November 22, 2006

Why this strange preference for a digital camera with AA batteries?

Glenn Reynolds has a big post about digital cameras with this line:
Ann Althouse has this small Sony, and a look at her blog will illustrate that it does excellent work. Unlike mine, though, it uses a proprietary rechargeable battery instead of AA batteries. I like the flexibility of being able to pick up fresh batteries anywhere in a pinch, though in truth I seldom have to do that.
But you end up with a clunkier camera! Look how elegantly slim mine is! If you're really worried about running low, buy an extra battery. It's tiny -- 1.4 x .2 x 1.8 inches. Really, that would be much better than having to look around for a store where you could buy batteries, which isn't always so easy anyway.


Slocum said...

Not only do you end up with a smaller camera with the lithium ion batteries, but more importantly, those batteries don't have the very bad habit (unlike rechargeable AAs) of discharging when they're not in use. Leave a lithium ion rechargeable battery for a few weeks and it'll hold it's charge, but not with rechargeable NiMH AAs. It's very aggravating to pull out your camera out to use and having all dead batteries.

Slowjack said...

Clunkier? Maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine wanting a camera any smaller than the one I have (which uses AAs). It's already so small that I find it uncomfortable to hold (and I have small hands). I feel the same way about cell phones. If it's already small enough to fit in my pocket, stop there! I don't need to hide it under my fingernail.

john(lesser) said...

At a certain point, cameras become to small. Too easy to break or lose and too hard to handle. You can't forget to charge AA's, and you can get them at any convenience store/drug store or hotel gift shop. If you can't find one of those, I doubt you can find a wall socket to plug your charger in.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Ann, about the AA batteries. The last digital camera I had took 'em and sucked 'em dry at an alarming rate. Everytime I wanted to use the thing, the batteries were dead, and I never seemed to have any on hand. I can't tell you how much I spent on batteries before I switched to the Canon I have now, with its lithium ion battery that never seems to lose power.

Molon_Labe_Lamp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Molon_Labe_Lamp said...

Hmm...Responses seem split, so if you're feeling ambitious try this project. Best of both worlds and a great conversation starter I'd imagine.

It's displayed with an iPod but the USB standard is 5 VDC, so anything that uses a USB cable for charging should work.

Sigivald said...

I prefer AAs precisely because I don't use my digital camera often, and keeping a proprietary rechargeable charged is a pain.

(Plus when I do want it I'm often camping or the like, and can't possibly charge it. But I can just pull a few AAs out of the pack in the car or my bag and dump them in.)

Current cameras don't seem to suck batteries as badly as old ones do (especially if, like me, you don't use the LCD screen to compose shots) - and I'm talking about using cheap alkalines from IKEA, not even NiMH rechargeables.

This seems to vary by camera and manufacturer, according to reviews, with some cameras using a lot more battery than others for design reasons.

Me, I also don't want a camera much smaller than the A520 I have now - too small becomes too small to hold and too small to have decent optical zoom - and it's still smaller and lighter than any film camera I've ever owned except the Kiev 35A or a Minox.

And I just have a dislike for proprietary battery systems; though this is to some extent irrational because unlike film cameras, digitals improve so much over time, and price-per-quality drops so much that by the time you can't get a new battery, you're better off buying a new one anyway.

(I can't imagine using a digital from 10 years ago for anything, ever; at the same time I regularly use film cameras that are 40 or 50 years old.)

Dale B said...
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Dale B said...

I think that Ann and Glenn both have a point. That's why I have two cameras.

My Cannon uses AA batteries is the one I use for travel. Most of the traveling I do is on a motorcycle and I don't want to mess with a charger. AA alkaline batteries don't suffer much from self discharge and you can buy them almost anywhere (gas stations, drug stores, etc.). They have adequate capacity and I take one spare set of batteries so I'm never out of juice. AA NiMH rechargables are not a good choice for this. They self discharge quite fast, have less capacity than most alkalines, and you still need a charger.

My Casio uses a Li ion. I keep it in my briefcase for ad hoc use. Li ion batteries have an extremely low self discharge rate and high capacity. Yes I need a charger (and charging base) to charge the battery but the charger is sitting right on the computer table.

I actually prefer the Cannon. It's bigger and easier for me to hold. It also has a viewfinder which makes it easier to hold steady. The Casio just has an LCD screen. It's a nice large LCD but you still have to hold it out in front and is harder for me to hold steady. Yes, it has anti-shake and it works OK but I still prefer a regular viewfinder. The big advantage of the Casio is that it's small and light. It fits perfectly in one of the pockets of my brieffcase. It also fits nicely in a shirt pocket.

They both work for the way I want to use them.

paul a'barge said...

Not to mention the fact that non-rechargeable batteries are an environmental anathema.

No thanks to you from the planet, Glenn.

Ann and Sony ... environmentally sound, eco-caring, to be applauded.

Joe said...

My digital uses AA, and I like it for the same reason Glenn does, but I see the point about how quickly they run out. Clunkiness is not an issue - until very recently my camera was a big, old fashioned, elegant mechanical Nikon F3.

Anonymous said...

I know this is ancient history for the digicam world, but I bought a Canon S-100 (the first digital elph) when they first came out back in 2000. It used a proprietary li-ion battery - seemed to work great at first, held a charge for a long time, etc.

However after awhile the batteries didn't seem to hold as much charge - eventually I would get about half a dozen pictures then the little low battery light would start flashing on the screen.

I had a couple spare Canon batteries and also a 3rd party battery I bought somewhat later, but they all gave the same results...perhaps it was an issue with the camera(?)

At this point as the camera was a few years old I wasn't too interested in sinking another $50 for a new battery - also I was shooting a lot of film still so I didn't want to upgrade to a new digicam yet. At least rechargeable AA's would be useful for more than one device.

I did eventually buy an S3IS, which runs on AA's and seems to last quite awhile on a set of batteries...and yes, I am using rechargeables, but I do like having the option of being able to get batteries at almost any store if needed.

Still want more of a 'pocket camera', but will probably lean towards an AA camera for that two.

Shawn Levasseur said...

I like the AA batteries because you can buy more at any drugstore. I used to do the NiMH rechargables, but I now swear by Lithium AA's. They last for a good long time, and I no longer deal with chargers.

I discovered Lithium AA's when I was on vacation and my rechargables were about to die out, and went into a drug store, and bought them, and was stunned to find that they were still working months later.

My Nikon Coolpix only takes two AA's, and it's a small enough camera. The battery chamber requires one end of the camera to have a bit of a bulge, which serves as a good grip to hold onto the camera

Ann Althouse said...

I know you can buy AA batteries in a lot of stores, but often when you're doing photography, you're out somewhere in a noncommercial area, perhaps on foot. My camera holds a charge for a long time, so it would never run out on one day, even if I took a lot of pictures. So as long as I charge it overnight, it will always get me through the day. And the charger is a single, lightweight plastic rectangle with a built-in plug (no cord or "base station" or whatever). It's smaller than a pack of cards.

Diane said...

We have two cameras, one uses AA batteries the other is rechargeable. I much prefer using the AA batteries made for digital cameras because they last for months with regular use, even with snippets of video. With the rechargeable you just never know when it will drain out, it could be at the worst possible time.

altoids1306 said...

The charge on a Sony battery is utterly ridiculous! I've had to charge mine roughly three times a year (I'm a pretty light user).

I like Li-based batteries, I mean, how hard is it to have the disipline to maintain one fully charged battery at all times?

T J Sawyer said...

I agree on the double AA as a requirement for any new camera I buy. Have a great Minolta Dimage X pocket camera that I still use but at $35 per battery I now have $140 into them. Takes two as a minimum when you shoot a couple hundred pictures a day on a trip. As they age they get down to under 50 shots per charge.

My newer Minolta Z (semi-SLR)is double A based and the Lithiums will last at least 2 to 4 hundred shots. In a pinch, a replacement is available anywhere, any country.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that sold me on Coolpix camera I have is the ability to either use a dedicated battery or a pair of AA.

If the dedicated battery dies, stop and pick up a pair of AA to get you thorugh the day. Very handy.

Jim said...

Regarding the high self-discharge of NiMH AA batteries, there's two things you need to know about that.

First, is that Sanyo-made 2500 mAh batteries have been found to have severe issues with that; they have an abysmally high failure rate, with cells becoming unusable after only a few charge cycles. They're fine if used right off, but after just a few weeks, they're dead.

Newer ones may have been fixed, but the consensus of the battery geeks at is that AA capacities beyond 2300mAh are problematic in regard to leakage current and internal resistance due to basic physics. Stick to the previous-gen 2000-2300mAh cells.

Note also that Energizers are made by Sanyo, so their cells of similar capacity have similar characteristics.

A way around all that, are the new Eneloops from Sanyo, and "Hybrio" from Rayovac. These trade capacity (around 2000 mAh) for much better charge retention. They come ready-to-use out of the pack; no need to charge them first. These will still have 80% or more of their charge after six months.

Their price is about the same as the regular cells, but be sure to shop around.

Lastly, Li-Ion batteris have one unfortunate characteristic; they have a 3-5 year lifespan or 500 charge cycles, whichever comes first. NiMH's, lightly used and properly treated, can go much longer.

Ric Locke said...

paul a'barge said...

Not to mention the fact that non-rechargeable batteries are an environmental anathema.

Fooey. Or, more accurately, balls.

No battery is environmentally friendly. That being said, non-rechargeables other than the lithiums are chemical reactions that run to completion, leaving relatively inert or benign compounds behind. That's why they "run down" in the first place.

Rechargeables use heavy metals, and the chemical reactions in them are deliberately designed not to run to completion -- that's why they're rechargeable. The environmental load represented by a rechargeable when it finally does become necessary to throw it away is many, many times the worst-case load caused by a rechargeable.

If you want to be as nearly environmentally responsible as possible while still using batteries, buy old-fashioned carbon-zinc-caustic batteries. When they weather they leave almost nothing damaging behind. Of course, they have nearly no capacity compared to more modern formulations, but hey, you gotta give something to Mother Gaia, right?

Lithium is a special case. If you call yourself an "environmentalist" or "green", even partially, and keep lithium batteries of any type around you're a liar. Lithium is a particularly vile environmental poison. It's explosive, poisonous, and psychoactive all on its own, and many of its resultant compounds (once the battery is discarded) are all that plus carcinogenic and teratogenic.

The closest thing to an environmentally responsible battery -- in the terms most Greens use -- is NiMH. Nickel is a relatively benign heavy metal, at least compared to many, and the rest of the compounds are at worst mildly poisonous. They aren't too great as batteries, as several people have noticed.

Choices, choices...


Ric Locke said...


...many times the worst-case load caused by a NON-rechargeable.


Amber said...

I use my digital camera most when I'm traveling overseas for 1-3 weeks. Unless I want to carry around a charger and a power converter in my backpack the entire time, it's AAs all the way.

michael a litscher said...

I thought Ann used a Nikon D70 - which I know does not use AA batteries.

Rick Lee said...

I guess I should have something brilliant to say on this subject since it's my bailiwick, but I'm not sure. For a pocket camera, I enthusiastically endorse the Fuji F30 (F31 coming out real soon) which uses a small lithium-ion battery which yields something like 500 shots. Yeow. That'll keep me going for days and I'm a heavy shooter. Even when the battery indicator starts showing less than full, I know I can shoot a ton of shots before it dies. A lot of people complain about the small size saying that they can't hold it still. There's an old saying... Any camera you have with you is better than the one that's at home. A tiny camera is as easy to carry with you as a pair of sunglasses. You're a lot more likely to have it with you if it's small.

Having said that... professionally, I also use the Nikon D200 (with the add-on battery pack) and a Fuji S3. I love the fact that both of these cameras can run on AA batteries. The Nikon has 2 big lithium batteries but it also has a magazine for AA batteries that I can use in an emergency... and I can buy batteries at any 7-11 in America.

Bradley J. Fikes said...

I recommended a line of Canon Powershot digital cameras for my newspaper (North County Times) precisely because it uses AAs. (These are for reporters, of course, the real photogs have professional digitals).

Our staff will be using these cameras a lot, and we need to be certain of having fresh batteries every time we go out on assignment. With a pool of rechargeable AAs on hand, along with an unused set of alkaline or lithium batteries as backup, we can be certain that is the case.

IrishLad said...

Last night my friend's daughter's new Sony rechargeable battery caught fire and subsequently started her room on fire. The daughter's friend was standing in the room when it happened and said it just suddenly burst into flames. Fortunately, they were able to put the fire out before it went too far. It reminded me of the problem laptops where having some months ago.

So... be careful, be aware! This was a brand new battery. And, it was a Sony. Beware ANN and all of you other Sony users. My guess is that there's a recall coming. I saw the thread and thought you should be notified. Thank God the timing was such that someone literally saw it happen and they were able to react and put out the fire!

HaloJonesFan said...

I guess my preference is not so much for AA versus rechargeable, as it is for availability. As it is now, I figure that I'm more likely to be able to find another pack of AA batteries than a useable 120v outlet...and the AA batteries are ready to use right out of the box, as opposed to the outlet which requires hours to recharge. (And I could just buy another battery, but then I'm lugging around extra stuff, and I can always just carry more AAs!)

For you computer-users, though, here's an interesting option: USBcell.

Christopher Fotos said...

I recommended a line of Canon Powershot digital cameras for my newspaper (North County Times) precisely because it uses AAs. (These are for reporters, of course, the real photogs have professional digitals).

Cameras, tape recorders, hand-held computers.....Whenever I'm traveling as a journalist, I never ever ever want to rely on some proprietary system. It really sucks to fly all the way to the end of the world--or run to a cross-town press conference--and discover you can't deliver the goods because your proprietary battery died.

There are very few places on the planet where you can't find AA's.

Interesting discussion; proprietary batteries aren't even on the table in my world so it's educational to see why some people like them.

(My current camera, which I've used mainly for personal use and my blog, is an old Powershot 510, very happy with it.)

The Drill SGT said...


I'm late to the game here, but I need some advice. I'm in the market for my first digital camera. Price isn't a huge issue. I want something mid range but fairly idiot proof.

I have no digital experience, but used a Nikon 35mm quite a bit years ago.


Anonymous said...

Hey, just stopped in utterly clueless about the battery issue. I(like Drill Srgt) am attempting my maiden voyage into the waters of digital-camera purchasing. Glad to find all these facts and personal experience! Of all google dug up, this has been the most informative, with such a variety of points. Thanks for the help!

Gordon said...

How do you charge a battery in a rural part of India? You can buy AA batteries anywhere!