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There is much discussion about battery-life in use and a standard (CIPA) for measuring it but there is not much information on how long batteries are supposed to last.

How long does a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery for digital cameras live for?

Is this measured chronologically? (In years, for example) or in cycles? And, if so, what does one know how many cycles a battery has been through?

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    This is at best a SE/Engineering or Electronics question, and depends like crazy on a dozen parameters (duty cycle, peak power draw, environment, ...) – Carl Witthoft Jul 21 '16 at 12:06
  • Looking for information specific to digital camera batteries. I already aware that laptop batteries for example, live 4-5 years before they have trouble holding charge but no such general rule-of-thumb is given for smaller Li-Ion which go in cameras. – Itai Jul 21 '16 at 13:21
  • Why do you think size matters? The charging/discharging firmware controller matters, but unlikely that the physical capacity matters. – Carl Witthoft Jul 21 '16 at 14:15
  • The question is if size matters. I have no idea. Nor if they work the same way outside of the chemical composition. – Itai Jul 21 '16 at 15:11
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Is this measured chronologically? (In years, for example) or in cycles?

Both, I think. At least they're both factors, but I don't think it's possible to reliably predict the useful lifetime. Batteries age whether you use them or just let them sit on the shelf, but they age faster if you put them through a lot of charge/discharge cycles. I'm no expert, but I suspect other factors like temperature and charge during storage have an impact on a lithium ion battery's lifetime.

All these variables probably combine to create a range of possible lifetimes that's probably too large for battery manufacturers to provide a useful estimate. If they guess too low (in either time or cycles), people will accuse them of giving a short lifetime to encourage unnecessarily frequent battery replacement. If they guess too high, people will complain when their batteries don't meet the estimate.

The best thing to do, of course, is to monitor the battery's performance. Does it recharge to the same voltage? Does it provide useful capacity? It can be hard to really know when the performance has dropped if you're not paying close attention. To that end, some cameras (e.g. Canon 6D and recent 5D variants) keep track of each battery's performance so that you can see when a battery might need to be replaced.

  • Unfortunately, I have no info for the batteries I am currently concerned with, just a feeling that they are not performing as they used to. They are all between 8 and 4 years old. – Itai Jul 20 '16 at 20:42
  • @Itai That's surely another reason it doesn't pay for manufacturers to state a lifetime in terms of charge cycles: most people have no way of knowing how many times they've recharged a given battery, so have nothing to compare to the expected lifetime. I think that if you've gotten 8 years out of a battery and still aren't sure whether it's performing well, it's time to splurge on a new one. Then you'll have a new battery for comparison, and you can still use the old one for a backup. To compare capacities, keep track of how many shots you get from each after a full charge. – Caleb Jul 20 '16 at 20:54
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I've still got several batteries for my 350D, including the one that came with the camera. So that's 10 years, but the capacity isn't what it used to be on any of them. The others weren't original Canon but cheap equivalents, of which two have completely died and at least 2 survived. (I had enough batteries to shoot all day for a week with no reliable power).

Conversely I've seen another Canon battery lose its ability to hold charge in 5 years - it would charge up but be flat again within a day even if not used, and run out quickly in use.

There are a number of different failure modes. In general though, Li-ion batteries lose capacity over time whether used or not, and prefer to be stored with plenty of charge but possibly not full. The effect of cycling on lithium batteries is less than these effects.

  • That's a good point. There is no exact date when it's no longer good. It seems like a gradual degradation. I haven't noticed until recently because most times I change cameras, I got a new type of battery so replaced them all but now that I'm using a battery which has been unchanged for 4 generations, I feel it get's empty too fast. Although I have no initial measurement to back it up. – Itai Jul 20 '16 at 20:40
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    I actually did some methodical capacity testing on a bunch of batteries of the same type that I had accumulated over several generations of compact camera. Of the OEM batteries, even the oldest one (~7 years) still outperformed the best of my cheap ebay ones by a good margin... so apparently a quality battery can have a fairly long service life, variables aside. – junkyardsparkle Jul 20 '16 at 22:10
  • @junkyardsparkle I have tended to buy a recognisable accessory brand (Hama perhaps) where possible, these appear to hit a sweet spot in price/performance. Some of the cheap ones have a much smaller new capacity, perhaps even made from sub-spec components rejected by the big brands. – Chris H Jul 21 '16 at 6:00
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I bought a Nikon D200 in April 2007 with a spare Li-ion battery (EN-EL3e). They are still working but no longer holding their charge. I did an all day shoot recently and they stood up to taking about 600 image each before giving up. For 11 year olds that good but I have just bought two replacements.

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Not a very scientific answer, I have had my Nikon D40X battery run for some time now, i think i got this camera when it was launched and still use the stock battery. I have experienced that during cold weather battery drain is faster and in warm it stands up much longer. Also, I believe in deep cycling the batteries. I feel they last a little longer when they are use consistently and allowed to drain almost completely before recharging to full capacity. I have seen some degradation of battery life now after this long which is almost 10 years now.

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    Deep cycling is not actually good for lithium-ion batteries. – junkyardsparkle Jul 20 '16 at 21:59
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    Ys, the cold weather part is normal. It affects battery-life but I do not think it affects the life of the battery. – Itai Jul 20 '16 at 23:57
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    See also Why is there so much fear surrounding LiPo batteries? on Electrical Engineering. Note that the title asks about lithium-polymer, but many of the same issues apply to lithium-ion batteries as well (and the by far highest voted answer points this out right at the beginning). – a CVn Jul 22 '16 at 13:49

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