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Introductory camera guide and beginners guide on film camera and digital camera for still photography

STsite's Guide to Still Photography Camera





Battery Part 3: Batteries & Cameras

Collapsible camera 6.5 X 9 tropicalised 1924 What battery should you use for your camera? The answer is simple - follow the recommendations from the camera's user manual. For those super-thin credit card size digital cameras it will always be the special proprietary lithium ion rechargeable that comes with the camera. The more unusual and unique the camera design, the more likely that it will use proprietary lithium ion battery. There are two reasons for proprietary battery. First the battery was designed to fit into the overall camera design. Second, proprietary battery means repeat battery sales for the camera makers since camera users will have to get them from that particular camera maker.

Olympus CR-V3 Lithium battery
Olympus CR-V3 Lithium battery
There are just too many types of proprietary lithium ion rechargeable batteries in the market today. Each camera maker tends to adopt a new battery design almost every time a new digital camera is launched. The lithium battery on the other hand has the following standard size either the CR-V3, CR123 or 2CR5. For the NiCd, NiMH and alkaline battery it is always the AA size. For those proud owners of the super-thin digital camera or the "smallest in the world" design you will have to live with the proprietary battery the camera designer put in your camera.

If you want to "take charge" then I suggest you take a look at those digital cameras that accept dual battery source. Fuji, Kodak, Olympus and Konica Minolta have several models that accept lithium ion or non rechargeble lithium and AA size battery but the trend of this type of camera is declining. Camera with this design allows a wider choice of the power source and a better chance of finding a battery for your camera when on a long holiday trip to some remote places! If you can't find a camera that accepts the dual battery among your selection try to go for one that uses the standard battery rather than the propriety battery.

Recently Kodak started to use common cell phone battery for their digital camera. This sounds practical and convenient so if your digital camera battery runs out of juice you can always borrow the battery from your cell phone. However for some absent-minded people, they may end up without a working battery for both their digital camera as well as their cell phone!

Sony Cyber-Shoot NiMH rechargeable battery
Sony Cyber-Shoot NiMH rechargeable battery
Whatever the type of battery your camera uses the rule of thumb is always carry a spare battery with you. Batteries like lithium and lithium ion are very reliable but when its power runs out the battery drops dead instantly. Without a spare your photography session will end instantly. For the Nickel-metal hydride with its high self-discharge rate it's hard to tell how much power you actually have in the battery so always recharge the day before and carry some high-end alkaline as spares with you. When going on a long holiday the spare battery is even more important than when you are shooting at home, so carry extra spare batteries with you and better still carry a spare camera with extra batteries on those long trips.

Just to share with our readers - a few years back a group of our friends went on a month long holiday to Europe crossing over 10 countries. When they returned they didn't have pictures to show for 3 of the countries they claimed to have travelled. Reason, for those three countries they spent their days sightseeing and the night travelling in the train and for some reasons they weren't able to charge their lithium ion battery in the train! Of course these guys didn't have any spare battery with them and their camera was not the dual power source type that accepted standard AA size battery, otherwise they could still get some pictures with the standard AA Alkaline battery.

Other than the main battery many cameras have a separate lithium button cell to maintain the clock, the date-time and memory functions. This often is the 3 volts CR-2032 or similar large button cell about the size of a large coin. This button cell lasts for a long time, up to a year or two is quite common.
Sony Lithium 2032 button cell
Sony Lithium 2032 button cell
It functions separately from the main battery so if your main battery fails the time clock and some other memory functions will be maintained by this button cell. Refer to the user manual for the replacement procedure. Some cameras need the main battery to be in the camera when you remove this button cell or the camera will be reset to factory settings when this button cell is removed. Other cameras may require the new button cell to be installed within 30 seconds when the old button cell is removed from the camera. Many manufacturers recommend this button cell to be replaced every 18 months. To be on the safe side always check the user manual.

Portable flash gun or external flash unit needs battery too. Portable consumer flash unit uses the AA alkaline battery. You can also use Nickel-metal hydride in place of the alkaline battery for this flash gun and the NiMH reduces the recycling time of the flash unit remarkably. However, do check with the user manual before you use NiMH on any electronic devices which is not designed to use the rechargeable NiMH battery. The reason being the NiMH is 1.2 volts battery and the alkaline is 1.5 Volts. Some voltage sensitive electronic component may function unpredictably with that lower voltage. The difference of 0.3 volt looks small to most people but in terms of percentage that is a 20% drop in voltage, which is quite substantial for a voltage sensitive electronic device. It is unlikely that the lower voltage of NiMH will damage your flash gun but play safe and read the manual.

Professional flash unit uses four AA size NiMH battery but often it has optional battery pack that can be purchased as an optional item from the manufacturer themselves or as a separate add-on from third party manufacturers. This battery pack is either sealed lead-acid cell or larger capacity Nickel-meta hydride battery that can be clipped on your belt and comes with a long power cable that connects to your flash gun.

To get the best result from your camera you need to understand your camera and practise what you learned. This goes for any tool or equipment you use and so is the camera's battery. There are no rocket science involved in understanding battery, just plain rule of thumb and most of which we already mentioned. This final part will be on battery care and also a summary of what we discussed so far.

First the safety rules. Don't be penny wise pounds foolish - never recharge a battery unless it is the rechargeable type. Charging a non rechargeable battery can result in messy chemical leakage and battery rupture, possible damage to equipment and human. NEVER throw used battery of any type into an incinerator or into a fire as it may explode due to heat expansion. The heat from the fire creates a chemical reaction that converts the chemical in the battery into gases inside the tightly sealed battery and causes it to explode.

For the lithium ion battery we have already mentioned their safety issues and fire hazard in Battery part 2: Types of battery. Other than what we have mentioned so far on lithium ion battery you can also refer to this Handling Recommendations for Lithium Ion Batteries an article from the renata.com a Swatch group company.

Next on storage and handling tips. Most people don't bother to read the camera user manual but this is the most valuable and important document in getting the most out of your camera. Always check the user manual for the recommended battery and handling procedure.

If your camera will not be in use for prolonged periods always remove the batteries from the camera and store them in a cool, dry place at normal room temperature.

When handling batteries keep the battery terminals clean from skin oils, sweat and other contaminants. If necessary clean the battery contact surfaces by rubbing it gently with a clean pencil eraser.
Cleaning battery contact with pencil erase.
Cleaning battery contact with pencil erase
To prevent short circuiting the batteries never carry small metal items such as keys, paper clips and coins with your battery in the same pocket or in the same camera bag compartment. To maintain reliability and prevent chemistry leakage replace battery in sets and never mix batteries of different chemistry in the camera.

When on a holiday and travelling in cold weather rotate sets of battery with spares kept warm by your body heat - battery performance drops considerably in cool temperatures.

For digital cameras the colour LCD drains the most of the battery power(they EAT BATTERY), so don't toy with the LCD unnecessarily. Switching off the colour LCD while taking pictures can double or triple the useful life of your battery. However if your digital camera does not have an optical viewfinder then you can't turn off the LCD! Well, now you see the point why it is a good idea to look for a digital camera with optical viewfinder in the chapter on LCD Monitor and Optical Viewfinder!

Finally, this one we mentioned it before and it begins to sound like nagging but good advice always sound like nag anyway, right? Always carry spare batteries when on a trip; you never know when your battery is going to quit on you. Remember we said before all batteries are sadist and they just seemed to know exactly when to spoil the fun, so be prepared.

recycle battery Last but not least on the subject of batteries and your environment please refer to this article; recycling and disposal of household batteries from Environmental Health & Safety On-line on disposal of used batteries.

For people who are really serious about the environment. Throwing any non-organic materials containing heavy metal, plastic, printed circuit board and computer chips that cannot breakdown in landfill rubbish sites and re-integrate themselves back into the ecosystem is bad for the environment even if it doesn't contain any toxic materials. Regardless whether you are throwing away a used battery, used digital camera, used laptop or an old cell phone it is still not friendly to the environment because they contain all those materials we mentioned above. An increasing concern now is on waste created by used computers and mobile phones because it is fast becoming the top most waste created by modern technology and we can expect digital cameras to add to this waste soon.

In closing, if you love this world and your environment don't create unnecessary waste by impulse buying. Going trendy is a want not a need and is not friendly to the environment - buy what you need and not what you want is the answer. The best practice for people concerned about the environment is to reuse, recycle and refurbish, and extend the useful life of your PC, mobile phone or digital camera as much as you possibly can.

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