Choosing The Best Batteries For Off Camera Flash

My Nikon D300 digital camera with an MB10 accessory grip and three Nikon Speedlight flashes use twenty AA batteries just to get started. After I throw a few radio triggers in the camera bag it adds six AAA batteries and at least one CR2 battery for the transmitter. That is a whole lot of batteries before considering the fact that you are likely to need that many more as backup units. I counted all the batteries I took on one recent photo shoot and came up with a total of 68.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to arrive at the conclusion that you will soon be bankrupted by using disposable batteries in such large quantities. In addition to camera equipment, you probably have many other devices around the house adding to your total battery consumption. Some people tell me they can’t be bothered with charging batteries before using them and they will not buy rechargeable batteries for that reason but for people like me who use batteries constantly and in power gulping devices like electronic flashes, the rechargeable option makes much more sense.

The good news is that you can now buy rechargeable batteries that come pre-charged from the manufacturer and can be used straight from the package. These batteries are often referred to as hybrids because of the way they combine the benefits of pre-charged disposable batteries and those of multiple use rechargeable batteries.

A big problem with traditional rechargeable batteries is their characteristic high self-discharge rate, sometimes referred to as “shelf discharge,” meaning that rechargeable batteries loose power even when they are not being used. The newer rechargeable hybrid or low self-discharge (LSD) batteries can retain up to eighty percent or more of their charge for six to eight months depending on the brand and the power rating of the battery.

Even though rechargeable batteries generally start out at a slightly lower voltage than non-rechargeable batteries, they make up the difference because they tend to use the power at a more consistent rate as the battery is discharged. The way a battery consumes power has a lot to do with how you use it, another reason why it is often difficult to do meaningful comparisons between battery types or brands. Testing may give you an idea of how the batteries perform within the parameters of the test and not how they will perform in actual use.

For example; one battery may do well in a device that draws power continuously as in a flashlight that is left on until completely draining the batteries, while other batteries are better at delivering large bursts of energy at random intervals in devices like cameras and electronic flash units. The problem is that you may use batteries in a way that is completely different from the way they were tested, making the test results slightly or totally misleading.

After doing a some investigation I came to the realization that I would need to test a lot of batteries in order to gather enough information to be meaningful. Testing four brand A batteries against four brand B batteries does not provide conclusive information because of the small sample size and because one bad battery can completely skew the test results. There is no simple battery test that will tell you if one brand is a significantly better performer for every intended use, especially when testing in very small quantities.

There are many online sources for battery tests including the battery manufacturer’s websites, which can teach you a lot about batteries (and marketing). You can also check out user reviews on retail sites like www.amazon.com It’s not a perfect decision making tool but it may provide some insight using other peoples experience.

There is a very good battery comparison at http://candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?t=79302 where you can compare the discharge rates of many different batteries.

There is also a pretty good discussion of low self discharge batteries at http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1023&thread=26078814

An interesting result of all this testing is that the performance of rechargeable batteries seems pretty consistent between many of the top brands. What this means in practical terms is that you can choose the lowest cost battery that is readily available where you live and by purchasing locally you can pick up spares as needed. I was able to offset some of the cost of my initial rechargeable battery purchase by surfing local sales and using discount coupons. It may be more difficult to find a specific brand of low self discharge batteries locally.

So you’ve made it this far and may be asking what type of batteries a person who has spent way too much time researching batteries uses. I was pretty stoked about the Powerex Imedion 2100 (LSD) batteries when they came out but those have now been eclipsed by the recently released Powerex Imedion 2400 batteries. That’s a 14% increase in power! The best part is that they come pre-charged and ready to go right out of the package.

Don’t get me wrong, you can’t go wrong with Sanyo Eneloops or many of the other major players either. Right now I have the Powerex Imedions in my NIkon SB900, SB800 and SB600 flash units and the Sanyo Eneloop batteries in all my wireless flash triggers. I’m also currently testing some of the Rayovac Hybrid batteries in my Nikon MB10 battery grip. I’m using low self discharge batteries as my primary power source and regular rechargeable batteries as backups or for bigger jobs where I need to use more flash units. The biggest difference is that I have to remember to charge the regular rechargeable batteries a day or two before I use them.

I have run across a lot of other good resources and information about batteries that are worth sharing so here are a few in no particular order.

http://www.mahaenergy.com Buy direct or use the store locator on the website. The local retailer in St. Louis did not have Imedion batteries in stock when I checked (August 2010).

Maha Energy Corporation 1128 Coiner Court, City of Industry, CA 91748

Toll Free: 1-800-376-9992 Office: 626-363-9017 Fax: 626-363-9010

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/ReduceWaste/power/rechbattinfo.htm This is a very good eco-friendly site put out by the state of California with loads of great information on batteries. Watch out, they may convince you that you don’t even need batteries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_self-discharge_NiMH_battery A short article on the basics of how a low self-discharge battery works.

http://climber.org/gear/batteries.html Battery wisdom from on high! Several mountaineers tell you everything they have learned the hard way about using batteries in cold and demanding environments.

http://www.rechargeable-battery-review.com/ All about rechargeable batteries and battery reviews. Do You Use or Are You Planning To Buy Rechargeable Batteries?

http://michaelbluejay.com/batteries/ A good battery guide and comparison. If you have no idea what to choose this guy will tell you. It’s a good plain talking guide about the good, the bad and the ugly battery.

One of the most consistently recommended sources for purchasing batteries and chargers online is Thomas Distributing.http://www.thomasdistributing.com/

For some of the world’s most powerful low self-discharge batteries you will ever see… as in, “Do you feel lucky punk?” go towww.horizonbattery.com where you can buy the Ansmann Max E 2500 mah AA batteries directly from the manufacturer.

I like also to use http://www.amazon.com for the service, convenience and customer reviews.