I have gotten deep into bird photography this year, and have put a lot of time and effort into learning the tricks of the trade. My latest endeavors are into bird/bif flash photography. I own a Canon 430EX II flash, and a flash extender (basically a simple Fresnel lens on the end of a couple of arms that attaches to the flash head.) I've spent the last several days learning how to use my flash, primarily in manual mode, how to use the flash extender, and how to use the two along with my 7D to provide some fill flash for my bird photography. Lately that encompasses my back yard most of the time, which is full of a whole variety of black birds...which can be a real pain to expose for correctly a lot of the time.

I have noticed that my flash recharge/recycle time is HORRENDOUSLY SLOOOOOW. I have my camera set to low-speed continuous, as its more convenient for shooting birds on branches and around my feeders. Even with low-speed continuous, I usually only get a flash burst on the first shot and none for the rest of the sequence, and some of them can be as much as 10 frames (or more...I can get over 30 shots continuous if I just hold the button down, and I still only get flash on the first frame). I switch to single-shot mode now when using the flash, however I can only really get about one shot off every 15-30 seconds. I figure the root of the problem is the simple alkaline AA batteries I'm using, which I know are not known for their speed. I figure I'll need to invest in a bunch of good rechargeable batteries to solve the problem.

Getting specific, what type of rechargeable batteries would be best for this kind of flash photography? I would like to use flash with short bursts (3-5 shots usually, multiple sets, often separated only by as much as a few seconds), and it would be ideal to get flash on all shots in a burst. If I have to wait a little bit longer between bursts that would probably be ok. I am sure there are well-known rechargeable batteries/brands/types for use with flash photography, perhaps even more advanced devices that can reduce recharge time further (maybe some kind of multi-set battery pack that has several groups of four batteries which can be used in sequence for rapid flash shots?) I'm not sure I could get it down to less than a second, but as short as technologically possible would be ideal.

  • 2
    Actually, fully charged alkaline batteries deliver the most instant power, all of the rechargeable are slower. A worn out alkaline will be slower than a fresh rechargable, but when both are full, alkaline is significantly faster. Apr 28, 2012 at 1:42
  • @Pat: I haven't had to replace the batteries yet...but for the last few days, they have been pretty slow. I got the flash months ago, and used it only for little things here and there, never continuously. I can't remember if it was fast at the beginning, although it probably was since I wasn't complaining about speed back then. ;P
    – jrista
    Apr 28, 2012 at 1:59
  • Is it possible to consider a continuous lighting solution?
    – Rob
    Apr 28, 2012 at 6:45
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    @Rob: Not particularly. I guess I could haul out a portable generator, some lighting stands, and continuous lighting out into the wilds of nature...but State and National Parks might frown upon that just a tad. ;)
    – jrista
    Apr 29, 2012 at 15:59
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    Powerex has a very fast recycle time using canon 430 and canon 580ex2. All have advantages and disadvantages.
    – user20349
    Jun 8, 2013 at 4:14

5 Answers 5


In general, NiMH batteries will deliver more current than alkalines.

So if you want fast without going to an external power pack, NiMH rechargeable batteries are your answer.

I have Tenergy 2600 mAh batteries that I bought from http://www.all-battery.com/. If you're going to charge them and keep them in storage, you might want to look at the more expensive, low discharge ones. I charge all of mine before an event, so I don't worry about the discharge over time.

If you're using 1/4 power from the 430ex, you'll get nearly instantaneous recycling with these for many shots. I use them in my 430ex and 580ex flashes.

  • More current by what metric? And speedlight circuits need voltage, not current. Well, they need voltage at a large enough current to feed the capacitor. Many batteries can deliver the voltage you need and initially deliver the current, but rechargeable deliver a given voltage + current (VA) for less time than alkalines. Apr 28, 2012 at 16:07
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    @PatFarrell - there are no different metrics for current - more current is just what it is: more current (that translates to a lower internal resistance). The Speedlite capacitor is charged by current, not voltage. In fact, it is being charged to a voltage far, far higher than the battery's voltage (~300V). So, definitely, the important thing is the delivered current. Now, whether a fresh Alkaline is better than a fresh NiMH, I am not sure of that.
    – ysap
    Apr 28, 2012 at 17:00
  • +1 for mentioning an external pack, which is probably the fastest charging source, but I don't think the 430EXII is equipped with an external power jack.
    – ysap
    Apr 28, 2012 at 17:03
  • Batteries are rated at two currents, one near-instantanous when you first connect it, and the second as steady state. You will see specs that the battery has 2600 mAh, but it will not let you draw 2.6 amps for 3 seconds. And it won't let you draw 2.6 amps ever. What it will actually deliver is say 600 milliamps for 250 milliseconds, and then 300 milliamps for several minutes. Again, "delivery current" is the right idea, but for what length of time -- that is key Apr 28, 2012 at 22:30

If you want fast recycle times on the 430ex and most other speedlights, you need an external battery. No AA sized battery can deliver enough power -- its a limitation of the physical size of the battery's chemicals. The internal impedance rises as power is drawn, and the chemicals have to redistribute themselves to provide subsequent power. You need a large, external power source.

This is why a lot of working pros go to flash heads with separate power supplies, the big power supplies (or the bigger batteries supplying them) can deliver enough to recharge at sub-second rates.

Another issue is that if you shoot a lot of shots with a speedlight at high power over a short time, you will over-heat it.

  • Thanks for the info. I don't normally shoot on full power (at least, not for the kind of stuff I'm doing now...I may shoot full power for larger waterfowl out on a lake, but I probably wouldn't shoot continuous for that kind of thing either.) I've been using 1/8 to 1/2 power for the backyard bird stuff, probably 1/4 most often.
    – jrista
    Apr 28, 2012 at 1:58
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    I was once doing a shoot of water drop patterns. I used my older 380EX powered by 4 eneloops. The shooting rate was once per a couple of seconds. After taking dozens of pictures, the batteries came to the point where the recharge time was too long. I took them out of the 380EX and they were HOT to the point that I had to rest them on the countertop to get cool a little bit before handling them again. So, I'd be worried about the temp of the batteries as well as the flash head, just to prevent the heat from destroying the chemicals.
    – ysap
    Apr 28, 2012 at 17:08

I tested a lot of batteries for my external flash. The best performance I got from the Sanyo Eneloop. More than 400 flashes and fast re-loading of the flash - the best!

  • I think this can only be a very rough guess. The total number of flashes you get per set of batteries would depend on the flash power and potentially the frequency you generate flashes, since power flows at different efficiencies under different temperatures. The standard Sanyo Eneloops store 2000mAh, while some of the newer Sanyo XX's and Imedion batteries store 2500mAh or so. Thats an extra 25% power, so given the exact same flash characteristics in a shoot (i.e. all full-power flashes), the larger capacity batteries should always offer more, regardless of brand (assuming similar quality.)
    – jrista
    Apr 29, 2012 at 15:52

The problem with alkaline batteries is that they quickly loose their power output. When they are produced, they have a voltage of about 1.5V. But when drawing a lot of current (which a flash does), the voltage drops, and when they have been used for some time, the voltage drops.

So when using brand new alkaline batteries, you will experience that the flash recharges almost instantaneously. But the recharge time get longer and longer and longer and longer.

Rechargeable NiMH batteries, like the Sanyo Eneloop, operate at a lower voltage, 1.2V. But unlike the alkaline batteries, they can maintain that voltage after heavy use.

I have not experienced that the recharge time decreased, even after 100+ flashes on the same set of batteries.

And therefore rechargeable NiMH batteries are much better suited for flash work, than alkaline batteries.


My personal preference is to use Lithium batteries. For me they seem to offer the best cycling performance and I am able to take shot after shot after shot with no issues of needing to allow them to recycle. Until they run down that is!

Energizer and Duracell both do versions of Lithium AA's. These are generally pricier than their regular equivalents, however I have saved a lot of money in the past by buying on Amazon (usually their marketplace sellers have excellent prices).

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