There’s nothing worse than turning on your camera, only to realize it’s dead. And even the most expensive cameras are useless without a charged battery. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers use that fact to their advantage and charge outrageous prices for their batteries. Take Nikon’s EN-EL18c, which is currently a whopping $179!
No, thank you.
Those kinds of prices make many of us question things. And inevitably ask whether OEM batteries are worth it since they’re arguably the highest profit margin accessory around.
Thankfully, there’s another player in town, the off-brand third-party battery. And today, many long-term secondary manufacturers create batteries for the top cameras. So we have plenty of options on this front too.
Still, are third-party batteries safe to use? And are they any good? This post will answer those questions and offer some useful insight into this subject.
Table of Contents
What Is a Third-Party Battery?
Every camera manufacturer has a line of batteries specially designed to work with their cameras, which they manufacture personally or license to a specialized facility. For this reason, we consider batteries from brands like Nikon, Canon, or Sony to be from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or “first-party.” So the battery that originally comes with your camera is the official battery and the one your camera manufacturer suggests.
On the other hand, Third-party batteries are designed by companies outside of the original camera manufacturer. And that’s why we call them “off-brand” or “aftermarket” since they’re not from the actual companies involved in creating the original battery.
The names camera manufacturers use for batteries are not particularly catchy, but they’re usually consistent. Each manufacturer uses numbers and letters to represent its generation and camera format. Below are some names of the most popular models.
It’s important to stress that not all batteries are backward compatible with older cameras in the series. So double-check the compatibility to make sure the third-party battery you’re considering supports your specific camera. Otherwise, you’ll risk purchasing a battery that could lack enough power to operate the camera, or worse, it doesn’t fit.
Advantages of Third-Party Batteries
The main advantage of third-party batteries is their affordability and lower price point.
Unlike OEM batteries, which come at a premium where some models are nearly $200—for example, Nikon’s official EN-EL18c ($179 MSRP), third-party batteries undercut these prices by 60-75%. And instead, most average around a third to quarter the price of their competition. This is a massive win for photographers because it saves money and offers more value.
You may also find it interesting to know that the higher price of OEM batteries doesn’t necessarily mean these products are better. Instead, photographers are paying for the extra peace of mind. Unfortunately, that peace of mind comes with ridiculous margins, given that batteries are essential to our workflow, and camera manufacturers use that to their advantage.
That said, the mere fact that many third-party options undercut the OEM batteries by their margins makes them a go-to for those wanting extra batteries without forking out a ransom. And it’s the key reason why these products exist.
Disadvantages of Third-Party Batteries
While third-party batteries offer lower prices and better value, they’re not perfect, far from it.
There’s no debating that OEM batteries have better standards and offer uncompromised performance. The manufacturers of these products have tight standards for capacity, discharging, and life span to ensure they match the advertised performance benchmarks. And that reliability is a must to deliver a product that works for professional photographers.
Unfortunately, the third-party market doesn’t have such standards, and the quality control varies wildly. Expect some batteries to have compatibility issues. One issue could be the camera doesn’t recognize it altogether. They could also not recharge using the OEM battery charger that’s supplied with your camera. Or you can experience problems recharging them via USB. Together, many professionals feel they’re somewhat unreliable.
Reduced Power and Longevity
While a third-party battery is likely compatible with your camera, it may have different design specifications. And the biggest difference would be the Milliampere/hour (mAh) capacity. All things being equal, even a difference of 200 mAh from the OEM battery could reduce how long you can operate the camera and even its maximum frame rate.
While in other cases, the difference in design could mean third-party batteries don’t last as long as their name-brand counterparts. That could result in one of two things: they deplete faster during use, so you take fewer photos. Or, more likely, their rapid discharging over time results in a shorter life span, and the long-term battery life deteriorates quicker than usual.
Some third-party manufacturers expect this and will notify you in their listings accordingly. But, generally, it’s wise to accept that aftermarket batteries don’t offer the same capacity and life span. So plan accordingly by getting a spare. Or, at a minimum, keep this in mind when you buy, so you expect it beforehand.
With a name-brand battery, you always have a clear idea of the quality you’re getting. But, that’s not the case with the third-party market.
You can easily find third-party batteries from random resellers online costing as little as $10. But, even with a price undercut, how can they offer matching abilities as an OEM battery costing $80? Well, these resellers cut costs by using poor manufacturing standards, cheap materials, half-hearted testing, and compromising the design. Together, they greatly reduce the overall quality of the final product.
In the best case, you get a battery that discharges faster than usual, doesn’t hold as much charge, or feels a bit plasticky. But, at least it works properly, even though it’s not perfect.
However, it’s also possible to end up with a battery that’s rejected by your camera altogether, rendering it useless. Or, if it works, it doesn’t communicate properly with the camera and shows a full charge when it’s close to dying, resulting in catastrophic data loss or corrupting the memory card. The battery can also swell during sustained use, damaging the battery compartment or becoming stuck. And it’s even possible it could leak or explode in the camera due to temperature fluctuations.
With that said, always vet resellers. Or skip them, and consider sticking with only trusted long-time manufacturers.
Best Third-Party Camera Batteries
Speaking of trusted manufacturers, below is a list of some of the most reputable third-party battery companies. I doubt any of these companies would risk destroying their reputation on one of these products, and all of them have been producing photographic equipment for years on end.
- BM Premium
Here are a few tips for choosing the right third-party battery for your camera.
- Buy from trusted retailers like B&H, KEH, Adorama, or similar. Here you’ll have confidence knowing they won’t sell replicas and defective equipment.
- Buy from your local camera shop if you have one in your town or city. They, too, will sell authentic equipment.
- If you opt for a third-party battery manufacturer, make sure you research the company. Look into when they were found, check their website, and review their listings. Many resellers don’t have a web presence, and many of them are simply selling rebranded items.
Here are a few other tips about third-party batteries in general.
- Rechargeable batteries have a limited lifespan that depends greatly on how they’re handled, stored, and recharged. Still, expect your camera battery to last around five years with normal use. However, if you notice the battery is only keeping half its capacity before then, consider replacing it or using it as an emergency backup since that’s abnormal.
- Recharge your camera’s battery before it fully discharges. Doing so will prolong its lifespan since lithium-ion batteries prefer a partial discharge to a deep one. It will also prevent the cells from becoming unstable and overheating. So use your camera’s battery indication to know when it’s low enough to recharge.
- Don’t use any battery if you notice it expands and becomes slightly tricky to put into the compartment. This is a sign of damage, and damaged lithium-ion batteries have exploded in the past, causing fires. Also always look for bulging, discoloration, leaks, or damaged cases. If you see any of these signs, stop using the battery and replace it immediately.
- The battery performance on your camera is temperature variant, so if you’re shooting in extreme heat or cold, expect it to die faster or slow the performance of your camera. To prevent this, shade your batteries whenever possible.
Ultimately, what all photographers want is a quality battery that delivers the performance they need. For some photographers, that means sticking with OEM batteries to have true peace of mind. While, for others, that means opting for third-party batteries to save the extra cash.
Still, third-party batteries do require research beforehand, and they bring added risk to the table. But, considering you can save well over 50% and have close enough performance by going with a trusted brand, it will be the right decision for many photographers.
For us, we’ve used third-party batteries for years among many cameras. And to date, we’ve never had an issue with a battery swelling or becoming damaged. So we’d say the risk is justified and makes sense.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do third party batteries ruin cameras?
It is possible, yes, but unlikely. In a worst-case scenario, the battery can swell over time, become stuck inside the compartment, or the temperature can fluctuate, so it heats up too fast and explodes. But, it’ll more likely have a shorter lifespan and reduce the camera’s operating performance.
Is it safe to use off brand batteries for cameras?
Yes, it’s safe. But you should research this accessory carefully before buying one. If the battery is defective, it could swell or heat up excessively, causing a fire.
Are all camera batteries the same?
No. Name brand Canon, Nikon, or Sony batteries generally have tighter manufacturing standards. While generic off-brand batteries usually have minor performance trade-offs to reduce the final price.
What is a generic battery?
A generic battery is a battery made by another manufacturer outside of those involved with designing the camera. So, if you have a Canon camera and use a BM battery, it would be considered “generic” or “aftermarket.”
What is difference between compatible battery and original battery?
The original battery is made by the company that designed the camera. While a compatible battery is one designed by a third-party manufacturer, that’s not the original camera company.
Last Updated on May 7, 2023 by Photography PX Published March 21, 2022