The Digital Photo Guy

Batteries and Chargers

by on Feb.07, 2010, under Monday Morning Tips

Stuff You Need to Keep Your dSLR Happy

(Sorry for the multiple notices. I fixed a broken link)

Everyone should carry a spare battery for their dSLR, no exception. That said, there’s no reason to pay top dollar for a battery from the camera manufacturer. If you were to look inside a Canon or Nikon or Sony battery, you could very well find cells from the same supplier. BTW, I DO NOT recommend you disassemble a battery. That can be dangerous.

Cells are the basic building block of all batteries. A Ni-MH (nickel metal hydride) cell produces about 1.2 volts while an alkaline cell produces about 1.5v. Li-ion (lithium ion), on the other hand, outputs about 3.6v per cell. Almost all batteries are comprised of multiple cells, ergo, the term battery, meaning a set, series or array. Of course, manufacturing quality plays a big role in the overall quality of finished batteries but cells are the basic building blocks. Most cells are manufactured by a few large companies such as Sanyo, Panasonic or Ultralife (formerly Kodak). Problems arise from new, small and, usually, Chinese companies that have proliferated over the past few years.

Bottom line, the trick is to find a reliable source that uses good cells. The only way I know to do that is to rely on word-of-mouth and others’ experience. For Canon and Nikon Li-Ion batteries, my first choice has been SterlingTek. Over the past 12 years, I’ve purchased about 10 batteries that are equivalent to Canon’s BP-511 and 511A, currently US$45.95 from B&H Photo Video, my usual source for camera gear. Buying Canon brand batteries would have cost me US$500 including S&H but the SterlingTek generics cost me about $200 including S&H. Currently, SterlingTek is offering two BP-511 equivalents for $23.98. Even better, SterlingTek batteries are rated at 2000mAh (milliamp hours) compared to 1350mAh for genuine Canon batteries. That means they last longer between charges. For an even better deal, check out SterlingTek’s US$34.99 combo price for two BP-511 generics plus a battery charger. A better battery charger will more quickly recharge the larger capacity batteries.

For AA rechargeable batteries, I recommend Sanyo cells from Thomas Distributing. I’ve been using these for years and have had nothing but excellent results. To keep AA Ni-MH batteries in top condition, the Maha C9000 charger is an excellent choice. It has several modes for conditioning and reconditioning batteries to get maximum life from each cell.

Finally, on many photoshoots, I use FRS walkie-talkies to keep everyone in touch. For these, I use Sanyo Eneloop ultra-low self discharge Ni-MH which keep their charge for as long as 12 months while most Ni-MH cells will lose their charge in 30-45 days. I bought my set from Costco but they’re generally available from many sources including on-line stores.

For Canon shooters, while you’re thinking about batteries, put a spare CR2016 lithium battery in your camera bag. This is the battery that maintains the date/time and user settings. Although they’re generally good for about 5 years, if it dies in the middle of a shoot, it will be nice to have a spare. Nikon, Olympus and Sony appear to have internal batteries that are recharged by the main battery.

Upcoming Workshops

Feb 20, 9AM-noon – Photoshop Elements for Digital Photographers, Palomar College via webinar (not necessary to be San Diego resident)

Mar 20 & 21 – Desert Spring Wildflowers, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Mar 27, 9AM-noon – Intro to Flash Photography, Deer Park Winery, Escondido, CA (limited to 4 students).

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