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Batteries for Photography

Posted by Tom Benedict on 14/03/2015

I’ve been told by more than one photographer over the years that for gear that uses AA or AAA batteries, alkalines are best. “Put a fresh set in at the beginning of the day and you’re good to go.” I swear if I hear this from one more person, I’m going to throw up.

I… Hate… Alkalines…

Alkaline batteries have an inherent shelf life. When they reach the end of that shelf life they like to do violent, nasty things. If they’re still installed in a piece of equipment when that time comes, it’s usually the piece of equipment that pays the ultimate price. I’ll give you three examples:

About a year ago I needed to use a light meter. (Yeah, an honest to goodness light meter!) We have a really nice Minolta meter at work, so I borrowed it. I got to where I was planning to do the photography only to find out it didn’t work. So I opened up the battery tray. UGH! You guessed it: battery innards were everywhere. I took it home, pulled it apart, and found that the acid hadn’t attacked the electronics, but it had gotten inside the wires from the battery tray, and had eaten down inside the insulation. I cleaned it out, bead blasted the battery terminals, and soldered in new battery wires. The meter was back in business, but my frustration with alkalines only grew.

Back in December I used the Canon 5D at work to photograph the damage to some of the optics in one of our instruments. (Our current working suspicion is that battery acid played a role in the damage to the optics. Hmmmm!) I grabbed the ring flash that’s stored in the case with the 5D only to find it wouldn’t power up. No problem, I thought, I’ll replace the batteries! I opened the battery compartment to find battery goo had oozed all over the place. I cleaned it out as best I could, but didn’t even bother to take it apart. I gave up on the idea of using the ring flash and used my own Speedlites instead.

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the beach to do some long duration sunset photos. I pulled out my timer release, tried to set it up to do some five minute exposures, but couldn’t get half the buttons on the thing to work. I set the timer release aside until I could take a better look at it and did what I could with 30 second exposures, but none of the frames I exposed really looked right. Earlier today I opened it up only to find the batteries had blown their goo all over the inside, and had eaten the ground plane out of the circuit board, taking half the buttons along with it. I chucked it in the can and ordered another one.

So what’s a photographer to use if not alkalines? My favorite so far are nickel metal hydrides – NiMH. They’re rechargeable, they’re durable, they hold charge well, and when they finally die they die quietly. They don’t take stuff with them the way alkalines do. When I get home after a day out with my cameras, I pop out all the batteries, stick them in chargers, and load my pictures onto the computer. By the time I’m done editing, the batteries are done charging. Back in they go, ready for the next day. In all the years I’ve been using NiMH batteries, I’ve never seen one destroy a piece of equipment. Not once.

When my new timer release shows up I’m replacing whatever batteries that come with it with a nice pair of Eneloop NiMH batteries. No more alkalines in my camera bag! EVER!

– Tom

One Response to “Batteries for Photography”

  1. […] my post about batteries I mentioned that I managed to kill my cable release by letting the alkaline batteries I’d put […]

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