Flash Photography – Which Batteries are the right ones?


Everything you need to know to pick the right batteries for you.

With so many different types of batteries on the market, it’s easy to get confused with all the options. In this article, we take a look at Alkaline, Ni-Cd, Ni-MH, and the new Ni-Zn batteries, to see which one right for the job.

When it comes to photography, nothing is as important as light. Whether being used for portraits or fill lighting, flashguns need power to work. A firearm is only as good as the bullets that are loaded into it. Likewise, a flashgun’s performance depends heavily on the batteries that are used to power it. However, flashguns are infamous for chewing up batteries and spitting them out before the job is done. The right batteries can turn a job from stormy seas to smooth sailing.

There are only a few factors to keep in mind when deciding on which type of battery to use. One of the biggest decisions to make is whether or not to use rechargeable batteries. The battery also directly affects how quickly the flash can be fired in succession (recycle time), as well as how long the batteries can last while unused (otherwise known as shelf life). Some of these rechargeable batteries give better performance while others last longer.

Alkaline

Alkaline batteries are found pretty much everywhere, making them the cheapest and easiest batteries to obtain.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Cheap, and easy to find.
  • Fresh batteries provides a full 1.5v supply of power, allowing for the fastest recycle time.
  • Long shelf life.
  • Last a lot longer on the job, compared to most rechargeables
  • Can become expensive to replace spent batteries.
  • Single use only
  • Early power drop-off  can force power supply as low as 0.9v, lengthening recycle time
  • Provides inconsistent power supply

Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd)

As the earliest widely used rechargeable batteries, Nickel Cadmium batteries are becoming less popular, due to the emergence of Ni-MH and Li-ion batteries. Ni-MH have higher capacity for power and are better for the environment.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Rechargeable batteries save money.
  • One of the most common rechargeable batteries.
  • Long shelf life.
  • Can endure long periods of discharge without damage.
  • Tend to have a longer overall lifespan than Ni-MH and Li-ion batteries.
  • Provides consistent power supply.
  • Limited power capacity means short lifespan per charge.
  • Fresh charge only provides 1.2v, lengthening recycle time.
  • Charging batteries that are not fully discharged causes permanent damage.
  • Harmful to the environment.
  • Poor performance and lifespan in low temperature.

Nickel Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH)

One of the newer rechargeable technologies, Nickel Metal-Hydride has been found replacing the older Ni-Cd, due to its higher capacity. Ni-MH is safer for the environment.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Rechargeable batteries save money.
  • One of the most common rechargeable batteries.
  • Higher power capacity than Ni-Cd.
  • Can be charged before a full discharge without incurring damage.
  • Provides consistent power supply.
  • A full discharge can cause irreversible damage.
  • Fresh charge only provides 1.2v, extending recycle time.
  • Long periods of storage at discharge can cause permanent damage.
  • Short Shelf Life.
  • Poor performance and lifespan in low temperature.

Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn)

As one of the newest rechargeable technologies, Nickel Zinc provides a consistent and high power supply along with decent capacity. Ni-Zn is also safe for the environment. Early Ni-Zn technology was cursed with poor capacity, lifespan, and number of charge cycles. However, latest developments in technology have brought Ni-Zn to the head of the herd of rechargeable batteries.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Rechargeable batteries save money.
  • Has similar power capacity to a standard Alkaline.
  • Consistently provides 1.65v power supply with minimal power drop-off, allowing for short recycle time.
  • Lightweight and reliable.
  • Does not contain mercury, lead, or cadmium, which makes it easy to recycle.
  • Performs well in low temperatures.
  • Charges quickly.
  • Currently the most expensive rechargeable batteries available.
  • Only available in smaller battery sizes (AA).
  • Hard to find.
  • Must use specific Ni-Zn charging units to prevent damaging batteries.

Weighing out the advantages and disadvantages of these battery types should help you decide which batteries are right for your needs. Ni-Cd and Ni-MH can cause extended recycle times, and may even prevent flashguns from firing at full intensity. Ni-Cd can store for much longer than Ni-MH without suffering discharge or battery damage. However, in terms of performance, Ni-MH lasts significantly longer. There are also many more charging options for Ni-Cd and Ni-MH when compared to Ni-Zn.

Alkaline batteries are great, but only when they are fresh out of the pack. Otherwise, an early power drop-off results in extended recycle times. Alkalines also tend to need to be replaced sooner than other batteries. The cost adds up.

Ni-Zn are the rarest and most expensive of rechargeable batteries. Ni-Zn also requires specific charging units. If a photographer goes on a job of extended length and forgets to bring that charger along, those batteries will eventually become dead weight. On the bright side (a hahaaa! pun intended), Ni-Zn provides the fastest, strongest, and most reliable performance of any other battery type.

When it comes to off-board flashguns, keep an eye open for Nickel Zinc. The latest developments in technology have set this rechargeable battery  on the road of the future. If consistently fast recycle times and ability to recharge are necessary for you, Ni-Zn is definitely the way to go.

If you’re not worried about fast recycle times, Ni-MH will most likely do a better job than Ni-Cd. Also, with Ni-MH over Ni-Cd, you’ll be doing the planet a favour! If don’t want to have to bother with lugging around charging equipment and you’ve got the money to waste, Alkaline would be the way to go. No matter which battery type you pick, now you can make an educated decision, making the flashing experience much more liberating.

For more tips, techniques, and hands on time with cool camera gear, check out the upcoming The Digital Show Expo in Melbourne, VIC!

Click to register for free entry!

Happy Hunting.

Jerrel Dulay

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About idigitaldarwin

Helping people stay informed with the latest ground breaking technology and valuable photo-imaging and gadget tips. View all posts by idigitaldarwin

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