We've all been there--the camera is set, that perfect moment finally hits, you press the shutter release and…your batteries die. Batteries are often overlooked when researching a new digital camera and simply categorized as chargeable or disposable. But there's more to choosing the camera with the right battery then just looking at how often you'll need to be purchasing a new one--battery type affects time between charges, cold weather performance and several other factors.
Types of Batteries
Disposable AAs. Many of the inexpensive cameras run on AAs. For avid photographers, however, the cost of constantly replacing the batteries is usually better spent upgrading the camera. But AAs do have their perks--it's easy and inexpensive to have an extra set on hand, so that if the batteries die, you can quickly swap them out. To lessen the cost of owning a camera with disposable batteries, you can pick up a set of rechargeable AAs with a charger.
Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion). Li-Ions are the most common type of digital camera battery--and for good reason. These ones tend to last longer in between charges and they don't have to be fully drained before recharging.
NiCd. These rechargeables are not affected by low temperatures, but they should be fully drained at least some of the time before charging.
NiMh. NiMh batteries hold more of a charge compared to NiCds, but their overall lifespan tends to be shorter and they should also be drained before recharging.
Factors To Consider
Temperature. Love to head outside with your camera after a big snow storm? Not all batteries perform equally in cold weather. NiMh batteries can quit working below certain temperatures. Li-Ions will still function in the bitter cold, but tend to drain faster. NiCd batteries are known for their cold weather performance. Li-Ion batteries shouldn't be charged in a cold room--but they also shouldn't be stored in high temperatures because of a fire risk.
Recharging. Like to charge your batteries before they are dead to avoid running out at a bad time? Recharging some batteries, the NiCd especially, before they are fully drained can shorten the overall lifespan of the battery and cause them to run out of power faster. NiMh batteries also are affected by this, but not to the extent of the NiCds. Li-Ion batteries can be recharged at any point with no issues.
Cost. AAs are probably the cheapest for the first set, but continually buying disposables is much more expensive in the long run. And while li-ions have many advantages, cameras using these tend to be more expensive over other rechargeables. If you'd like to have a back-up battery, check out the costs before buying the camera. Some models have replacement li-ion batteries for around $40 on Amazon, others are more expensive.
Storage. Some batteries continue to lose power even while they are not in use. NiCds should be fully drained and then recharged every month, so they are not ideal for the occasional photographer. NiMh batteries can just be charged once a year while stored and Li-ions only lose power at a slow rate when not in use.
Lifespan. While Li-Ion batteries are the most common type used in digital cameras, they tend to have a shorter lifespan, around 2-3 years even if not used. NiMhs are usually good for about 500 charges while NiCds can hit around 1500 rounds.
Environmental. Once a battery has reached the end of its lifespan, most can be recycled. Some, however, contain materials that make proper recycling a must. The Cd in NiCd means cadmium, which is hazardous if not disposed of properly. NiMh and Li-Ion batteries are not hazardous, but can still be recycled.
Li-ion batteries are the most common type used in digital cameras, and it is not hard to see why, but NiMh and NiCd and even AAs have their own advantages. Before buying a camera, consider the battery type, especially if you take pictures in the cold or if your camera tends to be stored for several weeks at a time.