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I want to buy some more rechargable batteries (AAs) for my flashes.

I suppose I mainly care about: - Quick recycling of the flash - Hold their charge when not in use

Although bonuses for: - Long lasting (on a single charge) - Long lasting (before they need to be thrown away (recycled) )

Is brand important? What types are available? Show I just get the highest mAh?

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Re-tagged to remove [nimh] tag - it's too specific and tags should relate to the question, not the answer. –  Edd Jul 20 '10 at 14:10
2  
The question specifically references rechargeable batteries, of which NiMH is the dominant chemistry in AA. Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that folks might search on [nimh]. –  Reid Jul 25 '10 at 0:09
    
I use the Sanyo Eneloop NiMH batteries both in my DSLR and in my flash (Metz 36) and never complained about them. :-) –  Juhele Aug 3 '11 at 14:38

10 Answers 10

up vote 28 down vote accepted

1. Use high-quality NiMH cells

  • You want the NiMH chemistry because it's able to supply the high peak current that leads to faster recycle times (and less energy lost to internal resistance).
  • "Hold their charge when not in use" and "long lasting (on a single charge)" are opposing criteria: the reason is that the newer low-self-discharge (or "hybrid") cells have a lower capacity than standard NiMH cells (for example, the last time I was buying, you could get 2600 mAh in regular but only 2100 mAh in low-self-discharge). A rule of thumb: if the batteries are going to sit for more than a month in a ready-to-use state, get the low-self-discharge variety.
  • Yes, a good brand is important, though the NiMH market is not dominated by Energizer and Duracell as the alkaline market is. Don't just buy the highest mAh - you'll get scammed. Good brands include:
    • Sanyo
    • Powerex (Maha)
    • Energizer
  • Dave Etchells has written up some great capacity tests (though they are somewhat dated now).

2. Use a high-quality charger

  • This is very important for cell life and capacity. It turns out that you need rather fancy circuitry and algorithms to charge NiMH cells (a) to full capacity and (b) in a way that is not damaging to them. Do not go to Target and buy whatever charger they have.
  • Important qualities include:
    • Individual charging circuit for each cell.
    • Testing and refresh cycles.
    • Appropriate sensing and algorithms for charging.
  • I personally use and recommend the LaCrosse BC-900, which doesn't seem to be available any more (it seems to have been replaced with the BC-9009).
  • Another good brand is Maha, which has several chargers which meet the above criteria (the MH-C800 series and the MH-C9000, perhaps others).

3. Manage your battery collection

When you put four cells into the flash, the capacity of the group is limited by the weakest cell. Managing your collection minimizes this inequality. Key things to do include:

  • Number your cells so you can keep track of each one. I use a Sharpie, but this wears off so I have to re-label from time to time (I label each cell twice to reduce the chance of losing the number to wear).
  • Keep the cells in sets (i.e., don't just keep a pile of batteries and choose four when you need them). This exposes the members of each set to the same wear and environment, so they stay equal.
  • Regularly test your cells. This will let you identify and deal with cells that are going bad (they will have diminished mAh capacity). I wrote a Python script (battman) for this purpose, but a spreadsheet will work just as well.
  • Bad cells can often be repaired using the refresh cycle on your charger.
  • Note that new cells sometimes have a capacity significantly lower (say 10-15%) than their rating. That's just how it is and doesn't indicate a defect. The better brands won't do this.

More info

  • http://batteryuniversity.com is a great resource for learning lots more about batteries.
  • http://www.thomasdistributing.com/ is my favorite retailer. Their website is a somewhat bizarre, but they have a wide selection and have provided me with excellent service. All they do is rechargeable batteries, so they actually know their products. (No affiliation, just a satisfied customer.)

(Suggestions welcome in comments - I'll edit.)

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Excellent points! –  AJ Finch Aug 4 '10 at 16:48

I agree Sanyo Eneloop are very good batteries, but you should also consider getting a high quality charger if you want your batteries to last a while. I took the recommendation from this Coding Horror blog post and went for the BC900, but the newer BL700 is highly recommended as well (comparison here).

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The need for a good charger can't be overstated!! –  Sam Oct 27 '10 at 16:07

I (and many others, from what I've ready), really love the Eneloop batteries by Sanyo. That's an Amazon link to an 8-pack but they're available elsewhere as well. I've had great results as far as the batteries remaining charged, recharging quickly, and offering good performance for things like flash cycle time.

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Rechargeable Ni-Mh batteries have a lower voltage, and a higher current.
This gives a faster recycle time.

I use Sanyo Eneloop batteries, which claim to have a long shelf life. The claim is that they retain 85% of their charge over 12 months. I have no reason to doubt them, although I have only been using them for 6 months.

update

I have now been using Eneloops for well over a year, and they show no signs of deteriorating. I am now using them for all our household battery requirements. Not because they are necessarily the best solution in every case, but because this way I know that I'm happy grabbing any battery (of appropriate size) in the house to stick in my flash / trigger / etc!

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They do, in fact. I grabbed some out of the bottom of my bag, prayed they still had some charge .. and they did. The last time I charged them was the previous new year's eve. –  Tim Post Jul 16 '10 at 16:16
    
+1 for the Eneloops. Expensive, but they give decent cycle times and seem to hold their charge well. –  David Wolever Jul 26 '10 at 2:58
    
+1 for the Eneloop batteries. I use them for most things around the home. I find them ideal for the flash as I use it rarely, and they keep their charge for years. I even use them for clocks, where any other battery would self-discharge faster than the clock uses it. –  hdhondt Oct 16 '12 at 2:40

I always get the Low-Self Discharge batteries like the SANYO Eneloop or Duracell Pre-charged. They have a low discharge rate when not in use and seem to have a longer lifespan than the other rechargeable batteries I have.

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NiZns recharge around twice as fast as Sanyo Eneloops, but last maybe 75% as long and require a different charger.

See this discussion thread.

If you use your flashes continuously in a short amount of time, a higher capacity NiMh will actually perform better than a Low-Self-Discharge NiMh like eneloop. If you don't intend to discharge the batteries in a shorter period of time, they will begin to self-discharge and LSD has the advantage. Here are some recent test numbers I found for non-NiZn:

Alkaline: 4.0 sec. min. recycle time; 110 min number of flashes
Lithium: 4.5 sec. min. recycle time; 230 min. number of flashes
NiMh (non-LSD 2600mAh): 2.3 sec. min. recycle time; 190 min. number of flashes
NiMh (LSD eneloop): 2.3 sec. min. recycle time; 165 min. number of flashes

This older chart in a Nikon flash manual is in agreement: alt text

Here are two videos, one comparing NiMh vs NiZn and the other NiMh with battery pack vs NiZn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9899098@N04/4301938143/in/photostream/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/9899098@N04/4301902023/in/photostream/

Reportedly, it makes an even bigger difference with flashes older than that 580 EX II

With NiMH, a smart independent channel charger is essential for best performance. Otherwise you are overcharging and undercharging certain cells, leading to greater wear and worse performance.

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Yep 1.2v cells such as Eneloops will never charge a flash as fast as 1.5v alkalines or 1.6v NiZn cells! –  Matt Grum Oct 28 '10 at 15:50
    
@Matt Grum: Actually, alkalines charge flashes slower and drain faster than NiMH in these high-current applications due to their internal resistance and voltage under load of ~1.1 to 1.3V. While they have around 3000 mAh at low current (200 mA), at they only have around 700 mAh with a 1000 mA load. –  Eruditass Oct 28 '10 at 16:08

You probably want a name-brand high capacity NI-MH rechargeable.

The higher capacity the better and to improve their lifespan use a "peak-detecting" charger, that will avoid damaging the batteries.

The higher the mAh number the better.

There is a good review of the top brands at www.metaefficient.com

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mAh. mAh. mAh. I can't say that enough. But, read the packaging very carefully; here's an example of an off-brand battery trying to trick buyers into thinking the rating is better than it actually is: flickr.com/photos/ladyada/4771553975 –  esm Jul 16 '10 at 15:50

Rechargeables are the best bet, but I recommend the 'shelf stable' or low discharge rechargeables, because 'regular' rechargeables will not hold their charge, and must be charged just before you intend to use them. Low discharge rechargebles maintain their charge in storage.

Sanyo Enloop are the best known variety of these shelf stable rechargeables, but other brands include:

  • Duracell Rechargeable "Pre-charged"
  • Energizer 'Recharge"
  • Rayovac "Hybrid"
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I just use energizer rechargeable 2500mah, but then again, where I live, I cant find any of them Sanyo Eneloops. Heard good things about them but never had a chance to check them out.

I dont do much flash photography, and when i do, a fast recycle time has never been an issue. That said, the few times that I've tried manually setting the flash to 100%, the sb-600 took about 8 seconds to recycle.

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I'm using these batteries and charger for my Nikon SB-600: link text

The batteries last very long, but it takes 5-6 hours to charge them.

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