The 9th unofficial rule of photography is “always have batteries.” Of the 10 rules, this one’s a relatively new one. In the very early days of photography, batteries didn’t even exist. Even up through the modern era of 35mm film, batteries weren’t necessary for the picture taking functions of the camera. Most cameras then had some sort of light meter that required batteries (usually ones about the size of watch batteries), but the rest was all mechanical function that needed no power at all (I still have cameras like that).
In the late ’80s/’90s, when autofocus lenses and built-in motordrives were made, batteries became more and more a necessity (AAs mostly, easily found in any store). Still, most of those cameras had some sort of manual/mechanical fallback setting. The last film camera I used for the Record was a Nikon F5. It was powered by AA batteries (and it was a power hog, at that – I seemed to go through them like water) but it had a failsafe setting where it could still be shot at 1/250th of a second shutter speed mechanically. It wasn’t until the digital age were cameras became 100 percent powered by batteries. Without them, not a single frame can be taken.
In 2001, the Record’s photo department went digital. We went cold turkey and got rid of all our film cameras and equipment and bought Nikon D1 cameras in one fell swoop. Those first devices used nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries.
The problem with the NiMH batteries is that over time they develop what’s called a memory problem. Similar to what happens to nickel cadmium (Ni-Cad) units, the battery “thinks” it’s fully charged but will only be at, say, 90%. Then the gap will get bigger and bigger, 70%, 60% and so on. After a while it will have only a little power, no matter how long you charged it. There are times where I could barely finish a single assignment without having to change the batteries. I had to resort to carrying four or five bulky batteries a day, and even then I worried that I wasn’t going to have enough power.
The Nikon D3S cameras that we use today use a lithium-ion (li-ion) battery (as did its predecessor the Nikon D2 series), and the memory problems of the old NiMHs have been eliminated. Now I can go almost a full week before I have to charge the battery. I still have one backup that I keep on a charger at my desk. I switch the two around occasionally to make sure they both get some use, but I only really need just one. The second one is sort of a security blanket for me because rule No. 9 – “always have a battery” – applies more now than ever before.