Preferable digital camera battery type?
March 21, 2005 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Digital cameras: rechargeable battery vs. one-time use (AA) batteries. Which is preferable and why?

My current camera (4 year old, piece of crap HP) takes 4-AA batts and eats them like candy. This is getting expensive/annoying. Since I'm buying a new camera, I can choose whether to purchase one with a rechargeable battery or one that takes AA batteries. Because I am scarred, I am leaning toward a camera with a rechargeable battery. Am I wrong to be doing so? Why or why not?
posted by suchatreat to Shopping (30 answers total)
Get one that uses AA and buy two sets of rechargeable AAs and a charger. It will cost you more initially but in the long term you'll save batteries, money, and the environment.

Also, since you're not tied down to a proprietary battery, if you ever find yourself in East Nowhere without your charger you can always buy a set of AAs anywhere.
posted by bondcliff at 12:55 PM on March 21, 2005

In my mind, the ideal situation is a camera that takes AA rechargeable batteries. That way you can get alkalines at any corner grocery if you need them, but a set of inexpensive AA NIMH batteries will last just as long and save you A TON of money.

I had the same situation as you- an old HP photosmart 318. I'd probably get 30 shots on 4 AA batteries, and they all sucked (ha.). I upgraded to a Canon Powershot A80, and now life is sweeeeet. Using rechargeable AA NIMH batteries, I get several hundred shots before I need to charge- and that's using the LCD all the time.

I just got my dad to buy my mom a Powershot A95 for xmas. She loves it, the picture quality is fantastic, it's easy to work as a point-and-shoot, but also has great manual control. I'd highly recommend going this route- AA rechargeables are a million times more convenient than some lithium ion thing that costs 80$, and if it runs out on you at that critical moment, you'll have no recourse....

On preview- bondcliff's advice is sound.
posted by fake at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2005

I'm in the same situation as you. I have a 2 year old Canon Powershot A60 that eats double A batteries like nothing I've ever seen before. It's so bad that unless the batteries are absolutely perfect - ie, brand new, it won't work properly. (Come to think of it, I bet there's something wrong with my camera. )

Personally, I'm leaning towards buying a new camera with a rechargable battery. So no, you're not totally off base. Do you really want to keep spending $4 or $5 on batteries every few weeks? Every few days if you keep taking a bunch of pictures?

From what I've seen on froogle, rechargable digi cam batteries are worth the $30 or so dollars.
posted by tozturk at 1:05 PM on March 21, 2005

Thirding what bondcliff said. I've had two sets of AA NIMH batteries that I use in my camera that have been going strong for over five years now. (This is not daily use, mind you... more like semi-monthly. YMMV)
posted by BoringPostcards at 1:07 PM on March 21, 2005

I've got a Fuji S2Pro. It'll eat through non-rechargeable energizers like the cookie monster goes through cookies. I use rechargeables for it now and I get a lot more pictures between recharges than I ever did between sets of fresh batteries.

This isn't obvious but there's a sound technical reason for it. Non-rechargeable batteries start off with a higher voltage but that voltage quickly drops as the battery is discharged. If you're running a flashlight that's fine, the bulb is dimmer but still works. On a camera the electronics shut down though. rechargeable batteries start with less voltage but it remains relatively flat as the battery is discharged.

I would also recommend a camera that takes stock batteries for the reasons bondcliff indicated. I have a Canon S200 that I use for scuba diving. It uses a proprietary battery so if it discharges I can't use the camera until I find a place to recharge it. If I'm hiking between dive sites with only a tent and a camp stove that's the end of my picture taking.
posted by substrate at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2005

The proprietary rechargables can be smaller, if that's an issue. I have no complaints about my Canon Powershot S400: the battery has been plenty for a day or two, and it's simple to slip it into the charger at night. I was worried initially about running out of juice "at that critical moment", but it just hasn't been an issue.

Your decision might be a matter of your "charging habits". Are you the kind of person who habitually plugs in her cell phone/iPod/PDA before turning in each night? If so, a rechargeable battery will be no problem. However, if (like my wife) you're the kind of person who is constantly having her portable electronics fail in the middle of the day because you never plug them in until you have to, you might want to go with the AAs.

On preview: substrate's point about extended trips away from civilization is a good one. I use a big old SLR when I go camping, so this hadn't occurred to me.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2005

It's interesting to note that NiMH batteries will last longer than just about any alkaline battery. Both because NiMH batteries tend to have a higher milliamp hours and because they have a more useful voltage dropoff line. Since most cameras cut off when a battery drops it, say, 1.1 volts, if a battery spends more of its time above that--even if two batteries have the same total engery--it's more useful. Here's chart that shows that. The best on that chart is a lithium ion battery, but those costs a lot.

In addition to the good suggestions above, the general "ideal" set up for AAs is this: 2 (or more) sets of rechargable NiMH with at least 2000 mAHs; and 1 (or more) set of lithium ions for backup that you carry around with you always, they cost more than alkalines, but they weigh a lot less, have a shelf life that's years longer, and work at lower temperatures.

Also, remember that most NiMH do not have any form of memory. So for most usages, you don't have to worry about discharging them fully or anything. They should just work for a few thousand charges with little problems. Although they tend to take 2 or 3 charges from new because they hold their full capacity.
posted by skynxnex at 1:17 PM on March 21, 2005

Fifthing bondcliff's recommendation: get one that uses AA batteries and buy rechargables. Don't lock yourself into a proprietary battery design unnecessarily.
posted by pmurray63 at 1:20 PM on March 21, 2005

I personally would buy a camera that takes AAs unless you want a camera that's too small to take AAs. Get some 2000+ batteries and one of those nice Powerex battery chargers.

I say that basically just because I like to carry lots of batteries (for lots of charge) and buying lots of backups of your proprietary Li-on or whatever battery gets real expensive. Nimh AAs are pretty cheap by comparison.

Do not buy NiCD batteries: they suck and are bad for the environment.

BTW: On more powerful cameras, the battery rating really does make a difference. I have a set of 4 2000s in an Olympus E-10 and they last a LOT longer than my set of 1850s.

Also: shoot with the LCD off unless it bothers you. You'll save charge that way.
posted by selfnoise at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2005

My camera, a Nikon CP775, takes a proprietary rechargeable battery. The batteries are $35 apiece, but have lasted three years before (just now) starting to lose the ability to hold a charge. In terms of cost, this is incomparable to disposables: $70 for two batteries, maybe a buck's worth of AC, and there's a three year supply of juice.

I keep one in the camera at all times, and the other one freshly charged. I have never, ever, used both batteries before finding an AC source with which to recharge them. This even after taking over 600 pictures in the course of a long weekend (when I forgot to bring the charger!).

If you have several other AA devices, it would very much be worth considering AA rechargeables. Buy eight or ten sets, a decent travel charger, and learn how to properly use your batteries; chances are you'll always have a fresh set available when you need one, if you get into a maintenance routine. I considered taking this route, but tend not to be particularly good with the sort of rigorous micromanagement that a fleet of batteries in devices at various consumption rates requires.
posted by majick at 1:36 PM on March 21, 2005

Buy the camera that takes AA batteries. Anything else is an attempt to take your money, unless (as was pointed out above) the camera is too small.

Get thyself to Costco. They have a Panasonic NiMH recharger with batteries. Get two, and never run out of power.

I carry 12 rechargable batteries around, and I take a *lot* of pictures. I've never run out of power.
posted by bh at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2005

Both proprietary rechargeables and AA's work just fine. Get the camera you like best and ignore the battery issue except as a tie-breaker. You'll be pissed at yourself a year from now if you're living with subpar optics or missing features that another camera had, just so you could use AA's.

Also note that some (most?) proprietary rechargeables can take single-use photo batteries that you can get at most any Wal-Mart, Target, Radio Shack, national park gift shop, etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:09 PM on March 21, 2005

I bought a Canon A300, which is a major battery pig. Brand new Duracells would only last 10 pictures!

I tried NiCds, no better.

Then I got these: Energizer 15-Minute NiMH's, which REALLY do not suck. I've shot all day with these, without a problem. And they really do recharge in 15 minutes.
posted by Marky at 2:09 PM on March 21, 2005

hey odinsdream, that's my battery you found.

i used to have the powershot s-40 which took a proprietary battery (about $50 i think). I bought an extra one which was nice but then i lost one of them.

i'm now on an s1 IS and am using rechargable NiMH AA's. they last forever and it's no problem to recharge them. i carry an extra set of cheapo alkalines with me and have used them a few times when my rechargables ran out. I only have one set of 4 and that's usually enough for me. i opted for the slightly cheaper charger rather than the 15-minute one but they still charge pretty quick...maybe 2 or 3 hours
posted by jacobsee at 2:35 PM on March 21, 2005

The reason that alkaline AAs do so poorly in digital cameras is because the batteries have a high internal resistance, which means that the faster current is drawn out of them, the more energy is wasted in the form of heat in the battery itself. And digital cameras have a high drain. The short life of alkalines in this application doesn't have much to do with their voltage falloff characteristics or their capacities. In fact an alkaline battery actually has a higher capacity than a NiMH rechargeable (alkaline: up to 2800 mAH, NiMH: 1800-2300), but the NiMH will nevertheless last longer in a digicam.

Lithium batteries are more expensive than alkalines and must be disposed of more carefully, but they last a lot longer in digital cameras. As a bonus, they have a quite long shelf life. If you have a camera that takes AAs, get a set of lithiums to keep in your camera bag in case you ever find yourself without charged NiMHs.
posted by kindall at 2:51 PM on March 21, 2005

Since I'm buying a new camera, I can choose whether to purchase one with a rechargeable battery or one that takes AA batteries. Because I am scarred, I am leaning toward a camera with a rechargeable battery. Am I wrong to be doing so? Why or why not?

It doesn't really matter what type of batteries your camera takes. There are far more important things to worry about when choosing a camera.

Rechargeable AA's (NiMH) are great (don't use regular alkalines for digital cameras). They have a familiar form factor, are fairly easy to find, cheap, and you can always use alkalines as emergency substitutes even while traveling in a Third World country. I pack extended single-use lithium AA's on long trips so I wouldn't have to worry about recharging, but they're pricy if you're depending on them for day-to-day use. Avoid NiCads for AA's; the only exception is that they're useful for powering external flashes, since they allow for faster recycling times. Still, there's no doubt that you'll have more options to choose from with an AA camera, and generally rechargeable NiMH's are your best choice for AA.

On the other hand, proprietary batteries are almost always Li-ion with all the advantages that come with the Li-ion technology: great battery life, hold their charge much better when not in use, recharge faster, and are quicker to swap out (no need to juggle multiple batteries). Backups can be expensive, but many cameras are starting to use quasi-standardized sizes that can be used even across brands: for instance, the battery my Epson camera uses is also used in many Fuji cameras, and off-brand replacements were readily available for $15-20 or so. You'll need to do a little homework to find compatible batteries and hit up on eBay if you want to save a few bucks by buying generics. On the whole though, I prefer much proprietary Li-ion batteries these days for their convenience (and frankly, so do most people who have to spend a lot of time with their cameras, especially working pros) -- you can charge a spare and leave it in your bag always at the ready, whereas NiMH AA's lose their charges fairly quickly if you haven't been fastidious about keeping them topped off. If your camera uses a proprietary Li-ion battery, bring your charger and backup batteries with your camera on trips and you'll be fine. There was an article on a year or two back where someone was doing an multi-week mountain climbing assignment in the Himalayas (no external power) and after looking at all the available external battery-pack/charger choices, just decided to pick up a half-dozen or so extra proprietary Li-ion batteries for his DSLR and kept them in his pockets the whole trip to swap out as needed. They're that convenient.

Like I've said though, both battery types have their advantages.

Lastly, your camera model and usage patterns (particularly LCD usage) have a much greater effect on how long you can shoot than whether it uses AA's or proprietaries. There are cameras with great or lousy battery drain rates on both sides of the battery divide. The better online reviews will have comparisons of battery consumption between different camera models to help you choose. Both types of batteries are good, so don't sweat battery types when it comes time to pick out a camera -- worry about battery consumption by looking at benchmarks/reviews before you buy.

odinsdream: Are you sure your camera uses NiMH for its proprietary battery? If so, which model is it? I thought all the Canon compacts had pretty much standardized on a small number of Li-ions by now. For example, even Canon's newest DSLR, the Digital Rebel XT, uses the same proprietary Li-ion battery that's used by some of their compact PowerShot models; all of Canon's other non-pro DSLR's use the same battery, all of Canon's pro DSLR's use a different battery, etc.
posted by DaShiv at 2:53 PM on March 21, 2005

I use a camera that takes 4 AA's, and I use rechargeables as well. The best part, my charger also charges AAA's, so I bought a bunch of those and I never have to worry about my TV/DVD/VCR/stereo remotes dying suddenly. Just a few hours in the charger, and you're good to go. You'd be suprised how many things you need to power.
posted by MrZero at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2005

I agree with the consensus that you want something that takes rechargeable NiMHs as well as lithium ion batteries (such as my Canon A75). Lithiums are expensive, but they're much more convenient and they last forever - I spent two months in Europe on just one of those bitches.
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:25 PM on March 21, 2005

I would like to voice an opinion in favor of proprietary batteries. Especially with Canon's, which seem to last forever, both in charge and in lifespan.

I would definitely agree to NOT limit your choices based on battery type. If anything has been proven in this discussion, it's that using standard AA or AAA's is not a good choice, so even if you go non-proprietary, you have to be careful about the batteries you use.
posted by jonah at 4:28 PM on March 21, 2005

The only problem with NiMH rechargeables is that they gradually lose their charge when sitting on the shelf. I have to recharge my AAs after a month or two of occasional usage, so I keep a few alkalines in case I can't wait to recharge. And the NiMH don't seem to hold a full charge when they are a few years old.
posted by jjj606 at 4:32 PM on March 21, 2005

Another vote for AAs. My girlfriend's Sony uses AAs and if it wasn't for that I would have have been screwed in South East Asia. Plus, I used two of those lithium AAs (Duracell) and they lasted over a month and nearly 500 photos. A decision I never regretted.
posted by furtive at 4:39 PM on March 21, 2005

My Canon S400 takes proprietary batteries (Li-ion). The battery lasts for the time it takes to fill up a CF card. I have a couple of spares (batteries, and CF cards) that I use when I go backcountry for a weekend

After taking over 25,000 pictures with the camera, I am very very happy with the longevity and the endurance of the batteries. They recharge quickly (usually within 90 minutes) and hold their charge very very well.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:24 PM on March 21, 2005

Read kindall's post ten times. If you don't understand what he said lets discuss it.

skynxnex: NiMH do not have any form of memory.
The memory effect is a myth.

MrZero: I use a camera that takes 4 AA's, and I use rechargeable as well. The best part, my charger also charges AAA's, so I bought a bunch of those and I never have to worry about my TV/DVD/VCR/stereo remotes dying suddenly. Just a few hours in the charger, and you're good to go. You'd be surprised how many things you need to power.
NiMH are not for low drain applications like remote controls. Alkalines can last years when not in use. NiMH will drain completely in a few weeks sitting unused. On top of that at moderate loads alkalines operate at around .4V higher per cell (well, maybe only .3V lower, depends on the current draw anyway so picking a number is kind of useless). Lots of low drain devices need the extra voltage.

jonah: I would like to voice an opinion in favor of proprietary batteries. Especially with Canon's, which seem to last forever, both in charge and in lifespan.
I don't agree, but there is a kernel of truth here. Some people don't want to bother learning about how batteries work. Proprietary batteries let you trade your money for a designed solution (properly designed even, although you can't always count on that).
posted by Chuckles at 6:27 PM on March 21, 2005

After I lost my digital camera to a pick-pocket in Xi'an I bought a new Sony DSC-W1 that came with Sony Staminatm rechargeable NiMH batteries that I can't believe I lived without. I am in West Nowhere, China and I knew I wanted a camera that takes AA's since I can buy them anywhere but the life of the rechargeables has been awesome.

A late vote, but another for the rechargeable AA's.
posted by geekyguy at 7:54 PM on March 21, 2005

By the way, this DPReview chart lists some empirically-measured battery lives (scroll to the bottom of that page). As you can see, there's a ton of variation between different camera models and no direct correlation between in-camera battery life versus battery type used (whether AA or proprietary Li-ion). Interestingly, cameras with Li-ions dominate the top 13 out of 15 positions, but there's no clear pattern since different cameras turn in very different performances even using identical batteries (all of the Canon ones listed use either the small NB-2L or the larger BP-511, for example).

FYI, the AA's used for DPR's tests were 1600 mAh AA's, and there are higher capacities for AA's (2300 mAh at least) on the market. It's the same story for proprietary Li-ions though -- for example, instead of the $50 Canon BP-511 (1100 mAh), here's an 1500 mAh one for only $20. There are various "2 for $20" type of aftermarket batteries on sale at eBay as well. Just like for AA's, there are a slew of aftermarket chargers, car adaptors, etc for proprietary batteries out there too, as you can see on that page. So whether your camera uses AA's or proprietary Li-ions, you'll still have lots of options. It's better to scrutinze the features (including the battery life) of the camera itself, rather than what kind of battery it uses. :)
posted by DaShiv at 8:12 PM on March 21, 2005

Ricoh have a line of cameras that take AAs and a Li-ion pack. Were I to be buying a new digital camera I would not look anywhere else.

I have two older cameras, a Fujifilm MX-2700 (Li-ion pack) and a Kodak DC260 (4xAAs). The battery is going on the Fuji and it will cost a fortune to replace. Thus I don't use it much anymore, despite the fact that it has a higher res (slightly), can take photos faster (slightly) and is smaller/lighter (lots). Mind you, I love the optical zoom on my Kodak.

Note that I bought the Kodak recently, secondhand. I probably wouldn't purchase a secondhand camera unless it takes AAs, since old battery packs are at best expensive and at worst unavailable.
posted by krisjohn at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2005

krisjohn: Wow, Ricoh is still making cameras? I still have and frequently use the nifty Ricoh 300z. Yeah, that thing is ancient, but it has amazing optics, durability, features, color balance and image quality. All things considered, not excluding age and price bracket.

Anyways, I also vote for the NiMH AA rechargables. Brand new Duracell or Energizers last about 20-40 shots with no flash. 10 or so with flash. (This is likely due to the current/heat problems listed above, which I never knew about. This probably explains why they'll "recover" most of their juice if I'm only shooting a few pics at a time.)

I'm currently using the Panasonic 2300s with the fast charger. I think this is the Costco package mentioned above, but it was a gift to me. 8 AAs at 2300mAh, 2 AAA at 780mAh, and a 4 slot super quick charger with diagnostic/meter LCD screen with status icons for each battery being charged.

Excellent battery and charger package. Plus all that stuff about "I can use normal AAs in it!"

There's one major benefit to using AA or other standardized battery sizes for rechargeables as opposed to proprietary batteries that's not being addressed here: I can use them in other devices. CD/MP3 player. LED flashlights. Two way radios. GPS unit. Whatever.

In the end, you end up spending a lot less on batteries and end up having far fewer batteries in the house to begin with, because each device doesn't require a proprietary battery specifically made for the device.
posted by loquacious at 3:13 AM on March 22, 2005

I have had a coolpix 990 that takes 4xAA. I bought 3 sets of relatively inexpensive Maha NiMH batteries from Thomas Distributing that lasted about 3 years before their life declined dramatically.

My most recent camera is a Canon S400 that takes a proprietary battery. I'd have preferred something more standardized, but there weren't a lot of options in the smaller camera form factors. The factory replacement batter is a gyp, but I got two replacements for $8 each that work well that I found after reading some reviews on DPreview. It helps i think that Canon has used the same formfactor for a range of cameras over the years.

Battery type is probably not one of my top criteria when buying a digital camera, but given a choice between two otherwise equal cameras, I'd go with the one that takes standard batteries.
posted by Good Brain at 8:20 AM on March 22, 2005

I thought more about this last night and I am suprised that there are not more people in favor of the proprietary batteries. I think I am spoiled by having a string of Canon products though, and they do a spectacular job of stadardizing their own batteries, which means that generics and even Canon brand backups aren't too expensive.

How standard are they? My five year old camcorder uses the same battery as my two year old Powershot G3 which uses the same battery as my months old Digital Rebel.

After using Fuji and Nikon though, I'm a bit of a Canon evangelist.
posted by jonah at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2005

I echo jonah on this - I have a Canon S500 now, which replaced an S100. There may be something to be said for the ability to buy replacements at the corner store but the longevity both in usage and longevity of a charge without use is better on mine by far than anyone's I know who uses AA.

Also worth examining is how usable those corner store AAs are. My girlfriend's Nikon will take any AA batt... and work for at most 4 hours before they are kaput. I've seen her run through 10 on vacation supplimenting rechargables when she forgot to charge them.

Lithium AAs rival mine for duration but at $9 a pair in many venues I don't think it's a great tradeoff. I bought 3 additional propritaries off ebay for under $25 total, with shipping. It's rare I find myself w/o a good one, though I am not trekking through Thailand, admittedly.
posted by phearlez at 1:01 PM on March 22, 2005

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