PHOTOGRAPHIC BATTERIES 

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BATTERIES ARE 2000 YEARS OLD

Electric batteries have come a long way since some unknown Parthian first stuck some iron and copper cylinders into a jar of acidic grape juice. The things that power our cameras today, 2,000 years later, work on the same basic principle, though they sure don't look like a clay jar. 

But there is some evidence to suggest that they may possibly have been the first known people to harness the power of electricity too. Central to this theory was the discovery of a ‘battery’ in 1938 by a German archaeologist called Wilhelm Konig.  The battery consists of a little pot, dated 250BC, containing a roll of thin copper surrounding a central iron rod. 

Wilhelm Koenig surmised that with a liquid such as grape juice or vinegar in the pot an electrical current would be created by the potential difference between the iron and copper. It’s not an advanced design by any means, but the idea that electricity could be harnessed like this at all would pre-date the known invention of the electrical cell by almost two thousand years.

The clay has been replaced by plastic, the grape juice has been replaced by an electrolyte gel, and the iron and copper are now lithium, cobalt, or carbon. Pioneer work with the lithium battery began in 1912 under G.N. Lewis but it was not until the early 1970s when the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries were sold. 

Lithium, if you were paying attention in high school chemistry is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density for weight.   

And it can in the wrong format, the Dark Side, burn, eat stainless and possibly explode.  It is possibly the most dangerous battery.   Here are some facts  I am happy to share with you, as the industry does not tell you all. I have fifty years experience and what I tell you is facts.


MOST RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES 

👺    AGING  -  All batteries age, it is a fact of life so it is no surprise that lithium-ion batteries also age, most manufacturers remain silent about this issue.  Try very silent, shelf lives of one to two years means they better get sold.  Some capacity deterioration is noticeable after one year, whether the battery is in use or not. The battery frequently fails after two maybe three years with usage.  Subtle, you just don’t know when. And then you find out the replacement costs more than the product it came in.

👺    TEMPERATURE  -  Lithium battery technology got a bad rap in 1991 when one of the old-style solid-metal batteries caught fire. Took out the SONY plant.  The entire plant.  Four fires and explosions, later, the Lithium computer batteries took out the laptops.  Millions upon millions of dollars. One took out a FORD pickup just sitting in the passenger seat being charged.   

👺    NO MEMORY  -  The phrase belongs to older nickel-cadmium (NiCad or Ni-Cd) batteries. This is why manufacturers recommend that you go ahead and plug in your charger when the device gives you its low battery alert or when you are done with a shoot.  Memory problems do not pertain to Lithium. When the Lithium battery starts to weaken it is shot.  But it still can burn, severely.

👺    CHARGE TIMES  -  Battery makers say the first 2 hours of charging takes your battery to 80% of its full capacity. During the next 2 hours, the batteries will trickle-charge slowly to top off.  But since there’s no memory effect, you don’t have to devote 4 hours to topping off the battery with the appropriate charger for the device.  The caveat is the speed of the charger which is not mentioned.

👺    TRAVEL WITH LITHIUM BATTERIES  LIKE CANON BP-511  -  If original packaging (those little plastic coffins) are not available for these spare batteries when traveling,  effectively insulate the battery terminals by using good electrical tape over the contacts, not the cheap gummy fabric type that leaves residue.  Or 3M paint tape, the blue stuff.  

👺    FOR IDIOTS WHO DON’T BELIEVE ME  -  If Lithium contacts internally, you will experience a life changing experience, called a boomer or fire.  If you must carry a battery-powered device in any baggage, package it properly to prevent inadvertent activation. For instance, you should pack a cordless power tool in a protective case, with a trigger lock engaged so  it will not start.  If there is an on-off switch or a safety switch, tape it in the "off" position. Remove the battery and tape it too.   

👺    THERE ARE REASONS FOR ALL THOSE WARNINGS  - Being in the battery business dealing on a daily basis exclusively with photographic packs, cell phone, walkie talkies (police and fire department rebuilds)  UPS, motorcycle and car batteries, we have respect for Lithium.  Customers will get mad at their cellphone batteries and slam them down on our counter.  

Unfortunately one customers hand stopped the fire.  Our counter was OK, it was covered in plate metal and rubber but the battery went up.

👺    NICKEL CADMIUM (Ni-CD)  AAA-AA-C-D - The "Ni-cad" is the oldest rechargeable chemistry and is relatively less expensive then other alternatives. These batteries have proven to be fairly durable and good in cold weather environments and Ni-cad batteries are more likely to take more recycles, charges then their Ni-Mh cousin as along as a consistent recharge cycle is established.  But they are on the .GOV forgetabout it list and replaced by Ni-MH.

👺    NICKEL METAL HYDRIDE (Ni-MH)  AAA-AA-C-D - These batteries were made to be environmentally friendly and with a higher capacity than NI-Cad.  The smoke signals read simple replacement for NI-Cad,  it was praised it as a more powerful battery option BUT,  it produces more internal resistance and its associated heat generation. 

It is this heat production that’s causes some photographic flash units to overheat and is 75% of the problem, and that leads to shutdowns. Heat is what is produced when the battery is be charged or discharged.  Up to the safety threshold of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  This damages the battery, and the result is the NI-MH gives you less re-charges, and a shorter life cycle.  Metal hydride batteries are not well known for cold weather performance. 

👺    CHEAP - So why the popularity of NiMH?  Simple, it is CHEAP, CHEAP,  CHEAP, good advertising and a profit maker.  It’s currently (pun intended) the cheapest battery to make, least offensive to the environment, lightweight and it works in all the toys like phones, beepers, Walkmans, cell-phones, portable phones, and vibrators.  And now Lithium is becoming even cheaper since the scarcity of nickel and LITHIUM is CHEAP,  CHEAP, CHEAP but more dangerous.

👺    THE TRUTH - LITHIUM ION  (Li-Ion)  -  The Lithium batteries constructed of Lithium - Ion carry warnings about placing in fire. Li-on can ignite if exposed to air and a spark.  In 1995, an entire SONY plant blew up in Japan.  So problems with Li-On are not new to SONY.  Toshiba was also involved. It is reported this foo-pah cost about 430 million dollars which has since doubled.  

👺    NEW LITHIUM - The newest chemistry Li-ION has advantages and disadvantages.  It weighs less and is smaller of the three chemistries and works well in cold weather.  But currently Dell, Panasonic, Toshiba et al, in laptops all have all had recalls on their batteries because they come from the same slave labor plants and start fires when certain conditions exist.  (like using them)

👺    SPECIALIZED CHARGERS  - Li-ion batteries need more elaborate chargers to control the charge and discharge to each cell so they are consistent.  Longer recharge times so the cells balance themselves and they are a far more complex system usually not repairable and Lithium Ion Batteries are not rebuildable.  These features prevent damage to your Li-ion battery pack.   Never substitute chargers even if the plug fits.   It also suggests longer re-charge times to allow for rebalancing cell to cell differentials and more sophisticated battery chargers. This all adds to the cost and complexity of the design.

  Another factor is the human factor cost in the inherent danger of working in a Lithium plant which is rated along with fireworks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


LITHIUM AND LI-ION BATTERIES FOR DIGITAL CAMERAS
Lithium and alkaline camera batteries are primary batteries and only designed for single use. Primary camera batteries cannot be recharged. Although the average cost-per-use will exceed the cost of rechargeable  they benefit from better single use performance and low self discharge characteristics. Low self discharge means that it can be store for extended period of time without losing its voltage or capacity. 

Li-Ion and NiMH camera batteries are considered secondary batteries, which means that it can be recharged with its designated camera battery chargers. Heavy users such as professionals and avid enthusiasts will benefit from the economic cost-per-use value of rechargeable battery packs. However, rechargeable camera batteries will perform considerably less in comparison to its brethren primary batteries. Another benefit to rechargeable camera batteries is the benefit to the environment.

SPECIFICALLY THE NON-BRANDED CAMERA BATTERIES:
For fifty years I have been involved in batteries in one form or another. And being a Camera dealer and a Battery supplier has taught me a few things.  Caution is one. Repairs from lack of caution are expensive.  Batteries are like tools sold at Sears for years.  Good - Better - Best.

Camera manufacturers protect their brands by branding their batteries.  Inserting non-OEM batteries into your camera could damage the camera and expounded quite frequently by the manufacturer.  Is he exploiting your dollars and protecting his brand or is it fictitious?

VARIABLES - Some of the bigger concerns about using third party batteries are:

👺    Leakage   
👺    Swelling causing difficulty inserting or removing  
👺    Shorter useful life than OEM equivalent  
👺    Incompatibility with camera and/or OEM charger  
👺    Incompatibility due to firmware updates  
👺    Voiding your camera’s warranty

All batteries are not created equal. Some third party manufacturers use better quality cells than others. I strongly doubt that any camera manufacturer makes their own cells. Instead they purchase them from a battery manufacturer, just like the third party companies do. How good a cell is used has a lot to do with the eventual retail price of the battery.

One difference of note is that the Nikon EN-EL 18a battery weighs 158 grams, a few more than the Wasabi (152g) and Watson (150g). Other than the 2g weight difference and the labels the Watson and Wasabi look identical – they have the same case. The Nikon EN-EL15 weighs 86g, the Watson weighs 75g and the Wasabi weighs 73g. The Watson and Wasabi batteries look like they are the same battery but with different labels. The very slight weight difference suggested otherwise. One way to find out.

Here’s a Watson (black label, light green cells) and Wasabi (white labels dark green cells) EN-EL15 broken open. The circuit boards are identical, but the actual cells are indeed different. 

In addition to the weight differences, the mAh rating of the batteries differs. In theory, a battery rated at higher milliamp-hours should give more shots per charge all else being equal. 

Watson 1800 mAh, Nikon 1900 mAh, and Wasabi 2000 mAh. In practice, most of us slip in a spare before fully exhausting our batteries, and I never noticed any appreciable difference in how much I was getting per charge until they aged.

Most batteries have a chip in them. This communicates charge info to the camera. It also communicates if it is an OEM battery or not. Both Canon and Nikon have been known to issue firmware updates for their cameras that have disabled third party batteries (the charge meter no longer shows and perhaps other issues). 

Other than reduced capacity over age, my experience with Wasabi and Watson batteries has been fairly positive but I do have better chargers than what they make.

We do make a battery pack that has almost the equivalent of four of these batteries in duration at 8700 MAH.


MY BATTERY PACKS

OLD SCHOOL, BETTER COMPONENTS and A DOSE OF REALITY

Our Black Box and Tuxedo batteries are Sealed Lead Acid and rated or tested at the 20 AMP draw.  Two could start a car.  And the quality of the boxes is industry high rated.  The internal boards and workings, of most battery operated products, the batteries themselves, even the plastic cases are made all over the world, China having the largest share in particular.  The Chinese samples I looked at were crap.  Mine come from Denmark. They were stronger and tested better than the Chinese ones. 

NOTE:   And now the game is taking the Chinese stuff, ship it to Canada or Mexico so that no tariffs are paid and does not show China as the builder.    This is NAFTA and we renamed and dubbed it SHAFTA.   So it might say, “Made in Mexico” because someone put it in a box. But all of it is Chinese. I am not a fan of Chinese components.  The only thing I can control is to buy the best reputable components I can find and it's getting harder.  I am willing to buy better supplies and I have held pricing though my costs have gone up.

SLA batteries are strong and most weather and temperature conditions don’t bother them, lack of usage can be a problem, thats why we developed the charger we use.  Sulfating is the formation or deposit of lead sulfate on the surface and in the pores of the lead plates. If the sulfating becomes excessive, the battery may not work at all. Sulfating is caused by stored a long time in a discharged condition, operating at excessive temperatures, and prolonged under or over charging.

The major applications for lead acid batteries are automotive, related marine, and deep-cycle. Deep-cycle includes solar electric (PV), backup power, and RV and electric motor applications like trolling motors. Their life depends on how it is used, how it is maintained and charged, temperature, and other factors.

Gelled cells, as in Sonnenshine from Germany virtually do not exist, since they can cost twice to three times as much as an AGM, just too expensive.  

All gelled are sealed and a few are valve regulated, which means that a tiny valve keeps a slight positive pressure.  How does an AGM battery differ from a Gel cell?   The sealed nonspillable maintenance free valve regulated battery uses "Absorbed Glass Mats", or separators between the plates.  This is a very fine fiber Boron-Silicate glass mat.  These type of batteries have the advantages of gelled, but can take much more abuse. and a lot less expensive.   A GEL battery design is typically a modification of a standard battery with a gelling agent added to the electrolyte to reduce movement inside the battery case. 


WE USE ONE PIECE SEALED LEAD ACID BATTERIES
Our real SLA battery pack is a compartmented unit like the battery in your car.  Two volts per cell, three cells equals 6.4 volts internal. Most strobe units are six volts so we are not overclocking your strobe and doing it harm.  SLA batteries last longer and are more consistent.  It's less expensive per amp hour, with bigger capacities. In a pack they have less chance of leaking.  

Every day about 95 million cars start on SLA Batteries. It’s a proven chemistry.  And you would really be p*ssed if your car battery lasted a year and cost you over $100.00 to be exchanged.  It’s done everyday in the photo industry.

No chance of burning as there is nothing flammable in their construction. Thats cannot be said of anything, anything containing Lithium, I don’t give a hoot who promises it.  Battery commercials are like politicians.   And most Politicians are like diapers, they should be changed frequently and for the same reason…That says it all.

Sealed Lead Acid batteries are legal for shipment through the USPS and other postal services  and the airlines have no restrictions, thats one reason why we use them.  No airline has restrictions on Sealed Lead Acid Batteries, the ones as big as car batteries do have to follow proper packaging and palleting rules.  Most are so heavy they must go ground anyway,  They all ban Lithium in some manner, shape or form.  MH370 might of crashed because of undeclared unsafe or improperly packaged and declared Lithium.

Equipment containing non spilling wet cell batteries (gel cell or absorbent glass mat) can be carried as cargo (Shippers must meet all applicable security requirements). The equipment with the battery installed must be protected from short circuit and securely packaged. The package must be marked “Non-spillable”.

SLA Batteries generally are tamperproof.  Packs should not be tampered with.  It is vitally important to understand there are potential chemical, electrical, and fire risks with the more powerful accelerated packs.  Again our Black Box and Tuxedo batteries can be changed rapidly, charge rapidly and last longer with Higher Capacity - They can  cover the whole wedding or event, have extended capacity and duration. Our packs can last the day.

One of the main advantages of our SLA system is that they do not require additional AA cells in the flash to operate which adds to corrosion and overheating.  Your strobe stays cooler and can operate for longer periods of time without harm to the flash.

BLINKERS
😳     Other packs with blinking lights. Two things make no sense to me.  Man’s fascination with blinking lights and with LEDS. I don't use blinking lights to indicate when the unit is running low because they don't really work, that's why.  They are comparators not gauges. You can't predict whats left because you can't predict usage quantity.  It’s a gimmick.  

😳    Also claims have been made LEDS don’t draw a lot of power, but if you look inside, whats all that other stuff for?  Added value?  Bullshit,  they require a lot of electronics to make them work that can fail, require tuning or updating, to make all those light work, so it’s a big lie.  Think pragmatic, did you know that 99.9 percent of cars that ran out of gas had a working fuel gauge?  

😳    They last longer, other packs on NiMH go bad after two three years requiring pretty expensive rebuilds. And with no electronics in the battery compartment, there is nothing to harm. The biggest killer is heat so why put batteries and the circuits in the same package.  Repairs, there is a lot of profit in repairs. Ours are cost based. Upgrades available almost anytime. 


BETTER ANCILLARY PARTS
Our better chargers are standard.  Our regulated two stage charger and the "A-C" series chargers are "switching" type devices which operate without the use of transformers. I.C.'s control and regulate current and voltage and automatically switch from the higher fast charge voltage to the lower float voltage when batteries are very close to being fully charged.  At the float voltage it is safe to leave the battery connected to the charger indefinitely, making charging pretty much fool-proof. 

My packs are fast, I just don't push the word fast because there is another side to things. I do not promote speed if it can make your flash go dead.  There are one or two makes and models faster but that takes a toll on the flash gear.  Nothing I can think of is slower than a blown flash because some idiot over clocked it.

My pack will keep up with the other type, the accelerated packs based on partial power settings which is what the pros use, manual and partial power settings. The Red Carpet guys do that but it has become a bizarre shooting event.  I call it the elusive “Nipple shot which can be on one frame and missed on another”.  The guys are speed fanatics. The newer cameras at their higher speed will exceed any pack when pushed.
 

ACCELERATOR PACKS
An accelerated pack will recycle faster but will give you far less shots. Because they are keeping the energy going recycling the second flyback transformer or capacitor.  They also require using internal NiMH batteries for the units controller so you are right back where you started except higher maintenance, more often and dollars poorer.

Accelerated packs will eventually shorten flash life.  A flash can only operate at max for a while before there is trade off. You trade off your money for a new one.  With the rash of burnt units out there from too frequent a shooting and finally the unit overheats, you pay for the speed twice. 

The small but powerful strobes such as the SB-800, SB-900 and the Canon 580EX and EXII are basically pushing the electronics to the hilt and the accelerated packs push them over the cliff.  Just shooting too quick can do the same, the Nikon 900 has a shutdown mode if overheated or accelerated and will cause the heat meter to prevent a shot. Other strobes now have heat valves and new construction preventing higher packs.  Our pack helps that situation by not using internal AA cells which can generate 130 degrees of heat.

With accelerated packs you have by-passed some of the safety mechanisms. I truly believe based on size measurements and a little research both Nikon and Canon have pushed their best selling units to the end of the power curve.  "Sort of tweaked to the nines".  Making the strobes bigger means potential size and hotshoe problems and smaller is whats happening today.  They just can’t make prosumer flashes any bigger, they’ll be bigger than the cameras.