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I don't photograph in a commercial setting at all, but sometimes I get asked to photograph at a small private gathering like a graduation ceremony, farewell reception or birthday party.

Although these assignments don't call for a large amount of gear I still end up with quite some batteries I need to charge before the event. I always bring with me the following:

  • Canon 550D
  • 18-50mm f2.8-4.5 Sigma lens
  • Starblitz 2000BTZ flash
  • 2x Cactus V5 transceivers

The battery list looks as follows:

  • 2x Canon battery for the DSLR
  • 4x AA batteries for the flash (2 necessary, 2 as back-up)
  • 8x AAA for my off-camera wireless transceivers (4 necessary, 4 as back-up)

I can not get rid of the transceivers as I have a high voltage flash which needs to be used off-camera.

Is there some easy way to mark batteries as charged/empty, such that I don't end up forgetting to charge something?

Note:
I understand that this question is not very relevant to photography, but I figured a lot of photographers might run into this issue and experienced SE users might have some nice tips.

6

My solution is a photographic staple: tape.

For camera batteries I put a strip of tape securely across the terminals, with one end folded under to create an easy-peel 'flag'. It needs to be removed before the battery can be used, making it foolproof.

For AA and AAA batteries I do the same, but with tape across both ends. A little slower to remove, but they can be stored in pairs with the cells reversed to make up for it.

Masking tape is fine and leaves no residue, unlike electrical tape, and is very visible. No need to be fancy, but gaffer's tape works well too.

"Eneloop" and similar low-discharge AA and AAA batteries make up my entire fleet. When I'm done with a set I put the spent ones on the charger and swap in my spares into whichever device needs them. Camera batteries lose power much more quickly, so I'll rotate them through the charger the day/night before to ensure that they're fresh.

  • Pulling off the tape takes, literally, a second or two: certainly faster than reading a label and opening a case. :) I can do it one-handed as I pivot the battery around without too much drama. The other part of the technique is to not keep shooting until the battery fails mid-stride, but to pick a brief lull to swap them proactively. – mpr Dec 15 '13 at 21:37
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    @dpollitt it always pays to plan ahead - a hotshoe flash will always give you plenty of warning of battery run-down in the form of slow recycle times, so you should be able to pick a quiet moment to change batteries and not miss anything. – Matt Grum Dec 16 '13 at 9:17
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Separate pockets. Charged in the right side, dead in the left. You don't have time to be messing around. Fast, Quick, Simple.

I also carry a spare brick with me (20 pack of disposables). Sometimes you need them on the 16 plus hour days.

4

In some cases, the easiest solution is the best.

I just take the clear cases that sometimes come with new rechargeable batteries and write on the top of the case either "Charged" or "Used" with a black permanent marker(Sharpie®). Alternatively, Sanyo(Eneloop) also now sells AA and AAA batteries in different colors as part of the same set - which works out great for this purpose as well. Just buy enough so one set can always be in use, while the other is ready to go.

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    alternative to writing: insert used batteries upside down (for example) so you can recognise them as used rather than fresh. – jwenting Dec 17 '13 at 7:51
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I use a Sharpie pen to mark newly purchased CF cards and batteries. The cards and rechargeable batteries just have a unique number on each, the disposable batteries have a date. It helps me to track items. I use the lower numbered cards (1,2 ...) and batteries first, then use ascending numbered ones (...7,8) through out the day / outing.

The only downside for me is that my camera batteries are dark gray and the numbers are hard to see at night. Other than that, it works fine.

I don't go through disposable batteries enough to need more than a date, but if you do, just add a number for that battery.

  • Art supply stores often sell paint pens in colours that would show up nicely on dark camera batteries. – mpr Dec 30 '13 at 1:35
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This answer applies to NiMH batteries (like the Sanyo eneloop brand) which are great for flashes as they dump out power in spades. Your mileage may vary with other types.

NiMH cells have a property that, once charged, they don't do a great job of holding it. Luckily they also don't mind being held on a trickle charge.

Rather than marking them charged or not (which at some point will have you reaching for cells that have been charged but not used and are now flat) those properties allow you to store cells in the charger so they're ready to go.

Getting the best out of them does require the use of a good 'conditioning' charger, which is something you'd have to look for - you probably won't pick them up at your local store, even if they sell NiMH cells. You need one which charges each cell (battery) individually and that can provide a trickle charge for storage. Those are features you might think are common but aren't, especially treating cells singly which allows you to not have to worry about keeping cells in groups and can weed out a single dead cell if you do keep them in sets.

I use a Technoline BL-700. Compared to other chargers they're expensive but they'll make your investment in cells last and reduce ongoing costs. I believe the same unit is available outside Europe under another brand/name.

Further reading:
This Strobist article is probably the best primer around and leads on to more information than you probably ever wanted to know about battery management.

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    Sanyo Eneloop batteries are different to 'normal' NiMH batteries, in that they have a much lower self-discharge rate. They should keep 90% of their charge for a year. So you don't have to worry about keeping them charged in storage. Note there are a few other brands of low self-dscharge NiMH batteries, they should perform in a similar way. – vclaw Dec 15 '13 at 1:30
  • That sounds like marketing talk under absolute optimum conditions, but if the reality is close to that figure then they sound well worth investing in. When my 4 year old energizers die on me then I'll be looking into that (no signs of that yet though!) – James Snell Dec 16 '13 at 12:49
  • Keeping them on a trickle charger isn't as good of an option when you may need 16+ batteries for all of your flashes and transceivers. – Michael C Jun 27 '16 at 20:25
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LiIon camera batteries I keep in a ready access pouch plus one for each camera type used in a trouser pocket "just in case". Used batteries got to one of a number of possible "used" locations so that they can be easily dealt with under pressure. Tape tab marking as suggested by MPR is a good idea but I seldom use it. Consistent storage location after use seems to work well enough.

AA cells (for flash) are handled similarly but for really intensive shooting when battery change time may be critical, use of a good AA Alkaline brand allows you to discard the batteries somewhere convenient without worrying about retention, if desired. AA batteries from a heavily used large flash will come out so hot that they cannot be safely or comfortably handled - so this should be taken account of when planning reloading procedure.

I wrap groups of charged AA cells with thin rubber bands that come off easily when desired but stay on well enough otherwise. I also carry a spare pack of AA disposables 'not too far away' as Robert suggests.

Eneloop are worth using for peace of mind. Other LSD (low self discharge) NimH MAY be as good but you need to determine that for yourself. Some aren't. Eneloop batteries hold so close to 100% full charge that after say 1 month after charging they can be regarded as close to full. Even after a year they are essentially "full". Their are 3 generations of Eneloop AA & AAA - the newer two have a 3 pointed "Crown" on them. Both have excellent storage times. The ~= 1800 mAh are recommended. The higher capacity (2600 mAh?) Eneloop have inferior shelf life and cycle life)

I use a Powerex MAHA MH-C9000 "Wizard One" (did they have to?) AA charger which is excellent, despite the long & silly name. Running "known charged" A cells through the charger the day before will top them up and a check of the mAh required tells you if something unexpected is happening. The charger has many other features as well as basic topup.


Battery state can be roughly determined with a voltmeter.
New Alkaline open circuit will be > 1.6V.
Dead Alkaline well use will be under say 1.3V (rises to this from much lower after use).
An Alkaline under 1.6V is either very old or has been used.

NimH open circuit will be ~ 1.3V fully charged - higher if JUST off charger.
Flat is 1V - 1.1 V depending on how heavily they have been discharged. It is good practice to not discharge NimH below say 1V/cell to help longevity.


Placing many AA NimH cells in a trouser pocket with keys and coins may lead to substantial bystander amusement and great pain or even burns for the battery carrier. An amazingly good high current high temperature "short circuit" can be formed with these raw materials.

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