AA batteries

Eneloop AA 1.2v batteries and Think Tank 8 AA battery holder.

Back in September 2008 when I returned to the world of freelancing I tried every way that I could think of to cut my ‘cost of doing business’. One of the central ideas was to reduce the number of disposable batteries that I bought and used. I had a number of speed lights and a whole bag full of triggers, transmitters and gadgets almost all of which took AA sized batteries and so I went out and bought a lot of NiCd (nickel cadmium) rechargeables along with three decent quality chargers.

Every-once-in-a-while I would buy a few single use batteries if I was on a job which justified doing so but I kept to my plan and used the NiCd ones where I could. Over time they lost their power and after about four years they were relegated to being used in kids toys and my wireless keyboard. I bought some new NiCds but the way that I used them meant that the dreaded memory effect killed them off more quickly than I would have liked.

For about six months I was lazy and kept buying Duracells (and other brands) but the box I kept the dead ones in filled up far too quickly and I went back to buying and using rechargeable batteries. By this time the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) revolution had pretty much taken place and I started to buy those. It took me a few months to realise that the old NiCd chargers weren’t the best option for the newer generation batteries and so I invested in a couple of new chargers a year or so ago. Slowly but surely and over the course of 18 months I went from NiCd to a mix of NiCd and single use batteries and then to NiMH. The big battery swap-over has now been completed.

The general consensus amongst my peers was that the Eneloop branded batteries (by Panasonic) were the best and so I built up a stock of thirty or so white Eneloops. Very happy with them, they work really well and hold their charge splendidly. One of my colleagues mentioned Eneloop Pro batteries and that upset me – I am always keen to get the best – and so I bought a few of those to see if they were worth the 60% price hike over the standard ones. Well, they are anecdotally about a third better in that they last that much longer under heavy use in Canon flash units. I cannot see any difference in the recycle times for the speed lights and so I had to ask myself whether it was worth paying more in order to have to change batteries a little less frequently. On balance, the answer is “no” but I now have eight of the Pro batteries and so I use them in amongst the set. The big downside of the Pros is that they have a shorter life. They can handle about 500 charge cycles before they lose their potency whereas the standard Eneloop can do around 2000 charges. That makes the Pro quite a bit more expensive than the ordinary one but there will be colleagues out there who are more than happy to pay that extra to get what they need – it’s a personal decision.

Carrying so many batteries around is heavy and cumbersome. I really like the Think Tank nylon case that holds eight AAs and I have a couple of those in my bag in the same pocket as the Think Tank 4x DSLR (Canon LP-E6) battery holder. I hate the idea of running out of power on a job and I have the two DSLR battery holder in my pocket most of the time too.

I saw a couple of reviews of high quality ‘smart chargers’ the other day and so I’ve now invested in new chargers too. That’s made quite a difference and I’m back to being up to date with the technology. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and my flash units are cycling faster. All good!

7 comments

  1. Hi Neil,

    I too have gone through the same evolution, I’m interested to know which smart charges your using, I have a Techno Line BL700 which is good but when I need to charge batteries quickly at its highest charge rate the cells get rather hot. I also have a duracell CEF15GB with a fan built in for fast charging (15 minutes).

    Kind regards Neil

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  2. I have the Maha charger but the LCD is dead, local electrician couldn’t fix it so thinking of getting a new charger that can also do a trickle charge. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly received. Cheers

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  3. I know exactly where you are coming from Neil, I have been through just about all the main brands of batteries and ended up using the Eneloops for the the past four or five years. The main issue I have with using AA batteries, especially with the new Canon 600 series flashguns is recycling time. A lot of the brands just can’t seem to power the newer technology flashguns very well. They are OK for the first few exposures and then they drop off rapidly which can lead to embarrassing delays between exposures, especially when using high speed sync at higher powers. I recently invested in the new Godox AD200 flash and it has completely solved all my power issues as it has a brilliant rechargeable battery built in. 500 full power flashes from one charge at 200w/s with full TTL and HSS in a unit approx the same size as a regular flashgun. Its early days but I am very happy with it. Its definitely worth a look if you need a portable flash solution and don’t need the hassle of dealing with bucket loads of aa batteries.

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    1. It’s never easy is it Paul? This proves that there isn’t one single “best” option. Most of my set up lighting work is done using the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra and ELB systems and so the Canon flashes don’t get the massive battering that they might otherwise get. The Godox looks interesting but the Canon 600 exII RT has far better cycling times than the original 600. I also have an external battery for the Canon but that rarely gets used either.

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  4. I’ve been using the Godox AD360 ‘system’. One of the benefits of this particular choice is that, with the addition of suitable cable, the PB960 battery can also power Canon [my system], Nikon and some other brands of flash that are capable of using an external power supply. A case of one battery to rule them all [sort of].

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