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Customer Discussions > Photography forum

Proprietary batteries and "planned obsolescence"?

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Showing 1-24 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 16, 2009 6:10:44 AM PST
I'm searching for a new P&S camera to replace a dead 3 year old Nikon Coolpix.

I want a P&S that offers better image quality than the Coolpix did. Also better zoom and especially, low light capabilities.

Looking at the latest P&S cameras, they ALL seem to use manufacture proprietary rechargeable batteries, as opposed to AA batteries like my old Nikon.

Great, so I checked out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3. What's this? Panasonic implemented a firmware update to preclude the use of anything but non-Panasonic branded replacement batteries? Now why would they do that?

Oh, to protect the camera from cheap after-market rechargeable batteries. Okay. Let's see, the Panasonic replacement battery is -- $45.00. Uh-huh...

Looking over other brands, see the same trend toward proprietary internal rechargeable batteries.

I don't have ANYTHING against a rechargeable internal battery in a camera. What I do have something against is using it as a form of controlled recurrent revenue and a means of "planned obsolescence".

What do I mean by "planned obsolescence"? Forcing you to buy a new camera in 2-3 years because the manufacture decides to stop making the proprietary battery for your camera (as in, "phasing out beyond end-of-life"). Thus refreshing consumer demand and insuring a continued source of revenue from new camera sales.

It happened with printer ink cartridges. Manufacture sells you a printer that uses a specialized, proprietary cartridge and in a few years that cartridge becomes increasing difficult to find, outrageously expensive then impossible to find. Time for a new printer, open your wallet please Mr. Consumer.

That and you have to carry a battery charger and extra (proprietary) battery with you when you go on trips. More stuff to pack and keep track of. I just want to throw my camera in my bag and go. Dump pics off the SD card to my laptop while I'm there, reformat the card and continue taking pics/movies. Run out of power for the camera? Buy a pair of alkaline or lithium AA batteries and keep shooting.

What I would like is a recommendation on a decent quality, P&S camera that uses commonly available, off the shelf AA batteries. That is, a camera that is designed to work with such, doing things like powering off automatically, allowing you to switch off the LCD, maybe the option of using a (GASP!) viewfinder, etc. In other words, designed for efficient power use.

I am currently looking at the Canon PowerShot SX120IS. Looks okay, funky form factor though and appears to be very inefficient power-wise.

Willing to bite the bullet and buy a camera with a proprietary battery IF I can find one that allows for recharging via a USB cable so I don't have to carry a separate battery charger. And allows for third party replacement batteries so the manufacture doesn't have an iron grip on battery price and when the camera will become obsolete.

Thanks for listening to my rant and your consideration.

Posted on Dec 16, 2009 6:58:32 AM PST
Tom Martin says:
Canon Powershot 'A' series cameras use AA batteries.

Canon PowerShot A1100IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 4x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5-inch LCD (Silver)
Canon Powershot A2000IS 10MP Digital Camera with 6x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom

as does the

Canon PowerShot SX20IS 12.1MP Digital Camera with 20x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5-inch Articulating LCD

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2009 10:01:34 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 16, 2009 10:12:29 AM PST
EdM says:
@ chrisr - There are a few P/S cameras that will recharge via USB cord, but I don't recommend that for several reasons. First and foremost, you complain about having to carry a charger, but you're willing to take a laptop, with charger and with USB cord???

Second, there are nicely small chargers that plug into the wall directly, without a cable, so not much to carry. [I have one for my Canon Digital Elph.] Third, over many photo shoots, e.g., each vacation of each time you replace the AA disposables, it costs money and the environment to replace those throw-away batteries. If you buy/use _rechargeable_ AAs, then you are right back to having to carry a charger.

For foreign travel, OTOH, where you might not take many photos but need the convenience of being able to purchase replacement batteries almost anywhere, then AA disposables are a great convenience. OR, bring along a set of extras bought on sale for cheap, instant replacement.

IMO, the value of a relatively long life, being rechargeable, being light weight [LITHIUM batteries], and working well with your camera's specific needs, is not too much of a price to pay a little extra. REMEMBER, if you run out of "juice", your camera is just a thing to be carried , without any useful function. Of course, good internet review sites such as DPReview and Imaging Resource discuss power issues if there's something out of line.

chrisr "especially, low light capabilities."
If you really want serious low light capability, look to a small, entry level DSLR, or possibly a micro-4/3 camera. Note, however, that these are fairly pricey at this time.

Otherwise, you should look for the features, body size, amount of lens zoom, etc., that help you get the photos you want to take. P/S digicams have improved greatly in the 3 years since you got your old Nikon Coolpix. In particular, check out the "Dave's Picks" at Imaging Resourse, where you can select the type of camera you want for the best rated cameras by category for the Editor's choices [usually 3 choices per category with reasons], as well as other good choices.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 12:02:01 PM PDT
rastaman says:
Agree generally, but what you are missing like so many people are is that if you find a camera that takes double A batteries you should buy only rechargeable ones, not "off the shelves" ones, which are uneconomical and unecological.
Alkaline batteries should be banned or used only in a pinch.

Posted on May 11, 2012 1:22:54 PM PDT
If you are using rechargable AAs, you are right back to needing a charger. I am fine with propriatary batteries, but I am a DSLR shooter. My old rebel XT had an option to load double a batteries in the grip, six of them would give me less than 1/4 the endurance of a full charge on the propriatary battery, so I see the advantage very clearly. My current camera has allowed me to shoot over 2000 shots on a single battery. I carry a spare, I've never needed to swap it in. The amount of power in a modern propriatary battery can be huge.

As for charging via USB cable, USB ports seem to be everywhere now. My car has one. All that is needed is the cable and you should be able to charge a USB device anywhere.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 1:31:13 PM PDT
rastaman says:
Thanks for the information.
I suspected that the new batteries on cameras requiring more of a charge must be superior to double AA, which probably couldn't power most of them, let alone DSLR cameras, as effectively.
Will look for a PandS that charges with a USB cable. Not sure if this is common or not these days.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 1:48:38 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2012 1:51:02 PM PDT
"IMO, the value of a relatively long life, being rechargeable, being light weight [LITHIUM batteries], and working well with your camera's specific needs, is not too much of a price to pay a little extra."

I agree with Ed here. The proprietary lithium ion batteries are generally much smaller, lighter and offer a surprising amount of power for their size. Cameras using these batteries can also be made smaller and lighter. And, with proper care, these batteries can last for many years. Its a good trade-off for many.

Many camera companies have started to use 'chipped' batteries to prevent the use of "dangerous" cheap knock-off batteries. Many manufacturers of generic camera batteries have adapted to this practice, however, so its not a huge issue. Besides, cheap generic batteries are often false economy -- from my experience, their useful life is often a fraction of manufacturer or better generics. If you get a freash cheap generic that isn't completely dead, that is. For example, my original Canon XTi battery lost some capacity over time but was still usable after 5 years, the higher priced generics started losing capacity after about 3 years and the cheapo generics (which I had to return for exchange as the first set arrived DOA) lasted exactly 1 year before losing 100% of their capacity. I've had very good luck with Sterlingtek's high power generic replacements and they often carry batteries for "obsolete" cameras.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 1:56:46 PM PDT
rastaman says:
Thanks for the information.
All you say just makes me regret double AA batteries apparently just don't hold a charge effectively for all the whistles and bells and high mps of the newest cameras.
The problem of dealing with generic battery replacements, assuming there even will be such a thing in the future in regards to CURRENT battery types, just makes the whole process more complicated.
In the old days when you could use AA rechargeable batteries instead of these proprietary ones at least you could always count on finding more if needed, which was unlikely since they could be recharged so many times.

Posted on May 11, 2012 2:14:27 PM PDT
JCUKNZ says:
Though I would be reluctant to buy a camera which uses AA batteries I do find the problem of having to keep all the proprietary batteries I have charged up a burden.
Yesterday I looked at a camera I have not used for awhile and was reminded that I have three batteries for it in its case :-(

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 3:26:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2012 3:27:01 PM PDT
Depends on how long you ultimately expect to keep the same camera I suppose. By the time you've gone through the lifespan of two sets of batteries, the camera may or may not be functional any longer but certainly will be obsolete in terms of features and performance.

Posted on May 11, 2012 3:38:49 PM PDT
This appears to be a thread that I'd missed (I didn't visit the forums between the disconnect of my computer/DSL in November of last year and reconnect at a new address in late February)...

My Canon G-2, (deceased) Optura-20, EOS 20D, and EOS 50D ALL use the same format battery (as a video camera, the Optura-20 did have an optional larger battery pack -- it was replaced by an Optura-40 which DID use a different format battery).

The G2 was reviewed by dpreview in August 2001. I bought my 50D less than two years ago. That's nearly a 10-year span of using the same "proprietary" battery format.

I always purchase a spare for each camera. I've only had 3 (maybe 4) of the first ones finally reach the end of their usable life (~500 charge cycles each -- on an SLR under moderate use, that's 2-3 years each charged every other day or so; P&S are more hungry, draining batteries even when shut-off). {I don't recall how many of the oldest finally failed since the death of the Optura-20 left me with one [or two if I bought a small spare, not two large ones]. So... I have six usable batteries spanning a near 12-year range, out of 8-9 total since the G2 era.

I suspect the battery format will be available for some time to come; while the Rebel series may have changed format, the mid-range probably hasn't... And even if it has, Canon will likely produce batteries for some years as the mid-range and pro-bodies aren't "consumer disposable" items. I don't know if cameras fall under similar situations as the auto industry (I believe federal law requires auto makers to maintain a seven-year parts availability after the discontinuation of a product line). I also suspect that even if a maker drops a battery format, if the camera is popular enough, after-market brands will step in.

But for a $150-200 camera? By the time a $50 battery becomes defunct, you can likely buy a new camera of greatly expanded features for the same $150-200. But a $50 battery for a $1500 SLR is a different matter -- only subsidized pro's can justify swapping bodies and batteries on a yearly basis; others rely on having batteries available for years.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2012 7:31:58 PM PDT
While a USB cable is more of a standard and should be an option, most people don't want to drag a PC along for a day or two of shooting vs. a small charger and extra battery.

As far as your main point, it all comes from that industry-dictated-to-politicians DCMA. Things like laser toner drums that count pages and won't let you use them even if you buy new vendor toner cartridges. Same with ink cartridges that can tell how many pages printed and even if you refill the ink, they won't work. Things like Dell actually preventing batteries from charging from a non-Dell charger. I mean! 12 volts DC from Dell is better than 12 volts DC from some other manufacturer? Faking these checks out with chips from the non-oem vendor is actually illegal and you are a criminal for DCMA violations.

Posted on May 12, 2012 4:37:28 AM PDT
Tom Martin says:
I've found that by using the policy of not recharging an OEM type battery until it is fully discharged, that my batteries last for years.

I typically purchase one spare OEM battery, so, I always have a fully charged replacement.

I have also used this rotation technique on generic OEM style batteries with equal success. I am on my second set of batteries for my Canon S100 Digital Elph which is 12 years old this month. The first set was OEM the second set generic OEM style batteries.

In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2012 10:29:27 AM PDT
"most people don't want to drag a PC along for a day"

You can plug your USB cable into a wall adapter, car cigarette lighter adapter, some car stereos, some wall sockets directly, some alarm clocks, and portable USB battery packs. You do not need a PC to charge a USB device. For example, Duracell Instant USB Charger/Includes Universal Cable with USB & mini USB, 1 Count

In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2012 2:37:47 PM PDT
<< I've found that by using the policy of not recharging an OEM type battery until it is fully discharged, that my batteries last for years.

Hmmm, I've found that topping off my OEM batteries after every use have kept them going for years. 5 years on the oldest ones as a matter of fact, with usage of at least once a week, many times more than that.

Posted on May 16, 2012 2:46:03 PM PDT
brad-man says:
I must have pretty good luck. I've never had any camera battery fail, either OEM or generic. I have a Powershot S45 from around ten years ago, and although I don't use the camera anymore, I still use the batteries im my Rebel XT...

Posted on May 16, 2012 3:05:44 PM PDT
JCUKNZ says:
Canon obviously has something there ... it is irritatibng that I have two Panasonic chargers ... I'm sure they could have fitted an older battery in the new model if they had tried to look after the faithful customer.

Posted on May 20, 2012 7:30:57 AM PDT
El Tombo says:
I used to love cameras that run on AAs for the reasons you state. But then I realized I was missing out on some great cameras by ruling out models that didn't use them.

If you're looking for a point and shoot with long zoom and good low light, you're probably going to keep looking for a long time. That's aside from wanting it to run on AAs. You'll probably want to decide which is more important to you (zoom or low light). I decided to give up the long zoom for low light with the olympus XZ-1. Photos with this camera are super, and it lasts all day for me on a single charge. It doesn't use AAs, but it charges on USB and there are off brand batteries on Amazon from $5-10. The olympus version is only $13 right now.

Also check out the canon s95/s100/g1x and the panasonic LX5 for good low light photos and great image quality.

One thing you might consider if you have the budget (and don't mind the extra size) is to get an interchangeable lens camera like the Panasonic G series micro 4/3. Get the 25mm pancake for low light and a second lens for the long zoom. Replacement (generic brand) batteries seem to be relatively cheap for these cameras (though the bodies and lenses are not cheap compared to any P&S).

None run on AAs, but there seem to be generic batteries that support them selling on Amazon for not too much. I don't own any of these so I can't comment on any firmware updates.

Posted on May 20, 2012 9:25:33 AM PDT
rastaman says:
Is there a reason why point and shoot manufacturers offer almost all proprietary batteries for their cameras other than planned obsolescence? Are propriatory batteries just intrinsically more capable of superior performance vs. cameras with AA batteries?
Is the explanation more innocent then that AA batteries don't have the same capacity for the additonal megapixels and features nowadays?
Granted the cameras that use batteries specific to the brand are found in the best cameras these days.
On this thread one commenter said that this specificity is a conspiracy by manufacturers, similar to other technological devices that limit you to only certain programs or features?

In reply to an earlier post on May 20, 2012 12:03:02 PM PDT
EdM says:
On proprietary camera batteries: First, all the cameras involved in this discussion are digital cameras, and ideas of planned obsolescence are bogus. A rechargeable battery if treated properly lasts a long time.

That is, the batteries that Canon, Nikon, etc., use in their cameras are usually lithium batteries which are designed as part of a camera system to serve the power, size and weight needs of the specific camera system. Every digital camera is in fact a special purpose digital computer with lens light input, a digital sensor, a memory storage device, some buffers, and one or more digital computers to drive the functionality. I am not aware of any of the usual laptops which use AA batteries preferentially to lithium batteries, as one comparison.

Lithium batteries have among the best energy efficiency of all normal batteries, much better than alkaline batteries, and they're also lighter. The amount of voltage and current as well as the discharge characteristics [how voltage/current tails off over the discharge time period] depend on the kind of battery and what the active ingredients are. For high performance in cameras [and laptop computers e.g.], you want batteries designed to the needs of the use, and that will maintain near the same voltage and current until the battery is near being discharged.

AA batteries decline somewhat in electrical characteristics over the spam of a discharge cycle, and normal AAs are disposable, not ecological. Rechargeable AAs use NiMH, e.g. [NiCads in the old days, but Cadmium is the cause of cadmium poisoning], but the power characteristics are not as suitable for portable electronic applications.

Manufacturers also have some electronics in the battery package to communicate the battery's electrical state to the camera os it can display how much battery life remains. You don't get this w/AAs.

OTOH, camera companies do make some profit from replacement battery sales.

Posted on May 21, 2012 6:50:59 AM PDT
kris says:
USB chargers are typically much smaller than any battery charger, and most modern cars come with one built-in or you can convert your cigarette lighter to a USB charger for a couple of bucks. given that the same charger can be used for your smartphone, tablet pc, hard drive, GPS, etcetera, it makes a lot more sense to carry one than a separate battery charger for every device you take with you.
also you can always use a public/net cafe/friends' computer wherever you are, you don't need to lug one around when travelling.

however, what nobody seems to have mentioned -- USB charging is very slow, because the voltage it uses is so small, compared to a battery charger. so not something to use if you're in a hurry.

In reply to an earlier post on May 21, 2012 7:15:16 AM PDT
rastaman says:
This doesn't really answer the question. The weight of two rechargeable AA batteries is comparable to a proprietary battery.
And if you travel, you don't have to lug the charger around, as you can pre-charge any number of AA batteries around with you. The battery charger is very light anyway. A USB cable is lighter of course.
By the way do all the newer cameras have USB cables that come with them and work in the way you say? The specs seldom indicate this is the case on Amazon.
I use AA rechargeable batteries which can be kept in out of the camera for years and lose very little of its charge. Of course they need to be charged when used for a while. Also in a pinch akaline batteries instant can be used if an extra set of charged AA batteries aren't available.
And proprietary batteries require 2-3 longer to charge. Hours because of the low voltage required as you say.
Secondly it is dicey to count on replacing a proprietary battery down the road. They may no longer be available for the model you have. For this reason you should buy a second proprietary battery, which can cost a lot, or very little, depending.
Also, posters here have said proprietary batteries should be fully discharged before replacement to get the longest life out of them. Inconvenient if you don't have a replacement battery that is charged.
I am still not sure what the advantages of proprietary batteries are unless they are just more powerful and needed for all the features and megapixels the newer cameras have.

Posted on May 21, 2012 8:39:48 AM PDT
R. Iredale says:
I try to use devices for my concert audio/video recordings that use AA cells, for several reasons. First, I need reliable power. I know a new AA cell is at 100% so I know how long it will work in the equipment. Secondly, one can easily check capacity with an inexpensive but accurate tester. The best one (and I've used many) is the little Delkin, which puts a load on the cell under test. Third, no matter where I go, I know I can always buy additional power in an emergency. Fourth, if I need higher capacity I can use my Eneloops, which are NiMH and don't self-discharge. Oh, and Lithium cells begin to die the day they are manufactured. I won't trust a 3-year-old lithium cell with any important job.

If you're the type that runs away from plastic bags at supermarkets, then you cringe at throwing away AA cells. I'm not; sorry.

In reply to an earlier post on May 21, 2012 8:54:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 21, 2012 8:58:50 AM PDT
My camera tells me exactly how much charge remains in it's battery. At about 10%, I would swap out batteries, if it every happened that I were to get down that low at an event. It tells me how many shots have been taken on this battery since it was last charged, even if I swap out batteries and swap back. It will also tell me if the battery should be conditioned, and the charger will discharge and re-charge the battery for me, if appropriate. I own two batteries for my DSLR, and I will fail before my two batteries do.

I have shot 3000 images on a single charge. Capacity is not an issue. As for replacement, I just purchased a replacement battery for a six year old camera two weeks ago. I have no question that the battery I need will be available. I may not find one in stock at a local store, but I can have one tomorrow, anywhere in the world, sometimes sooner.

If I could get away from AAs on my speedlights and other gear, I would. The alternative is better in every way. The only virtue of AAs is they are familiar.

" Inconvenient if you don't have a "

Always prepared. If there's something you should have, you should have it. If you are shooting without spare batteries, you aren't serious about it. I have spare camera batteries, spare AAs, AAAs, three odd formats of battery used in my lights (even if I didn't bring that bit of light equipment), screwdrivers, tape, bandage scissors, a variety of clamps, earplugs, notepad and pens, six different cables, and in the trunk of my car, a ladder. Thats's just in case. That's not cameras, lenses, lights, tripods, lightstands, light modifiers, that's just spares and just in case odds and ends.
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Latest post:  May 21, 2012

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