September 16, 2011

Super Rechargables - How to get the most out of your batteries!

I’m a big fan of using off camera flash (Speedlights) and love experimenting with various lighting set-ups. My goal is to get my lighting down to a science, unfortunately when your using Speedlights you will quickly find out that they can really drain batteries in difficult lighting set-ups. For example, if you’re using your flash unit as a main light and have to shoot at f/8 or better to get decent depth of field or when using high-speed sync at full power you can easily eat up the charge in your disposable batteries in no time.

Now granted, if you are familiar with lighting and power ratios, you know that by raising ISO you can lower your flash output to one quarter or one eighth power and then you can get hundreds of pops out of your flashes, (check out the diagram) But at the end of a typical wedding, you will still go through a lot of batteries and that can get expensive. Usually, we tend to think getting rechargeable batteries, Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) to cut down your costs, but the average (NiMH) rechargeables really don’t hold up that long. You’ll find that after they’ve been recharged 20 or 30 times, the recycling time between pops is much slower. When shooting a wedding, I usually try to get all my batteries charged the night before, but you’ll find that they will lose quite a bit of power overnight. What to do now?

Well, I read a lot of blogs and wanted to see what the Pros use out in the field in their flash units. I knew I needed a better solution than the plain rechargeable batteries that I had been using. I found one of the most popular products on the market today is the slow-discharge type battery. I personally use the Sanyo Eneloop hybrid Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiHD). Unlike plain rechargeable batteries, these batteries actually come pre-charged when you purchase them. Plus they maintain over 80% of their charge even after sitting around for over a year! Another nice feature is that they can be recharged up to 1500 times. What that means to you or me is, even if you recharge them twice a week it will take 10 years to reach 1000 cycles!

Now your probably saying to yourself that these must be expensive, but get this, a 4 pack of pre-charged batteries is only around 10 bucks or about the same price as a 4 pack of Energizer rechargeables! But you do have to be careful with how you charge them, some chargers can hurt these batteries and shorten their life span. I dug around online again and found a really highly rated charger, the Maha C801D made by PowerEX. I purchased mine through a company called Thomas Distributing because they actually had great customer reviews and the best prices around. PowerEX puts out their own line of batteries but I found that the Sanyo’s were rated even higher. The model I purchased can charge up to 8 batteries at the same time in under an hour. Plus each battery can be at a different level of charge and the charger actually knows this and charges accordingly! So it will charge your batteries correctly each and every time. You will never over or under charge your batteries again because the Maha will shut off that cell when the battery is fully charged. The charger also features a slow charge setting. The slow charge will automatically drain all the juice from your battery then fully recharge them. The rapid charge does exactly what the name implies; it fully charges your batteries in under an hour! So you can load the charger with 1 battery or up to 8 batteries and it will charge them all perfectly. On the front face of the unit are little power level guides so you know when your batteries are all charged up and ready to go. This charger even recognizes alkaline batteries and won’t try to charge them and risk hurting the unit. With the Maha C801D you can even charge both AA’s and AAA’s at the same time.

Now I aimed this article at off-camera flash fans, but these batteries can be used for all sorts of devices ranging from flashlights to digital cameras, basically anything that uses batteries. The Eneloop batteries are available in all sorts of sizes, not just AA or AAA’s. You can get C, D and even 9V batteries and you can purchase combo packs that come with their own charger if you prefer. If you’re like me and use batteries a quite a bit, maybe its time to check into some of these slow-discharge batteries and save yourself some money in the long run. These days I’ve always got fully charged set of batteries when I need them...........Nice huh?

Hope you find this article useful and remember, keep shooting and have some fun!

© D. Gould Photography