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!

Genesis PowerPort Duo 1000

genesis_duo_smallWhen my old Quantum Turbo Z battery died a few weeks ago I was a little bit annoyed. I hadn’t used it that much and I wasn’t that happy about getting another one. I had read several reviews of a battery pack available in the UK under several different brand names including Godox and Lencarta and I decided to investigate. The unit was available at a really good price from Calumet under their Genesis brand and as a member of The BPPA I was able to get a decent discount from the already low price of £125.00 inc VAT. At that price I thought that it was worth a shot and so I extravagantly rang Calumet from Paris where I was working at the time and got them to send the pack and a single Canon Speedlite cable so that my Genesis PowerPort Duo 1000 would be there waiting for me when I got home.

My first reaction was that it was a lot lighter than the Quantum, roughly the same size in terms of bulk and had two ports. It didn’t appear to be quite as well made and the covers on the two ports were feeling more than a little “plasticky” when I had a look at them. I’m never rough with my gear and so this isn’t always a problem so I stuck the battery on charge ready for a job the following day which was going to involve quite a bit of bounced flash.

It charged really quickly (to be fair, it arrived at 2/3rds full anyway) and I gave it a few tests just to make sure that it was functioning and that my decision to not bother reading the instructions wasn’t a huge mistake. All seemed well and it was recycling a Canon 580exII on full power output in a fraction over a second – every bit as quick as my Quantum Turbo Z.

I shot the job the next day and it performed flawlessly. Every frame was lit and the Speedlite didn’t get remotely warm (a danger with the Turbo Z). My investment was looking to be a decent one. There was another photographer on the job with a differently branded version of the same battery and he had a short cable that allowed you to charge any USB chargeable device from the pack. I had a play, it worked and I ordered one using Amazon Prime on my phone there and then.

That was all about three weeks ago and, as luck would have it, I’ve needed to use the battery a few times since and each time it has performed really well. I’ve topped up my iPhone using it too. To be honest, this battery is so light that it gets put into my bag where the Quantum probably wouldn’t have been. To sum up, when compared to the Quantum Turbo that I had been using it is:

  • Cheaper – at £125.00 inc VAT against the cheapest Quantum Turbo at just over £400.00 inc VAT
  • Lighter – at 500g it is than my old Turbo Z (844g) but a fraction heavier than the Quantum Turbo SC (422g)
  • Two ports
  • Optional phone charger cable
  • The pack has a separate battery which you can swap out easily

This appears to be one of the great photo-bargains. I’ll let you know if it fails to pass the durability test over the next twelve months – which is the only potential fly in the ointment. That’s why I went for the Calumet branded one – they have shops where I can go and take it back if it does fail.


Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Update

What do you call it when something that was already very good gets quite a lot better? Well I guess that would be an upgrade. That’s exactly what happened yesterday when I changed to the new Lithium Ion batteries on my Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit.

New lithium ion on the left and the old lead gel on the right.

New lithium ion on the left and the old lead gel on the right.

From the picture above, you can see that there is an appreciable size difference – which is always handy but there’s no way that I would have swapped them out just because of that – after all, they weren’t exactly huge to start with. There are four real reasons that I swapped:

  1. My old batteries were over four years old and had stopped holding a full charge – especially in the cold weather
  2. Elinchrom claim a higher capacity of up to 320 full-power flashes per charge for the new battery compared to only 150 for the old ones
  3. Faster recycle times. I’m going to have to believe Elinchrom and my own gut feeling here because you cannot compare brand new batteries to four year old ones in any meaningful way but at full power the recycle time appears to have halved to just over 1.5 seconds
  4. They weigh a lot less – 892 grammes less each. The new battery is 784 grammes compared to the old one which was 1,676 grammes. With two batteries in my kit I have saved a massive 1,792 grammes

Less weight, even in a rolling case, has got be a good thing 99% of the time and I am really looking forward to having to carry less. Of course I have always loved using the pack and battery to weight the base of the lighting stand down when working outdoors. I might have to find a few rocks and bricks lying around to supplement the pack more often that I used to but that’s fine by me.

I’ve only managed to shoot two small jobs with them so far and the speed of the recycling is great – even with my four year old Ranger Quadra pack and S heads. Some portraits yesterday afternoon shot indoors and on a lower power setting had the kit recycling in a fraction of a second which made the job go very smoothly indeed.

I have yet to try out the new Quadra Hybrid pack which promises all sorts of extras that I don’t think that I need. Elinchrom offer an upgrade to packs as old as mine to get the brighter display but my purchasing decisions these days are made on a perceived need rather than on wanting the shiniest and newest kit.

I’ve blogged about this Elinchrom kit before. The first time was in May 2009 when I’d only had the kit a short while. 32 months later I blogged again and, in what has become my most popular posting ever, I gave my considered review of the kit. One of the first comments on that posting alerted me to the new batteries being on their way. It’s taken me twelve months to get around to getting the new batteries and having the small modifications done to the S heads and I’m a happy man.

In the “32 months on” review I mentioned a few other things that I’d like to have seen produced to go with this kit. In the last six months I have become less and less pleased with the Skyport remote system that comes with the Ranger Quadra. The original triggers were prone to falling out of the hot shoe and the controls on the mark two version are tough to see in low light. I know that the whole raison d’être of this system is to be small and lightweight but they went too far with the Skyport transmitter – so much so that I’ve gone back to using Pocket Wizard Plus III transceivers a lot of the time at the expense of being able to remotely control the power.

So, Elinchrom – I hope that some senior managers are reading this… if you really want to make my happiness complete, can you please produce a transmitter that works with the EL Skyport receiver built into my Quadra pack that takes AA batteries, is about the size and weight of the Pocket Wizard Plus III unit with a digital display that has all of the functionality of the small Skyport transmitter but that is easy to use in subdued light, doesn’t require a tough-to-find button battery and that stays in the hot shoe properly. Pretty please?