Battery life is a hot topic in the world of mirrorless cameras. The Sony a7rIII and Sony a9 have an improved battery compared to previous models (Sony a7, Sony a7s, Sony a7r, Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, and the Sony a7rII) but you can improve things further. If you’re thinking of buying the Sony a7rIII or the Sony a9, a lot of this article won’t be relevant–geotagging your photographs with a GPS device is the same. I’ve had users email me complaining of battery life and simple tips with the menu system alone helped them take twice as many photographs.
The Sony a7rII is a great buy, especially now that the price has dropped. Most of the time, carrying a few batteries and swapping them when and if required will serve you well; when travelling, things get complicated.
Before I delve too deep into the technical side of battery life, please take a look at your menus and change a few options…
- Click the gear icon, menu 3, “pre-af = off”
- Gear 7, custom key settings, – C4 = finder/monitor select
- Gear 4 = monitor (manual)
- Gear 2 review photo after the shot = off
- Toolbox menu 2 power save = 10 sec
In this configuration, when the recycle bin button is pressed, the display will switch between the viewfinder and the monitor. If you turn the monitor off and you move away from the viewfinder, both screens will turn off. The camera will go into power save after 10 seconds. The camera will not waste energy by focusing too often.
Cameras in general consume a fair amount of electricity when using live view mode–mirrorless cameras are essentially stuck in this mode as there’s no optical viewfinder. This applies to the Sony a6000, Sony a6300 and the Sony a6500, and not just their full frame line up. I’m not sure what the current draw of the Nikon Z 7 is but expect something similar. The Sony a7rII and Sony a6500’s battery life is underrated in my opinion, but I believe it is important for Sony to continually improve the efficiency of their cameras, and not rely solely on increasing battery size; nonetheless, the increased battery size with the Sony a7rIII and Sony a9 is a smart move to make.
Camera companies charge a lot for propriety batteries–especially compared to USB Power Banks of the same capacity. RAVPower is probably the only company I’d trust to buy affordable third party camera batteries from; I have a couple–they work. I have read a review stating the charger does not charge native Sony batteries, so I would stick with a Neewer/Newmowa USB charger for charging (I can confirm it works). I digress…
People that’re off the grid for extensive periods and only reach civilisation to get food supplies won’t take kindly to charging a weeks worth of batteries in one night (mountains typically don’t have chargers buried into them, and if they did, I’d be a bit concerned). Others that’re in a dusty, sandy or humid environment also won’t appreciate changing batteries frequently.
When comparing the Sony a6000, Sony a6300, Sony a6500, Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII, Sony a7rIII and Sony a9, etc. with a DSLR, you have to think about how frequently you’re going use liveview on the DSLR and how often you’re going to look at the photographs you’ve taken. Sony provide the current draw in their user downloadable manual–for the non technically inclined, their cameras are extremely efficient. Most companies that make DSLRs fail to mention this information and I believe it is because they’re power hogs in comparison.
At this point, you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “DSLRs are power hogs? What?” Well, it is true–depending on how you use your camera. A camera draws a certain amount of current, and a battery holds a certain amount of electricity. The “good battery life” reviews and arguments often mix the two and it’s important to differentiate them. What exactly is battery life? For some, it might be the amount of shots they can get with one battery. For others with specific needs in mind, it might be slightly more complex or perhaps more simple. How many shots can I take, for a certain amount of weight?
Pretend you have a 10,000,000,000 mAh battery in a camera, and let’s pretend the camera can take 2,000 shots before depleting this battery. We can argue it has a “good battery life”, after all, 2,000 shots is a lot, right? But for the capacity of the battery, it’s extremely inefficient. To some extent, this is what DSLRs are like–they put in massive batteries but they’re extremely inefficient when they’re drawing current. Their efficiency comes from the fact the sensor doesn’t have to have a constant source of electricity to it i.e. the viewfinder (something I find absolutely useless for a lot of landscape shots) is optical and not digital. They’re like a large reptile that doesn’t eat often, but when they eat, they eat a lot. The moment the camera needs electricity for the shot, it’s drawing a higher current than the Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII, Sony a7rIII or Sony a9 mirrorless cameras would. DSLRs look great in some respects but I think it’s important for travel photographs to understand the pros and cons, because that weight could be crucial. It’s also a good idea to understand how you prefer to shoot; I use the rear screen a lot for landscapes, and I prefer mirrorless.
A large part of why I bought the Sony a7rII was to have something suitable to take on long hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail (the same logic applies to the Great Divide Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, The Appalachian Trail, The Te Araroa, etc.) For hikes like this, it helps to know how many amp hours you require, and what wattage an item or multiple items will require. One specific battery doesn’t matter in my situation because when I’m hiking, I draw from a larger pool–the “pool” being either a solar panel or a USB power bank. What matters most to me is the power consumption of my units. If I were to take a 15,000 mAh external pack, charging an 1,800 mAh battery would eat into that pool quicker than a 1,080 mAh battery. I use solar panels where possible, but you can pretend it is a pack with a fixed capacity by estimating the amount of sunlight, the current produced and the duration i.e. 8 hours of sunlight at 1.6 amps = total capacity per day. It’s slightly more complicated than that (light changes depending on the time of day, items aren’t close to 100% efficient when charging and whatnot.) In my opinion, a good way to look at electricity is to view it as water. You have a little tank (i.e. your battery), the rate the water flows (i.e. current), and you might have a bigger tank (e.g. a USB power bank) filling up your little tank.
The Sony a7rII, draws about 2.7 watts according to the instruction manual–that’s roughly half of what a DSLR uses in liveview. DSLRs have to run two processors and a separate autofocus sensor, so it’s logical they’ll draw more electricity. Ultimately I’m not that interested in the size of the camera battery alone, but the larger pool of electricity I have and the amount of electricity the camera uses.
Things like current draw are objective, truths. However, some of this does come down to personal preference. When I’m walking and I want to keep my 20 mile a day average, I’m not going to want to bend down with a huge backpack and look through the viewfinder. I’ll put the camera in front of me and lower my arms i.e. I’ll want to use liveview. When I’m using a tripod that’s extremely low to the ground and taking long exposure shots with it, again, I’m not going to want to look through the viewfinder. When I’m using an ND filter, the same logic applies (ND filters with DSLRs are not fun; on a mirrorless camera, you can still use the viewfinder.)
For general street photography where I use the viewfinder a lot, I get about 400-500 shots. It’s not as good as a DSLR but if you average 500 shots a day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, that’s one hell of a lot of data. 80MB (size of photograph) x 500 (quantity of photographs per day) x 7 (per week) x 26 (maximum amount of weeks spent travelling) x 2 (duplicate data for backup purposes) = 14,560,000 MB.
I suggest reading a couple of articles by Mr. Kasson, as he tests the current draw more objectively than the information provided in the instruction manual — http://blog.kasson.com/?p=16338 & http://blog.kasson.com/?p=16315.
There are various ways to charge batteries and power the Sony a7rII:
- Charge the batteries in camera using a USB power source (USB power bank, solar panel, etc)
- Out of camera using an external wall charger and swap the charged battery with the depleted battery
- Out of camera using a USB charger and swap the batteries
- Power the camera directly from a USB power source and deplete the in camera battery very slowly
- Sony a7rII - Camera
- 3-4 Sony a7rII Camera Batteries or 2-4 RAVPower NP-FW50 1100 mAh batteries
- Solar panel
- USB Power Bank (these are typically just larger batteries than what is found in the camera, however, some include other features) or Amazonbasics USB Power Bank
- External Battery Charger
Currently, I believe the best solar panel to buy is the Solar Paper made by Yolk, but Suntactics also make a very good solar panel called the Scharger, its downside is that it’s considerably heavier. These supply their power by USB, and USB has a standard voltage (5 volts). This is important to mention because batteries which state they are 20,000 mAh are 20,000 mAh at 3.4 volts. However, the voltage is increased in both the camera and the battery itself. In simple terms, 20,000 mah at 5volts is comparable to 10,000 mAh at 10volts. Camera batteries are approximately 7.4 volts; you cannot charge a battery with 100% efficiency. You might have a 20,000 mah USB power bank to charge a 1,000 mAh camera battery but that doesn’t mean you’d get exactly 20 charges–it might only be 80% efficient.
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When you enter a cloud, most solar panels aren’t efficient enough at gathering electricity from the available light to charge anything. The “connection” essentially becomes dead and when you exit the cloud, the solar panel might not continue to charge anything. The Suntactics and Yolk solar chargers get around this problem with their “auto retry” technology. It literally re-activates the connection. I have found that even in cloud cover, the Solar Paper can charge my Garmin Fenix 5x watch.
USB power banks are worthwhile too. If you charge your camera at night or if you charge your camera when you’re in a cloud, you won’t have to rely on sunlight immediately. The solar panel can fill up your USB power bank during the day.
If you use a solar panel/USB power bank with two ports (a true 5watt solar panel is all you need but not all of them have two ports and few places have adequate sunlight), you can either a) charge another unrelated item or b) charge a second battery. It is worth buying an external USB charger, again, this is included with the RAVPower NP-FW50 batteries. The micro-usb port isn’t particularly durable and I’ll be glad to see USB-C become the standard with all devices (it is another underrated improvement with the Sony a7rIII.)
The 8watt Suntactics Scharger has two ports but if you’re only using one, then it will supply all of the power to that one port, again, the same logic applies to the Solar Paper; the Solar Paper has 2 ports on all of its models. Please be advised that the Sony a7rII will only draw a certain amount of current (approximately 600 mAh), and this is another reason that a USB power bank makes sense. Consider it like having a fast supply of water (the electricity from the solar panel), and you pour that water into a small tank (camera battery), but that tank has a tiny opening–most of the water is spilled and lost. An external USB power bank is like having a larger tank with a large opening, and because they typically allow you to charge them at much faster rates, it’s like having a funnel on the top of the tank that collects much more of the available water. If you have a fast supply of water that only lasts for a few minutes, then it gathers as much “water” as it can from those few minutes. When you need to use that water, it’s stored in the larger tank (the external USB power bank).
You can change various options in the camera to make your camera slightly more efficient with its battery usage. For example, turning setting effect “off”, disabling the autofocus from constantly activating even when the shutter button isn’t pressed, lowering the brightness of your screen, and turning the camera off immediately after you use it can be great helps. I like to set my camera to enter standby after 10 seconds–this will only work if remote control is “disabled”.
- Suntactics Scharger 5watt or the 8watt model or a Solar Paper (I recommend the Solar Paper)
- Sony a7rII – Camera
- 3-4 Sony a7rII Camera Batteries or 2-4 RAVPower NP-FW50 1100 mAh batteries or 2-4 RAVPower NP-FW50 batteries.
- USB Power Bank (some power banks include other features); Patriot Fuel+ 6,000 mAh battery (get a larger capacity battery if weight isn’t a problem)
- Neewer/Newmowa Charger; Digicharger Pixo C-USB External Battery Charger
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Notes and other gadgets
If you don’t live in a sunny area, you can simply buy a 20,000 mAh limefuel power pack; you can also consider buying multiple power banks, such as the Patriot fuel power banks. I suggest these because they allow you to charge them up and charge another device at the same time (pass through charging.) There’s other forms of charging too e.g. the bolt which includes a power bank and mains charger all in one. This is weight efficient; however, you cannot charge the internal battery from a solar panel. If you live in an extremely sunny place, you might be able to get away with not having a power bank at all.
The Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII, Sony a7rIII and Sony a9 cameras do not include a built in GPS facility beyond syncing with a phone. At first, I believed this was a great shame, but in retrospect, it is a blessing in disguise. It’s possible that in the future things will change, but for now, every camera with a built-in GPS module has several drawbacks:
- It drains the battery when said GPS is enabled. The Canon 6D has GPS for example and the moment you turn on the GPS facility, the battery consumption increases exponentially
- It takes an age to lock onto a signal and if you want to quickly turn on your camera, take a photograph and then turn off your camera again, this is not possible
- The signal isn’t always that accurate to begin with compared to a dedicated device
- Add on modules are often very expensive and sit on top of the hot-shoe thereby preventing the use of flash, as they rarely have a pass through facility and even if they did have a pass through facility, it would not be wise to stack a bunch of devices on top of your camera
There is one advantage to having a built in GPS and that’s the ability to show the compass coordinates as well, so not only can you show your location as to where you took the photograph but the direction you were pointing the camera. To me, this is not very important. I only care about knowing where the photograph was taken, as when I look through a bunch of photographs in several years, I’m not going to think “oh that’s interesting, I pointed the camera in a North-Easterly direction!”
With this in mind, I believe the Garmin Fenix 5 and the Garmin Fenix 5x are currently the best devices to buy if you’re interested in geo-tagging your photograph. These are essentially smartwatches but unlike most smartwatches, they include a GPS module built into the watch–they do not rely on your phone’s battery power in any way. Their GPS is more accurate than what you’d find in a camera and their battery life is amazing. The catch? They’re not cheap. A Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire will be cheaper, and will do the job but in my opinion, the Garmin Fenix 5x is significantly better as it includes maps. If you are ONLY interested in using it as a geo-tagging device, then I would say go with the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire.
For more information on how to geotag a set of photographs, please read my Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review. It basically tells you everything you need to know regarding geotagging a photograph with the Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII, Sony a9 or any other camera for that matter, when using Adobe Lightroom. You might find my Garmin Fenix 5x review worth looking at as well.
The video above shows how easy it is to geotag a Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII or Sony a9 photograph with Adobe Lightroom. Simply put, you start an activity on the watch, you record your entire hike, and then when you get home you export the data from the Garmin website as a GPX file. You import that GPX file into lightroom and it will automatically sync the location with the photograph by using the time stamp. It is imperative your camera and the watches time are the same. If the video isn’t clear, please leave a comment below and I will try help you.
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If you’re not interested in breaking the bank, you might find a simple GPX data logger will do you proud. I haven’t tried this device but it receives good reviews and its specifications does what you will require–a simple GPX file.
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