Some of the hottest cameras on the market can fly hundreds of feet in the air or fit in a shirt pocket, but that small form factor comes with an inherent issue: small camera, small battery. As the devices shrink, so do their power sources.
So how do we keep our action cameras shooting long into our adventure? And how do we keep our drones hovering longer than it takes a coffee to cool down?
Well, there are no secret formulas, but a bit of common sense and a few best practices can make a world of difference. If there was any disclaimer, it’s to not expect miracles. Manufacturers are creating smarter, more resilient batteries and chargers than ever before. Reading most device manuals will offer some insight into best settings and techniques specific to that device to get the longest possible battery life, but failing those recommendations, here are our tips to stretch out that shoot time.
1. Be power conscious! Ok, so this one is pretty much common sense, but when not shooting turn off the device power. Like leaving a light on after exiting a room, leaving a camera powered on between shots is a waste. Check the settings on your specific device to see if there are any auto power-off features. On the flip side, check if your device has a one-touch shooting mode that will let you leave your device shut down until the exact time you need it, turning on and rolling at the touch of a single button.
Like leaving a light on after exiting a room, leaving a camera powered on between shots is a waste.
2. Read the manual! Most devices have a mode that offers the longest runtime. For most recent GoPro cameras, that mode will be 1080p at 30 frames per second. Of course it won’t be the same for all devices, so crack open that manual and figure out which mode will run longest for your camera.
3. Ditch the peripherals! Many recent action cameras ship with a remote control, and can be decked out with add-ons such as LCD displays. Unfortunately, these peripherals come at a cost to battery life. Most LCDs are powered by the camera they are attached to, and the connectivity used to connect a remote also sucks go-go juice. Some users claim getting nearly double the battery life out of their action cameras when they get rid of their peripherals.
4. Pack a Powervault! The good folks at Polar Pro Filters have come up with a brilliant solution to keep action cameras rolling all day with their Powervault case ($99.99, polarprofilters.com). The case itself has a high capacity rechargeable battery and outlets to charge GoPro batteries up to five times before the case needs to be recharged. Add in a USB port to charge up a drone or cell phone, storage for cameras, memory cards and extra batteries, and this water resistant case is a no-brainer for those of us looking to make a day of our action shoots.
5. Stock up! Another common sense tip is to bring extra batteries, but just buying more OEM batteries isn’t always the best solution. Take a look at some of the higher capacity battery options offered by third party manufacturers. Some of the batteries offered by companies such as Wasabi Power can offer longer battery life for half the cost of an OEM battery. Check them out and stock up! When it comes to drones, investigate options your drone manufacturer offers for replacement batteries. There may or may not be a third party options, or a higher capacity option. If the OEM battery is the only one available, picking up a couple of extras can still be worth it. With average flight time for today’s most popular consumer drones hovering (see what I did there?) at around 20 minutes, extra batteries can turn half an hour in the backyard into a few hours of aerial entertainment.
6. Investigate larger, more efficient propellers! Drones rely on their propellers for lift and speed, so it’s only natural that larger propellers would provide more lift and speed, getting more performance with the same or less effort. Lighter, less flexible materials also help. Look at carbon fiber propellers to turn your drone into a lighter and faster power saver.
7. Fly in ideal conditions! Wind, extreme temperatures and other environmental factors can play a large part in the performance of a drone. The worse the conditions, the harder the drone has to work to operate properly. The harder it works, the shorter the life of the battery. To get optimum flight time, wait for the optimum day!
8. Charge right before you use your device! Even the best battery will lose a little bit of charge with every day it sits dormant on the shelf. Therefore, to get the most out of a battery, it only makes sense to plan to charge up right before heading out to use the device.
9. Employ good rechargeable battery charging tactics! While batteries are continually improving, there is a technique that has long given users of rechargeable lithium ion batteries more charge cycles. If a battery can be recharged, say, 400-500 times, before losing it’s overall capacity, full discharging and charging may shorten it’s life. For these advanced batteries, many pros aim to charge their batteries between 40 and 80 percent, avoiding fully draining them or overcharging them. Also, try to recharge in a cooler space. A hot room can reduce the amount of charge your battery takes on.
So there you have it, but don’t take our word for it. Test these recommendations on your own device and decide what’s best for you and your lifestyle. As with any video endeavor, enjoying action cameras and drones can be a balancing act between skill, common sense and simply trying to have a good time. This writer knows all of the rules but still overcharges batteries, forgets to pack an extra battery and flies with OEM propellers, so if you don’t tick all of these boxes it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. The most important thing is to get out there and have some fun, though if you employ a few of these tips you’ll be able to stay out that much longer.
Russ Fairley is an award-winning video producer, writer and mobile production enthusiast