Extending the Operating Time of Your Sony Alpha Camera Without Changing Batteries

Extending the Operating Time of Your Sony Alpha Camera Without Changing Batteries

When you hear "Sony Alpha" and "battery life" in the same sentence, it tends to be followed with a groan or sigh, because if one article has covered it, a dozen have covered it and made a big deal about how quickly the small batteries in the Alpha cameras run out. For me, 90 percent of my time with my Sony a7S II is spent doing video work, frequently during fast-paced events or sequences or racing the clock with lighting conditions. There's nothing more frustrating than being mid-shot and seeing that dreaded "Battery Exhausted" display pop up on your screen after draining your last battery after a long day of production. So, what options do you have to help extend the life of your battery?

Thankfully, Sony included a micro USB port on the side of the camera next to the HDMI ports that allows for passive charging of the battery while the camera is not in use, as well as active charging while the camera is on and even recording or taking photos. Well, that's great if you're near a cigarette lighter or an outlet, in which case, you're able to get right back to work, as long as you can stretch your USB cables.

Most of the time when I'm filming, I have this cover open for the HDMI out to my recorder/monitor, so that leaves the micro USB port exposed anyways.

This ability has proven several times in recent memory to be an extremely beneficial and powerful option for me while I'm on the go or don't have enough downtime near a plug to charge my batteries. It was by happenstance that I had purchased a power pack that was originally designed and intended to be used for charging my cell phone and Kindle while on the road. Turns out though, it had another capability that I discovered out of sheer curiosity and desperation.

Now being fully cognitive of the issue with short battery life on the Sony Alpha cameras, I purchased a numerous amount of spare batteries to facilitate long days of shooting and most notably, a trip I made to Taiwan for my current employer to film and photograph their new line of products. Well after having started filming at approximately 4:30 a.m. and filming steadily and consistently up to around 3 or 4 p.m., my supply of charged batteries was dwindling rapidly and we still had a good bit of work ahead of us to accomplish that day. While sitting in the car on the way between locations I had pulled my powerpack from my camera bag with the intent to charge my phone as it was also low on charge. Unwound the cable, plugged in to the pack, and on a whim, I plugged it into the camera's USB port, and low and behold, it began to charge.

Now I was skeptical at first that the charging wouldn't really amount to anything useful, but out of curiosity I left it plugged in for a few more minutes. Upon nearing our next filming location I decided to check the battery level in the camera and was pleasantly surprised to see that not only had the powerpack fed a substantial amount of power back into the camera, but the powerpack itself was powering the camera and allowing it to run and charge the battery (admittedly at a slower rate) at the same time. This proved to be quite a useful option to have as a backup and is something I continue to use in my travels and adventures.

One happily charged battery and a Sony a7sII running off of the external power supply.

After this discovery I've expanded its use. With the use of a long USB cable while the power pack is in my back pocket, I'll operate the camera while mounted on a gimbal for extended periods of time without having to change the battery. As a bonus, this also allows me to film without using the PTAP cable from the gimbal itself, allowing the battery for the gimbal to be solely used for its intended purpose and extending the life of the gimbal battery. Now obviously this isn't the solution for everyone, but should you find yourself in need of an extended life solution or even just a quick charge to squeeze in a little more footage, know that there's a solution and it's not as expensive or complicated as you might have thought.

You can look at some of the varied power packs that B&H offers, and there are some that I would recommend over others. For example, I've had a few devices similar to the Xuma 2,600 mAh, and while they're great for extending the life of your phone for an extra hour or two, I don't imagine they would really do much to extend the life of your battery in your Sony. So I would steer more towards packs like the Xcellon 12k Pack or the Xcellon 22k Pack that hold a little more power to them and will actually make a significant difference to the power level of your battery.

Ryan Pramik's picture

Fstoppers Staff Writer, Ryan Pramik is a professional photographer and videographer that specializes in automotive work but crosses the line into other genres for work or for personal projects. Has several publications under his belt for automotive work as well as event coverage for the automotive genre as well as others.

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Sadly it does not work on all cameras.
Only the newer ones (a7RII, a7SII, a6300 and a6500) can use this feature.
On the Sony a7II or a6000 this won't work (it won't charge while turned on and won't be usable while connected)

Also works on the Fuji X-T2 (Probably other fuji's as well that can charge over usb)

Tried on my A7II and it did not work. I used a 5200mAh powerbank with a 2.1A output.. The powerbank would charge the batteries on a usb charge craddle, but not the camera itself.

On the pack i had i used the 2.5A output it had and it worked so that may be the difference

Maybe so!

I've had great success with several different sizes of power packs from Anker on my A7RII. Prices are very reasonable on Amazon or at www.anker.com

For older Sony models, I recommend the case relay system by tether tools. I use it with my a6000 on long nighttime time lapses. A bit overpriced imo, but it works!

I have a hx400v hooked up to a Maxoak 50,000mah external battery, the usb cable is plugged into the 2.1A port and will charge the camera while it's off, but I can't tell if it's extending the recording time.
I did a sunset time lapse and at 2h45m into the shooting the battery was down to its last bar..
Is there a way to know how much power the camera consumes while recording?
Is 2.1A just not enough?
The screen is off while shooting.

And now I learned that the USB cable can affect the power supply... I'll give the 2.4A cord a try and get back to ya.