Sooner or later, every photographer runs into their camera’s dreaded low battery warning. The eighth law of photography states that the charge left on your battery decreases as the scene in front of you grows more interesting. But never fear – that’s where the tips in this article come in.
Below, I’ll explain the most important things you can do to improve your camera’s battery life and never miss the shot.
Table of Contents
1. Cut Down on the LCD
The biggest battery drain in a camera is the LCD – both the rear screen and the electronic viewfinder. This is the big reason why DSLRs almost always have longer battery life specifications than mirrorless cameras – the optical viewfinder lets you skip LCDs altogether.
However, if you use your DSLR in live view, you’ll notice that its battery life slides dramatically. Side by side against a mirrorless camera, there’s actually a good chance it will die first. LCDs just take a lot of power to run.
What does this imply? Quite simply, you should always do what you can to cut down on LCD usage when your battery is running low.
For DSLR users, that means switching to the optical viewfinder. For mirrorless photographers, it means turning off the camera frequently, or setting it so the viewfinder only activates when you hold it to your eye.
And regardless of the camera you use, drastically cut down on the amount of time you spend reviewing photos. Chimping has its place, but not while your battery warning is blinking red.
2. Optimize Your Battery Saver Settings
Most cameras have menu options designed to improve battery life and maximize your shooting time. For example, the “metering timeout” setting lets you select how long you want the camera to wait during inactivity before shutting off its metering system.
Beyond that, a number of cameras today have an “Eco mode” that minimizes power consumption from the camera’s LCD. On the Canon EOS R, for example, Eco mode dims and then turns off the LCD when not in use, improving your battery life significantly – from 370 to 540 shots per charge, according to Canon’s official specifications.
It’s also important to note that mirrorless cameras are generally more efficient using the rear LCD than the electronic viewfinder. In terms of the EOS R again, Canon only rates 350 shots using the EVF, with no Eco mode to improve it. On the Sony side of things, the new A7R IV is rated for 530 shots via the viewfinder and 670 via the rear LCD.
If none of that applies to you, one option at your disposal is always to lower the brightness of your rear LCD. It might make photography a bit trickier in bright conditions, but the payoff is getting the shot rather than missing it completely due to a dead battery.
Other camera settings and extras that harm battery life include:
- Image stabilization (both in-body and in-lens)
- Popup flash
- Bluetooth and WiFi
- Most external accessories: GPS dongles, lightning triggers, wireless remote releases, shotgun mics, etc.
Sometimes, these capabilities are essential for your photo, so it’s worth the battery life sacrifice. But if you’re down to your last bar, double check to ensure that you’re not using any of the above settings or accessories without good reason.
3. Keep Your Batteries Warm
In cold environments, camera batteries die far faster than at room temperature. The same is true to a lesser extent in very warm conditions.
Often, the best solution here is to remove the battery from your camera when not in use and keep it in an inside pocket of your clothing. At the very least, it’s a good idea to do this with the extra batteries that you’re not using at the moment.
Using this technique, I’ve sometimes managed to revive batteries that my camera said were dead and capture an extra series of shots. But it’s better to keep your battery warm as a preventative measure rather than a post-empty fix.
In short, if you’re not actively using a battery in cold environments, keep it in a warm pocket. The innermost possible layer of your clothing is ideal.
4. Be Wary of Old Camera Batteries
Over time, batteries lose their ability to hold power. This is completely normal behavior, but it does mean you should be careful of relying on older batteries in a pinch. Two batteries that you’ve had for ages might not last as long as a single new one.
Personally, I recommend labeling your batteries with a sticker or sharpie to show how old they are with a quick glance. This doubles as a way to make sure you haven’t lost any batteries; if you have batteries 1 through 7 except for #4… well, you know which one you’re missing.
On top of that, a lot of photographers have friends who shoot with similar camera systems. If you label your batteries, it’s much easier to keep track of whose are whose at the end of the trip.
These days, I still use my old camera batteries quite often, but I make it a habit to buy at least one new battery each year to “top off” whatever I lose over time. For the sake of saving money, I tend to go third-party, although I know this is a big debate. At least in my use, the money I’ve saved with third-party batteries has significantly outweighed the sole issue I’ve experienced with any of them – one didn’t work with my Nikon Z system.
Still, the specifics are up to you. The really optimal way, though more expensive, is to retire your old batteries and buy a new (original manufacturer) one each time you do. That way, you know that any battery you use at a given time will perform at or near maximum capabilities in the field.
5. Bring Along Extras!
There’s really nothing to stop you from getting around this whole battery-life issue by just packing along a few spares. Camera batteries don’t weigh very much or take up a lot of space, and they’re not all that expensive in the long run. (A pair of knockoff EN-EL15 Nikon batteries costs about $30, including a charger, if you buy the right brand.)
In general, extra batteries will save you in all but the most unusual circumstances. If you’re doing a long hike where every ounce matters, or you accidentally forgot your charger for a week-long trip, the rest of the tips in this article suddenly become very important. But for everyday photoshoots, just pack more batteries than you think you’ll need, and the problem goes away.
That said, there are ways to improve your battery management system so that you’re always more likely to have a charged battery ready to go. Personally, I now leave one fully-charged battery, a USB charger, and a power pack in my car at all times, and it’s saved me on more than one occasion. Beyond that, I also keep my battery chargers plugged in at home and habitually recharge any battery from a recent shoot.
Some photographers say that it’s bad practice to recharge a battery that’s not totally dead; supposedly, it harms the longevity of a battery. Whether they’re right or not, I’d rather my batteries fade a bit more quickly in the long run than show up at a landscape with half the charge I had planned.
But either way, the more you bring, the less room there is for something to go wrong.
A dead battery is one of the more annoying experiences a photographer can have, and it can be downright devastating if that’s the only thing standing between you and a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
With enough planning and preparation, you’ll rarely be in a situation where battery life management tips like the ones above are necessary. But everything doesn’t go right 100% of the time, and chances are good you’ll run into low-power danger eventually.
When that happens, the good news is that there are things you can do. DSLR users should shoot through the optical viewfinder; mirrorless users should (with most cameras) shoot with the rear LCD. You can avoid using camera settings like WiFi, IBIS, popup flash, and image review. You can turn down your LCD brightness and keep extra batteries warm if you’re shooting in the cold.
Or, if the worst-case scenario does happen, you can sit back and take photos with your brain instead. To most of us, that’s half the fun of photography anyway.
I have never had a battery go dead on me and I never carry any extra batteries either. For one I shoot with a D4s and one of the newer EN-EL18a batteries, which last me about 5,000 images. Sometimes that means they last me a week. In my other camera, my D500 I have two EN-EL15 batteries. One in the camera and one in the vertical grip. So I only ever charge and use the battery in the grip and only a handful of times has the camera needed to switch to the other battery. I used to use an EN-EL18 in the D500 as well, because I knew how well that improved the AF in the D850. See I used to own a D850 but it was a little too much camera for my workflow, which is photojournalism. I would not use a D850 without a Nikon grip and EN-EL18 battery. Not only does frame rate increase by 2 fps, but the AF performance does as well. However the D500 is awesome right out of the box and I only use the vertical grip for comfort, functionality and extremely battery. I will say that I believe the EN-EL18 batteries ever so slightly do improve AF speed in some camera’s. This is hard to quantify or prove but if you try to AF a lens on the D810 with no grip and standard EN-EL15, then attach a grip with an EN-EL18 you can hear the AF or AF-S motor working a little harder or faster. There is a change in the pitch or sound, you can actually audibly hear the difference even though it is slight. I am convinced that the additional power is helping drive the AF motor a little faster. Just wish someone could prove this so I don’t sound nuts lol!
I have a question regarding your comment that LCD use is better at conserving power than EVF use. To me, that is counterintuitive and welcome news if indeed true. I have been using Fuji mirrorless cameras since the release of the X-T1 and over the last 5 years have progressively increased my LCD usage for composing shots because I’ve come to prefer angles other than eye level and the LCD facilitates those (ie, no laying on the ground shooting upside down etc). So, my question is, have you done formal testing or is your comment merely anecdotal? If so, what degree of difference did you find? You may be empowering me even more to compose in the LCD. Now I just wish the EVF had eye detection comparable to face detection on my phone so it wouldn’t switch to the EVF when I hold the camera close to my body for waist level shots.
What batteries for Fuji X-T2 would you see as a less expensive safe & reliable option than the original one ?
We must be running out of photography topics to publish an entire article on battery life. Very useful if you just grabbed your first point and shoot and you’re heading to your late summer vacation. Maybe we should be focusing more on photography rather than pointless tech articles. I’m sure the author would be able to write loads about his experience as landscape photographer which would be far more interesting. Just my point of view.
Most respectfully disagree. This site is great for the diversity of articles so of course done will be better for you than others but ok. I am less interested in reviews of lenses I will not use and miniatures of cars and weddings but each to have a place. And of course discharge batteries or not is taught in the article and the comments to dispel a myth that lives on so that has value. The value of an article to a broad group is best not extrapolated from your personal view but rather let each great article benefit a portion as Spencer and Nasim so do well.
The first law of any system component is that the chances of failure reduce in direct proportion to the number of fail safe items you have. If you have a spare, you a far less likely to use it.
It is actually part of the hidden ‘critical needs law’ which states for example that photocopying (washing, transport, communication and recording) machines break down in direct relationship to the urgency or importance of the job. Batteries are similar as are shutter mechanisms and tripod legs.
“Some photographers say that it’s bad practice to recharge a battery that’s not totally dead”
Memory effect was a problem with old Nickel Cadmium battery technology; failing to discharge them completely would reduce capacity. I haven’t seen a NiCd in a decade, but unfortunately, the memory effect persists as a myth when applied to modern batteries.
Modern Lithium Ion batteries (same chemistry as in everything from phones to electric cars) are the opposite; every deep discharge hurts them a little bit. Ignore anyone who tells you to fully discharge a Li-Ion battery! Just like a phone, they’ll last longer if you recharge before they’re deeply discharged.
Correct, lithium ion batteries should be topped up fully regardless of the state they are in. Lithium ion batteries will not “deep discharge” under normal usage, because safety circuits will shut down the device before this happens.
One, if you are NOT going to be using the battery for some time, it’s best to store it at around 60% charge (but do check on it every month or so and ensure that it does not self discharge fully to zero, since that DOES damage lithium ion batteries).
Two, every once in a while, batteries should be calibrated. This restores the accuracy of communication (of the state of the charge held) between the battery and the charger/camera. High end chargers have a calibration feature built in.
I use the Nikon D850 with Nikon batteries and I usually can shoot several hundred photos on one battery and that includes sometimes previewing them on the LCD. I carry two or three extras if I’m out hiking for the day and have never run out of power. I think it is amazing that today’s cameras are that efficient with power usage.
Battery life is pretty awesome these days. Even with mirrorless, I’m finding that a single battery can last a day or more, and DSLRs are a further step up.