How USB-C Batteries Could Help the Earth

But professionals may still prefer dedicated chargers

  • NiteCore’s new Sony camera battery has a built-in charger and USB-C port. 
  • There are plenty of downsides to "self-charging" batteries, but they sure are convenient. 
  • Pros will probably prefer to use dedicated chargers for speed and reliability.
A photographer inserting a battery pack into a camera body.

Vitalii Petrushenko / Getty Images

NiteCore’s new Sony camera battery is self-charging—all you need is a USB-C cable and—yes—a USB-C charger.

One of USB-C’s greatest benefits is its ubiquity. As more and more gadgets switch to the now-standard connector, you never really have to think about how you charge them. You just grab the nearest cable, and it all sorts itself out. NiteCore has now added a USB-C port to the battery itself, so you can juice a battery from your smartphone, laptop, or other power brick. You still need a charger, but you don’t need a special, separate charger. Maybe all batteries should work like this.

"Proprietary chargers are a thing of the past, having unique, individual chargers for every device we own is simply impractical and terrible for the environment, so this move from NiteCore is a welcome one. Larger rechargeable batteries like this should indeed come with a USB-C port," Milica Vojnic, a marketing specialist for reuse and manufacturing specialist Wisetek, told Lifewire via email. "Realistically speaking, adding the extra circuitry into the battery isn’t an issue if it means the battery itself can be used over a great period of time. By cutting out on the amount of e-waste created, we’ll be helping the environment."

Ups and Downs

The upside of a rechargeable battery that doesn’t need its own charger is clear. You can charge it from any charger, and if you want to charge several batteries at a time, you just have to borrow a few phone chargers or plug them into spare ports on a laptop. 

The NiteCore Sony USB-chargeable battery pack.

NiteCore

But the downsides are more numerous. One, which NiteCore avoids, is reduced capacity. With extra circuitry for the charger, there’s less space for the battery, meaning shorter battery life. In the case of NiteCore’s Sony battery, it manages to pack in a capacity of 2250mAh, vs. 2280mAh from the Sony NP-FZ100, which is practically identical. 

Another downside is charging time, which may be related to a third downside—heat. 

"NiteCore's new USB-C camera battery is specced as 7.2V 2250 mAh battery and seem to take 4 hours (240 mins) to charge. The original battery it replaces is a 7.2V 2280 mAh battery and seems to charge in 150 mins (2.5 hours) with the original charger," professional photographer Can Burak Bizer told Lifewire via email. "So, you don't lose power, but you lose charging time. Built-in USB-C charging takes 60% more to charge. So, if you are constantly swapping and charging batteries during your shoot, you may need to buy double the batteries."

It could be that NiteCore likes to keep it slow to keep heat levels down inside the battery, whereas Sony’s external charger can dissipate heat more easily. 

And finally, there’s the question of reliability. More circuitry means more room for problems, although, in the end, it could be a wash. You might need to replace a malfunctioning battery, but if Sony’s charger goes wrong, you’ll have to pay $99 for a new one. On the other hand, good third-party chargers are available for much less. I like the Patona brand for my Fujifilm battery charger, for instance. 

A camera charging with a USB power bank.

Rapeepong Puttakumwong / Getty Images

Batteries

Pretty much everything we use these days has a battery, and if we can make charging them a more uniform procedure, that’s great. The environmental impact of adding more circuitry to a camera battery is probably small when compared to the advantages of universal USB-C charging. We can keep and use the same chargers for years, and gadget makers don’t need to put redundant chargers in every box. 

But there are other ways to USB-C charge a battery. Some cameras, like Fujifilm’s X-Pro3, have a charger built into the camera, which lets you charge the battery without removing it. And yes, the X-Pro3 does this via a USB-C cable. 

For enthusiastic amateurs, then, maybe USB-C is a boon. But for professionals, the old ways work just fine and can be relied upon to just work. 

"Batteries cost a substantial amount, and many pro camera models use backward compatible batteries," says Burak. "With a built-in USB-C charger, upgrade options are limited. You simply can't buy and use a new fast(er) charger. And, if such technology comes to new batteries, you'd have to upgrade your whole battery set instead of just changing your charger. So, I can't see a solid reason to scrap my existing batteries without a built-in charger."

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