do not charge batteries particularly quickly. Bearing that in mind, these should be best considered for charging spare batteries rather than primary batteries if rapid charging is required.
USB chargers are an affordable option and can draw power from a PC or laptop's USB port to either charge batteries or a battery pack using a suitable adaptor. However, these not only place a great strain on a laptop's power, draining it considerably, but also charge at a slower rate than a traditional charger.
These chargers connect to in-car cigarette lighters and are used for charging AA and AAA batteries. However, these are also slow for charging and can drain car batteries if used for too long.
Buying the Camera Charger and Batteries
Buying battery packs, chargers and batteries can be done from many high street retailers, specialist camera stores or online. However, while the chargers themselves can be purchased new or second hand, it is advisable to only purchase new batteries and battery packs to ensure maximum battery life. When buying second hand chargers online, it is important to check the listings carefully to ensure that the items are adequately described, clearly photographed and ask any questions if there are any doubts and clarification is needed about anything to do with the charger. With both new and second hand items, check the reputation of the seller - whether it is a business or individual - to gauge how trustworthy they are to purchase from.
When buying a charger for a battery pack, it is essential that both the camera make and model number is identified when looking for chargers for specific in-built batteries to ensure that they are fully compatible. While official chargers from the camera's manufacturer can be regarded to be more reliable and of a higher build quality, many considered third party unofficial chargers to be suitable and more cost effective alternatives. Don't forget that chargers for traditional rechargeable batteries should also match the type of batteries being used to ensure that they are correctly charged. Failure to do so could - at best - lead to batteries not charging and at worst cause significant damage to the batteries and charger. As a back-up it is advisable to have spare batteries on hand or several sets of fully-charged batteries in the event of a loss of power in the batteries installed in the camera. If it is affordable, and the camera being used features a bespoke battery pack, a second one of these would also be desirable.