It’s crazy to think that photography and electronics haven’t always been the same thing. Photographers today live on batteries, so it’s important that we consider what is powering our cameras and lights. In this post I am specifically talking about batteries for speed lights and small strobes. Here’s a look at what I recommend and why, plus a few tips to stay organized.
I used to think alkaline batteries were the way to go. They’re reliable and they last a long time. Then I did the math and realized that they were costing me about $60 a month on average. I finally considered using rechargeables, and it turns out they are actually better for the flash too.
After trying a few different options I prefer the Powerex 2700 mAh. They recycle the flash very quickly, and I can shoot with a fresh pair for a full day (8-10 hours) before they need more quality time on the charger. Sanyo’s Eneloop batteries are great for PocketWizards because they drain slower than most rechargeables. I normally discharge them completely before charging them. This seems to extend their lifespan a bit.
When it comes to charging, the Slowskis are king. The faster you recharge the batteries the harder it is on them, so do yourself a favor and get a trickle charger. I’ve got two of these, so I can knock out 8 batteries at once. I’m fairly surprised that I’ve never needed more, but as long as you stay on top of it you’ll be in good shape. As a bonus they are easy to travel with, but don’t forget to pack them. It takes up to 12 hours to fully charge the PowerEx batteries, but they’ll last much longer than if you always use a 15 minute quick charger.
Following these guidelines I went for about 18 months before I noticed any performance decrease in the batteries. I finally replaced them around 22-24 months after I bought them. I recommend two sets of batteries per flash, plus an extra set. This means that if you have three flashes then you will have seven sets of batteries (28 batteries total). This will give you one fresh set for each flash, plus an extra one in case you forget to charge them or if you’re really trigger happy.
Batteries are like Rex-kwan-do; they work best with the buddy system. You will get the most mileage from your batteries if you always use them in the same pairs (or fours). I use Peanuts stickers to assign each one to a set. All of the Charlie Brown ones, for example, are used together and charged together. I don’t know why this helps, but it does.
I say it all the time because it’s worth repeating: you have to stay organized when you’re working. This is especially true for batteries. If you have ever put dead batteries right back into a flash or camera then you know what I’m talking about. It’s the same story when you get home and can’t remember which batteries need to be charged and which ones haven’t been used. Fortunately there’s a simple solution. I have several of these cases. When your batteries are fully charged arrange them so they are all oriented the same way (i.e. positive up, negative down). When the batteries are dead arrange them in alternating order. This way you can tell just by looking at them what state they’re in. It works if you’re using four batteries or just two. Easy as that. You might also check out Storacell too. Looks like they’ve got some nifty products to keep your batteries organized.
Side note: when you are changing batteries during a shoot put the dead batteries in your shirt pocket before you open the new ones. This will keep you from forgetting which ones are which.
Hat tip to David Hobby for his insightful post that sparked all this.