You finally get everyone lined up and looking at the camera when it happens: the battery dies. Or, perhaps, you’ve been sat patiently waiting for the perfect nature shot (maybe a bird looking the right way, or the sunset and the clouds finally arranged just as you wanted them) when the newly charged DSLR powers down, its power cell drained.
Soon you realize that you’ve been snapping photos – or waiting to – for far longer than previously thought, but still can’t shake that nagging feeling that the battery shouldn’t have run out just yet.
Well, you’re probably right. You could have squeezed more time out of your DSLR camera battery, but you’re making mistakes that are draining it. Let’s take a look at those mistakes (many of which are experienced by new DSLR owners regardless of the camera’s price) and how you can avoid making them again.
You’re Using the LCD Screen
Probably the biggest mistake is to use the LCD screen rather than the viewfinder to setup your shot. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the LCD uses a lot of battery power; after all, it’s used to preview shots as well as to review photos after they’re snapped.
If you’re concerned about navigating menus to select the right mode (and more besides), don’t be. Your DSLR should have a control dial to select shooting modes. The LCD is a great feature, but is simply the single biggest drain on your DSLR’s battery.
If you don’t feel that you can stop using it altogether, at the very least reduce the amount of time you spend using it. Two suggestions are to disable post-shot reviews and to reduce the brightness setting.
Too Much Zoom
Think you’re glued to the spot? One of the rules of photography is that you should only use zoom if you can’t get any closer to the subject, so if you’re able, move yourself and your DSLR using your feet rather than the zoom.
Not only will it result in a better photograph in most cases, you’ll also find that your battery lasts a bit longer.
Why? Well, it’s all down to the motor that moves the lens. Each time you zoom, it whirrs around, using up power with each turn. Switching your DSLR on and off is bad enough, especially with the added weight of a lens attachment, so keep further use of the lens motor to a minimum if you want to maximize your DSLR camera battery life.
For the many DSLR cameras equipped with a manually adjusted zoom ring, battery life isn’t a problem here.
Autofocus Set to Continuous
Getting your subject in focus really isn’t as tough as you might think it is. The problem is that autofocus is controlled by tiny motors, each of which relies on the battery for power. Every time you hear the whirr of focusing components, that’s battery juice you’re losing.
Continuous focus is the worst offender. It’s (usually) only needed for action shots and sports-related shots, and can therefore be disregarded by anyone who is shooting portraits or landscapes. In these cases, rely on the one shot or Autofocus Single mode, which has a reduced impact on your battery.
You’re Pressing the Shutter Button
Here’s a battery draining mistake that everyone makes: the slight press on the shutter button to focus the shot before you take it. But each time you press the button, the lens resets and refocuses, once again setting those little motors off.
It’s fair to say that using one of these – e.g. LCD screen, continuous autofocus, or shutter half-press – in isolation will have a negligible effect on your battery. But if you’re the type of photographer who regularly uses all three, reducing your reliance on these settings and habits can have a considerable impact on how often you find yourself recharging the DSLR’s battery.
You Have Automatic Flash Switched On
How often has your digital SLR’s flash illuminated a shot that it didn’t need to? Having automatic flash enabled is all very well for capturing shots at parties and other nighttime scenarios when adjusting the ISO setting doesn’t produce satisfactory images, but you rarely need it on for daytime shoots.
If your flash is going off in daylight, there’s clearly a problem (perhaps an overhanging branch casting a shadow on the sensor) but the best way to deal with this is to disable the flash, and thus save your battery.
Features You Don’t Need Are Active
Some DSLR manufacturers are guilty of wasting your time with pointless features that you’ll never use, or can apply with far better results in an image processing application. The best thing you can do with these is ignore them. There is little need to add graphical or caption overlays on your photos, and doing so just wastes time and battery life unless you plan ahead and configure these features in advance.
Other features include image stabilization. This is very useful if you’re hand-holding your camera, but if you have mounted it on a tripod (other useful camera equipment is available), it’s unnecessary.
Beeps and other sound effects are also battery drainers, and in 99% of photography situations they’re utterly useless, so disable them.
If you need practice with your DSLR, incidentally, it’s worth playing around with a virtual digital SLR camera, which can give you the chance to focus on snapping shots rather than being distracted by features.
You Left Your Camera in Record Mode
A surefire way of draining the power cell on your DSLR is to use it as a video camera. While you should get good results, it will definitely result in you having to plug it in for a recharge a lot sooner than usual.
However, one of the problems with video camera mode is that you can forget the device is still recording. With the standard stills mode, if you’re using the LCD (which, as we’ve already seen, you shouldn’t be) then you’re going to see the image in the viewfinder displayed on the screen. The same is true of the video camera mode, but other than a couple of small icons, the display is almost identical.
A quick glance won’t necessarily tell you that you’re in video mode, and it’s all too easy to tap the shutter once thinking you’ve just taken a still picture only to find later when reviewing your device’s memory card that you have recorded a conversation and a trip home from inside the DSLR’s case!
The lesson here is simple: always make sure that your camera is switched off before you put it away, and disable the video camera function as soon as you’re done with it.
You Forgot Power Saving Mode
One way of avoiding the problem above to is to enable your DSLR’s power saving mode. Once activated, this will boost your battery life by shutting down the camera after a predetermined period of inactivity should you forget to switch it off manually.
Power saving settings are found in different places on different manufacturer’s DSLRs, so check your device documentation to find and activate.
Photos Are Snapped in RAW Format
Let’s get this straight: you need RAW format for taking the best photographs and ensuring the best results in post-processing. But you don’t always need RAW.
For situations like trips to the park with your family, you might prefer to switch to a different format, reducing resolution and thereby saving battery. RAW can be saved for those occasions where you need top-notch quality, such as for landscapes and beauty portraits.
Oh, And You Forgot to Charge the Battery
It might seem the most obvious mistake, but a mistake it is. Not charging your DSLR’s lithium ion battery to maximum between uses will result in the cell draining when you start snapping again.
Whether you have an in-car charger or some other solution for recharging the cell, make sure you use it whenever possible. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, the best thing you can do is make sure you have a backup battery, kept fully charged, that you can switch to when the first battery drains.
Battery care is important. If you don’t use your DSLR for a prolonged period, make sure you store the camera with the battery removed, preferably fully discharged beforehand. Make sure you charge the battery to maximum and use it at least once a year, otherwise you’ll need to purchase a replacement. Or just go ahead and buy a new DSLR…
We’ve given you ten ways in which you might have let your DSLR camera battery drain unnecessarily. There’s a good chance that you know of more. Tell us about them in the comments.