A quick discussion about camera batteries.

I bought an Olympus EM-5 a few days ago and I decided that I wanted to use if for one of the two projects I'll be shooting tomorrow. Love working on Sundays---it gives me a jump on the week.  So I started putting together a shooting kit for the two different jobs this morning and I hit the wall. I am so conditioned to taking back up batteries for every camera that I couldn't get mentally around the impediment imposed by having on a single battery for the EM-5. But I am hard headed and I really wanted to use it so I went online to see how much Olympus batteries cost. I was shocked to find that this tiny rectangle of plastic and lithium ion runs about $55.

I was on Amazon so I went ahead and checked for OEM batteries and I found a brand I've used before in several different cameras, Wasabi Power. The offer two batteries and a charger for just $23 dollars but Amazon can't get it here (at a reasonable shipping cost) before Monday, which does nothing for my compulsive desire to use the camera tomorrow (Sunday). I ordered the Wasabi Power batteries on the assumption that one day I'll want to take the EM-5 on a shooting trip or prolific shooting assignment and I'll want multiple batteries so I don't have to worry about on the job charging.

Then I got in my little car and headed to Precision Camera to pony up the full $55 for the Olympus brand battery. Which they did have in stock. Need an excuse to love your local bricks and mortar camera store? How about that the battery was a twenty minute drive away today. And its brother or sister will be there tomorrow if I need another one right away?

I needed to head out there anyway for some white seamless paper but we don't need to talk about that yet because it's a job for another day...

I got my battery and I charged it. Now it's in the camera grip. My compulsive nature is taking a rest.

But my consumer brain wants to know why the name brand batteries are cost a tenth of the price of a new camera. Why? And why are the people at Wasabi (and I assume countless other battery re-namers) able to deliver a battery with the same level of performance for 1/4th the price of the Olympus batteries?

And it's not just Olympus, I see the same differential with Panasonic and Sony too. I guess, with the diminishing market for actual cameras they have to make up margins somewhere else.

I'm not that happy about tiny, $55 batteries. But, on the other hand, I am happy to have the battery in the camera and ready for work... I guess it's all a mysterious trade-off.

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We'll both be happy you did!


Gordon R. Brown said...

Count your blessings that the Olympus battery was only $55. Need a battery for the Leica M Type 240? Only $190 from Leica. No Wasabe version found on amazon.com.

Ron Zack said...

I own four Wasabi batteries: two BLS-1's for my EP2 and two BLM-1's for my E-3's.

The two BLS-1's didn't last a year. One is completely dead, the other is so weak I'm lucky to get 100 shots from it.

The BLM-1's for the E-3's have faired better for some odd reason, but they discharge quickly if you don't use them as soon as you charge them.

The all seemed to work very well on Day One, but after about a year or so they are pretty much worthless.

On the other hand, I still have an Olympus BLM-1 from my E-1 that can still hold a charge.

I consider Wasabi batteries a waste of money, though I do like their chargers.

But from now on, I'm only buying Olympus batteries for my cameras.

Old Gray Roy said...

Well Kirk, that is interesting. You learn something new every day. I thought only Nikon practiced brand-name banditry but it is apparently rampant in the camera industry. I noted your reference to Wasabi batteries in a past blog and have used them successfully ever since. Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, oem batteries hold charge longer and lasts longer so I have a few oem ones and more of the generic ones just because they're much cheaper. Reuel

Anonymous said...

I really think that MOST batteries are made by just a few companies and then rebranded...whether they be generic or OEM. Wasabi, Maximal Power and Halcyon I've had good luck with in the past.

Klarno said...

I've had pretty consistently bad results with third party batteries, even relatively expensive ones. Every single one I've purchased has had significantly reduced capacity versus originals, failed completely outside of the return timeframe, been a DoA, or was in some way incompatible with the camera it's specified for.

Now on the other hand, I lost a $70 DMW-BLC12 battery for the Panasonic GH2 on top of a mountain, found it again two years later after being repeatedly exposed to blistering heat and direct sunlight, freezing cold, rain and melting snow, and the battery still works fine, within original spec, minus an intermittent connectivity issue with its chip. I sold the camera and my other batteries, but I'm framing that battery.

I only trust OEM batteries.

ODL Designs said...

Good Question... I hope to see an informed answer here somewhere.

On you getting the EM5, it is a solid performer, I have been using mine as my primary workhorse with a back-up EPL5 for going on 2 years now. They havent let me down.

I look forward to your thoughts.

C. Kurt Holter said...

As I'm sure you know, this problem isn't confined to batteries. The Nikon 70-200/f4 AF-S VR lens does not come with a tripod mounting ring, and the Nikon product costs $169.95.

I don't usually scrimp on accessories, but the third party unit I bought instead literally cost 10% of that and is functionally identical.

Scott Kirkpatrick said...

I had the same experience as Ron Zack with Wasabi batteries for the E-PL5 (same as E-M5). The story for E-M1 and E-P5 and probably E0M10 is better. Both the Wasabi chanrge and the batteries of that generation lack the circuits that protect from overcharging and over-discharging. The result is that the charger doesn't seem to work with OEM batteries from Olympus, and the charged batteries aren't always recognized as full enough for the camera to work. I measured the output voltage of my two Wasabi batteries when they say they are charged, and they vary a lot -- not a good sign.


Peter F. said...

If you like the EM5 I predict you'll buy and love the EM1. And they use the same battery. So your one genuine spare can do double duty.

Larry Cordeiro said...

I probably would have sprung for the Olympus battery as well. But, I have to wonder if your friend Frank would have lent you an Olympus battery for the project?

Never miss an opportunity to visit a friend, enjoy good conversation, and a cup of coffee.

Marty4650 said...

Kirk... I have my own theory about this.

I think batteries are a huge profit center for camera makers. So they will set a very high price for a very cheap battery knowing that some people are willing to pay 10 times more to have a "real camera brand battery." You can't fault them for that, this is still a capitalist nation, after all.

I also think it is unlikely that Olympus owns a battery plant and makes their own batteries. They probably buy them from a vendor who places the their name on it, and builds it to their specs. There are probably three huge battery plants somewhere in China, making 50 different brand batteries, and the same plant might be making both the Olympus and the Wasabi batteries.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the Olympus Brand battery and the Wasabi battery are the exact same battery, although they might be. I just know I have used these off brand batteries for years, with absolutely no real problems, and lots of money saved.

Dave Jenkins said...

I have two EM-5s. Last summer I did a week-long assignment to document mission work in El Salvador. Each camera had its original OEM battery, and I bought four Wasabi batteries for backup.

I found that the Wasabis did not last nearly as long as the OEMs, and I also found that the OEM batteries would not charge to full capacity in the Wasabi chargers.

When I came back, I sold the Wasabi batteries and chargers and bought another OEM for each camera.

Wally said...

High cost = profit center for Japanese camera companies.

There are few battery manufacturers and I also believe no camera company except Sony makes its own batteries. Correct me if this is incorrect.

Sanyo is one of the larger manufacturers supplying camera companies and its own line of batteries.

I have had problems with Wasabi not holding their charge on a panasonic G3 too.

jtsmall said...

For computer batteries it is said by those with experience that OEM batteries have circuits to prevent overheating and overcharging. Lithiums in particular are said to be more difficult in this regard. By analogy I suspect the same is true for camera batteries, especially lithiums. However it's likely not all off brands are created equal and there is nothing to prevent a quality product. Wasabi may be one.

It is difficult to address this issue unless a skilled and knowledgeable technician has disassembled the battery in question and examined the components and protective circuitry. Occasionally reviews like this surface irregularly.

For these reasons I pony up the for OEM batteries generally except for simple one cells like AA, etc.

Robin Wong said...

The plot thickens! Now Kirk has an E-M5!

Phillip Bond said...


My understanding (not sure exactly how I've come to it) is that OEM batteries go through a more thorough and robust QC process.

I have a lot of Wasabi Power batteries – for several camera systems – and have been overall quite pleased with their performance. I also appreciate the additional chargers. Some seem to match the performance of the OEM batteries. Some, however, seem to deplete more rapidly (or at least appear to go from full to empty more abruptly.)

Tom Judd said...

Watch out for charger compatibility. Many non-Oly batteries won't charge in the Oly charger. Progo from Amazon and Watson from B&H supposedly are Ok in the Oly charger. Otherwise you will have to carry two chargers.

mosswings said...

Someone once calculated that if you tried to build a car from the replacement parts desk of your dealer it would cost 5 times what you paid for it factory new. Every manufacturer does this sort of thing, justifying it with "stocking costs recovery" and other such explanations, but the basic fact is that parts (and in the case of cars, service) are their major profit generators.
With camera batteries, there are batteries, and then there are batteries. I've regularly noticed that camera manufacturer branded batteries hold a higher charge than identically spec'd 3rd party batteries, and that the 3rd party batteries can have wierd charging characteristics. I've never had one fail on me, but others have. So if I can get a manufacturer's battery on-line for less than retail, I will. Added to this is that some camera manufacturers now are adding communications protocols with their batteries that make 3rd party units underperform or just not work.
It's sort of the same situation with rechargable AAs for your flash unit...Eneloops work decidedly better than many of their competitors - even though identically spec'd.

Anonymous said...

As someone else mentioned, batteries are a profit center. This seems to be very similar to the ink for inkjet printers. The OEM battery markup has got to be at least 200-400%.

Similarly, Fuji did this with their X100 & X100s. It doesn't come with a lens hood. Their OEM filter adapter/lens hood combo retails for around $90. The ones on Amazon are around $8 and are at least 90% as good as the OEM (maybe not a perfect finish match, but close enough).

I'm a big fan of third-party batteries, lens hoods, etc.

Mike Rosiak said...

Hmmm ... Maybe Henry White can shed some light on manufacturing practices of embedding proprietary firmware in their cameras, batteries, and chargers?

Craig Yuill said...

It's not just the camera companies that soak customers when it comes to batteries. Cell phone batteries can be just as expensive. My wife once stopped using her cell phone after a battery died, and was more expensive to replace than buying a brand new cell phone of the same type. AFAIC, the battery side of electronic companies is a racket. It makes me appreciate the non-removable batteries in recent laptop and tablet computers.

Patrick Dodds said...

The OEM surcharge sometimes seems similar to the tax associated with the word "photography". For example, LED rechargeable rainproof worklight (the sort of thing you might see in a garage): £36.00. Non-rechargeable LED panel for photographers: £455.00 (no stand, not waterproof). £420 for a bit of daylight balancing? Seems a tad excessive...

Mark Davidson said...

I have to say that all third party batteries I have purchased for my Canons. Olys and Panasonics have been poor performers. Initial use would be OK but performance quickly degraded to being useful for "limp-home" emergency use.

I buy only the OEM batteries (just a business expense) and I have had superb performance with excellent charge characteristics two years later. For example. I use the Canon BP-511 and with the Canon OEM batteries I still get over 800 exposure on a charge with 2+ year old batteries. With the third party batteries I am lucky to get 100+ after one year.

As for price, I feel that the OEM cells are higher quality and the associated QC and necessary margins account for the cost. For me it is worth it when I have any paying gig not to have a dead camera.

Olaf Hoyer said...

(oops- sorry for doublepost, accidentally hit anonymous..)

Hi Kirk,

as someone that works with battery systems (UPS/Datacenter), I can say that there are some subtle differences between battery packs in general.

Differences can be in the following parts:
- Electrolyte itself, that the manufacturing quality (or the strictness of the QA) is not the same
- Quantity of the Cell is a bit lower (manufacturer saves some money in production)
- Depending on the cell type, some safety devices like protection against short circuit, overcharging or undervolting (such as draining a cell under acceptable level) are not present or have more tolerance

->With a new battery, it won't matter. With aging batteries, you will see the effects.
Also the charger is very important to the life expectation of the battery, as the right current for charging is not to be exceeded and the point to cut off has to be found precisely.
Some problems with: OEM battery has lower capacity than original battery is due to issues with the combination of charger/Battery.

Also: the manufacturer of the camera has some costs to cover, that he has to stock spare parts forsome years, he has to have with regards to product safety some costs to make sure, that all his products comply to security standards, and he has to cover costs in case a single battery goes hickup and causes an explosion/burn/whatsoever.

The latter costs do not apply to cheap OEM stuff, that gets pushed into market via several distributors and fancy names, that often get closed down after a certain amount of time and are not trackable.

Patrick Green said...

Hi, when I used to use Olympus E series cameras (E1 and then E30) I used compatible batteries as my spare battery and never had a problem with them.

Now I have a Panasonic GX7. As both the GX7 manual and the Panasonic website warn against using non Panasonic batteries, I emailed Panasonic and they told me that the GX7 warranty would be invalidated if I used a non Panasonic battery. So I bought a Panasonic one but it was very expensive for what it is.

Anonymous said...

If you think that's bad, check B&H for the cost of the lens hood for their 75mm (no, it doesn't come with a lens hood, and they want $75 for it!). Stuff like that leaves a bad taste. It can't cost more than a few dollars to make, how about raise the price of the lens by $35 and throw it in. In the end they would make more money since anybody with sense will go 3rd party on that one.

Mr said...

ive got 5 batteries for the em5/1 and would have given ya one for the low low cost of one super cheesy celeb photo blogger selfie with me ;) and youd have had to drive to round rock. lol!

Anonymous said...

I bought a pair of Wasabi Power replacement batteries for my D700. They were rated at 2000 mAh vs 1500 for original Nikons which sounded promising but couldn't hold their charge for five days. They also weighed 50 gm vs 80 gm for the Nikon. I'm all for third party manufacturers (Godox, Phottix, Yongnuo etc.) but the batteries were a false economy.

Ananda Sim said...

I just bought E-M1 additional batteries from http://www.betterbatt.com.au/ - they are sourced from China, however this online retailer is based in Australia, offers warranty and response was near immediate.

Original batteries should be to a higher specification (my replacement batteries are lower in capacity as noted by the retailer), should be held to stricter and more consistent quality assurance standards, designed with proper safety mechanisms. More importantly, the originals are from the manufacturer - a bigger target for complaints, lawsuits etc whilst small battery retailers could disappear without much compensation. Of Course, this is parts and the camera manufacturer wants to charge more

Anonymous said...

I always use Ansmann rechargeables. Never had a problem with them. Neither with Canon nor with Olympus. Performance was always as good as the original ones.

Daniel Carlin said...

OEM quality seems to be unreliable. I have a pair of Wasabi batteries for my RX1 and they work as good as the original Sony battery. On the other hand I have a pair for my OMD EM1 which from the start last for about five shots.

Philip Lewis said...

I always buy an extra OEM battery when I get the camera, so I now have the EM-1 and EM-5 with 4 batteries. When traveling the EM-5 was meant to be a spare, but I find myself gluing the 25mm on it and grabbing it for evening food shots etc.

I have had good luck with Wasabi batteries on other cameras. However with the newer charging systems, they don't work with the newer Oly charger. You can travel with extra batteries, but only so many chargers.

Tom Shay said...

Over three years ago a videographer friend of mine suggested that he used batteries sold under the label "Lenmar" and never had any problems with them. I bought two for my E-5 that I use in the grip. They have been exceptional in holding a charge and long lasting during heavy use. They aren't as cheap as the knock offs from China but are about 1/2 the price as the Olympus battery.

Bill Van Antwerp said...

I have spent a lot of time testing batteries in my day job and have built a few computer controlled battery testers to look at capacity and charging rates etc. for a variety of batteries. For the Olympus I have tested only the olympus OEM battery (probably made by Sony) and two different brands of Chinese made batteries as well as some chargers. In my hands at least the Olympus batteries have about 30 to 35% more capacity than the cheaper ones but most importantly have lower internal discharge so charged batteries stay charged longer.
Since most of my shooting is underwater it is quite important to make sure your battery will last the dive (several hundred shots perhaps). I use both types of batteries interchangeably but can stretch the Olympus to a third dive while the inexpensive ones tend to just make two.

Anonymous said...

I guess this is not pertinent to your Oly, but, the only problem I had with Wasabi batteries was related to Sony. I once purchased a Wasabi for an NEX 7, and the camera told me, via a message on the LCD, that the battery was unacceptable. I puzzled me because I have interchanged Sony batteries between NEX 5N, NEX 7, and A7 without issue. I guess it is possible that, in some instances, the aftermarket battery folks don't get the electronics/software interface correct.

The Wasabi looked correct and was labeled as having the correct voltage.


Doug McLachlan said...

Camera batteries are the new film! SD cards are massive these days, only pros need more than a few. Batteries are the only consumable left in the camera eco system and the major camera companies are squeezing every last bit of profit that can out of them ! I think it's also the reason you don't see any camera manufacturer even trying to develop a standard battery for a full line of cameras. New camera, new battery type ... more $$ for extras !

Anonymous said...

Wasabi batteries have a poor track record on Amazon. For a little more money you can buy a Watson at B&H. Good reviews and mine has been first rate so far.