Battery Drain with GPS


Today’s Question: I know you’ve talked about making use of a GPS receiver in the camera so that location information is included in metadata automatically. But what impact does this have on the camera’s battery?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Having the GPS receiver active on your camera will cause the battery to become depleted more quickly, and in some cases your battery may drain even with the camera turned off.

More Detail: A GPS receiver can consume a fair amount of battery life, in part because the data from GPS satellites is being received somewhat continuously at a relatively slow data rate. When you activate the GPS feature on a digital camera, the camera is performing work on an ongoing basis, tracking the position of the camera.

In my experience, having the GPS feature enabled on a camera can cause the battery to deplete about 25% to 50% faster than would be the case with the GPS receiver disabled. The actual results will vary, of course, depending on specific usage and how the GPS feature is enabled on the camera you’re using.

Different cameras manage this process in different ways, introducing numerous variables in terms of how much the battery is consumed. In some cases, for example, the camera might not determine the location of the camera on a continuous basis, instead opting to update the location on a periodic basis.

Many cameras with built-in GPS receivers enable you to adjust a setting for how frequently your location should be updated. Reducing the frequency at which your location is updated can help conserve battery power, but can also lead to less accuracy with the GPS coordinates embedded in metadata for your photos.

Making matters worse in terms of battery usage, in many cases a GPS-enabled camera will continue updating the location information of the camera even when the camera is turned off. For example, with my camera if I leave the GPS feature enabled and then turn the camera off and leave it unused, the battery will be dead in about one week.

From my perspective the benefit provided by having location information embedded in the metadata of every photo is greater than the challenges created by reduced battery life. In most cases, for example, I can get through a full day of photography with my digital SLR using a single battery, even with the GPS feature enabled at all times. The only time I tend to use more than one battery in a single day is when I am capturing video in addition to still images, since video capture tends to consume the battery much more rapidly than still captures.