What is the ideal battery type for photographers?

We are hard at work on the awesome gadget and we are of course thinking about the best way to power it. Basically: What kind of battery is the best for a photographer on location?

There are some alternatives:

Battery Pros Cons
4 AA batteries 

You already have these in the camera bag. They are available everywhere in the world. You could travel without a charger if weight and space is limited. And you can use the same battery type on different gear (most likely other flashes). They are not very powerful and they are heavy compared to the power they store.
8 AA batteries
The only advantage I can see is that you don’t have to change batteries that often. The device will have more bulk and heft.
Built in Li-Ion batteries 

(internal)

A smaller and lighter flash. Li-Ion carries a lot of power in a small and light size. Either you will have downtime while the battery charges, or the power adapter have to be big enough to power the light and charge the batteries at the same time. In any case, you will have to lug around the power adapter and potentially have to deal with incompatible wall sockets on international travel.
18650 size Li-Ion batteries
These are replaceable and rechargeable Li-Ion batteries a bit larger than AA. Packs a ton more power than AA. You can ‘go all day’ without changing. A lot less common, not likely to be available down at the corner. You will have to bring a dedicated charger and you can most likely not use them with other gear.

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The light will have some interesting features, but that also means that 4 AA cells is a bit on the low side for power. In heavy use you might have to change batteries every 45 minutes. With Li-Ion chemistry you could go for a couple of hours.

IĀ  asked the good citizens of strobist.com what would be the ideal battery for a speedlight-sized light source. The answer was basically this:

The thing have to be able to run off AA batteries. That is the baseline. Without AA batteries, it is going to be a hard sell. My bag is full of AA batteries already. Having to carry another type of battery is kind of a hassle. In addition to that, it should accommodate my favorite brand of aux power packs (where ‘my favorite’ is different from person to person).

The answers certainly shot down the option of only using an internal battery, and saving a battery door. Anything mechanical is ridiculously expensive, so saving a battery door was tempting. Another thing that is clear is that the aux power input have to be robust, efficient, and have a wide input range. I think it already is all of those things, so that one looks good. We should be able to connect to a wide range of power sources, and we should not assume that aux is always mains powered. It is easy to get lazy and think that aux power conversion does not have to be efficient.

I’m a bit concerned that with 4 AA batteries, the device is going to feel a bit underpowered. Hopefully, beta testing will show that.

Any thoughts on what is the the best (and worst) battery type? Hit the comments or strobist.com on Flickr.

5 Responses to “What is the ideal battery type for photographers?”

  1. Have you considered using some standard DSLR or Camcorder battery?
    Many lights use either Canon LP-E6 (5DmkII, 7D, 60D etc), or Sony F9xx/F5xx.

    One way to save on cost of supporting many different batteries would be to simply make it compatible with an existing interchangeable battery plate system.
    Delkin make universal battery chargers with very cheap adapter plates.
    http://delkin.com/i-5937097-canon-lpe6-custom-battery-plates-for-the-dual-universal-charger-2-pack.html

  2. Did you consider using removable Li-Ion batteries? There are two options comming straight to my mind:

    1)
    use (thick) camera batteries
    + one could buy a backup set of aftermarket batteries or use the existing ones of his camera
    + can be recharged with the existing battery charger of the camera
    – the device has to support different “connetors” to suite at least the most common battery types

    2)
    use (thin) cell phone batteries (I also worked at Vodafone šŸ˜‰
    + cheap in the aftermarket
    + they are meant to be charged by a USB power
    – a charger must be found or a way to charge and use at the same time

    • @Mirko Good points.

      Re. Camera batteries, I’ve struggled a bit to make room for that on the back. V-mount batteries for example takes up a fair bit of room and I’m not sure how to fit them while still allowing for convenient access to buttons and the display. Manufacturing a variety of connectors would be expensive, but there may be something useful on the market already?

      Re. Cell phone batteries, I haven’t found cell phone batteries that are powerful enough. The problem is the discharge rate and the internal resistance of the batteries. If we could find prismatic (flat) 1500 mAh LiPoly aftermarket batteries that could sustain a constant 1C or more discharge rate, that could be a great solution. Most batteries can deliver 1C on paper, but not in reality šŸ™‚

      BTW, you guys show awesome work on your website! I would love to get your feedback on the design of the light, if you are OK with that.

  3. Good point on the environmental issue. I’m mostly using rechargeable batteries myself, so I don’t really think about batteries as disposable any more. But from talking to other photogs, it is apparent that the option to throw in standard AA’s in a pinch is important.

    I can tell you that the power versus weight issue is one of the the most thorny problems around here. With the current battery technology, it is just not possible to create a device that at the same time has high power, is small and weights nothing. We have to chose and we’ll first focus on a lightweight version with moderate light output.

    We’re looking at supporting a wide range of battery chemistries including the Li-Ion types used in cameras. You are saying battery life is critical and that means Li-Ion which is expensive and require special electronics in the device. But you get a lot more power to play with..

  4. I don’t know what kind of device you are planning but think that you should reconsider an internal battery. One aspect you didn’t mention was the environmental impact. Photographers who use speedlights throw away an enormous quantity of batteries every year. That is not good and you can never trust your user base to recycle.

    I use an Elinchrom Quadra. It is very expensive but highly powered and the battery lasts long enough for a couple of extensive portrait shoots. You probably want to make something lighter and cheaper than this but I can not tell you how much of a pain in the arse it would if I had to change batteries every five minutes.

    Why not something like the cannon battery grip? It uses bespoke rechargeable batteries which last forever between charges but still allows you to fill it with AA’s if you get caught without a charger.

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