Camera replacement batteries

There was a time, a camera, even professional ones, needed no batteries at all. In fact, you could buy a new one until as recently as 2006.

I have such a habit of purchasing a spare battery for any camera that might become my primary that I once purchased an EN-EL4a for my Nikon D3.

Normally I only buy the manufacturers approved batteries, because there are a lot of stories floating on the internet about exploding Li-Ion batteries, and because ever since Sony introduced the infoLithium, many manufacturers introduce an extra “smart” feature with circuitry where the lithium battery informs the camera about its age and charge, and I figure why risk it?

Nowadays, 3rd parties have done a good job of figuring it out, so I decided to take a dip.

Olympus replacement battery
South of Market, San Francisco, California

Sony DSC-WX1
1/30sec @ f/2.4, 240, 4.3mm (24mm)

I purchased an Olympus PS-BLS-1 3rd party from Amazon. I haven’t used it yet. Olympus, unlike Nikon, has been using the same battery design across most of their Four-Thirds and Micro Four-Thirds camera line.

Another reason for this purchase is the Olympus PS-BLS-1 holds 1080 mAH of charge, while this replacement is rated at 1800 mAH—almost twice as much!

Why have a spare?

It’s always nice to have a spare in case your battery dies. Or maybe just before you head off, you notice the battery is low—it’s easier to swap than wait for it to charge.

Because of the introduction of Li-Ion batteries means that they can be made in all shapes and sizes, gone are the days when cameras ran on AA or AAA’s or only needed a watch battery to power the LCD display, so you cannot depend on a helping hand when you’re traveling or just out and about and your battery dies.

For instance, at the beginning of a photowalk one day, when someone’s Nikon D60 camera battery died, she spent forever asking people if they had a spare. I was carrying two spares and I shoot Nikon digital cameras, but all my batteries were the wrong size! Nikon has three sized batteries for the dSLRs—moreover the batteries they introduce are backward compatible (on older models), but are not forward compatible (on newer models). This means, for instance, if you can put an EN-EL3e (designed for a Nikon D200) in a Nikon D70, but not a EN-EL3 (designed for a Nikon D70) into a Nikon D200. So watch out!

Another issue I found with my Leica M8, is that the latch has no lock and a tendency to turn on in your bag during transport. I can’t tell you how many times I brought my Leica out only to find that it spent its entire time shooting 30 second exposures of the inside of the lens cap! The so-new-it’s-out-of-stock $7000 Leica M9 has not fixed this problem. I guess it’s a war story that we digital Leica users share to commiserate and feel a sense of camaraderie—sort of like owners of Jaguar automobiles. I now own and always carry a Leica spare battery with my M8.

Battery life

As I hinted at earlier total charge of a digital camera battery is measured in mAH. The more mAH it holds, the more shots you can take. If you buy a Sony battery, you’ll see the charge reported in Wh. This is confusing since the conversion depends on the voltage of the battery. For instance, the NP-BG1 battery that comes with my Sony DSC-WX1 says 3.4Wh, which (@3.6V) works out to 944 mAH.

Here are some batteries I have owned and their charges:

Battery Camera compatability (backward compatible) Year introduced Charge (mAH)
EN-EL3 Nikon D100/D70/D50/D70s 2002 1400
NP-40 Casio EX-Zseries, EX-P series 2005 1230
EN-EL3a Nikon (D100/D70)/D50/D70s 2005 1500
CGA-S005A/1B (etc.) Panasonic FX series, LX series, Leica C-LUX series, D-LUX series, Fuji FinePix F20 2006 1150
EN-EL3e Nikon (D100/D70/D50/D70s)/D200/D80/D300/D90/D300s/D700 2006 1500
EN-EL4a Nikon (D2H/D2HS)/D2Xs/D3/D3X/D3S 2006 2300
PS-BLS1 Olympus E400/E-410/E-420/E-450/E-620/E-P1/E-P2 2006 1080
NP-BG1 Sony W series, T20,T100, N2, N1, H7, H9 2007? 944
EN-EL9a Nikon (D40/D40x/D60)/D5000/D3000 2009 1080

Beyond that, the actual life of the battery in a digital camera is often reported in the camera specifications. Unlike the computer world, there is actually a standard way for reporting this number known as the CIPA DC-002. Note that your actual mileage may vary since CIPA-002 runs the camera through a set of “typical” tests but each action you do in your camera drains different amounts of power: off – on – standby? focusing system and lens type? long exposure night photography (especially for cameras based on CCD sensors)? existence of image stabilization? electronic viewfinder? how long and often you chimp?

Another factor is that battery life changes over time. With each charging cycle, the maximum charge a battery holds gets diminished. Even if you leave it fully charged, the battery will leak charge—albeit slowly in the case of Li-Ion. I have a suspicion that third party “high capacity” batteries may lose their maximum charge faster than the camera manufacturers, but no proof. Besides, batteries can be pretty inconsistent from on to another—or else we wouldn’t have these exploding battery stories I mentioned above.

Eventually, the battery will become useless. It may take a decade, but it’ll happen. Just remember you must dispose the battery properly. Luckily the Recycling information is usually printed on the back of your battery nowadays: you call: 1-800-822-8837 in the United States.

Battery workflow

Lithium batteries hold their charge for a long time and do not exhibit memory effect. Because of this, it’s easiest to swap out the battery when it’s just over halfway down (or after a long shoot session) and put the current one in the charger. When you see it’s fully charged—the indicator is different for every company so you might have to refer to your manual—just store the battery and charger for the next swap.

If you don’t plan on using the camera for a long time, don’t fully charge the spare. If fully charged and stored, a Li-Ion battery will gradually lose peak charge—similar thing occurs if you top off the Lithium battery too often.

When do you flip out the battery? If your battery has “smart” circuitry and you can get an exact readout of the charge in the camera menu, I will flip them out when it drops below 10% in the field. If I’m not in the field, I flip it out when I see only one bar left. What I don’t recommend is you drain the battery all the way down: first, if the camera suddenly shuts down mid-cycle you may have lost images from your buffer and can even damage your memory card losing everything on it; second, you risk a “deep discharge” and ruining your battery.

If I think I’m going somewhere where I’ll be doing a lot of shooting, I’ll drop the spare battery in my kit. If I’m going traveling for many days, I might also include the charger. If it’s to a foreign country, I’ll also drop in a universal power adapter.

This way, your camera will never be without charge, even if you forget to look once in a while.

Keep shooting!

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5 thoughts on “Camera replacement batteries

  1. I was wondering how you’ve got on with that BLS-1 third party battery. I’m looking for one right now.

    I read a really detailed comparison of the Olympus BLM-1 compatible battery brands when I bought my spare then and I chose the Uniross which was the best on that review. (http://t5r.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/e1/clonetests.htm) It has been a fantastic battery and has outperformed the Olympus consistently. However, I can’t find any similar comparisons of the BLS-1 and I’ve seen a bad review of the Uniross BLS-1 compatible, otherwise I’d have just gone for them again. Any thoughts?

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