Monday, September 03, 2007

Feed Your Flash Ni-MH's

One of the perks of shooting for a newspaper is that your day-to-day supplies are usually taken care of for you. You get issued a bag of daily equipment -- the stuff that goes with you everywhere. You also have access to a "pool" room, full of more exotic gear (600 f/4, anyone?) that would make the typical amateur drool with envy. And you have a battery drawer.

Our battery drawer at The Sun was full of industrial Duracells. The supply never seemed to go away.

Oh, we used them by the case. It was only that Jeff, our Gear Guru, made sure the battery box was pretty much bottomless. Did some of the batteries find their way into R/C cars, or maybe baby monitors? Maybe -- I'm not sayin'.

But when we started going through them too quickly Jeff would occasionally remind us that we did not, in fact, have to replace the batteries in our flashes every day. We got the message.

It is against that backdrop that I'll tell you that I stopped using the "free-for-me" alkaline batteries about a year ago. It was after reading some of the reader responses to this post, where we talked about some of my preferences exterior power options for speedlights. I got an earful in the comments and in emails.

What started out as a little battery experiment has led to a wholesale change of approach when it comes to how I power my flashes.

Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable batteries and your flashes are a match made in heaven. I have long-since abandoned the company-supplied alkalines to switch to the more expensive batteries, which I had to buy out of my own pocket.

Why? They are so much better than alkalines, it is a no-brainer. In fact, they are better for your flashes in just about every way.

(More after the jump)
_____________________________


Ni-MH's: Cheaper

Technically, my Duracells, were free -- for me. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that alkalines cost you 50 cents each and Ni-MH's cost $2.00 each. (Which is pretty close to being correct as of today.)

Ni-MH's can be recycled hundreds of time if you care for them correctly. Which takes the cost down to less than couple cents per cell over time. Sure, it costs some money for the power to charge them. But that is negligible compared to the cost of replacing an alkaline battery.


Ni-MH's: More Convenient

But there are more to cost than just purchase and recharging costs. Time is a cost, too. And if you don't get by the office very often (a practice I employed for a variety of reasons) you can find yourself having to schedule a "supply run." That bites.

Ni-MH's can be bought in packs that include 4 AA's and a 1-hour charger that can be plugged into the wall (easy enough) or plugged into your 12v cigarette lighter jack in your car. Which means you can top off between assignments any time you like, even when shooting on location or in your car heading to the next shoot.

That is about as convenient as it gets. And any choice that keeps me out of an unnecessary trip to the office is a good thing.

I even ran a 12v line (only powered when the car was running) back to the trunk for easy swaps when I was putting gear back into the car. So in terms of both money and timed saved, NiMH's kick butt.


Ni-MH's: Faster Recycle Time

None of this would matter if the batteries were crap. Fortunately, that's not the case.

At 1.25 volts for each Ni-MH battery (compared to 1.5 for alkalines) you'd think that NiMH's would be sucking wind when it came time to recycle your flashes. After all, 4 NiMH's (connected together in series) only have 5 volts, compared to 6 volts for alkalines.

To be sure, Ni-MH's are at a disadvantage in the voltage department. But voltage is not the only thing that matters in recycling a flash. When that flash is chirping away and you are waiting for the little light to turn red, what a flash needs is current. And NiMH's deliver current in spades.

Think of two hoses, with the first having a little more water pressure than the second. But the first one is a garden hose, and the second is a fire hose. The fire hose may have slightly less water pressure, but it can still deliver more water per second. Ditto the Ni-MH battery with current.

Example: My SB-26's take 6-7 seconds to recycle a full-power, manual shot with good alkalines. But with fresh Ni-MH's, they recycle in 3.5-4 seconds.

That lower-voltage/faster-recycle thing is counterintuitive, but true. And to be honest with you, if they were slower than alkalines I would still be mainlining the Duracells.


NiMH's: Greener

Finally, Ni-MH's are greener than alkalines, if that kind of thing matters to you. An old friend of mine (who I just found out happens to read this site from Cairo) once told me that environmentalists make pain-in-the-butt neighbors, but great ancestors.

The green thing is not the end-all for me. (I am getting greener -- I now proudly recycle 100% of my bad jokes.) But as icing on the cake, it's pretty cool.

For instance, if your spouse is a serious treehugger, you may completely forget to mention that Ni-MH's are faster, cheaper and more convenient for you. Instead, you might offer that you did this just for her, as a gesture to her environmental sensitivities. After all, what maters to you matters to me...

(Now, can I please watch the Florida football game next Saturday instead of mowing the lawn? Thanks, honey. You're the greatest.)


Ni-MH's: Selection, Care and Feeding

Driving Ni-MH's are a little different than alkalines. So there are a few things you'll want to know.

First, "mAH" matters. mAH stands for miliamp-hours, and it tells you how much power the little guys can hold. All things being equal, go for the higher number. In fact, I would say get at least 2500 mAH batteries. Unless you see 2750's, in which case buy them. They are so cheap over the long haul that you may as well buy yourself more capacity.

Second, resist the temptation to get the 15-minute chargers. They work, but are very hard on the batts. Best for them is the overnight trickle chargers, but that could cramp your style. (I like to rotate shooting an charging sets on location.) The 1-hour, or 1.5-hour chargers are a very good compromise.

Third, think about your batteries as being a quartet. They like to sing together. Batteries that are charged and discharged together over time perform better and last longer. I like to label my sets with a number or letter. (My first idea, to label them as sets with a woman's name, was completely misunderstood and I am not going to talk about that further except to say not to do it if you are married.)

I have two sets of batteries (and one, four-cell charger) for each flash. This works just great, as I can charge the "B" sets on location faster than I can shoot down the "A" sets. Essentially, you have unlimited power.

There is one blemish on the record of Ni-MH's. They self-dischage faster than alkalines. Which means two things to consider. First, I tend to top them off (no memory - top them off any time) within a couple days of when I am going to need them. Basically, I am just always shooting and rotating them through chargers, which they really seem to like.

It is for that reason that I still use Ni-MH's in my Pocket Wizards, which are so stingy on power that I have to try to remember when the last time I changed the batteries was.

Some people swear by the new Ni-MH "Eneloop" batteries (by Sanyo) which reportedly self-discharge more slowly. I have not tried them yet but plan to. If you use them, please report on them in the comments.


Where to Get Them

There are several websites that specialize in rechargeables. Amazon sells them, too. But to be honest, I have been very happy with my sets from local discount stores. Wal-Mart, specifically. (I know. Sorry.)

For $18, I get a set of 2700 mAH's and a 1.5-hour charger that works on US A/C, car battery or in A/C in Europe. I get the "B" set of batteries for each flash (no charger needed) for another $8.00. This is an instance of when you would want to buy local -- or at least in your country. It does you no good to get a set and a charger with a US and Euro plug if you are in the UK.

Wherever you get them, do yourself a favor and switch to Ni-MH's if you haven't already. There's a lot to like about them.


__________

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70 Comments:

Anonymous John Milleker said...

NIMH's are a beautifuaH thing, the only problem is that in few weeks after charging them they're dead or on their way. They don't keep a charge, thats for sure. Most reports say that normal NIMH's lose 20% of their charge a month, but I bet thats a very conservative claim.

I found a battery called the AccuLoop by a company called AccuPower. The only downside is that they are 2100mAh. Good side? Claims are they lose only 2% a month.

I've used them in my army of 283's and they're quite good - but their true power is in those devices that are not such power hogs and just must work. Things like Pocket Wizards, External HDD's, Remote Controls. Hey, when was the last time a Ron Popeil Infomercial came on and you couldn't change it thanks to a dead remote? Those things are dangerous. A pocket fisherman, hair in a can and a few showtime rotisseries later - I got the picture.

They all seem to love my MAHA/Powerex MH-C800S charger. Quick and slow (soft) charging modes and a discharge mode if you've got a cell that is acting funky. Of course I don't do a quick charge if I can help it. All my AccuLoops are charged at all times and ready to go in their little plastic cases. The only batteries that stay on the charger are my higher mAh's.

Great review, I hope this article brings more people over to the rechargeable side. Though, if you still like keeping a set of sealed Alkalines in the glove box, I understand.. :)

September 03, 2007 9:17 AM  
Anonymous John Milleker said...

NIMH's are a beautifuaH thing, the only problem is that in few weeks after charging them they're dead or on their way. They don't keep a charge, thats for sure. Most reports say that normal NIMH's lose 20% of their charge a month, but I bet thats a very conservative claim.

I found a battery called the AccuLoop by a company called AccuPower. The only downside is that they are 2100mAh. Good side? Claims are they lose only 2% a month.

I've used them in my army of 283's and they're quite good - but their true power is in those devices that are not such power hogs and just must work. Things like Pocket Wizards, External HDD's, Remote Controls. Hey, when was the last time a Ron Popeil Infomercial came on and you couldn't change it thanks to a dead remote? Those things are dangerous. A pocket fisherman, hair in a can and a few showtime rotisseries later - I got the picture.

They all seem to love my MAHA/Powerex MH-C800S charger. Quick and slow (soft) charging modes and a discharge mode if you've got a cell that is acting funky. Of course I don't do a quick charge if I can help it. All my AccuLoops are charged at all times and ready to go in their little plastic cases. The only batteries that stay on the charger are my higher mAh's.

Great review, I hope this article brings more people over to the rechargeable side. Though, if you still like keeping a set of sealed Alkalines in the glove box, I understand.. :)

Apologies if this posts twice, sometimes Firefox isn't the greatest to love.

September 03, 2007 9:19 AM  
Anonymous fabiano said...

i couldn't agree more. i have long switched to nimh and they are so much superior than alkalines, especially recycling time. i have a sb800 (please forgive-me)but at least it does have that 5th battery that ends up turning the voltage up to six volts (five batteries x 1.25)and the batteries seems to last forever. i can go for several days from a single set. of course the charger only have four slots and i must charge 4 and then the last one alone but...nimh is the way to go. just to add, im a long time reader but first time poster. thanks for your superinformative site it has helped me alot. (you dont get quality info in Brazil about photo techniques).

September 03, 2007 9:30 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Just in case anyone's interested, you get a quicker flash recharge time because when the voltage is lower, the current will be higher.

General rule is:
The lower the voltage, the higher the amperage.
The higher the voltage, the less the amperage.

This is why electricity companies send thousands of volts across pylons, because they end up with less current which in turn results in less loss.

Useless fact really, but some may like to know why the flash recharges quicker!

September 03, 2007 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI there... i totally agree that Ni-MH's are the way to go. I use them in my Speedlites all the time.

In fact i use the Eneloops from Sanyo. I have 2x 4 which i swap when they are empty. Them Eneloop only sport 2000 mAh but that is plenty of power in normal shooting situations. (around 350-450 shots). I can not report on the slower uncharge behaivour as i do not have any other Ni-MH's. It feels pretty fresh after being idle for 1-2 weeks.

September 03, 2007 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect you use _alkalines_ still in the pocket wizards due to the self-discharge problem. Literal error to correct, no? I'm waiting for my next set of NiMHs, to replace the elderly NiCads that I picked out of the batter box for my 430EX. They work OK as well, but NiMH is a better system.
Adrian Midgley

September 03, 2007 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I recently replaced my oldest quartets of NiMHs (from the 1600 MAH max era ;-) with brand new Sanyo eneloops, and so far they seem to keep their promise - and their charge for a long time.

They are especially useful for additional flashes or other gizmos you don't use every day (because of see above).

I also aquired a set with 2 eneloops and a tiny USB charger which you can use to charge them from your MacBook (works great).

I am usually charging them with my trusted ANSMANN POWERline 4 Traveller multi-voltage chargers. These units can discharge and optimize single cells, and isolate bad ones (didn't have a single one go bad yet in all these years, though). They aren't the cheapest ones around, but gave me years of reliable service.

I also have two quartets of Ansmann 2400 MAH accus, and I am rotating them and the eneloops pretty much the same way you do.

Hope this helps,

Heimo

www.heimoaga.com

September 03, 2007 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ray-o-Vac makes a hybrid cell that will hold 90 percent of it's charge for 6 months. I have four sets and the neat thing is they come charged, ready to go. I like them because I don't shoot a lot and don't have to worry about picking up a dead flash. I just charge them all about ever 3 months even if I don't need to.

September 03, 2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

How does NiMH compare to lithium batteries?

September 03, 2007 10:15 AM  
Anonymous stk_ulm said...

I had a discussion with an electronics engineer recently, and according to him, NiCad rechargeables are even better than NiMHs. No idea why (he tried to tell me, but I ain't no physics major), but apparently it's true.

September 03, 2007 10:16 AM  
Blogger Rascal said...

Very good article David. I like using my Quantum Battery +1 battery packs. They give me endless supply of power for 550EX and Sunpak 120J flash. I'm planning on using the Ni-MH's for the days when I don't want to bring out the big battery pack or just to replace the alkaline in my PW.

September 03, 2007 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Energizer offers a speed charger that recharges their 2500mah batteries in 15minutes. I think it may be marginally more expensive than the one you describe above, but when I'm shooting near any sort of power outlet I can shoot as fast as I like with as many flashes as I like and be sure I'll have fully charged batteries as soon as the ones I'm using run dry. This came in handy when shooting prom-style pictures at Harvard's house formals.

I suppose you could also just buy and charge more batteries in advance, but in a pinch I'd rather have the availability of 15 minute charging that save a few bucks on the charger and miss shots as a result.

P.S. The charger works with Ni-MH batteries from all manufacturers, and if you can shop at a military exchange or commissary you can find the Energizer's for $7 a pack with the rest of their batteries.

September 03, 2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Just a small thing I learned the hard way:
get a decent charger for your NiMH, 'decent' meaning every cell will be treated as a single entity for loading (the picture you used in your post looks like a charger who treats either two cells as one, or all four as a single cell).

See, say you got a charger which treats two cells as one in terms of loading them to explain:

say you got two NiMH, fully charged at 100%. When you use them the charge will go down, but funny little thing it is, one of the NiMH will get down to 15%, one will still hold 25% charge (they don't go down all the same rate, even if they are a set).

So the next time you put those two together in a charger that treats them as one entity the charger got two options:

1) it will recharge 75%. Now one NiMH will be fully charged, but the other one only has 90%. Pity is, it is the one that discharged faster. Do this 10 times and you will end up with a ratio of: one NiMH is at 100% when the other one only holds 30%. This will cut down your use time badly.

2) the charger will recharge 85%. Now, again, one NiMH will be at 100%, and the other one at 110%. Problem is, what happens when you overcharge a NiMH? They get damaged. They lose power. Your nice and shiny 2700mAH will lose a few of its mAH, maybe now partly roasted it will be like a 2600mAH. Do this a few times and your set will perform as a 600mAH cheapo.

Both things will not be immediately noticable, but they will add up over time badly.
So get a decent charger where every cell is treated individually, like the AP-50. Don't buy expensive NiMH and waste them on cheap chargers.

September 03, 2007 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Energizer offers a 15-minute charger for only a few bucks more than the one showcased here.
It's not hard to imagine the ability to charge batteries faster than you can shoot them empty coming in handy.

Energizer 2500mah batteries can be had for $7 at military exchanges/commissary's. Probably even cheaper online.

September 03, 2007 10:31 AM  
Anonymous scott said...

I actually broke down and bought two sets and one charger for the the two 283s I have, and I actually did it before David posted this. I nearly broke my arm patting myself on the back. :) I can see that it makes sense to have one more sense to have 2 more sets.

I bought Energizers with a charger to match. Does it matter what kind of battery I put in the charger? If I wanna get some other brand, will this charger (or a second just like it, if that's what I fancy) do any harm? And should I charge new batteries before I take them out on a shoot or are they pre-charged?

September 03, 2007 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I switched from Sanyo 2700mAh NiHms to eneloops and I'm not looking back, the main advantage being that they just keep their charge.

Ideal especially for the 2nd or 3rd (or 4th) flash that doesn't see much usage most of the time - no ugly surprises when you're trying that backlit setup on location and you were sure the NimH had to be full since you never used them after inserting them fully charged...

-Marin

September 03, 2007 10:42 AM  
Blogger Ross said...

For any Brits out there, 7dayshop sell 2800mAh AA batteries for an absolute steal:

http://www.7dayshop.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=777_3&products_id=101842

£4 for 4! Bargain!

September 03, 2007 11:01 AM  
Anonymous dominique said...

Hmmm. I recently investigated the switch to Ni-MH batteries but balked at the cash outlay and the fact that I use 5 batteries in my SB800. I see that a fellow strobist just charges the 5th battery by itself. Is it worth it to but the rergular battery door back on my SB800 and just go with 4 Ni-MH batteries? Or are there chargers that charge more than 4 batteries at a time? If so do all slots have to be filled in order for the charger to function properly?

September 03, 2007 11:42 AM  
Anonymous wogo said...

@ David:

This is more of a general comment than a comment on batteries...

It would be helpful if you could cross-reference multiple blog-posts that discuss the same thing -- especially if they have contradictory info. The same way you linked back in this article to an older post on batteries, I would recommend updating that article to link to this one. I understand that it is more work (and you may not remember when you wrote about a given subject before), but it would make things much less confusing for readers who may not be reading all the articles in order.

Other examples: The "silver vs. white umbrella" debate. You changed your preference -- and you explained why -- but some people may have missed that post and they are obviously confused (as can be seen in the comments to "Chips Glass & Light").

"Chips Glass & Light" also covers much of the same ground as "A Rational Approach to Buying Gear", but there are notable differences. Cross-linking the 2 posts would give a more complete picture than either post alone.

As I said, I totally understand if this ends up being too much work to be practical, but it may save time in the long run by stemming the flow of comments/emails/flickr-threads that start with "...but you wrote X and now you say Y..."

Just my $.02

September 03, 2007 12:02 PM  
Blogger Jeff's Photo Blog said...

Why not use Lithium AA batteries in pocket wizzards so they would last forever? I have a Vivatar 2800 Auto Flash @ home that is an emergency flash that has Lithium AAs and they still work and they have been in over 5 years.

September 03, 2007 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas Distributing - http://www.thomas-distributing.com/index.htm
is a fantastic source for rechargables of all brands and size.

September 03, 2007 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Great post -- this is all fairly new to me and literally as I opened Safari I was thinking I need to look into some rechargable batteries.... Thanks David, and everyone else who's shared here!

There is a good introductory article about batteries at
http://www.centurion.com/home/pdf/wp_battery_fundamentals.pdf
for interested people.

September 03, 2007 12:29 PM  
Blogger Jamison said...

Yep. NiMH is great. I got my first set of PowerEx Maha's when I got my first digital point and shoot and I haven't gone back to Alkaline since. I know the PowerEx ones are more pricey, but I've found them to perform great so I'm willing to spend a few extra bucks. Word to the wise though, don't mess with quick-charging travel chargers. Too often they haven't given the batteries an adequate charge and I run out of juice in the middle of a shoot.

September 03, 2007 1:05 PM  
Anonymous ss944 said...

I switched to NiMH's from Quantum Battery +1's a while ago when I opened a Quantum to replace a battery to find it used 2500mah lead acid cells! I had only used the Quantums for increased capacity, not necessarily recycle speed and when I saw that I could get the same capacity (now greater with the 2750 cells) at a fraction of the weight (weddings make for long days) I made the switch to NiMH. I also converted my Sunpak high voltage packs from NiCd to NiMH to remove the memory factor and increased the capacity in the process!

September 03, 2007 1:29 PM  
Blogger Diddlbiker said...

Skip rayovac and engergizer and go straight for Maha! Maha is as committed to NiMh as MPEX is strobist photography... They have really good batteries and the chargers are absolutely the best.

One of the things that I like about my Maha (powerex) charger is that it's dirt cheap as well - no reason to buy another brand for price as well.

September 03, 2007 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have the Energizer 15min charger and I owned some 15min batteries, but like David said, they do eat your batteries quick. I still use the charger, but use regular NIMH batteries to recharge in them now. Before this post I was already planning on buying more for my PWs, but those are almost like remote controls or clocks. They last almost forever.

September 03, 2007 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Josh said...

I've had really good results with NiMHs from
http://www.batteryspace.com/

20 2600 mAH bats and a 10 battery trickle charger/discharger for around $50. I keep one of the sets of 4 or 2 on the trickle charger almost all the time. They come with cases so you can keep things organized.

Picking up a 2 hour quick charger has saved my bacon a time or two when I forgot to put extra bats on the normal charger.

Doing periodic discharge/charge cycles keeps NiMHs at peak performance, and avoids cycle memory.

If you haven't already, get off the uber-disposable cycle as much as possible. There's really to much in our world that's disposable already.

September 03, 2007 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ponied up the coin for the Energizer 15 minute charger and their NI-MH rechargeable batteries. I've got 2 chargers and 28 batteries (4 flashes + pocketwizards), granted i don't charge the pw batteries very often, it's super convenient to re-charge all your flash batteries in less than 30 mins.

September 03, 2007 2:07 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

I wonder how you still have the time to write that long articles even on very simple topics. I'm just blown away!

I'm using NiMH more and more. My main reasons are:
- greener
- cheaper

Whenever a standard battery is out of power i replace it with a NiMH.

For the Chargers: Take take and choose one, that can handle every single NiMH as a single cell and can control the charging status and power smart.
I'm using a ANSMANN with 8 slots (can hold AA or AAA as needed - very smart)
It is still very portable - nice.

BTW: currently i cannot commit the loss of power after a week or two. Some of my NiMH were just laying in the shelf for two or three weeks. To make sure that they are fully charged i put them back in the Ansmann charger. It just took some minutes and the charger tells that they are fully charged.

September 03, 2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

I wonder how you still have the time to write that long articles even on very simple topics. I'm just blown away!

I'm using NiMH more and more. My main reasons are:
- greener
- cheaper

Whenever a standard battery is out of power i replace it with a NiMH.

For the Chargers: Take take and choose one, that can handle every single NiMH as a single cell and can control the charging status and power smart.
I'm using a ANSMANN with 8 slots (can hold AA or AAA as needed - very smart)
It is still very portable - nice.

BTW: currently i cannot commit the loss of power after a week or two. Some of my NiMH were just laying in the shelf for two or three weeks. To make sure that they are fully charged i put them back in the Ansmann charger. It just took some minutes and the charger tells that they are fully charged.

September 03, 2007 2:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

If you're cheap and don't mind the weight, sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries are another nice alternative power source. I've gotten great results with them, super fast recycle times and they keep you pretty portable.

Here's an example of a setup I was using to nuke the ceiling for nice even light.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/duganj/1314061190/

The 6V 5Ah battery was about 5 bucks at a local wholesaler.

September 03, 2007 2:51 PM  
Blogger mr2005 said...

anyone have a direct link to where the eneloops can be purchased online?

September 03, 2007 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

David,

I converted over to NiMH long ago for the power they provide (Back when 1200 mAH was big.) I have since then used many types of chargers, but once I found out about the LaCrosse Technology BC-900 charger about six months ago, it was as if I had discovered the meaning of light!

LaCrosse BC-900 Charger

(This charger is also available from Amazon in case you want to support the Strobist site)

This charger will charge any way you want - short, long, trickle, refresh, and more. It has a display that shows the status of your charging and/or discharging. It also charges each individual cell to it's maximum capacity, not just a predefined timer based charge or an overall set charge.

Yes, this charger is a bit more expensive than many, however, once you buy one you will wonder why it took you so long to see the light!

Richard

September 03, 2007 3:24 PM  
Blogger David Lyle Music, Inc. said...

Nice. Great thinking pal

September 03, 2007 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I have ever used anything else than NIMH's in my sb-80 or sb-800. The're just great and last...really last!

If you're after ultimate portability and want the lightest and smallest charger, then go for the Uniross Globe Trotter
(http://www.uniross.com/consumer_html/see_product.php?ref=U0103756&type=2)

I use this one for years now. Maybe not as advanced as some other models, but great for travelling.

Jeroen Krol

September 03, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger Beo said...

NiMH are bad in one sense. Alkaline batteries have a predictable voltage with respect to remaining charge. If you know the battery voltage you have a pretty good idea how much juice they have left. Not so with NiMH.

September 03, 2007 4:29 PM  
Anonymous David K. Kennedy said...

First comment I've made here but have been a reader since you started.

John Milleker mentioned the PowerEx chargers (and batteries), and they are awesome. Just thought I'd mention that another good source for this stuff, as well as information on how to use it in other ways for nature photography, would be NatureScapes:

http://www.naturescapes.net/store/home.php?cat=73

September 03, 2007 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Balmore said...

On the the charger front: Buy chargers that have individual charging circuits (they may not say that they do but if they say that they can charge 1 battery you are in the right place) bad batteries happen and bad cell detection is handy (stop using the set in your flashes, don't just add a new battery). NIMHs are sensitive they don't like dropped or otherwise physicaly abused.

September 03, 2007 5:52 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

I tried the Eneloop, it's true they work right out of box so apparently they hold their charge. They are 'only' 2000 mah but for light duty use you're more likely to find them at close to full 1.2v when you need them. Some flashes don't like too low a voltage.

Speaking of voltage, does anybody still use NiCd? I heard they retain 1.2v through to depletion, and they don't mind high current drain as much. Isn't that just what we need?

September 03, 2007 6:23 PM  
Blogger R2K said...

Wow wild comments page : )

September 03, 2007 8:48 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Caution to all you SB-800 5-battery NiMH battery users out there:

5 NiMH batteries will recycle the flash faster than the flash can cool. The users manual says you should let the flash cool down after 10 flashes.

I shot about 150 shots using 2 SB-800's with gels in about 10 minutes (a line of 50 kids for a quick portrait). The gels were melted on both, and one SB-800 just quit working at about shot 120. Nikon charged me $225 to repair the one SB-800 that was smoked. That eats into the profit on a shoot like this.

Next time, I'm using SB-800s with 4 NiMH cells. This also solves the 5 cells to charge in a 4-slot charger.

NiMH batteries are great -- but not with the 5th cell.

Ron

September 03, 2007 9:22 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

NiCads are definitely not green!

Cadmium is extremely toxic and difficult to get rid of. Avoid them if possible.

As far as my use with Eneloops, they've held out great for me - they hold a charge, and they charge quickly. They're lower capacity, but I don't mind as I'm not a power shooter.

September 03, 2007 9:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ron-

Agreed on the 5th cell. With Ni-MH's, you do not need a 5th cell.

-DH

September 03, 2007 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I work for a daily paper and we have 'pool' gear although we have assigned pool gear and then general 300's, 400's and 600's.
My question is. Did you have your own company gear. Or just a few bags of gear anyone could use.

September 03, 2007 10:26 PM  
Anonymous terminalgreen said...

batteries i use:
on my first vivitar 285hv: Power2000 NiMH 2900mAH. got them from Adorama. highest mAH i can find.

on my second 285hv which doesn't see as much use: Rayovac Hybrid 2100 mAH. bought at Target - these hold the charge longer than regular NiMHs.

for backup: 2 sets of Sanyo Eneloop 2000mAH.

September 03, 2007 10:31 PM  
Blogger ShooterNoel said...

Great Article!
I tried rechargeable Alkalines years ago, but they were a disaster.
I first started using NiMH batts when I bought a Nikon Coolpix 7600 - these come with NiMHs.
Since then I have increased my inventory of NiMh batteries and now have enough for all my speedlights and radio triggers, with some spares.
I have been very happy with the Sanyo Eneloop batteries - I have found that they hold their charge very well in storage - Sanyo quote 15% loss in 12 months.
Keep up the good work.
Noel English
Perth, Western Australia

September 03, 2007 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

I was wondering when you'd post on this topic. :) I couldn't agree more. I got a set from MPEX a while back and though they looked like a low grade battery out of the package, I was astounded by how many shots I was able to get out my 580 EX's with them before having to switch them out. The recycle times do seem a bit faster with Canon's Flashes as well.

I decided right there that I'd use rechargeable batteries for my next event. I picked up several sets, an additional slow charger and a 15 minute charger by energizer. Despite reading a lot of recommendations against quick chargers, especially the 15 minute variety, I use it only in a pinch where I have to recharge a set on location.

Just always top off your batteries the day before a shoot and you'll be fine. Where I used to use 6-8 sets of fresh batteries, I can now switch out 3-4 sets that I don't have to throw away. It's really a no brainer.

Oh, and thanks for the post. Now the local Wal-Mart will be out of stock for the next 2 months. ;)

September 03, 2007 11:20 PM  
Blogger Andreas said...

I recently shot a car in a dark garage, two session for two hours each. The 2700 mAH in my two speedlights (SB-25, 430ex) are still not empty, and I shot a full power for at least half an hour. I always recharge them before going to a shooting and I have two sets for both speedlights.

The next is, to cut our electricity line and power the house with them :-)

September 04, 2007 1:47 AM  
Blogger Rowlock said...

@David (not Hobby, above)
The reason for the quicker cycle time is, in fact, not the lower voltage. It's because the cells have a lower internal resistance than alkalines, allowing more current despite their lower driving voltage. It's true that for a constant power the product of voltage and current remains constant, but we're not dealing with a constant power value here.

Either way, it's mostly academic I guess -- they cycle quicker, and that's a Good Thing™.

@Monique
There are several chargers available that hold more than four cells and can charge any number at a time. I prefer the Maha (aka PowerEx) 800 series, which can charge any number from 1 to 8 cells at a time, and have various conditioning features to keep your NiMHs in top condition. Looks like there are several other brands that people have recommended here in the comments, too. The important thing, as others have stated, is to make sure that your charger manages each cell individually rather than grouping them together.

September 04, 2007 8:42 AM  
Anonymous ShaolinTiger said...

I'm using Maha Powerex 2700mAh batteries (I have 6 sets of 4), they have extremely fast recycle times in both my SB-800's and SB-600's.

I also keep 8 Sanyo Eneloop batteries in my bag at all times as though I love the Maha, if I forget to charge them the day or so before...they self-discharge pretty fast.

The Eneloop stay around 95% almost indefinitely. Great for backup batteries, the recycle time isn't great though as they are only 2000mAh.

I also fully recommend the Maha 800 series chargers, they manage each cell seperately, have trickle charge, discharge and can condition batteries (it takes a VERY long time though, around 18 hours).

I didn't know batteries work better when kept in the same sets though, will try that out.

September 04, 2007 12:22 PM  
Blogger tomeloph said...

i also use rechargeables. i have sony 2500's and 2100's. with a sony charger. i keep them in sets as well.
but my question is, are all batteries and chargers created equal? how ok it is to really mix and match? i like the idea of chargers that treat each battery individually, but should i get the "cheap" energizers or stick with bigger name brand?
usually you get what you pay for.
also, i did notice that energizer is now selling a usb charger.
does anyone know of a really good battery comparison site/report?

thanks
tom

September 04, 2007 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

MAHA/Powerex charger and Powerex NiMH cells. I've gone thru 3 other sets of other brands in equivalent rotation with my Powerex set, and it still lasts longer and holds a charge better.

Just sayin'.

September 04, 2007 12:45 PM  
Blogger Gail said...

Hello Strobist-
I found myself here through Blogs of Note. I wanted to add my voice to the use of NiMH batteries. I have 2 sets of 4, which I use in my digital camera (!). I switch them often (every few days) or before I attend some event that is important to me. I love it that I don't have to constantly replace batteries & feel good about the green thing. I've worried about the self-discharge issue without really knowing if it is an issue. I top off hoping that doesn't reduce my batteries life. Anyway, thanks for the informative post!
Gambits from Gail

September 04, 2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger Aaron Linsdau said...

Watch out. Those Energizer cells will die on you faster than any others cells I've owned. I collected a bunch of data over time and I have a growing pile of Energizer Ni-MH batteries that self discharge in days rather than weeks. You'll find they take longer to charge. I'll write up an article with the data and post it here shortly.

September 05, 2007 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys should check out this site: http://www.delkin.com/products/batteries/doublea/index.html

They have 2900mAh NiMH AAs and also special 2300mAh NiMH AAs that can hold 95% of their charge for 6 months!

September 05, 2007 9:27 PM  
Blogger Lumberg said...

I second the Thomas Distributing suggestion. They carry lots of options with good prices. I've been shopping with them for a few years.

September 06, 2007 2:38 AM  
Blogger Aaron Linsdau said...

Here is an article I wrote about the self-discharge performance of three different manufacturer's batteries:


http://aaronlinsdau.com/gear/articles/nimh.html


It was quite surprising to see the difference in shelf life of these things.

September 06, 2007 12:05 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I just came from Costco where for $26.50 I got an Eneloop kit with 8 AA and four AAA with a charger. They are 2000 mAh.

The box promised them to be ready to use, so I popped them into my 580EX and got 3.4 second recycling time. With a brand new set of alkalines, I got 4.7 secs. I put them in the charger and they show them taking a charge, so it will interesting to see if a full charge adds anything.

Thanks for the heads-up I had a bad attitude about rechargables after years of NiCads.

September 06, 2007 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in January, I purchased a new Tuxedo battery pack made by A. Jacobs. (http://www.aljacobs.com/packtuxedo.htm)

I'd like to wholeheartedly recommend this to others looking for a similar product by Quantum, or the continuously out-of-stock Nikon AA battery pack.

Al's Tuxedo is a great value that reflects his no-nonsense, take no prisoners approach! It features a 1.3 amp-hr lead acid battery that fits in a shirt pocket and will power your flash for 200-300 shots.

It also has an intelligent charger (ITC) that you plug into the battery when not in use, so it's always ready to go. Stored this way, the battery will be good for 7 years! Typically, the 20 oz battery will recharge in about 1.5 hours.

The battery costs $70, the ITC is $20 and shipping is $10. You'll also need to get a Quantum cable separately for about $50. It doesn't have a useless LED level indicator, but if you really want one, buy the Quantum battery for $400!

BTW, I get nothing from Al, and am not related to him.

I just like to let others know about good products so they can avoid the rest. I have a tough enough time remembering my equipment, let alone to top off NiMH batteries before a shoot, so the convenience factor is huge for me.

September 06, 2007 7:42 PM  
Blogger Heron said...

I picked up the Costco eneloops set today as well. I've got a shoot tomorrow, looking forward to seeing how well they do.

September 08, 2007 3:53 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Just an FYI. B&H Photo has Impact brand NiMH AA batteries rated at 2900mAh!! Ordered 20 today.

September 08, 2007 4:27 PM  
Blogger António Correia said...

Do you have a charger for the battery of the ST-E2 ?
Where can I get one ? Any tip, please ?

September 19, 2007 9:05 AM  
Blogger bmthomas said...

Heads up. The Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable Battery Power Pack is on sell at Costco Nov 23-25,2007. Normally priced $25.99 less $6 with coupon makes it $19.99.

November 12, 2007 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

If you're in the UK, www.batterylogic.co.uk have the chargers as "Technoline" chargers. They have two varieties a Technoline BL-700 which comes in at £27 and charges at up to 700mAh or the BC-900 which charges at up to 1000mAh and is therefore a bit quicker. I got the BL-700 and am very happy. Comes with UK plug plate too.

January 07, 2008 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Lee said...

I don't know how anyone can not care about the environment. It really amazes me that the environment might not be 'the kind of thing that matters' to an otherwise seemingly responsible person.

I've used NiMH's since I started using flash in 2001 (which was not long after I started 'proper' photography). Mainly because it is completely illogical and senseless to use a battery that cannot be recharged. I hate the idea of using something that cannot be used more than once and must be discarded once it's been used. Not only is it a huge waste of my money but it's a waste of the energy and resources that were used in manufacturing, and once batteries reach landfill (come on, not many people dispose of them 'properly') they leak, and their chemicals leach into the soil, causing all sorts of ecological damage. I really don't see the point in using disposable batteries when there's an equally good, or better alternative. The mind boggles.

January 27, 2009 3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where what is the make and were can I get that silver charger from.

Thanks

Matt

April 23, 2009 1:38 AM  
Blogger Michael Getzinger said...

I love the "Hybrid" Eneloop NiMH batteries. I used to use traditional Ni-MH batteries which went to 2,900 mAh, but even at only 2,000 mAh the Eneloops are worth it to me because they really hold their charge. I now use them exclusively in my four Canon 580EX Speedlites.

Eneloop can be recharged in any charger too.

Below is an exhaustive review I found of the Eneloop batteries (in case you REALLY want to get your geek on!)

"Review: Testing Sanyo's Eneloop Low Self-Discharge Rechargeable Battery"

http://www.stefanv.com/electronics/sanyo_eneloop.html

March 01, 2010 10:54 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Really nice and helpful site David. However, I don't seem to have any good experiences with NiMh. They don't seem to last long on my point n shoot and on my SB900, a brand new set of Ansmann 2700s only lasted for about 3 cycles before losing their ability to charge. A friend has the same experience and convinced me to switch to AA Lithiums which I've been very happy with. I shoot a lot of macros (insects) at greater than 1:1 magnification and tend to shoot several frames successively considering the critters don't really keep still and it's hard to keep them properly in focus. Maybe I'm doing something wrong with my NiMh?

April 02, 2010 11:53 PM  
Blogger John's Secret Identity™ said...

Hello!

I found this post just after emailing Vivitar to find out if the flash I got for Christmas (DF-383) was compatible with my Eneloops. The official word, if anyone interested is yes, NiMH batteries are compatible.

Just thought I'd share. :)

And thanks for the good news that they will actually work better than Alkaline. I was concerned about the lower voltage.

Oh, and also watch for some newfangled lithium ion batteries to come along in the future... http://www.engadget.com/2011/11/16/researchers-increase-charging-capacity-speed-of-lithium-ion-bat/

January 19, 2012 5:57 AM  
Blogger sriparnachoudhury said...

I still prefer alkaline batteries over Ni-Mh.

March 18, 2014 7:38 AM  

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