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Why a universal charger?
I have the most shocking memory and am forever losing things like battery chargers! As I own a large number of different cameras many of them were often looking sorry for themselves with completely dead batteries and I'd be turning the house upside down trying to find the correct charger. I've also been given a couple of cameras (old second hand ones) minus their chargers so I decided the time had come to by a universal charger.
Why this charger (features)?
There are many different universal devices on the market and this isn't the cheapest out there. The main reason I chose it is because, unlike many others, there is an LCD panel that shows you the percentage of charge in a battery at any one time. It also has a 12v cigarette lighter adaptor, USB slot and can recognise completely flat batteries (which some of the cheaper models can't).
How do you use it?
Due to its nature this charger tends to be bigger and slightly more complicated than most manufacturers originals - you can't simply drop the battery in and walk away. Instead you slide back the top panel to reveal two metal pins - these can be moved using the two grey scroll wheels by the LCD panel. They need to be lined up with the plus and minus contacts on the battery - usually, but not always, the outer two (will be marked on each battery). You then place the battery over the top of the contacts, let the cover slide back to trap it in place and if you've done it right the LCD panel will show you a percentage and start charging. Slightly simpler is double AA's - 2 of these can be charged at any one time and they have their own channels to lay in (of course they do have to be the rechargeable type!)
Is there anything it won't charge?
You should be able to tell given the size if your battery will fit on the charger ie. it's too small to do a laptop battery. With any battery that physically fits on it should be able to charge 95% of them - the only problem you're likely to come across here is if your battery has very recessed contacts that the pins struggle to reach (although they are quite long).
How long does it take to charge?
Depends on the battery but in my experience it takes the same length of time per battery as when charging on the manufacturers original unit ie. approximately 1.5-2 hours.
How much does it cost?
These are currently available for £24.99 on amazon with free delivery - a very reasonable price.
What are the benefits?
Well as I already mentioned - if you have a tendancy to loose chargers, this gives you a second option (as long as you make sure you always leave it in the same place so you can't loose it!) If you're going on holiday with multiple bits of equipment that need charging it could be a good space saving option by enabling you to take just the one charger. The other benefit is if you're going camping or somewhere else where you'll have access to a car, but no mains electricity - the 12v adaptor means you can top up your batteries on the go?
Would I recommend it?
Certainly. It's been a bit of a saviour for me and my cameras and my house is tidier now that I don't spend my days searching for that ever elusive Nikon/Panasonic/Sony etc charger!