Power On The Go

Where would our digital cameras be without batteries? And with the 2005 PMA Show coinciding with the Daytona 500, is it any wonder that speed was at the heart of battery technologies this year? The big push in rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery technology focused on fast chargers, especially those with 15-minute charge cycles and faster, along with higher and higher capacity batteries, some boasting 2500 mAh ratings (the higher the rating, the longer the battery lasts on a full charge). Of course, there were noteworthy exceptions. (By the way, you should be aware that the charge cycle time may only apply to that company's batteries--other batteries may take longer to charge.) Other batteries charging the front lines of technology included rechargeable CR-V3 li ion packs and dedicated li ion systems for a wide range of digital cameras, as well as various adapter battery kits.

We begin with the pace car for this race, which puts us on the right track for the speed demons that follow. This charger from La Crosse Technology quietly caught me by surprise, stopping me in my tracks. The Alpha Battery Charger model BC-900 comes in kit form, for $70. You can really mix it up with this charger, which holds one to four AA or AAA cells, singly or in combination. But more than that, one set each of four 2000 mAh AAs and four 700 mAh AAAs comes with the kit.

La Crosse Alpha BC-900

The story gets even better. The included travel pouch also contains a set of adapter cartridges that allow these cells to be used in place of C or D cells (some manufacturers offer these as optional accessories--I wish I had these way back when). And the icing on the cake: a digital LCD read-out gives you status data. Charge cycles are user adjustable to prolong battery life (trickle charge activated when full), but if you need a fast charge, 70 minutes is the device's top speed. Individual Ni-MH (or NiCd) cells can be independently or simultaneously set for charge, discharge (useful with NiCd), refresh, or test. I was sent one of these kits upon returning home, and I have to say I was impressed.

Taking the lead among fast-paced Ni-MH chargers is a groundbreaker from Lenmar. While other companies were each touting what they claimed to be the world's first 15-minute charger, Lenmar buzzed right past them, leading the pack with a new hyper-speed charger. The MSC815 Mach1 Lightning SpeedCharger zips through its charging cycle in a mere eight minutes--provided it's charging two Lenmar Pro-H high-temperature Ni-MH cells. With other batteries (regardless of brand), four cells will charge in 15 minutes. Patented NeoTherm2 technology continuously monitors and conditions the battery, preventing overcharging and, of equal importance, overheating. The $59 charger ships with two Pro-H 2000 mAh batteries and supports voltages from 100-240v (car cigarette lighter adapter included).

Lenmar Mach1 SpeedCharger

Lenmar also showed off their NoMEM PRO AA 2500 mAh ($18 for four) and a series of rechargeable li ion batteries
(CR-V3 included) and charger kits. Beyond that, they introduced one other noteworthy product: the Mach1 Fusion-USB SpeedCharger. Also boasting NeoTherm2 technology, this $139 charger can be used with a variety of battery types, both li ion and Ni-MH, and comes with two NoMEM PRO 2000 mAh AA Ni-MH batteries. It holds up to four AA/AAA cells, with adapters for digital camera and camcorder batteries. This charger can also simultaneously charge any USB-powered device via a USB data cable.

Lenmar NoMEM PRO AA 2500 mAh

Just slightly off the pace of the Lenmar eight-minute charger is the dual-voltage 8.5-Minute Supersonic Charger from Sakar International. While the charger accepts only two Ni-MH batteries at one time, that's enough for many devices, even some compact digital cameras. One proviso: this $59 unit delivers an 8.5-minute charge only with compatible Sakar cells; other batteries charge in one hour. Special technology enables this high speed without damaging the batteries, which have 1000 charge cycles.

Digipower DPS-Q15