Sony a7rII – Camera Battery and GPS Solution

Battery life is quite a hot topic in regards to mirrorless cameras and the battery life of the Sony a9 has been improved dramatically compared to the Sony a7rII, but I believe the Sony a7rII is a better buy for most people right now. Photographers that primarily use the viewfinder on a DSLR will notice their mirrorless camera might not be able to 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.

Battery Life

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. The Sony a7rII’s battery life is underrated in my opinion, 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. Since writing this article, Sony have increased the battery life with their Sony a9 by simply making the battery much larger and making the camera more efficient. I’m in favour of making cameras more efficient but it is a shame they couldn’t have designed a new battery in the same housing as the a7rII’s battery for the Sony a9. This would mean all users would benefit; however, I cannot knock Sony too much here. They’ve generally been VERY good at keeping the same body for several models, unlike most companies.

When comparing the Sony a7II, Sony a7sII or 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 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 a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII or Sony a9 mirrorless cameras 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 (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 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

 

Simple solution

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 5x 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. The solar panel can then fill up your USB power bank during the day.

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”.

Buy list

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 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.

GPS Problem

The Sony a7II, Sony a7sII, Sony a7rII 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 dedicate 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 a Garmin Fenix 5 or a 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.

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.

10 thoughts on “Sony a7rII – Camera Battery and GPS Solution”

  1. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will make certain to bookmark your blog and may come back at some point. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great writing, have a nice evening!

  2. I own a Sony A7RII and a Fenix 3. Here is the best thing about the Fenix 3, which surprised me a lot.

    Out of curiosity, for a future hiking trip to Peru, I measured how many times I could charge various devices from a powerbank (the PNY PowerPack 7,800mAh):
    – Sony A7RII: 2 times (used 41% of the powerbank)
    – Samsung smartphone: 2 times (used 40% of the powerbank)
    – Fenix 3: 19-20 (used 5% of the powerbank) !!!

    That means that with a single small powerbank in my backpack, the Fenix can record my tracks daily for almost 3 weeks. This is definitely the solution I will use for geotagging my photos.

    1. It sounds like we have a similar set up. Due to the 300mAh battery of the fenix 3, it can indeed be recharged lots of times from a small power pack. My only gripe with it is the 20MB internal storage, but it’s very simple to copy the .fit files to a smartphone if it starts to fill up :).

      1. I did not know how much memory the Fenix had. Recorded tracks – GPX files – from the Garmin Oregon are small enough that I did not consider that the Fenix memory could be filled with similar files. How big is a FIT file for a day hike recording ? 100-200 Kb ? That would still allow 100 tracks to be recorded.

        Anyway, thanks for making me aware of these 20MB. Because this memory space gets eaten by additional apps, widgets and watchfaces, doesn’t it ?

        1. No problem :). Yeah, the apps do use the same storage space but they’re extremely small (some are only 20KB for example). In “GARMINACTIVITY”, a 4 mile walk I did this morning registers as 24KB. 100-200KB sounds reasonable for a day hike.

          You can free up a bit of space by deleting the unnecessary language files too. I can’t remember what folder I found them in…

          If you’re short on space, you can transfer the fit files to your phone, if it has USB-OTG.

  3. I am a (quite fresh) Sony photographer also, BUT I come from Nikon, and not all was bad with DSLR’s. And for a properly designed/constructed camera, such a workaround (as good as it may be) wouldn’t be necessary.

    Regarding GPS: while my D300-D810’s did not feature built-in GPS themselves, I had several third party units from Dawntech and Solmeta. All of them were very reliable (I had tested and discarded some cheap ones also, though), tagging data showed exactly where I had been photographing, and to be fair, camera battery life WITH enery-draining GPS unit on a Nikon D800 etc. is still WORLDS AHEAD of my current Sony’s without anything additionally energy consuming attached. And the files came into LR already with the GPS tags, no additional action at all needed. Surely it can be done also with solutions like smartphone + GPSforCam AND extra tagging process afterwards, but I would prefer the clean solution with a dedicated GPS unit tagging the files exactly during exposure by far.

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for the information.-
    Question if you store the pictures in iPhoto, how would you sync your GPS Data (GPX) with the pictures taken?

    1. Sorry, I only know about Linux and Windows. I don’t know much about Apple operating systems, software or the hardware. For Lightroom, you give the program a file and it syncs it by matching the time the photograph was taken, and the time the coordinate was created. It’s an incredibly simple calculation. If iPhoto cannot do it, there’s probably a separate program that can. You would be better asking on an Apple forum I believe.

  5. Hi,

    nice review, thanks for that. Are you aware of teh “BioLite Campstove” (just Google for that)? This can prepare your Tea while charging up your camera/USB device. All you need are some little dry boughs or something else…

    1. Thank you. I had heard of it but my concern is that the electricity it provides doesn’t last for a very long time and it doesn’t seem as efficient as a solar panel for the weight. I think it depends on your location too. For people that’re camping a lot, not hiking very much and have access to a long lasting fire and lots of water, it could be good. I wouldn’t discount it if you live in Norway or somewhere like that :).

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