Sunday, 10 July 2011

Third party battery for the GH2

Having a spare battery is convenient. Without it, you cannot photograph anymore without going home and recharging the battery, should you run out of power.

Original spare batteries from Panasonic tend to be somewhat expensive. For the GH2, spare batteries have even been hard to find in certain markets.

One option is to buy a third party spare battery. They can be bought inexpensively from various auction sites. I decided to try one. It cost around US$20 including shipment from China.

The battery arrived very swiftly. It was packed well in a padded envelope, but beyond some bubble wrap, it did not come with any box for storing. Here is the original battery (on the left), and the third party battery (on the right):


The original battery comes with the official name, DMW-BLC12E.

On the reverse side, the third party battery, to the right, somewhat cryptically says: "For Pan.DMW-BLC12".


In use

The third party battery charges just like the original one. When inserted in the camera, though, there is one major difference which is easily spotted: You have no battery bars in the display anymore (using the third party battery on the right):


If you're going to use the battery for emergencies only, then this is no problem. But for normal use, it is a nuisance not to know how much power is left in the battery.

There is another consequence to this as well. When using the normal battery, the camera knows when the battery is almost depleted, and will not allow the user to take any more pictures. If recording a video, the camera will stop the recording, to allow for safely saving the footage already recorded.

The third party battery, however, does not allow the camera to see how much power is left. Hence, the power might go out during video recording, which could damage the whole recorded file, so that all your most recently filmed footage is lost. The same goes for images taken when the camera is almost out of power.

When the camera notes that there is not enough battery left, it leaves a message saying that the battery power is out, please recharge. With the third party battery, however, the camera simply uses up all the power until it is completely out, leaving the camera completely dead when having used up all the power. This is not a real problem, but can be confusing for some users.

Another side effect of using the non-original battery is that the camera loses the power save mode. So you must make sure to turn off the camera when not using it, otherwise the battery power will be drained too soon.

How much juice in the batteries?

I tried to compare how much video footage I could record with the two batteries. My camera is the European version, and can only record 30 minutes in one go. With the original batteries, I could start the video recording five times, with the last video being cut off after 24 minutes, due to too low battery. So the total recording time was 144 minutes, with the LCD display on all the time.

With the third party battery, I could only start three recordings. After that, the camera was completely dead, and did not respond until I replaced the battery with one that had some charge. The total recording time was 90 minutes.

This difference could be due to the new, third party battery not being worn in properly yet. Some say that batteries need to be used and recharged some times before reaching their optimal performance. I don't know.

Conclusion

The third party battery is good for emergency use. If your main battery goes empty, it would be good to have it in the camera bag to be able to continue using the camera until you can recharge the main battery.

But for critical use, it is not good. The battery could go empty while you are photographing or recording video, so that your most recent work is lost.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you for this extensive and informative post!

    This is why I don't like Panasonic bodies much. I bought a GH1 and intended to buy a third-party battery, but they updated the GH1's firmware to disallow third-party batteries. A very dirty trick, I think.

    I suspect the electronics in the third-party battery you tested are more responsible for the missing battery gauge than the camera is, but it shouldn't be a problem in the first place. Olympus' battery-agnostic policy is much more consumer-friendly, and I hope to stick to Olympus bodies from now on.

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  2. I ordered a spare battery nearly 3 months ago for my Panasonic GH2, but it still hasn't arrived. The suuplier says there's still no available stock in UK. Third-party batteries may not be as good, but at least they're available...

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  3. That's true. It took just one week for the third party battery to arrive from China.

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  4. Enjoying your blog a lot. One comment regarding generic batteries because I was bitten by it recently. Did a short video shoot with it because my main battery is still charging. Finished with the main shoot with enough juice left. Started doing some B-rolls and at one point the camera died. No big deal, I replaced it with the main battery and continued. What I found later that night was that the SDHC card was corrupted. Garbage file names everywhere and I could not access my main clips. I suppose if it dies suddenly when writing the FAT32 directory table, it can mess it up quite badly that you can't access the good clips any longer. I repeated the experiment the next day with the 3rd party battery. This time when it died, it only affected the last clip it was recording. So be extremely careful with 3rd party batteries! It can ruin your entire memory card, not just your last clip.

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  5. That is a very good comment regarding third party batteries! It seems that they are mostly good for short term emergency power, in case your main battery runs out. But they should not be used during a long period, as you risk the camera stopping during file operation, as you say.

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  6. The reason that there is no status displayed for the third party battery is that the camera actually doesn't see it as a battery, but rather as an AC adapter.

    As you probably know, the GH1/GH2 cameras ship with an AC battery charger/adapter that also includes an umbilical cord that allows you to use the camera in a studio situation. This adapter just provides power, but no serial communications.

    Genuine batteries provide both power and serial communications, which can be used to provide information from the battery back to the camera. The extra electronics of course contribute to the higher cost of the battery.

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  7. That's interesting! I didn't know that.

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  8. Hm, the disadvantages seem annoying, but you really can't complain when an official battery for the (in my case) GF3 runs for ~£50, yet you can pick up a third party one for about £4.

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  9. I got a Polaroid PLBTPABLC12 7.4v 1250mAh Li-ion replacement gh2 battery.. it worked for a few months and then suddenly stopped working. Now when I put it in the camera it says "This battery can not be used" I did not expose the battery to any excessive tempatures or treat it poorly. It simply stopped working.

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  10. Nice article. Wish I had read this two days ago. Gave a very important presentation which was being recorded, and right at the end the generic battery went out. Any suggestions on how I can recover or access that file. It says its corrupted. Cant copy, cut or paste from SD card. Can't open to play with VLC - says error. Any recommendations on places I can take it or send it. Quite important presentation. Big Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, I don't know how you can recover this file. It may require special knowledge about the Panasonic file format/process.

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  11. original batteries are available since dec 2010. Also the firmware upgrade of GH2 gives smoother focusing, energy friendly ops, better sensivity, less grain, faster focusing, better video rec.
    I do not like third partys batt. when they do not provide full compability, I suggest avoid those batteries of bad quality and functionality.

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  12. I'm thankful for this post. I could have lost my job today shooting on a GH2 with 3rd party batteries. On what I believed to be a full charge (no way to tell, of course), I lost power about 35 minutes into the shoot. No problem, we were pretty much done anyway. I get the card to go capture the footage and THERE'S NOTHING THERE. It did not record one second of the footage. As you said, the battery completely died without giving the camera enough time to write to the card safely. My boss was furious and he's not a technical guy so there's no use explaining all this to him, I just have to take the heat. I'm glad you've broken this down for everyone so well. I'd hate to see someone suffer the same fate.

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