AA Batteries for Photography Accessories

I use a lot of AA batteries.  So many in fact that finding them all and getting them charged up for a gig has become a significant bottleneck in my workflow.

I have finally realized that it is time for a more sophisticated system to actually manage all of the batteries that I need – as opposed to the old system which mostly consisted of pulling batteries out of my kid’s toys, TV remotes (or wherever else my AA batteries had migrated to) and then shoving them into ten different chargers the day before a big shoot.

AA Batteries for Photography Accessories JP Danko Toronto Commercial Photographer

The above photo is all of my photography accessories that take AA batteries.
Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Pocket Wizards – three FlexTT5’s and a PlusX at two batteries each = 8 AA batteries.
  • Strobes – five SB-800’s and a SB-600 at four batteries each = 24 AA batteries.
  • Zoom H1 Handy Recorder – 1 AA battery.

So in total, I need 33 AA batteries charged and ready to rock before I leave the studio.

Of course, I don’t always use six strobes for every gig.  But three or four would be typical for me, so I am going to plan my AA battery strategy based on using four strobes.  That still results in a minimum of 25 AA batteries.

And then there are backups.

I am OK without having dedicated backups for the Pocket Wizards and the recorder, they are all pretty light on power usage.  But, I defiantly want a set of backup batteries for the strobes – so if I’m planning on using four strobes, that adds another 16 AA batteries.

In total that works out to a minimum of 41 AA batteries!

My Current Battery Charging “System”

Over the years I have collected an ad hoc assortment of rechargeable AA batteries and chargers.

I have about twenty four Energizer 2450 mAh rechargeable AA batteries (about half of which are AWOL) and an 8 bay charger that I have been using for years.  A lot of the Energizer batteries no longer take a charge and the ones that do are becoming unreliable.

The Energizer batteries are also older technology, and they don’t hold a charge for very long – meaning they need a full fresh charge every time you use them.  

Then, I have twelve Duracell 2000 mAh rechargeable AA batteries and a four bay Duracell 15 Minute quick charger.  I know that a 15 Minute quick charge is pretty hard on batteries, but I quite like the Duracell batteries because I can charge all of them fairly quickly in succession, and because they hold their charge for up to a year. 

Of course that also means that these batteries often migrate into other devices when they’re not being used for photography, and I have to go searching for them.

I also have eight Sanyo 1900 mAh Eneloop rechargeable AA batteries and a four bay Sanyo charger.  The Sanyo charger is a slow charger and I usually have to leave it overnight to completely charge a set of batteries.

So with my current system, I have 44 AA batteries available, but the problem is that I can only charge 16 of them at a time – which means that I have to start charging batteries days in advance, which is a royal pain in the butt.

Battery Charging Bottlenecks

I am going to re-appropriate the Duracell 2000 mAh batteries and charger to household accessories – which is where most of them end up anyway.  Since they hold a charge for a long time, they are good for things like TV remotes, computer accessories etc.

The 2450 Energizer batteries are unreliable right now, but I think that most of them can probably be reconditioned.  I am going to send them to work in the salt mines (ie. kids toys).

The Sanyo 1900 mAh Eneloops are solid.  But I can only charge four of them at once, and they take all night with the factory charger. 

They are also only 1900 mAh, which is fine for PocketWizards, but for strobes, more current equals faster recycle times, so I would prefer to upgrade to the newer Sanyo 2500 mAh Eneloop XX AA batteries.

Sanyo Eneloop XX AA Batteries for Photography Accessories

If you haven’t heard about Sanyo Eneloop XX batteries, they sound pretty awesome.  Here is a quote from Sanyo’s website:

eneloop XX – For Professional Use

eneloop XX batteries are the perfect choice for powering high current consuming devices such as photo strobe flash lights, wireless keyboards, mice, game controllers, radio controlled toys and a range of household devices. They can all realize extended performance when powered by eneloop XX batteries.

SANYO’s engineers developed the eneloop XX batteries to excel in extreme conditions where high power performance in very low temperature environments (down to -20°C) is needed. The eneloop XX Nickel Metal Hydride batteries retain up to 85% of their capacity even after one year of storage.

They do cost a bit more than other AA batteries, but I would rather spend a bit more on the best AA batteries I can find than be stuck with dead gear on a shoot.

Smart Chargers

The big box store battery chargers that I am using right now are not terribly sophisticated.  They charge batteries in pairs and stop charging once the first battery in the pair reaches its peak charge – meaning that you always end up with 50% of your batteries that are mostly charged, and over time this leads to a long term gradual reduction in the maximum charge that each battery can take.

Smart chargers on the other hand charge batteries individually and analyze each battery to make sure that it is charged to peak capacity. 

Smart chargers also have different charge rate settings.  In general the slower batteries are charged the better it is for their long term health.  But sometimes you just need a fresh set of batteries NOW!  So if you need to charge a set of batteries quickly, you can do a fast charge.  If you have overnight, you slow charge.

A Managed System for AA Batteries for Photography

For the Pocket Wizard’s, I am going to stick with the eight 1900 mAh Eneloop batteries that I already have.  Except, I am going to pair them with a dedicated 8-cell smart charger.

Powerex 8 cell AA Battery Smart Charger JP Danko Toronto Commercial Photographer

For the strobes, I am going with sixteen new 2500 mAh Eneloop XX batteries, paired with two dedicated 8-cell smart chargers.

For strobe backups, I am going to use another 16 new 2500 mAh Eneloop XX batteries, which will be charged in the two 8-cell smart chargers, once the primary batteries are done.

In total, that will give me 40 batteries and the ability to charge 24 batteries at once. 

Down the road I might pick up another two 8-cell smart chargers so that I can charge everything at once.

Reconditioning Old Batteries

In order to recondition my older batteries, I also picked up a AA battery Charger-Analyzer.

Powerex AA Battery Charger Analyzer JP Danko Toronto Commercial Photographer

A charger-analyzer is even a little more sophisticated than a standard smart charger (which is still way better than a run-of-the-mill big box store charger).

This particular model has a “break in” mode which is designed to chemically reactivate batteries that have been stored for a long period of time and a “refresh and analyze” mode that reconditions poorly performing batteries or batteries that have been stored from 2 weeks to 3 months.

Those Sanyo Eneloop XX batteries are expensive, so I figure it will pay to take care of them in the long run.

How Many AA Batteries Do You Use?

How many AA batteries do you use for your photography accessories?  How do you manage AA batteries?  Leave a comment below and let us know!

About the Author

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube.

JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

  • Persio

    I have been using Eneloops (not the XX though) for the last 3 years and they are awesome. I would never purchase any other rechargeable battery that is not an eneloop. I have even been buying eneloop lite for remote controls and other household stuff.

    P.S.: If you are buying non-XX eneloops, look for the 3rd gen ones (UTGB). I have not tried the 4th gen ones, can’t say about them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eneloop

  • Michel

    Been using Powerex chargers and batteries (regular and low dischage units) for 5/6 years, and very satisfied with the performance of the system.
    Also the fact that I can order from a Montreal based Powerex reseller is a + for me. (PaulsFinest.com)

  • http://lenslord.com/ ijak

    You are right. AA battery use is a crazy bottleneck. … Right now I have four, 4-cell chargers that I really like, and I was even thinking of building a 24 cell charger myself. :-(

    For one days battery usage, I have to run three sets of batteries through each charger. … And that is a ginormous waste of time, just trying to keep track of how often I have to check the chargers.

    I think I will just add your dual 8-cell charger solution to my current setup, and be able to charge 28 cells at a time. … :-) I would still like two, 24-cell chargers.

  • william

    I’ve been using Tenergy batteries and chargers for six or seven years and I’m very pleased with them. I’ve had one or two that have failed over the years. I have an 8 bay and 10 bay charger. I like the batteries because you can order them with holders to help keep them organized. I used a label machine and put charged on one end of the holder. The holder also has a tab so when I put them in the box they were shipped with all the tabs face one direction so I know which are charged and when I change out batteries I put the holder back into the box with the tab facing the opposite direction.
    The battery chargers allow for you to discharge the batteries and recharge them so they all have a full charge when you need to use them.
    I too use these batteries for anything that requires AA batteries.
    So far these batteries haven’t failed me on any shoot. I did however run out of power on a Speedlite after over 300 flashes on ETTL. I think that was pretty good. Normally I use my Speedlites on manual mode at 1/8 or 1/4 power and then I’ve gotten over 700 flashes on one set of batteries.
    http://www.all-battery.com/tenergy24aa_90120.aspx

  • J

    I’m just using some SLA 6v 7ah batteries, pretty small (heavy vs AA’s) but the power consumption is awesome, and price point around 10.00 a battery (newegg), 1000′s of flashes, quick recharge and at full power and barely have to recharge them. I have a sandbag anyway on the stand so I toss a battery in there and have one in my shoulder bag for the On Camera Flash.

  • Shawnta Mateja

    For organizing, transporting & quick changes try Storacell’s battery holders. They come in multiple colors and lock batteries in until they are ready to use. Slide them in either direction to distinguish charged from uncharged batteries. Widely used by professional photographers and recommended by Syl Arena in Speedlighter’s Handbook. http://www.storacell.net

  • Sean Jacobs

    We go through quite a bit when we’re shooting with strobes, so we hacked someone else’s idea and came up with these:
    http://sixtyfourcolorbox.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/battery-bandolier/

    The nice thing about them is we can easily tell which batteries in the bag are charged, and you can leave them in the “bandolier” when you shove them into the charger (I usually flip them to “charged” before I stick them into the charger). I have a small stack of Eneloops and a somewhat larger stack of various other recharchables, each in groups of 4 in these bandoliers.

  • Stteve

    Powerex

  • Simon

    I´m currently using a Tensai TI-1600L (http://www.tensai.com/index.php/products/chargers/ni-mh-chargers/ti-1600l) 16 bay charger. So I´m able to charge nearly all of my batteries at once. This thing is rather huge, but gives me also the opportunity to charge any usb device at the same time. Usually I leave it charge the batteries over night, so it works very well for me….

    • http://www.blurmediaphotography.com/ JP Danko

      Hot damn – that bad boy looks awesome!

  • Knegge

    got 8 of the Eneloop XX (Sanyo 2k5mAh) and the dedicated Carging unit produced by sanyo(MQR 06) … that is mostly enougth for a night of nightclub shooting with just a single flash … If i ever will get more flashes i plan to buy at least 8 XX / flash. When this happens i will eighter just buy another sanyo charger or get an 8-bay “inteligent” charger

  • Mark A. Harris

    Hi I am useing the same system as you but only 3 SB unit’s, the 700,900,910. I am also useing the Pocket Wizard system for these three the flex TT5 x3, and the Mini TT1 on my camera. I am useing the Eneloop XX batteries in everything as well and have a set dedicated for the flash units and a set for the Pocket Wizards as well. I use the Titanium Innovations MD-1600L fast battery charger which comes with an adaptor to charge on the go while in the car. You can charge 16 batteries at once or when you think you should dicharge them you can do this to. Hope this helps you.

  • Greg Easton

    Best move I ever made was investing in a 16-cell charger that will also recondition batteries at the push of a button.

  • Charles O. Slavens

    I’m getting better results and faster recycling times if I use fresh alkaline batteries. I’ve been through the rechargeable nightmare.

  • Doug Sundseth

    “They are also only 1900 mAh, which is fine for PocketWizards, but for strobes, more current equals faster recycle times….”

    mAh, milli-amp-hours, is a measure of total energy, not current. Current depends on total resistance (internal plus external) and voltage. Voltage depends on the materials the battery is made of (it’s inherent in the specific chemical reaction), external resistance depends on the device you put it in. That leaves internal resistance. Eneloops are actually pretty good on internal resistance (and I’ve seen reports that the XX has a higher internal resistance).

    • Kay O. Sweaver

      The XX batteries also have a shorter effective life span. Doesn’t seem worth it to me.

  • jason bourne

    For a smart charger, I’d recommend the La Crosse BC-700 ( http://tinyurl.com/lkt9d8x ) at about half the price of the Powerex Charger-Analyzer.

  • Spydajam

    I don’t use flash, so I don’t suffer from this problem. My 7D is still a little noisy at times, so an upgrade next year to a 5D3 will hopefully solve that problem (and the money I spend on that, I won’t be spending on flashes, chargers, batteries, and electricity :) )

  • kimbin

    did you just ever think of budgeting for standard non-rechargable batteries? yeah sure, youd chew through them quicker, but as backup they are better than nothing, especially if you dont take your kit out on location often or have recharge time available. Also converting your AA run stuff to run off 9v batteries (or higher) is also another option to consider

  • Abram Gotthardt

    i just buy my batteries at the dollar store. $1 for like 10 AA’s

  • K & T Photog

    I’ve been using Eneloops and an 8-cell Maha charger for 2 years now. It suits me very well! I color-code them in sets of 4 and always recharge and use them in their sets. apparently they prefer that. I always carry lots of fully charged spares and a bunch of non-rechargables too. I have a similar set up as above with heaps of SB800s and lots more. I’d like to get my hands on the new eneloops but am very happy with the 1900s.

  • Ed

    Wonderful article. I use the Sanyos XX and they work great. I usually can go most of the day and not have to change them out. I also have one charger that charges 16 batteries at once. Its called “Titanium innovators” model 1600-ML. It has individual LEDs for each batter and you can discharge as well. Not sure what else it can do, but it works well. Like you I did not want to keep cycling and finding sockets for my smaller chargers. Finally, I read that Duracells alkaline are excellent batteries. So I keep them in my back as a back up just in case I run out of juice with my Sanyos.