Everything needs some form of fuel. Cars need petrol, Humans need food, and digital cameras need electricity. Portable electrical goods use batteries. Cameras can be powered by two main sources - disposable batteries and rechargeable ones. Modern cameras are power hungry beasts. Entry level cameras use readilly available AA or AAA batteries, whilst if you spend a few more pounds you'll get one powered by a rechargeable lithium battery. Let's look at the two main types.

 

The camera on the left is powered by two AA batteries. AA batteries have the attraction of being easy to buy, and when the batteries are exhausted you can buy fresh ones from most convenience stores or supermarkets. However, due to their heavy power consumption, then only alkalines can be used. Normal Zinc Chloride batteries don't have enough power in them. Using standard alkaline's, with many cameras, only a small number of shots can be taken with the flash and LCD on, as little as 10 photo's in some cases. Some cameras use 3 or 4 AAA batteries.

Rechargeable batteries can be bought easilly enough. They can be recharged up to 1,000 times. AA & AAA recharchable batteries come in either NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) or NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) varities, with the latter being more pwerful and longer lasting. They are rated in mAh (MilliAmp Hours), the higher the rating the longer lasting the batteries are when fully charged. Typically AAA have much smaller capaciies (as they are smaller in size). AAA have a typical maximum rating of 1000 - 1100 mAh, whilst AA's are typically topping out at 2500 mAh. My brige camera takes 4AA's. Whilst the manual states 500 shots, I achieved over 800 (without flash) from a single charge.

The number of shots you can take varies by camera model, but as a rough guide a point and shoot camera powered by 2AA's should get between 300 and 500 shots of mixed usage (according to the average user manual). This is usually based on independant CIPA tests of mixed flash/no flash usage. High street prices are around £10.00 - £12.00 for 4 AA's, though I bought 4 Duracell's online for half the supermarket price. Here's a link to 4 Duracell bateries and a charger for £8.50. Remember to check your charger to see if it has a switch to set the right battery type. Some cameras, like Fuji's HS20 EXR have a menu item to select the correct battery type between Alkaline, NiMH and Lithium to get the best performance. Check your manual about this.

More expensive cameras (starting from £60.00 upwards, though not all £60.00 models) use Lithium (L-ion) batteries, and have their own dedicated charger. No two manufacturers seem to use the same Lithium rechargeables (except cloned models).Though rated at a lower mAh than AA's (equivalent to a typical AAA), theirmuch  lower drain factor makes them last as long, if not longer, than their NiMH counterparts. Some lithiums are only good for 150 shots, whilst some (like Fuji's new HS30 EXR) are able to take up to 600. Most L-ion batteries can take at least 200. The drawback is that they are camera specific, and cannot be bought from supermarkets. They can be ordered from the internet. You really need two batteries for when one runs out. The only manufacturer I've seen to include two with a camera was Traveller (sold in a German supermarket chain). They must be charged before using the camera they came with. Lithium batteries also come in AA and AAA sizes, but these are not usually rechargeable. Be wary about buying extra dedicated L-ion batteries from auction sites or Amazon/Play traders in the Far East as many are counterfeit. Thet can leak, catch fire or even explode. Genuine batteries will have circuitry built in to stop this happening.

Rechargeable Litium Battery

CIPA

The Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) rates the battery life in shots of member companies products. Each member tests it's own cameras and gives a battery rating in shots taken. AA/AAA cameras are rated seperately fot Alkaline, NiMH & L-ion, whilst cameras with dedicated L-ion batteries only have the one rating. You can usually expect actual performance to be within 25% of the quoted figure (under) but some occasionally exceed this figure.

Battery Problems.

Rechargeable batteries suffer from what is known as the 'Memory Effect'. This is where after prolonged use, the battery life shortens with each charge. It's easy to spot if this is happpening, as the charge light on the charger will indicate fully charged after a short while (often as little as 2 - 3 hours), instead of the usual overnight charge. It's not uncommon for them to be exhausted after 10% of full capacity. The way to stop this happening is to make sure the batteries are fully exhausted before recharging them. Some chargers will automatically discharge any current remaining to avoid memory effect. Modern batteries are much better at holding charge so memory effect is not as big an issue as it used to be. Also, be aware that temperature extremes will reduce battery life, with cold temperature severely reducing life. To avoid low temperature drain put your batteries in your inside pocket to keep the temperature up, and only insert it in the camera when you're ready to take pictures.

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