Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Travel Tip: In-camera battery charging can save your bacon

Travel Tip: In-camera battery charging can save your bacon

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The SL2 is the first European Leica to offer in-camera charging and the latest USB-C interface is just what the Herr Doktor ordered....

Often I read negative comments about in-camera charging. The criticism isn’t aimed at the feature itself, rather it is concerned with the suspicion that manufacturers are cutting corners and saving cash on providing a single-battery charger unit.

Quite apart from this argument, however, in-camera charging is a wonderful thing and I would like to see it adopted universally. Before you protest, hear me out.

Forgetfulness

The big advantage of in-camera charging is that you don’t have to remember to pack the charger. One less thing to think about. And, even if you do sling the charger into your bag, there is room for error. I own a number of Leica cameras, all with similar-looking chargers (with the exception of the one for the Q/2 and SL/2 which is quite distinctive). I’ve caught myself out on a couple of occasions packing the wrong charger. I now have the name of the camera Dymo-taped on the units to avoid any danger of error.

Of course, you need a micro-USB cable (or USB-C in the case of the SL2) but it’s no great problem if you forget it. You can buy a micro-USB cable almost anywhere in the world, and USB-C is now also becoming a commonly stocked item. In contrast, proprietary charges (especially Leica chargers) can be expensive and almost impossible to find in an emergency.

Top-up

Cameras equipped with a charging port can be topped up between outings so, in theory, you always leave home with a full battery — whether or not you intend to take a spare. It’s pretty much the same argument as I’ve used with my new Jaguar I-Pace which now never leaves home without a “full tank”.

As for manufacturers cutting costs by not including a charger pod, I can live with that although in fairness I don’t really think it’s happening. My experience is that most do come with a charging unit in addition to the in-camera facility. For most of my cameras (other than the unique Leica Q/SL charger) I have third party tandem units which work from the same micro-USB cable and can charge two batteries at once. They cost very little and are often less bulky than the manufacturers’ units. And it is less of a disaster if you lose them or leave them in the hotel room.

Bête noir

My pet hate is OEM chargers with proprietary detachable plugs (with a variety of international options) which are impossible to replace. Wise manufacturers employ a standard socket so you can easily find a cable abroad if you forget to pack one. As it happens, I have a selection of mains cables with local plugs which I have purchased cheaply from electrical stockists in most countries I have visited. Or, better, still, I use these chargers with an appropriate Apple plug.

I’m a convert to in-camera charging, as you can understand. In time, I hope all cameras will come with a charging port and, I think, that port should be USB-C if only for its ambidextrous nature. Trying to insert a micro-USB plug needs a visual check to make sure it is the right way up for the socket.

Leica convenience test

How do Leica’s current cameras stand up the convenience test? Not well, as you will see below. Only the SL2, the TL2 and the PanaLeica compacts are fully charged for the roaring twenties….

Leica M10

As you would expect, there is no charging port in the venerable M body. I can make an exception for the M because a port would spoil the lines, even if technically feasible. The camera comes with a Leica-branded charger which features the very useful socket so you can easily find a local cable. Full marks for that thought. But forget to pack the charger and you are scuppered unless you can find a Leica stockist. Good luck to Wayne in the ‘Stans!

Leica Q and Q2

No ports on these cameras either — you just have to remember to pack the charger pod. The original Q uses the same battery as the CL and V-Lux but the Q2 moved to the larger SL battery.

It’s a bulky item which you won’t replace easily if you leave it at home. But, as with the M charger, it does have the universal mains input socket instead of a dedicated plug so forgetting the cable isn’t a disaster. Frankly, this is my one big gripe with the Q2. I envisage owning one for a long time and it is disappointing that it doesn’t share the SL2’s charging convenience.

Leica SL and SL2

Unlike the SL, the SL2 does have a USB-C port which I consider to be the current gold standard for in-camera charging. You can happily travel without a charger and you can easily buy a replacement cable if you lose one or forget to take it.

These cameras use the same charger unit as the Q and Q2, so the same problems of replacement-in-extremis apply. If I had an SL I’d consider the upgrade to the SL2 just for this added convenience.

Leica CL and TL2

No charging ports for the CL but, strangely, the TL2 does feature a USB-C port. It seems like a retrograde step to cut the interface from the CL, presumably entirely for cosmetic reasons.

Both models come with a dedicated charging unit (with socket) but you must remember to pack it for the CL. Again, an impossible situation if you find yourself nowhere near a Leica agent with one in stock, and this isn’t a given.

Leica D-Lux 7 and C-Lux

Both cameras come with a charger (with mains socket) but also accept a micro-USB cable for in-camera charging. You can afford to forget the charger, rely on cable input and enjoy carefree roaming.

Conclusion

As you will see, Leica is late to the in-camera charging party. But the SL2 gives us some hope that, at long last, the point has been made. Is it too much to hope that all future cameras will incorporate a USB-C port? However, the absence of the port on the CL when the earlier TL did have in-camera charging, is a worry. It’s no longer an excuse to say that a charger port can harm weather protection because the SL2 manages all this very neatly.

You may say that in-camera charging is not a solution because you wish to charge up a spare outside the camera. By all means, take the charger when you travel. But, at least, with a power input port in the camera, you will never be stuck. In practice, I find it quite convenient to keep one full battery as a spare and top-up the camera’s battery in the hotel overnight. And, if you must, it’s no great hardship to charge batteries consecutively in the camera.

As I said earlier, I do try to buy third-party double chargers for any camera I own. They are compact, light and effective. They are not as fast as the mains-powered OEM chargers, but they are certainly good enough for overnight loading via a USB cable. In many cases, though, it’s significant that I now don’t bother to pack them. Instead am happy to rely entirely on in-camera charging on the cameras with ports — my SL2, D-Lux 7 and Sony RX100 VI.

Finally, the presence of a USB charging port on any camera enables it to be charged from an external reserve battery similar to those many of us carry to replenish our phones during the day.

What do you think? Is in-camera charging an important factor in choosing a camera, especially a camera for travel? Leave a comment below.

11 COMMENTS

  1. “..As you would expect, there is no charging port in the venerable M body. I can make an exception for the M because a port would spoil the lines, even if technically feasible..” ..but the M9 (..I can’t remember much about the M8..) the M9 came – originally – with a port on the left edge, just beneath the left-hand strap lug.

    It wasn’t a charging port, but was for transferring photos, by cable, out of the camera to a computer. It had its own special USB(?) cable.

    I think that maybe I used it once, but have always found that taking out the memory card and slipping it straight into a computer – or card-reader – is much faster than using a camera-to-computer download cable.

    So Leica DID “..spoil the lines..” with a socket in the side ..there IS a precedent for having a cable plugged directly into the camera.. but whether they’d want to repeat that for charging further M models, I’ve no idea!

  2. Good points all. In my Fuji situation, I rely almost exclusively on the in camera charging in my X T2 with battery grip which has two batteries inside, both of which can be charged at the same time with the USB cable. (Annoyingly the one camera in the X T 2 itself cannot be charged in camera) However, I can rotate that battery through the grip quite easily as also the battery from my X T20 which cannot be charged in that camera but this means I do not need to take the charger of the X T 20 with me at all. So in camera/grip charging is as you say a great help and avoids leaving home without the correct charger. I also travel with a couple of spare charged batteries in my pocket and keep these topped up as necessary through the X T2 as above.. Could do with a bigger battery capacity however and this is another good reason to look forward to the X T4 which is announced on Feb 26th!

  3. Your summary is convincing for photographers constantly travelling away from home with a wide variety of photographic kit. I no longer fit into that category, so charging complexities have never arisen. Like you, long ago I added Dymo labels to my chargers for positive identification.

    I would make a point on the vulnerability of the tiny USB-C terminals. They are much more prone to bending out of alignment and pinching, rendering connections unreliable. Time will tell.

  4. I like that the C-Lux has in-camera charging but I have two issues. One is that it’s protected by a little rubber flap and I’m unsure of the longevity of such a piece, especially compared to the all-metal body (that said, after nine months it isn’t showing any signs of wear). Two is that Leica’s half body cases completely cover the flap, unlike the versions available from South Korea — and not just the expensive ones. Why would Leica have an accessory designed that diminishes the functionality of their own camera? Anyway, I find in-camera charging is a useful thing; especially if you buy a light, compact travel camera and don’t want to add to the packing with a battery charger (not included with the C-Lux — you have to go third party for that).

    • The rubber flap seems to be a universal thing. The SL2 has two flaps and, as with the C-Lux, one wonders how long it will stay in place. On the end of the SL2 is a very secure plastic sliding door for the two SD cards and that is altogether more satisfying to use. Presumably, it must be as weatherproof as the runner flaps.

  5. There are the capable Nitecore chargers which can be powered by power banks. I’m using it for the Leica CL and Q-P which share the same battery. There’s options for the M8/M9 battery and for the M10 too.

    • Thanks for this. I will take a look. And you’ve reminded me that I made an error in the article. The original Q used the same battery as the CL. I had forgotten this and I will amend the article.

  6. I do use the in-camera charging on my SL2. I deem it a Good Thing. With three batteries and my SL(1), it meant setting an alarm to get up and swap batteries in the charger. At least now I can get two done without losing beauty sleep. I DO wish the SL/SL2 charger had a 12 volt input like the M10-P charger. That would let me do two batteries at a time on the road.
    As with any charging system there is heat, which limits whether an in-camera charger is even feasible in the first place. Heat is generated by the charging circuitry AND heat dissipation of the battery itself, which is now ensconced in the body with no air circulation around it. Like with long video recording shutdowns, the camera body has to be able to dump the heat while charging. Heat from charging is likely more significant than with the aforementioned video recording. One way to help with that is to slow down the charge rate. My SL2 seems to take about an hour longer than if the battery were in the actual charger. An added bonus of slower charging is less chance the battery will go ‘boom’, which would be very messy and eclipses any heartache of a forgotten charger.

    And- I also assume because of heat- is the problem of charging only when the camera is off. I believe a Lumix claim of the S1R is charge and operate at the same time. A Lumix rep was hyping me on that, but I didn’t witness it. The SL2 has to have the battery in to function when on and connected to the charger. I assume the battery is there to handle peak currents that the charger can’t hack. In either event, it does allow real long exposures with an external battery pack, so that’s another Good Thing.

    Last, the USB-C spec requires that the charger and chargee (is that a word?) auto-negotiate on connection and power up to set the charger voltage correctly. My laptop charger (and many other USB-C chargers) can set from 5 volts to 28 volts. From a heat dissipation perspective, it’s critical to get that right, lest you have a small Chernobyl. The default if they can’t talk to each other is to do nothing. So, I would imagine some (dumb) charger’s just ‘won’t work’, which is actually another Good Thing.

    With all that said, I’m thrilled with in body charging!

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