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Getting a Charge Out of Your Batteries

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

It's the first disappointment of every digital photographer: batteries that die before their time.

Whether it's a rechargeable lithium battery made just for your camera, or manufacturer-supplied alkalines, they hardly make it through your first shoot. Particularly if everyone wants to see their picture right after you take it.

"While lithiums aren't rechargeable, they do last a very long time. One set can give you emergency power for years."

The solution for camera-specific batteries is to buy (and keep charged) a second battery. If they happen to be lithium rechargeables, that won't be cheap, but it will be easy.

The solution to the alkaline AA problem is to switch to a different kind of AA. A set of rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries. Which means buying a charger (preferably one that monitors the charge in the battery, so it can quickly bring the battery back to life and then reduce the charge to a safe trickle). Thomas Distributing sells a popular, low-cost package to get you started.

For our modest needs, a set for the camera and a set for backup are enough to cover most birthday parties, holidays, and other events, flash or not. And two sets just about drains all the recharging patience we have.

You'll get more camera time from NiMH batteries, but you still may not be getting all you can.

NiMH batteries do not, like lithium batteries, maintain their charge sitting on the shelf. The charge gradually -- but noticeably -- dissipates. So get in the habit of charging the sets you're going to use just before you need them. Charge them as a set, too, so they grow old together.

No need to cut too fine a line here, but if they've been sitting a week, top them off. Some people recommend leaving a set in the charger all the time so one set is always topped off. That makes us as nervous as leaving the water on, so we just recharge while getting everything else ready for the shoot.

"NiMH batteries do not maintain their charge sitting on the shelf. . . so get in the habit of charging them just before you need them."

Unfortunately, if your camera has been idle a while, those fresh batteries may spend a good deal of their energy recharging the built-in battery (usually nickel-cadmium) that keeps your camera's clock ticking when you swap batteries. Plugging your camera into its AC adapter (plugged into the wall itself, we hasten to point out) while the batteries are charging, can take care of that.

Those two habits will delay the "dead battery" warning quite a bit.

But since they both take a little premeditation, you should invest in a set of lithium AA batteries (usually about $12 for four) so you're always ready to shoot. The lithiums do not lose their charge sitting on the shelf, and while they aren't rechargeable, they do last a very long time. One set can give you emergency power for years.

Then you can enjoy the real reason for taking all that trouble: You don't have to worry about using the flash, or the LCD, or showing your pictures right after you take them. And that's something you can get a real charge out of!