A condensed history of the coming chaos.
"Haven't you forgotten a little something?" the dealer asked me three years ago. I had become so entranced by the tiny Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 point-and-shoot digital camera I had just bought (and still use today), that I had completely ignored the box of connecting cords and software CD.
"You won't get very far without this," he said, extracting a charger, a power cord so thick it looked like a hawser suitable for berthing a seagoing vessel, and finally the little sliver of a NP-700 rechargeable Li-ion battery. Good grief.
All necessary? No longer. Recently, I had cause to rummage though a newly opened Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi box and came across a folding one-piece/charger that did it all. Canon instructions indicate that either this charger (CB-2LW) or a two-piecer (CB-2LWE) is included. The U.S. gets the folder; Europe, with all its different plug configurations, gets the other. Eventually, it would seem logical for all battery makers, at least in this country, to craft a similar, single-piece charger.
Once upon a time, powering up cameras was a simple matter, with universally available button batteries that fit most 35mm cameras, past and present. These were (and still are) made by the big battery makers such as Duracell, Eveready, Maxell, and VARTA. Battery power and sizes are standard for all manufacturers. Granted there were oddball cameras with oddball batteries, but in the old days, when we weren't too lazy to wind and rewind 35mm cameras manually, batteries such as the MS76 were sufficient to light our viewfinders, run our meters, and even power electronic shutters.
Then, autowind and rewind 35mm cameras came along, with increased power demands. The small, cylindrical CR2 lithium handled these, but when even more power was needed, the bulky, kidney-shaped 2CR5 arrived. Splitting it in two created the CR123, which could be used as one or two stacked cylinders. Then came the dawn of the digital camera age.
Digital compacts generally use AA-size batteries. Two alkaline cells are often packed with the camera, providing a paltry number of shots before pooping out completely. The camera directions strongly suggest the owner purchase very efficient, rechargeable, nickel metal-hydride batteries and a charger, or the more convenient but frightfully expensive nonrechargeable AA lithium batteries. Still, in an emergency, alkaline AA cells are available just about everywhere on the globe. A few DSLRs and EVFs also use AAs.
The itsy-bitsy shirt pocket digital cameras are too small for standard-sized batteries, so the camera manufacturers engineered (or had engineered) highly compact rechargeables and chargers, which are sold with the cameras. There is virtually no standardization of batteries or chargers among manufacturers, and often little from one model to the next of the same manufacturer. Purchasing a spare battery when you buy a camera is essential.
The same holds true with DSLRs. While it may seem inefficient to make different batteries and chargers for same-manufacturer cameras, there's method to this madness. The Nikon D40, for instance, uses an EN-EL9 rechargeable Li-ion battery, which delivers up to 470 images per charge -- a reasonable number for many amateurs, but hardly enough for a pro. The Nikon D2xs, a high-level pro camera, uses an EN-EL4a rechargeable Li-ion battery for up to 3,800 images per charge. As you might guess, the advanced-amateur Nikon DSLRs have battery capacities between the extremes.
With the camera manufacturers taking over responsibility for battery and charger sales, profits shifted to them from the traditional battery suppliers. One wonders whether there would have been more chance of battery and charger standardization if the battery manufacturers were still in charge.
With always-changing and improving pocket-size and DSLR cameras, how long can the camera manufacturers be expected to supply replacement Li-ion batteries? Should they make available batteries for all their discontinued models? Or will orphaned owners be left to fend for themselves when it comes to power? As the earliest digital compacts are now entering their dotages, we may soon find out.
Ask Herbert Keppler
Q. Why are so many camera bags black? Wouldn't white reflect the sun's heat better?
A. Surprisingly, no. A few years back, one of the major bag manufacturers ran a test, black bag vs. white, in sunny conditions. Virtually no difference in interior temperature was found.