Battery life is quite a hot topic in regards to mirrorless cameras. Photographers that primarily use the viewfinder on a DSLR will notice their mirrorless camera doesn’t take as many photographs before the battery needs recharging. Most of the time, carrying a few batteries and swapping them when and if required solves this problem. In this article, I look to go beyond this approach.
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. I’m quite pleased with the Sony a7rII‘s battery life in general but it is important for Sony and us to realise that it can be improved and we shouldn’t buy into the “it has to be this way because the batteries are small” logic. There’s also no denying the fact that camera companies charge a lot for propriety batteries–batteries that’re often small in capacity compared to USB Power Banks. I’d be more comfortable owning 10 batteries if they didn’t cost £50 each. RAVPower is probably the only company I’d trust to buy third party camera batteries from. Two RAVPower 1100 mAh NP-FW50 batteries and a charger can be had for £20. They’re roughly 10% larger in capacity compared to Sony’s batteries and they’re less than a fifth of the price. I have read a review that states the charger does not charge native Sony batteries, so I would stick with a Neewer USB charger for charging (I can confirm it works).
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. If Sony were to utilise modern technology, I believe they could increase their Sony a7rII battery from 1080 mAh to at least 2,000 mAh–Sony stick with a traditional, somewhat antiquated Lithium-Ion battery instead of using a more modern Lithium Polymer or Lithium Ion Phosphate battery. In my opinion, this should be addressed; in the very least, they should try and match the RAVpower NP-FW50 third party batteries. However, I’ve certainly been able to get a lot of shots from the one battery.
When comparing the Sony a7rII 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.
Pretend you have a 10,000,000,000 mAh battery in a camera, and let’s pretend it can take 2,000 shots before depleting the battery. We can argue it has a “good battery life”, after all, 2,000 shots is a lot, 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 that 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. In some regards, they’re like a large reptile that doesn’t eat often, but when they do eat, they eat a lot. The moment the camera needs electricity for the shot, it’s drawing a higher current than the Sony a7rII mirrorless camera would. DSLRs do look great on paper and I’ve owned multiple DSLRs; I’ve done the measurements, and I know how much I use liveview for landscapes.
A large part of why I bought the Sony a7rII was to have something suitable to take on the Pacific Crest Trail. You need to know how many amp hours you require, and what wattage an item or multiple items require. One specific battery doesn’t matter in my situation, because I would be drawing from a larger pool at some point–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’ll be using a solar panel 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).
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.
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 I averaged 500 shots a day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, that’d be 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’ll probably use compressed raw, JPG and uncompressed raw options.
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.
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 3 watch.
It also makes sense to have a USB power bank. 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 then and there.
If you use a USB power bank with two ports or you buy a solar panel that has two ports (a true 5watt solar panel is all you need but not all of them have two ports), 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.
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 only difference is, 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 as you can typically charge these at a much faster (higher wattage) rate. 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, 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 batteries.
- USB Power Bank (some power banks include other features); Amazonbasics USB Power Bank; Patriot Fuel+ 6,000 mAh battery (get a larger capacity battery if weight isn’t a problem)
- Neewer Charger; Digicharger Pixo C-USB External Battery Charger or RAVPower NP-FW50 Charger
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 amazon basics UK Power Bank or amazon basics USA Power Bank. 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 a7rII does not include a GPS facility. At first, I believed this was a great shame, but in retrospect, it is a blessing in disguise. For more information regarding this subject, please read my Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review. It basically tells you everything you need to know regarding geotagging a photograph with the Sony a7rII or any other camera for that matter, when using Adobe Lightroom.
The video above shows how easy it is to geotag a Sony a7rII photograph with Adobe Lightroom.