Points in Focus Photography

Rambling about NiMH Batteries and Chargers

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Prior to heading to Alaska last May I had a chance opportunity to photograph a couple of warblers (including the male Blackpoll Warbler at the top of this post), and a Spot-breasted Oriole in my yard. Being later in the afternoon I also grabbed my flash and better beamer for some fill, only to go 5 frames and have my flash start taking 30-second or longer to recycle—not good.

For as long as I’ve been using flashes, I’ve been a big fan of low self-discharge NiMH batteries, specifically Sanyo’s Eneloops. The deck is really stacked in their favor.

To start with they last and last. I have 24 first generation Eneloops, all of which are 5 years old or older. I can’t even begin to count the number of recharges they’ve gone through, but it’s certainly more than the 7–10 needed to break even on costs compared to alkalines. Moreover, NiMH batteries work better in flashes than alkaline anyway; thanks to the chemistry, you get more flashes and faster recycle times. Finally, the low self discharge type insure that if I go for a couple of months without needing my flashes, my batteries won’t have self-discharged into unrecoverable death. Compounding the last point, my first generation Enloops are rated to keep 75% of their change a year after charging. That means not only will they not be dead after a couple of months of disuse, but I probably won’t have to charge before I use them either.

All told, seeing those kinds of recycle times on batteries that I knew were recharged in the last 60 days or so I was concerned I’d have dead batteries when I needed them in Alaska.

Fortunately, I had done research recently on the best NiMH batteries currently available. After Panasonics acquisition and divestment of Sanyo manufacturing facilities in Japan, the comparative quality lead of Eneloops over the competition has largely disappeared.

Specifically, out of all the research I did I found that Amazon’s Basics High-Capacity NiMH batteries were performing virtually identical to the Japan made Eneloop Pros. The best part of the whole deal is that they’re about half the price of comparable Eneloops ($20 for 8 Amazon batteries, versus $35 for 8 Eneloop Pros).

Before I left, I picked up 16, charged them up, and headed out the door for Alaska to deal with my Eneloops later.

The trouble with rechargeable batteries isn’t the batteries as much as the chargers. When you buy a starter set you get a crappy charger that provides no useful information. I quickly upgraded my charger to a Maha C–800s 8-cell smart charger, but even it isn’t designed to test battery performance.

Fortunately, there are at least 3 of such chargers on the market. Maha makes what’s arguably the most feature complete, their MH-C9000. The other two options that I’m aware of are from Lacrosse Technology, the BC–1000 and the slightly lower end BC–700.

After considering a number of reviews, I ended up getting the LaCorosse BC–700. The Maha, while more powerful, also appeared to be more complicated to operate and many of the options I would never use anyway. The BC–1000 was more expensive version of the BC–700, with only a few extra features in terms of charge and discharge rates and a bunch of accessories I didn’t care about.

I went with the BC–700, it does the testing I wanted, and was the least expensive and less complicated of the three options.

What I suspected was happening wasn’t that a whole set of 4 batteries were bad, though that certainly could have been the case, but that 1 of the batteries in the set was causing all the problems. I’ve always tried to keep my batteries together, but I didn’t start labeling them until well after I had too may to keep straight.

So far in my testing, my theory seems to be bearing out as I test my batteries. Of the two sets I’ve tested so far, one battery in each set had significantly less capacity than the others. Interestingly enough, I’m also seeing very good capacity on the healthy batteries—around 105–110% of the rated typical capacity.

Ultimately, seeking out the absolute best performance of my batteries is not something I really care to do. However, I’d also rather not throw toss good batteries because I can’t tell if they’re good or bad either. As for the Amazon Basics batteries, they performed excellently the couple of times I needed them in Alaska, but only time will tell as far as their long term performance goes.

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