Charged Up and in the Loop: Choosing the Right Cell Mates for Your Digital Camera by Tamia Nelson

When I first went looking for a digital camera, I was determined to get one that got its power from AA cells, rather than a proprietary battery. I figured this would give me the best of both worlds. When I was on the road, I could buy replacement cells in almost any store, no matter how out of the way, but I could still use rechargeable batteries when working from home.

It didn’t pan out quite the way I’d planned. Though I found two excellent cameras that filled the bill—a Canon PowerShot A590 IS point-and-shoot model for documentary photography, and a Pentax K200D digital SLR for more demanding work—neither performed quite as expected. The Canon gobbled up alkaline cells with appalling gusto, while garden-variety NiMH rechargeables quickly bonked and died. And the Pentax made an even poorer showing, burning through four alkaline cells in a single shoot. (It wouldn’t even wake up to acknowledge being fed a meal of rechargables.) In desperation, I turned to the Pentax users forum, hoping against hope that I’d find someone there who had the answer to my problem. And in short order I did.

Here’s what I learned: Alkaline cells are starvation fare for digital cameras. They’re better than nothing, but only just. Lithium cells, on the other hand, can be relied on to keep going for thousands of shots. They’re not cheap, but the cost per shot is negligible. And what about rechargeables? Well, I regret to report that they’re not all created equal. One brand of NiMH cells stands head and shoulders above the rest—Sanyo Eneloops. Their advertised claim to fame is their long shelf life. They’ll hold a full charge for more than a year in storage. But they also seem to have more oomph than other brands. I’m neither an engineer nor a chemist, so I can’t offer a good explanation (you’ll find one here, if you’re interested). I can attest to their reliability, however. I typically get at least a month’s service out of a set of four before they need to be recharged, and it’s a rare month indeed when I don’t shoot at least a thousand shots.

So I’ve finally sorted out my battery problems. On the road and in the backcountry, I rely on Energizer Ultimate Lithium cells. At home, I use Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables. And neither one has let me down.


What about you? If you’ve had bad luck with alkaline cells and garden-variety NiMH rechargeables, consider making the switch to lithiums and Eneloops. It may be all your camera needs to bring it back from the dead.

Cell Mates

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.