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December 11, 2011

Battery frustrations

Time to vent. Batteries are a major source of frustration.

On a recent dive trip we had with us eight cameras and six flash or light systems. All had their own individual batteries, sometimes up to eight of them. Each has its special way of charging. Some need to be plugged in via a USB cable, which means that you cannot use the camera while a battery is charging, even if you have multiple batteries. Others have separate chargers that are never labelled so keeping them apart can be a challenge. I am not sure why even major camera companies do not always clearly mark their own chargers. As is, I usually create a label for each as soon as I get them.

Having all the proper batteries and chargers, however, is just the beginning. If you have video lights that use eight AA rechargeables each, that's already 16 batteries, and it's almost certain that one or the other will be bad. Nothing more fun than figuring out which of 16 batteries is bad. Normally, I also like to carry a spare set with me so that I can simply exchange a spent set with a freshly recharged one. So that'd be 32 batteries for one camera's video lights alone. No can do.

Other batteries are just no good. They either don't charge properly, are they are simply crap. Most cameras, even expensive ones, come with only one battery when any serious user needs at least two. Well, the branded ones are often unreasonably expensive and users are driven to seeking cheaper replacements, of which there are many on eBay. Sometimes what you find on eBay is just as good or better than the branded products (like replacement batteries I bought for my Canon G10). Other times they are useless and crap out at the most inopportune time (like five minutes into a dive).

Some cameras have properly sized batteries, others do not. Older photographers still remember the days when a SLR battery ran the camera for years. Younger ones may still remember the early days of digital cameras where batteries often lasted just a few dozen pictures. Today, a properly sized battery should be good for hundreds if pictures, or hours of video since most cameras now include video. No modern camera, and certainly not those used for diving, should have undersized batteries. And yet, I've had dedicated underwater cameras whose batteries did not even last through two dives.

Then there's the debate over standard batteries, like AAs or AAAs, versus specially designed batteries. The argument for standard ones is that you can get them anywhere. But they are also usually larger and heavier. The argument for dedicated ones is that they are designed for a device, saving space. But they usually are overpriced and hard to find.

As is, despite dealing with batteries every day in my work, on this dive trip I had at least half a dozen incidences where I could either not use a camera for a dive because one of its batteries failed, or a battery expired while still on the dive.

I realize that providing power to the flood of portable electronics we carry and use is not easy. Most manufacturers probably think long and hard about what type and kind of batteries to use. But some simply need to think a bit longer and harder. It's not impossible to minimize the battery hassle by thinking things through and then coming up with a solution that is reasonable. 16 batteries for a set of video lights is not reasonable. Not labeling chargers is not reasonable. And using batteries that barely last through a single dive is not reasonable.

Posted by conradb212 at December 11, 2011 07:38 PM

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