Tales Of Third Party Batteries - Recommended reading if you're about to buy a camcorder (BP727s for Canon Vixia HF R300, but probably similar for all camcorder batteries) - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 1 Old 07-20-2013, 02:12 PM - Thread Starter
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In the hope it will save others frustration, time, and money, here's my experience in getting third party batteries for my camcorder.

Why the big deal? Because my Canon Vixia HF R300 came with a battery that ONLY LASTS HALF AN HOUR, MEANWHILE ONE THAT'S ACTUALLY GOOD COSTS $110 at Canon. I would not be surprised if all makers pull a similar stunt - include a cheap battery to keep costs down, then really charge for a good one. Of course, their better batteries could be much cheaper (and better designed - see below), but anyway... If you're buying a new camcorder, be prepared to pay one or two hundred for 1 or 2 "real" batteries. Or try your luck with 3rd-party ones.

First, a little background: The specs for the Canon don't mention the short battery length. But in an unusual move, the camcorder's manual has an exhaustive table (page 217 of 226) showing how poor the included BP709 battery is for typical use (25 minutes) versus their $110 BP727 battery that'll last 100 minutes. Once I realized I'd been had, I embarked on an adventure to get cheaper BP727s (or equivalents) if I could...

To begin with, I tested the Canon's included BP709 as a baseline. It's marked as 895 mAh, which the manual (p. 218) clarifies as a minimum, with 920 mAh as typical. In testing in the camcorder's Full HD (MXP 60i) mode, it lasted 46:02 +/- 2:29 (minutes:seconds +/- standard deviation, n = 5 trials). This and all tests were done by fully charging the battery, then letting the camcorder record until the battery ran out, without touching it at all. While the manual says a BP709 should last 25 minutes in "typical" usage (stopping, starting, zooming, etc.), it also says it will last 50 minutes maximum, which is very close to my finding. So, I have a basis for comparison.

Note: All of these unofficial batteries below (even the Vivitar) do not have the "intelligent" circuit in them. Some of the Canon statements make it sound like their official, intelligent batteries will show you the exact amount of time you have left on the battery, but in fact, all the "intelligence" is, is the same old little battery graphic with 3 or 4 levels of charge which decrease as it runs out, like all other electronics out there. The difference is that the "non intelligent" BP727 knock offs don't have ANY BATTERY LEVEL INDICATOR AT ALL... they simply up and die when completely exhausted, without warning. If you want a handle on it, you'll have to 1) test your battery to estimate its endurance, then 2) use something like the readouts of how much video you've shot (or room you have left on your SD card) as a rough indicator of how much you've used it. And, of course, hopefully have more freshly charged batteries right at hand.

Tip: In its menus, the Canon has a place to "Initialize SD". This function also shows how much video has been shot, in terms of time. If you initialize (empty) your SD before each test, then all you have to do is check the Initialize function to see how long it ran before it stopped. A very easy way to see how long a battery will last. Write it down and then Initialize it again as long as you're there, and rinse and repeat. Also: If the camcorder shuts off due to losing power, it will only lose the last few (2-5) seconds. Strangely, with the Canon, this will result in an error message asking you if you want to recover, only if you lost power while plugged into a wall (not a battery). Either way, you only lose a few seconds, so the error message is superfluous as far as I can tell.

On with the testing...

First (early June) I turned to eBay and bought 2 BP727s plus 2 chargers for $30 (no s&h) from SavingsAB a.k.a. USASavings, in the U.S. This is the "Xit photo - capture the spot" style of battery package with a big yellow X which you can readily see on eBay and Amazon by searching for BP727. The box prominently states "3000 mAh", and the ad did too, in its title. It arrived quickly but in 6 tests (3 each) they only averaged 37 minutes, which is LESS than a BP709, when they should've lasted more than three times longer. Extrapolating from the BP709 baseline, they were actually ~720 mAh, only 24% of the stated 3000 mAh. So I called them on it and they said "our bad - we'll refund the money and you can keep it". I said Fine (and didn't give them any rating at all). At least I got a couple of chargers out of it, shrug.

Right about that time I also went for a $10 (no s&h) BP727 from eBay's N&K Trading / gaingame-outlet (U.S.) because it stood out for how cheap it was. It came quick and was rated for 2700 mAh, and lasted 1:52 +/- 7 (h:m, n=4). That's ~2177 mAh if extrapolated from the BP709, or ~81% of the expected 2700 mAh. Since this was much cheaper than other deals and wasn't absurdly lower than 2700 mAh, I kept it and didn't complain. They never offered it so cheap again, so apparently the price was a lucky fluke.

Specifically trying to avoid the Xit batteries, in late June I singled out a pair of BP727s plus 1 charger on Amazon for $23 (no s&h) from Sunset Electronics (U.S.) that specified "2760 mAh" and of course, did not picture the Xit box. It came quick but lo and behold, it WAS two Xit batteries in the yellow-X "3000 mAh" boxes. These ones averaged 48 minutes for an extrapolated 934 mAh, only 31% of the stated 3000 mAh.

Incredibly, when I called to complain, a fast-talking type said they get better over time and should be great in 30 days. At the moment, this flummoxed me (as in WTH) so I said I'd check into it and get back to him. In a google search I found that, exactly as expected, there is no such rechargeable battery technology, they only get worse over time. Furthermore, how could he specify 30 days when he didn't know how much I was cycling them? when it hit me - that's the deadline for refunds. I even tested one more round; they still sucked. So I called again and - get this - had to shout over his pushiness to say that there's no way they are or will be good batteries... and THEN he says it's a special new technology that gets better when used. (And all this for only $23, and it's not mentioned in the ad? Such a deal! Such a modest dealer!) I got him to agree to a refund and when the money came back, I slammed him with a 1-star rating, calling him a "Pushy con man". If he'd just kept quiet and refunded it would be one thing, but when he totally insisted not one way but two ways that they were good, I penalized him for all the other folks out there. Not everybody 1) can test them within a reasonable timeframe, 2) would really know how to test them, 3) would realize he's talking b.s. when they complained, and/or 4) wouldn't give in to their pushiness. So, due to the fact he was a pushy con man even past the refund, I slammed them. They tried to call a dozen times over the next few days but I used "voicemail screening" and didn't call back... I'm sure they wanted me to retract but they had more than had their chance. They probably would've been pushy and intimidating, if I had spoken to them. Ultimately though, that's all that came of it... and fortunately on Amazon, buyers don't get rated, only sellers. (There are articles that talk about sellers retaliating over bad feedback.)

By this time (the end of June), I was getting leery of cheapos, and tried a Vivitar-branded BP727 plus charger for $26.75 (no s&h) from NewEgg / "aSavings" (U.S.). It's rated at 3200 mAh, showed up fast, and lasted 2:30 +/- 3 (h:m, n=2), which extrapolates to 2900 mAh, or 91% of stated 3200. This is certainly in the ballpark, so the battery itself gets a good rating. (Yes, that's my feedback you see on NewEgg.)

Up to this point, I had only gotten U.S. batteries so that I could get a better battery fast. But I had at least one good one at this point, so I took a long shot on something cheap from overseas, eBay's new-view / sznewview, $27 (no s&h) for two 2800 mAh batteries and 1 charger. Ordered June 27 and slated to arrive by "ePacket" July 10-16, it didn't show up until the 17th. The batteries lasted 2:19 +/- 4 (h:m, 2x3 tests), which equates to ~2700 mAh, or 96% of stated strength, so that's ok. But, incredibly, the charger is too small for the batteries, even though it has BP727 etched right onto it. Yes, that's right - they made, and are distributing, a charger which doesn't fit the batteries they are sending it out with... how's that for quality control? I've just tried to contact them over this issue so we'll see what happens. It's not a big deal to me since I have all those other (free) chargers, and really just want batteries, but it could be important to others.


In all the above, you will notice that the BP727s that worked fairly well (N&K, Vivitar, and Chinese) were all slightly lower than what I might have expected, extrapolating from the Canon BP709 being 895 mAh. But note that, as I said early on, 895 is the minimum rating (which was stamped on the battery) and the manual says 920 mAh is "typical". If it actually was 920, then these other batteries would look better and/or be spot on, if they also were quoting their typical mAh (and not minimum). Since they were close, and a lot cheaper than $100, I'm not going to worry about it.

I also timed the recharge times. For the batteries that worked, it was generally about 2.2 times their max recording time (as shown above). But remember that the times shown above are ideal times, where the camera was simply left on until it ran out of juice (no zooming, off and on, on while not recording, etc.). Real-world performance is only about half the optimal, according to the Canon manual. So you might need a good half-dozen batteries if you want to be rotating through them, charging while using, and not running out. In ideal conditions, 3 would be a minimum, but this would leave little room for error.

If I might add: Prior to this Canon, I last bought a camcorder in the mid 1990s, and was delighted at how much the Canon packs into so small a package. It's a helluva deal, and for only $170 (albeit refurbished and a little dated). But I was shocked to see how small the batteries are - and how quickly they run out, even their best one. I think the camcorder makers are missing a huge opportunity... with a camera so small, make me a battery that's big relative to the camera! The overall package will still be small. And the battery will last hours, and probably be cheaper since they don't have to go to great expense to fit so much charge into such a tiny battery.

Also: shame on Canon with its "intelligent" battery monitor, which only serves to penalize unofficial batteries. All other electronics show battery levels for any viable battery, no problem.

Ok then, I hope you've enjoyed my info. If you have Tales From The Battery Trenches, please post them!

MikeTheRed is offline  
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