Q. I am beginning to think that the camera companies or the film manufacturers are also secretly in the battery business. It's nice to have the automatic features on my camera, but only if they work. And they don't seem to work very long or often. It seems that I am always buying batteries and replacing them -- and they aren't cheap.

My little electronic flash is even worse, if that is possible. A couple of rolls of film and ZAP -- time to change batteries again. How do I deal with this?

A. Most of today's cameras do lots of things by high tech and need electricity/batteries for power.

Unfortunately, the point of no return has almost been reached. Everyone wants all those special features, yet the camera must remain light and small. Batteries have indeed been the answer -- up to a point.

By using the new alkaline batteries, the cameras get the needed current from a small package in a small space. But the camera's demands wear the batteries out quickly. Generally two to four AA batteries are used in today's cameras and last from three to five rolls.

This is just not satisfactory. These batteries cost between $1.50 and $2 a pair.

Add an electronic flash and you can have eight AA batteries working -- and wearing out!

The answer is nickel cadmium batteries, nicads as they're generally called. These special batteries last easily as long as the best alkalines and can be recharged at least ten to twelve times. Handled correctly, they can be charged twenty or more times. All of this at a cost of about $20 for a charger and four AA batteries. That's a conservative price; on sale you can get the same arrangement for about $10.

I keep two such sets of nicads plugged in and recharging all the time, and I'm planning to buy a couple more sets -- camera stores are offering great sales these days.

I don't use nicads in most of my cameras but do use them in my strobe and slave units. Whenever I need them, I pick up batteries from the charger and pop them in the equipment fresh.

I recommend that you use a set of nicads until they really need recharging. This is tough if you only make a few pictures and the batteries still seem fresh. In that case go ahead and flash your strobe unit until you wear them down. Then start your recharging. If the nicads in your camera are still fresh, and you don't expect to take pictures for a week or so, take out the batteries and use them in a portable radio or flashlight. When they get weak, or fail, charge them.

All this usage, especially when the nicads are new, helps the batteries' "memory." They seem to "remember" a point at which they were last charged. If they are not fully discharged the first couple of usages, they may not hold their later charges as long.

Remember, your small batteries of any kind are electric storage units and when in place are on all the time. Therefore, it is a good idea to remove batteries from any piece of equipment when not in use.

It is also a good idea to clean the battery contacts with a clean, soft cloth every second or third time you use them. Remember also that rapid changes in temperature or humidity can start corrosion on battery contacts.

I have had best luck with the standard brands of nicads rather than house brands. The small extra amount you pay for them is well worth it.

And whether you're using nicads or alkalines, try to carry an extra set of batteries with you. They can really be lifesavers.