Posted by: Ciaran | December 27, 2009

In my case – Batteries

This is the first in a new series of posts intended to give some more practical advice to would-be travellers; thoughts will mainly be drawn from my experiences of travelling, particularly India and Nepal, but if you have any suggestions then let me know.  I’d love to hear your opinions so please leave a comment.

Wherever you’re going and however long you’re going for, the chances are that you’ll be taking at least one of the following: a laptop; a mobile phone; a digital camera; or a camcorder.  This applies whether you’re heading to New York on a two-day business trip or spending a month trekking through the jungle in Borneo.

I even keep taking photographs when I'm in the picture...

So you’re going to need extra power, particularly for your camera, when you’re away.  A lot of digital cameras run off lithium-ion batteries which often have quite disparate performances in terms of how many pictures they’ll take before they conk out.  The best ways to conserve power are to keep the camera turned off when you’re not using it and try and resist the temptation to keep looking back through your photos where possible.

If you’ve got a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, or you have a mobile phone or laptop with a rechargeable power source, then you’re going to need a power adapter.  The top-end brands such as Samsonite are very reliable but you’ll pay at least about £13 (especially if you commit the cardinal sin of waiting to buy one in the airport departure lounge) for a worldwide adapter; Sainsbury’s do a version for about half the cost which is just as good, or you can find one online at a reasonable price.

Me snapping a Jain temple at Ranakpur, India

One thing to remember, though, is the likelihood of access to power where you’re going.  In North America and most of Europe, for example, you can expect wall-plugs in even very basic accommodation, but in parts of Asia by contrast you can struggle.  In this case, your best bet is to be as well-prepared as you can: when I went travelling in the summer this meant buying a new camera which took AA batteries and charging two mobile phone batteries before I went and then being very sparing in the use of my phone, turning it on once or twice a day.

Cameras which take AA batteries, such as the Fujifilm model which I went for, mean that you can be much more flexible.  However, they do tend to wear out the batteries very quickly (I’d get through a new pair of batteries every day, taking around 100 pictures), so your best bet is to get some camera batteries like these; the difference they make to battery life is incredible, lasting around a fortnight (c.1200 photos).

Happy snapping!

EDIT: Make sure you read the comment below from starfish87 whose knowledge of cameras – and thus batteries – is far superior to mine.  I would also highly recommend that you check out her excellent 51 Wishes blog here.

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Responses

  1. Useful blog post. I’ll be glued to this new series of posts since first-hand travel advice is unrivalled in value. “Thank the monkey” is becoming a veritable hub of essential travel tips…

    For all battery types, be that standard AA, lithium-ion, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) etc, there is another simple way of prolonging shelf-life. If and when you get the chance to, take your batteries out of your camera/camcorder and put them in the fridge. All batteries discharge by themselves (even sitting unused on a table, or sitting in your camera), and cool temperatures reduce the rate at which this happens. There are also Low Self-Discharge NiMH, although I’ve not previously used them so can’t comment on their performance – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_self-discharge_NiMH_battery

  2. This is an interesting post. Starfish87, you’re right about removing batteries in between use – that’s essential – but I was curious as to where you heard that information about keeping batteries in the fridge?

    From my own experience in professional photography I have leant on the assumption that batteries lose power faster when cold, not slower.

    When I’ve travelled in extreme climates such as in the Arctic (as low as -49C) I’ve always found it very important to keep spare batteries as close to your body as possible. I keep them in my inside coat pockets.

    I believe this applies to all types of batteries so I’d be interested to know if there’s research to show otherwise?

    Steve Bloom

    • Interesting to hear the other side of the coin and, since I’m about as far from being a professional photographer as anyone can be, it’s equally curious to discover that you keep batteries warm.

      Of course it’s all relative; how can we define “warm” and “cold”? You refer to the Arctic, and I’m not surprised to read that you like to keep your batteries warm (relatively speaking, anyway). There, you’d be trying to keep them as high above freezing point as possible, but knowing that this isn’t likely to exceed 5 or 10 degrees.

      For the majority of travellers, 49 degrees below freezing won’t be something they’ll encounter, so my advice was admittedly not to be taken by everybody. If I travel to a country where the temperatures are typically above 20 degrees Celcius, I would make the effort to store my camera batteries somewhere between 3 and 6 degrees (a fridge being the ideal place, and usually easy enough to find).

      In Ciaran’s case, he was in India and Nepal presumably in temperatures upwards of 30 degrees but away from the likes of fridges and hotel mini-bars etc (from what I’ve heard, anyway… Ciaran, correct me if I’m wrong!). In this instance, the centre of a day bag, and wrapped in a spare tshirt or similar would suffice as a place to keep spare batteries whilst on the move, since this would heat up the most slowly.

      After seeing your Portfolio on your website, Steve, and since I’m going by the advice of a physicist rather than hard evidential proof, I’m not likely to squabble!

  3. RE: Battery life, see:
    http://www.mpoweruk.com/life.htm
    and
    http://www.batteryuniversity.com/parttwo-34.htm

    You’re right that batteries will perform (deliver charge) best when at normal room temperature so when shooting in cold climates make sure they’re not too cold but for added years of life store in the fridge (not freezer!) semi-charged.
    Hope that helps.

  4. Really pleased to see the debate which this is promoting! 🙂 I’m certainly no professional and I don’t really know anything about the science behind temperatures, but I am seeing the sense in all that has been posted (i.e. keep them warmer in the Arctic, cooler in +30 degrees celsius heat). But as for the overall picture (no pun intended) on whether they lose power faster or slower in certain conditions, I don’t know.

    All I can say is thanks to starfish87, Steve Bloom and Guy for the great feedback so far – keep reading and keep talking!

  5. There is a useful graph in that first link from Guy which shows a visual representation of battery capacity versus age when storing unused at diferent temperatures: http://www.mpoweruk.com/images/life-temp.gif

    This is true of Ironclad Lead Acid batteries – I can only assume the same chemical reactions (and therefore practical advice) is true of standard camera batteries mentionned in previous comments.

  6. Admittedly this isn’t battery related, but interesting nonetheless: cooling the camera body itself can improve ISO performance (i.e. reduce thermal noise).

    http://www.petapixel.com/2010/01/26/freeze-your-camera-for-less-noise/


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