Rechargeable Camera Batteries; D-SLR Batteries Aren’t Cheap, So Here’s How To Get The Most From Them

“…if you buy a battery that has no brand name (or a name you’ve never encountered) from an online retailer you’ve never heard of, you’re taking a big chance—and you’re risking more than just a few bucks.”

If you own a high-end digital camera it’s probably powered by a battery that is small, gray, and costs around $50 to replace. And replace it you shall, should you happen to use your camera for more than a couple of years. Lithium-ion cells are a terrific source of portable power but they only last an average of 30 months, even if you baby them.

Since $50 is a big bite, you may be tempted to seek a replacement battery that’s cheaper than the one your camera maker sells. What are your choices?

Let’s begin with the question of used batteries—the secondhand cells that are readily available through online auction websites. Are secondhand batteries a reasonable alternative? In a word, no. Unless you personally know the previous owner, it’s impossible to gauge the battery’s age, how many times it was charged, or how it was treated overall. Buying a used battery from a stranger is like buying an open bottle of cough syrup—it’s a lousy idea at any price.

The next low-cost option is the generic battery. Are they a good deal? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If you buy from a retailer you know and trust, or buy a brand that you’ve seen advertised over and over, you should be safe. Names like Impact, Lenmar, Power 2000, and certain others have been on the market for years and are guaranteed by companies that have earned solid reputations. Store-name brands, like Adorama, offer the added assurance that they are backed by a retailer that has been around for a long time and isn’t going away soon. Look for UL and/or CE approval indicia, country of origin markings, and the RBRC Recycle logo that are usually present on quality brands and never, ever use a battery that has misspelled words on its label.

But if you buy a battery that has no brand name (or a name you’ve never encountered) from an online retailer you’ve never heard of, you’re taking a big chance—and you’re risking more than just a few bucks. You could be risking your safety. To make matters worse, you could end up with a counterfeit—a look-alike copy of a legitimate brand that was designed and built specifically to cheat consumers. Here’s an excerpt of what Canon says about this on their website: “Canon recently discovered these counterfeit lithium-ion battery packs and chargers on sale, and in circulation on Internet auction websites, being passed off as Canon genuine lithium-ion battery packs and chargers. Because these counterfeit lithium-ion battery packs and battery chargers are often not equipped with certain protective devices meeting Canon’s and the industry’s basic quality standards, using or recharging these counterfeit lithium-ion battery packs could cause your camcorder to malfunction, or lead these battery packs to overheat, leak liquids, ignite, or explode.”

You see, all lithium-ion batteries contain combustible organic electrolytes. A properly constructed battery has adequate insulation that protects the chemistry from reaching “thermal runaway” and igniting. But if there is a quality control problem during the manufacturing process, the consequences can be explosive—literally. The detonation is most likely to occur while the battery is being charged. My friend who’s been in the rechargeable battery business for many years summed it up this way: charging a lithium-ion battery is about as safe as visiting the zoo. As long as everything stays where it belongs there is no danger. If there’s a hole in the tiger’s cage, run for cover.

Before you dismiss this warning out of hand, be reminded that since January of 2008 the Department of Transportation no longer allows loose lithium batteries in checked baggage. Safe travel info is available from many sources, including the FAA website, but even the TSA is concerned about the inferior and dangerous nature of imitations and knock-off batteries. Their advice: “Buy batteries from reputable sources and only use batteries approved for your device—avoid counterfeits! A counterfeit battery is more likely to cause a fire in your equipment—costing you more in the long run, and compromising safety.”

World Battery Consumption Rate
How many rechargeable lithium-ion batteries does the world consume? Sanyo is the world’s largest lithium-ion battery manufacturer. Their monthly lithium-ion battery output is 73 million. Sanyo’s new business partner Panasonic is building about 25 million cells each month, while Sony’s battery production falls somewhere in between. Altogether we’re looking at about 150 million batteries each month—enough annual production to supply the total population of the US with six new rechargeable batteries every year.

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