This is the part one of a two part blog post about batteries and how it affects us as photographers.

The battery technology is extremely old and hasn’t changed much since the 1830s, yes that is 180 years ago. Some chemicals have changed but not the physics of the batteries. And right now, the biggest drag on technology is the battery technology. In the early 1800s, a few people including Volta (an Italian scientist that did most of the basic discovery work about electricity), developed the wet battery that we still use mostly in cars, buses…

In a very simplistic way, we have two chemicals and when they interact they create electricity. First we went from liquids and powders to “dry” batteries with just powders.

There are been some improvements in the last 180 years, but Volta would easily recognize today’s camera batteries. Different chemicals but it’s the same processes. There are at least a couple hundred of companies in Silicon Valley and another few dozen companies in Israel trying to develop new battery technology. We do not know much about China. There are a few companies in Japan and Korea but it’s very limited. The biggest investor? Bill Gates, the BG from Microsoft. He has invested in over a hundred companies…

The first part will be about batteries for cameras and the second part will be about batteries for flashes.

Most current cameras and smartphones use Lithium Ion batteries. These are 3.x Volts (named after Volta). The reason for using Lithium: (3.6/3.8 volt per cell). The voltage varies during discharging but not much. The voltage stays almost the same for the vast majority of the charge. A single lithium battery cell nominal voltage is usually shown as either 3.6V, 3.7V or 3.8V. The famous Canon LP-E6 is 2 cells or 7.2 Volts, same for the Nikon EN-EL15 - EN-EL18.

  • Lithium Ion batteries have a very long shelf life. Most Lithium batteries have a 10 years shelf life.
  • Most current Lithium Ion batteries have their own CPU to analyze the battery charge.
  • Most batteries have a very linear voltage until close to the end of the charge.

Charge Life of a Lithium Ion Battery

New Battery

Almost everybody receives a brand new battery with their camera, and the battery is from the camera manufacturer. There is only one camera manufacturer that manufactures batteries, it’s Panasonic. The only problem is they do not manufacture Lithium Ion batteries.

  • All batteries are third party batteries.
  • All manufacturers’ batteries are expensive, and there are many compatible batteries that are significantly cheaper. For example, the Canon LP-E6, the workhorse of the Canon dSLRs, cost $109 in Vancouver, Canada. Amazon Canada sells it for $66, and there are compatible batteries for $13.
  • Why? Because of the name, the engineering design time and the quality control from Canon, Nikon… The other names like Neewer, Wasabi… do very little quality control. If there is a problem, they will replace it under warranty…
  • If you get a good Lithium-Ion battery from a non-brand name, you will be just as happy as with a Canon or Nikon battery.
  • The brand new battery is always half charged. Between 35% to 55% charged.
  • Lithium Ion batteries have a limited lifespan of 500 full charges. What about the people that say: “I’ve never changed the battery of my iPhone2 and it’s now 4½ years. I charge it every night and that’s many times 500…” To which I reply, “These are not full charges from almost dead to 100% charge.”

Battery Do

  • Charge your battery on regular basis.
  • If you have a second battery, rotate them to have the same usage.
  • It is better to recharge the battery more often.
  • It does not matter if you charge it fully or partially.
  • Keep the battery cool.
  • The Lithium Ion batteries last the longest when operating in mid state-of-charge of 20–80%.
  • According to Cadex, after 250 full charge cycles, the average remaining capacity is between 73% and 84%.

Battery Do Not

  • Never let a Lithium Ion battery fully discharge. You will not be able to recharge anymore or it will so degraded that it will not keep its charge.
  • What’s a full discharge? That depends on the electrical engineer, the quality of the battery, the programming of the CPU included in the battery. It usually ranges from 1% to 10%.
  • Do not expose the battery to extreme cold or extreme heat.
  • Never leave a discharged battery for a “long time.” A battery that stays discharged for a month or more will have problems keeping its charge during storage.
  • Never charge a battery in the cold, somewhere below -5°C or 25°F.

Dangers

Lithium Ion batteries have a history of catching fire and some of them of exploding. Many laptop manufacturers including Apple, Dell, and HP have had battery fires and lawsuits, but that was in the past. More recently, Boeing, the plane manufacturer, just had its new jet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, all 50 of them grounded because of a few (some claim just 1, other people claim 3 fires) battery related smoke or fire.