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I shoot a Nikon D800, but this question applies to any DSLR. (I suspect DSLRs are harder on batteries than more compact cameras, so let's stick to this camera family.)

I recently had one of my camera batteries fail. The weird thing is that the battery was about a year newer than the one that's still fine. (I put a label with the date acquired on them, so I can keep them straight.) The deceased battery was about four years old; the good one is five.

I've picked up two more batteries just to be sure (I don't know how much longer the old one will continue working well) but what sort of lifespan is to be expected? I realize it will vary by usage and depth of discharge, and my batteries tend to be gently used and not deeply discharged before recharging. I have a fairly busy life so most of my photography tends to be while traveling, and then I will do it intensely for a few days or couple of weeks before the camera gets a good rest again.

What have your experiences been, and what should I be expecting?

  • as stated, it is not very clear what problem you are trying to solve. Maybe rephrasing will help, saying something like: "how to make sure battery lasts long" or "which factors affect battery life / # of recharges" – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 14 '18 at 23:29
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    @aaaaaa The problem appears to be insuring that the camera in question is usable for many years to come. This requires batteries. – Michael C May 16 '18 at 1:18
  • I'm not trying to solve a problem. I'm trying to establish what a reasonable lifespan, in years, of a camera's lithium ion battery is. I expect this will be a range depending on how hard it's used, but a range is still a useful metric. – Jim MacKenzie May 16 '18 at 4:50
  • Lithium batteries decade by themselves. Do not expect more than 4-5 years from a battery, while the number of charges is largely irrelevant to its performances (unless you use a full charge every 2 days, year after year). – FarO Apr 23 at 9:56
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In my experience, only with Canon DSLR so far, when properly used and disposed, DSLR batteries can last for very long time without failing.

For example, I'm still using a couple of batteries I bought about 8 years ago with a Canon 550, and I'm still able to shoot at least 300 pics before they run out of juice (when they were new I could shot at least 400 shots). Since lithium battery technology is similar, I expect also Nikon batteries to last for so much time.

So if a battery is not faulty from the start (it's uncommon, but can happen), I expect it to last for quite a long time.

As far as I know, there are a few things you can do to make batteries last longer:

  • Use them. If you have 3 batteries, use mark them with a number, and use them in sequence, so you know you're using all of them.
  • Recharge them after each use, and before use. I usually recharge my batteries the day before and the day after any photo shoot.
  • Try to avoid extremely hot of cold temperature. Don't leave them in your car trunk in a sunny day, and put them in your pocket when you go on a snowy hike.
  • Don't let them fully discharge. They will last longer, and you won't miss the moment for a special shot.

One last thing - batteries may be faulty, and with some experience you may find out strange behaviours quite soon. Ask for replacement.

In Europe law gives you 2 years of warranty on almost any product, and I guess it wouldn't be too different in other countries. Get in touch with the store that sold you the battery, or with the manufacturer.

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There are way too many variables involved to accurately predict how long each of your batteries will last for the way you use them. On an individual battery basis, some of it is also just random quality control in manufacturing.

Your question seems to be coming from a viewpoint about worrying that an older camera will no longer be usable once the rechargeable batteries have worn out. You've probably got very little to worry about on that score. Batteries are still available for many DSLR cameras that have not been sold new for over a decade. For instance, one can still buy BP-511 batteries from quality third party makers for an EOS Digital Rebel (The original one sold as the 300D in other parts of the world) introduced in 2003. The last Canon DSLR to use the BP-511A (a slightly higher capacity version that is completely backwards compatible in both directions) was the EOS 50D discontinued in mid-2010. The case is very similar for the Nikon EN-EL9 battery used to power the Nikon D50 and several subsequent cameras. The D50 was introduced in June 2005. The last Nikon DSLR cameras to use the EN-EL9 family of batteries appear to have been phased out around 2010 as well.

I've got Lithium-ion LP-E6 batteries (both OEM and third party) that I've owned for up to seven years that are still perfectly usable for my Canon DSLRs. The older ones don't last quite as long on a single charge, but there's not a huge difference. Maybe 15% reduced capacity compared to my newest ones?

In aggregate these batteries have powered my four most recent camera bodies for well over 250,000 frames and, with the exception of the oldest Canon OEM battery, are still going strong.

The only battery I've ever had "die" on me to the point it is not usable is the Canon OEM battery included with a camera purchased in 2011. None of the third party batteries I still have, including one also bought in 2011, have degraded anywhere near that much.

Of the four Canon branded LP-E6 batteries I've owned:

  • One was dropped into a hole and lost in a wall of a building only 2-3 years or so after it was made in 2012. It was working fine at that time. As far as I know it is still inside the wall.
  • One, made in November 2011, has pretty much "died" and has been retired. It will still take a charge but will only last a handful of shots in one of the cameras. The "recharge performance" display in the camera's menu shows a single red bar for this battery.
  • The other two are still perfectly functional at slightly reduced capacity from when they were new. The manufacturing dates stamped on them are January 2015 and February 2014, respectively. They do show only two out of three green bars on the "recharge performance" display viewed from my Canon cameras.

Of the ten third party LP-E6 batteries I have bought between 2011 and 2015:

  • One of two purchased way back in April 2011 was lost when a velcro flap on a camera bag loosened and came open during a night shoot in a large natural area. I eventually found two of the three batteries that escaped. This battery was working fine when it was lost about 2-3 years after purchase.

  • Two are packed with a Canon 7D that rarely sees use, but they work fine when occasionally charged and used. One was bought in April 2011, the other in April 2012.

  • The rest of them all still work well enough to stay in regular rotation in my regularly used cameras. The oldest is a third party 'Maximal Power' brand bought via amazon in 2012, the newest are two 'STK (Sterling Tek)' LP-E6 batteries bought in 2016. They all still show the full three green bars in the "recharge performance" display.¹

Of the 11 LP-E6 batteries currently in rotation:

  • Both Canon OEM (made in 2014 and 2015) and five of the third party batteries (Two 'Maximal Power' bought in 2014, two 'STK' bought in 2016, and the 'Watson' included in a promotional bundle with a camera bought in 2015) have the current firmware and are functionally identical in any of my Canon EOS cameras that use LP-E6 batteries.
  • The three older 'Maximal Power' third party batteries, all bought at one time or another in 2012, will power any of my active cameras, but the 5D Mark III and 7D Mark II will refuse to show serial numbers, exact remaining percentage, or recharge performance for these batteries. These things did initially show with the 5D mark III until a 5D Mark III firmware update in 2014.

As a result, the two Canon OEM and the third party batteries purchased in 2014 or later get used the most in the two cameras I use the most, the 5D Mark III and the 7D Mark II. The three other third party batteries are used in the 5D Mark II that I use when shooting with a three body setup, or occasionally with a two body FF setup when shooting bands or events in a very dark venue.

I normally use two batteries in a grip with the 5D Mark III and the 7D Mark II and can go all day shooting 2,000+ frames in either one without needing to change a set if they were fully charged when starting. At the end of a long day they usually still have 40% or more remaining. As the third body with the widest angle lens mounted on it, I normally don't have a grip on the 5D Mark II and rarely shoot more than a few dozen or, at most, a couple of hundred frames with it. I usually swap the battery out in it every couple of shoots or so when it is down to around 60%, but most of that loss usually comes from the long time intervals between when it is charged/used.

I also still have several Li-ion BP-511A batteries, bought between 2009 and 2012, for a Canon EOS 50D. They still take a charge and run the camera. But it has been years since I actually shot with the camera enough to have any idea of how long they would last. The 50D and BP-511A do not have a menu item to view battery recharge performance.

¹ Since I've never seen a third party LP-E6 show anything other than the full three green bars, I suppose it is possible that the third party batteries will display a full recharge performance value even if they are not performing any better than the Canon OEM batteries that show a reduced function. But my experience has been that quality third party batteries such as STK and MaximalPower will last more charge/discharge cycles before starting to show a slightly reduced capacity than the Canon branded batteries will.

  • I'd be super curious to see actual frame count on your older batteries vs. a new one (with similar shooting days, of course), rather than just subjective impression. – mattdm May 16 '18 at 1:37
  • There's enough variation from one shooting day to the next with the same batteries due to differences in amount of LCD usage, IS, how often and for how long the camera is kept in 'metering active' mode before each shot, etc. The only real way to do an empirical comparison would be to use identical cameras with identical lenses in the exact same way side by side. There's also the issue that with Canon batteries, if they are still at over 80% capacity when placed in the charger it just resets the shutter count and power level without actually charging the battery. To get an "honest" 100% ... – Michael C May 16 '18 at 1:44
  • ... charge one must make sure the battery is at less than 75% before placing it in the charger. – Michael C May 16 '18 at 1:45
  • "One was dropped into a hole and lost in a wall of a building"-- I feel like there's an interesting story with that one :) Regardless, I've had some interesting battery life problems with one battery during cold temperatures where a battery in the same conditions bought around the same time performed fine. – Allen Howard May 16 '18 at 20:54
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Lithium rechargeable batteries (which these are) lose a significant portion of their capacity over time regardless of use. As a general rule of thumb, after three years they'll be significantly degraded even if they're just sitting there. You'll still likely get some use out of them, but maybe not even as much as half the original capacity. Keeping them cold will prolong this, although I think for most people not by so much that it's worth the hassle. (Just putting them in the fridge isn't a good choice because of condensation, or the possibility of accidentally getting in a cold spot and freezing.)

They also have a limited number of cycles; again as a general rule, 300-500.

You note that your batteries are four and five years old. At this point, just be happy you're still getting use out of them.

  • I still get well over half the capacity of Canon EP-L6 batteries that are anywhere from 2-7 years old than I got when they were brand new. – Michael C May 16 '18 at 1:47
  • No, Li-ion does not loose capacity over time. The loss is insignificant over time. They loose capacity when cycled many times. – Overmind Apr 23 at 7:11
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    @Overmind actually lithium batteries corrode themselves. They indeed age. batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/… – FarO Apr 23 at 9:59
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    Pretty anything corrodes in time, but this is not too relevant. My 15 year old 2000mAh cells still have 1900+mAh after all that period of storage. Newer ones are of lower quality though. For example, Sony's 2600mAh G8 series are nearly dead (400mAh at most) after long time storage while the Sony 2200mAh G5s still have over 2000mAh after the same period. Note that in a battery, things can be different. The actual circuit can partially or completely drain them in the case of some manufacturers (example: Makita's power tools drain and kill the 1st pair of cells). – Overmind Apr 23 at 10:52
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DLSRs batteries now-days use Li-ion cells, usually 2 in series per battery. Some use still may use Li-Po instead.

EN-EL15 rated 1600/1900mAh (compatible for D500, D600, D610, D7000, D7100, D750, D800, D800E, D810) uses 2 800/950mAh cells. The cells seem to be a variation of 18550 cells, which in theory should have higher capacity.

Typical storage lifetime for any Li-ion battery is quite many years if stored at a proper temperature (like 4-16C). The loss in capacity over year can be under 3% for many types of cells.

The actual practical in-use lifetime is determined by these factors:

  • number of cycles

  • operating temperature

  • overcharge and overdrain

Cycles: Li-ion does lose capacity the more cycles it has. So at a few hundred cycles, your battery could already be half capacity or even near zero if it's of lower quality. So don't play with it just to do so, only use it when needed.

Temperature: Li-ion works well at low temperature. If you get it hot, it will take damage. So a good way to make sure it keeps its properties is not to overheat it. For example, constantly using it in 40C environment will significantly lower its lifetime compared to a use at 20C. If one of your batteries acts strange due to being overheated, just store it in cold for a while (4C recommended) and then recharge it. It could recover quite well.

Charging: Generally, there should be not overcharge and overdrain problems for DSLR packs, because they have protections from this. But if one of the cells is worn-out, it will over-discharge and may cause the other good cell to be over-charged when the battery is being charged. The degree of this problem varies depending on manufacturer's protections and should not happen at all with new or in good condition batteries.

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