Camera Battery Life: Keep Batteries Healthy

In our post the other day we suggested a few tips on how to extend the life of your digital camera battery while taking photos. In an ideal world every battery would last forever, but we all know that isn’t yet the case. In fact with older digital camera batteries you may have started to notice that they don’t last as long as they used to. In many cases this will get so bad that you have to buy new batteries, which often aren’t cheap, but once you get them you realize how bad your old batteries were. Plus that means we’re throwing away old batteries that contain many environmentally unfriendly chemicals – less than wonderful.

So how can we maximize the lifespan and capacity of our camera batteries? Read on for some hints…

When you first buy your camera and/or battery

Charge and discharge your battery completely four times: Fully charging, then using the battery till it is completely dead, then recharging fully again – four times – will help teach your battery about its capacity and ensure it lasts longer at a higher charge. This may sound easy, but normally when we get a new camera we rush out and use it a lot, then quickly charge it partially to use it some more and this is where the danger lies.

In normal use

Li-ion batteries do not suffer from a memory effect (an issue where batteries think they are smaller than they actually are) but you might find they decrease in capacity by up to 20% a year depending on how you use them! So only buy batteries when you need them rather than stocking up – that said, you should always have at least one spare battery around if you’re serious about taking photos.

Here are some more tips:

  • Fully charge/discharge your batteries every few weeks: As with when you first buy a battery, charging and discharging them every few weeks helps keep them in peak performance. This applies to those batteries in common use or being stored. See the base of this post for info on how to fully discharge your battery.
  • Using multiple batteries make sure you rotate them regularly: Most people tend to keep one battery in their camera at all times until it needs charging, then they charge it and put it in. However this means your spare battery just sits in your bag at full charge waiting for its day in the sun and getting progressively weaker and weaker from un-use. So make sure you regularly swap round your batteries and don’t play favourites.
  • Set up a repeat calendar event to remind you to swap/discharge batteries: We’re all forgetful by nature, so set up handy calendar reminders for battery actions you need to do like swapping your main/spare battery round every week or so, or discharging/recharging your battery fully every.
  • Be organised and create your own battery management system: New batteries aren’t cheap (although they are compared with the olden days costs of buying film & developing, so its not all bad) so there’s a big incentive to learn to handle your batteries well. Setting up your own system of labeling and tracking to ensure all your batteries are evenly used and maintained is worth the effort. You only need one of your batteries to be left at the bottom of a bag for a few months at full charge for it to lose a significant part of its capacity.
  • NiMH batteries don’t like short recharge cycles: Whereas Li-ion batteries are very resilient to any length of charge cycles, NiMH prefer long charge cycles, although neither has significant memory effects. That said if your NiMH battery looks like it’s developed a memory effect then a full discharge/recharge cycle will normally set the world to rights again.

Storing Batteries

  • Only keep your batteries at 50% charge when not in regular use: This is especially tricky with spare batteries as you want them to ready to go at all times, but if you know you won’t use a battery for a while take it out of the camera, discharge it and then charge it to 50% then store it with the contacts covered. You may also want to put it in the fridge (see later).
  • Cold is bad? Or good? You may have seen professional film being stored in fridges, but batteries? Surely we’ve discussed how cold is bad for your battery in other articles? Well extreme cold is bad for your battery when in active use, it reduces capacity hugely, but when storing batteries keeping them in a fridge (NOT A FREEZER), sealed in a plastic bag with silica gel should extend its life greatly. No one ever said taking good care of your equipment was easy… go figure!
  • Always store batteries with the contact cover on: Accidents will happen, and if something accidentally crossed both the battery contacts then watch out! Not only is the battery damaged but it may even cause a fire. The same applies to moisture, hence why a cover is best.

How to discharge your battery

Some advanced battery chargers have a ‘discharge’ button, in which case that’s the best approach. For the rest of us, simply turn on your camera in preview mode, and in the menu turn off the auto-shutdown. Then just leave your camera to wait, perhaps changing the picture occasionally to prevent burn-in, and eventually it will run down. Obviously this will be quicker if you’ve just been out and about shooting!

Quick hint: If you are discharging your battery using your camera, than be sure to turn the auto-shut down mode back on after you’ve finished. I spent a very frustrating few days after doing this when all my batteries seemed to be dying in about an hour rather than the usual day. I felt pretty stupid after that I can tell you!


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