The Best AA Battery for Flash – The Ultimate Practical Review of AA Batteries for Photography – Part I

Gear & App Reviews September 4th 2012 8:00 AM 46 Comments

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There have been many articles, reviews, and opinions thrown around regarding which AA battery is the best battery for photographers. Alkaline versus Lithium versus Rechargeable. Everyone has their opinion, websites have their tests, but when it all comes down to it I didn’t feel like any of these sources did a good job of providing realistic and practical information on the subject. So we did our own testing.

NOTE ON PART II: Keep in mind that in this comparison we wanted to primarily test Eneloop (what we know to be a good rechargeable) against a standard lineup of alkaline batteries. We will be conducting a follow up using only rechargeable batteries in the comparison comparing Eneloop against Panasonic, Powerex, Energizer, etc.

9/4/2012 UPDATE: Since we released this article, we have been in touch with Energizer regarding the performance of the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AAs. We discovered that the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries were the only batteries in the test group that come built in with “PTC” or simply built in thermal protection. Thus, once the batteries hit around 30 flashes the thermal protection kicked in and limited the battery output to prevent damage. While the thermal protection makes these batteries probably not the best option for consecutive high-output flash recycling, the battery technology allows for consistent power output up to 9x longer than Energizer MAX, a number which was verified by Consumer Reports. We were impressed by their responsiveness to this article, and wanted to update you all with the new information. — Pye

Watch the Video Highlights

Disclaimer

Let me be clear by stating up front that we are not battery scientists or experts and this is not intended to be a scientific test. Our testing methodology is simple, and uses only one single electronic device (Vivitar 285HV), so results in other devices may vary. We simply wanted to gauge how well these batteries worked in this device (which we commonly use). We performed this test out of our own interest knowing the outcome and we have no bias or vested interest in any of the batteries tested, nor do we claim that the results are scientifically accurate across all types of electronics. This test is designed to give practical information on how these batteries perform in our Vivitar 285HV flash unit under shooting conditions which are common to us (using 2 flash units at 1/1 power to overpower the sun during mid-day shoots). We do not claim that these results are typical across all types of electronics. Finally, we wish to state that all of the results stated in this article are the opinions of SLR Lounge Editor’s.

Our Testing Procedures

We wanted to keep the test simple, straight forward, and practical based on our common use of off camera flashes. We are often shooting in mid-day sun (simply because we have to) and are using 2 off camera flashes powered to full power (1/1) to over power harsh sunlight on our subject’s faces. In fact, during mid-day formal photography at a wedding, it isn’t uncommon for us to fire 100+ full power flashes as we shoot each formal grouping. During these moments, the full power recycle time is absolutely crucial as often times we have to take 2-3 shots of each group to make sure that there are no bad expressions or people blinking.

So, our plan was simply to test the full power recycle time from one flash to the next across 75 consecutive flashes. However, we ran into a couple problems. We started by using a Canon 580EX II (B&H) as our test flash unit. However, we quickly realized that any relatively new flash is going to have built in thermal protection which adjusts the recycle time so the flash doesn’t over heat. The 580EX IIs thermal protection ended up giving us not so reliable results since we didn’t know whether the battery was actually losing power, or if the flash was just limiting the recycle time.

So, we switched to plan 2 and used an old Nikon SB-24. The SB-24 was recycling quickly and consistently and all was going well, until we fried the unit on the second set of batteries that we were testing.

Finally, we thought to use our Vivitar 285HV Flashes. The Vivitar 285HV (B&H) is an old flash designed and built in the 70s and has been recently resurrected due to the demand for manual flashes. The best part of the Vivitar 285HV is that they are fantastically cheap (around $80 for a new unit). They are also built like tanks and have a rather long recycle times in general compared to new flashes. The long recycle time isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it worked very well for our tests since the longer recycle times will prevent against overheating. So we figured if any flash would be able to dissapate the heat quick enough for our tests, it would be this one. After a few different sets of batteries, we discovered that the Vivitar 285HV indeed worked! While the recycle times are quite a bit longer when compared to newer flashes, it still shows the overall results and speed of each battery’s performance.

We used the exact same Vivitar 285HV flash for all batteries tested. After each battery was tested, we allowed the flash unit at least one hour to completely cool down before testing the next set.

We selected the most common sets of Alkaline batteries for our testing including Duracell Coppertop (standard Duracell), Duracell Ultra Advanced, Energizer Max (standard Energizer), Energizer Lithium and finally Costco Kirkland batteries since they are so wonderfully inexpensive… and because everyone loves Costco. We selected the Eneloops as the rechargeables to use for the test because based on our experience, they have held up better than all other rechargeable batteries that we have used.

For all alkaline batteries, we purchased new batteries in their retail packages and pulled them directly from the retail package and placed them into the Vivitar flash test unit. For the rechargeable Eneloops, we purchased new batteries in retail packages and charged them to full power prior to placing them into the Vivitar flash. All batteries were brand new, and the test results were based on their first time use.

We powered up the flash unit, set the dial to flash at full 1/1 power and started flashing away! We hooked up the flash to a timer that would record the duration from full power flash to the next full power flash. Each battery was tested for a total of 75 full power consecutive flashes.

Additional Notes on Final Temperature

After the 75th flash on each set of batteries, I took the batteries out of the Vivitar to just feel out their temperature. You are probably wondering why the final battery temperature even matters, so let me tell you! Camera flashes, like any electronic device, generates heat and can even over heat causing the flash to shut down, or even worse causing the flash to simply break. Many factors contribute to heat, the weather and surrounding temperature, high flash output settings, consecutively firing the device and yes batteries! If the batteries inside the flash are hot, then they are also contributing to the overall heat of the device.

Now, I didn’t feel it necessary to go as far as measuring the exact temperature of each battery. Rather I simply wrote down the temperature based on touch. Either the battery was warm to the touch, hot to the touch, or would literally burn you to the touch. Obviously, the cooler the battery after 75 flashes, the better that battery is in preventing overheating.

Graphs and Analytics

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Notes on Each Battery (Worst to Best)

#7 Energizer Ultimate Lithium - The Energizer Ultimate Lithiums had the slowest 1st recycle time among all of the batteries tested at 8.6 seconds. We originally thought that these little batteries virtually died after around the 30th full powered flash. However, we later learned (as we stated in the update above) that basically around the 30th full powered flash the batteries internal thermal protection, or PTC, kicked in limiting the power output to prevent damage. We also learned that these batteries were designed for consistent flash power output over a longer duration.

The slow initial recycle is due to the fact that the batteries are designed for consistent output over time, vs heavy burst output. This means that for professional photographers firing high-output flash devices consecutively, this is not a good option as they had an average recycle time of a 51.24 seconds across our 75 flashes due to the thermal protection. However, for more standard consumer electronic applications these batteries are rated by Consumer Reports to last up to 9x longer than Energizer Max. We left the results off the graph so that it wouldn’t skew the overall results.

#6 Costco Kirkland - Next up, Kirkland batteries from our favorite place in the world, COSTCO! It was actually quite surprising that the Kirkland batteries fared quite well in our tests. In fact, it scored very close to the Energizer Max, Duracell Ultra Power and Duracell batteries. It had a modestly quick 1st flash time of 8.5 seconds, and finished at 14.8 seconds per recycle on the 75th flash. This gave it an average flash recycle time of 12.65 seconds! Not bad for a battery that only costs $.31 per battery. Only downside was that it was burning to the touch after the 75th flash. But, still if you are looking for a standard alkaline battery, there really is no going wrong with Kirkland brand!

#5 Energizer Max (Standard) - The standard Energizer Max costing only $.39 per battery significantly outperformed the Energizer Ultimate Lithiums. It’s 1st flash recycle time was right along most of the alkalines at 8.3 seconds and ended with a 15.2 second recycle time on the 75th flash. It just barely edged out Kirkland brand batteries with a final average recycle time of 12.57 seconds (.08 seconds quicker overall than Kirkland brand). It was also burning to the touch upon exit from the flash.

#4 Duracell Ultra Power - Duracell and Energizer share a common trait in that both of their “advanced” batteries actually performed worse than their standard AA batteries. Very puzzling indeed. Once again, we tested two sets of these batteries just to make sure. Virtually the exact same results with both tests. We get an average 1st flash recycle time of 8.4 seconds, a 75th flash time of 15.5 seconds and an average recycle time of 12.52 seconds which is barely 1/10th of a second quicker than the Kirkland AAs! Once again, very disappointing for a battery that costs nearly 4 times as much at $1.12 per battery! The battery was also burning to the touch upon exit from the flash.

#3 Duracell (Standard) - In 3rd place comes the standard Duracell battery which actually performed quite well across the board. It had a very quick 1st flash recycle time of 7.3 seconds and a 75th flash recycle time of 14.1 seconds giving it a total average flash recycle duration of 11.68 seconds. Nearly 1 second faster than overall than Duracell Ultra Power, Energizer Max and Kirkland Batteries! They are also very affordable at a price of around $.29 cents per battery (when purchased from Amazon). They were only hot to the touch upon exit from the flash, which helps contribute a little less heat to the flash than the other batteries that were burning to the touch. All in all, this was the best Alkaline battery for photography and flash.

#2 Standard Eneloop - In 2nd place comes the standard Eneloop rechargeable battery. We knew Eneloops were good batteries, but we had no idea that they would blow alkaline batteries out of the water since it is generally assumed that Alkaline always performs better than rechargeables. Well, we were wrong, very wrong. The Eneloop posted the fastest starting recycle time of 6.8 seconds and a 75th flash recycle time of only 10.5 seconds! This gave it a blazing fast overall average flash recycle time of 8.94 seconds. Not to mention, the battery was only warm to the touch upon exiting the flash after the 75th flash. To say that we were surprised would be an understatement. Standard Eneloops do cost around $2.46 per battery, but that cost should be quickly recouped within 10 uses. In addition, we know from experience that they have a wonderful shelf life when compared to other rechargeable batteries. As a studio, we are out on over 200 shoots per year and we still have standard Eneloop Batteries that are running strong which were originally purchased nearly 2 years ago! Our studio retires all Eneloop Batteries at their 2 year mark, at which point we will take them home and use them for personal electronic devices, but no longer in cameras/flashes.

#1 Eneloop XX - Recently released, Sanyo improved on the standard Eneloop with the Eneloop XX. While the Eneloop XX posted the best overall scores, we did expect a little more out of this battery since it is nearly double the cost per battery ($4.34 each) when compared to the standard Eneloop. In addition, its overall score was only slightly better than the standard Eneloop. It actually had a slightly slower 1st flash time of 7.1 seconds, but a slightly quicker 75th flash recycle time of 9.9 seconds giving it an overall flash recycle time of 8.75 seconds. Where we saw the difference was in the power fall off. At around the 25th flash the standard Eneloop began to lose power just a bit more quickly than the Eneloop XX which resulted in a fairly significant difference of .6 seconds on the 75th flash. We assume that if we were to continue on through another 75 flashes, we would see the Eneloop XXs continue this trend of maintaining power longer than the standard Eneloops. However, whether this performance boost is worth double the price per battery is something that you will need to decide for yourself.

Our Overall Recommendation

For professional use or for enthusiasts that can swallow the price, we definitely recommend the Eneloop XX battery as it was the best performing battery among the entire lot. Generally, in each of our gear bags are 32 Eneloop XX AA batteries which will take us through a single full day shoot. The cost of 32 of these batteries would be around $139, but you would recoup that cost overtime anyway since you aren’t burning through standard alkalines.

For professionals or enthusiasts that want a slightly cheaper solution, look to the standard Eneloop AA battery which will cost only $78 for a full set of 32 batteries. They perform very similarly to the Eneloop XX Batteries, and most of you probably won’t be in many situations where the slight difference in performance will matter.

If you are in a pinch and you need to buy alkaline batteries, standard Duracell batteries will give you the best performance for the price compared to all of the other alkaline batteries. Keep in mind that Kirkland brand batteries are your next best option since they are cheaper and perform nearly the same or better than the other alkaline batteries.

We hope you enjoyed this article!

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Pye

About

Pye (AKA Post Production Pye) is a founder and the Managing Editor for SLR Lounge. Pye is also a Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, an Orange County based wedding, engagement and portrait photography studio. Connect with him on Google Plus

46 Comments

  1. batteryrater

    Having gone through lots of different types and makes of batteries to fire my speedlights on and off camera I now use 7dayshop own brand 2900mah AA’s…why? They are brilliant :)

  2. Kahuku Photography

    Eneloops have proven themselves to me time and time again. I love them. Great review.

  3. Robert Jensen

    Rechargables have always recycled faster than alkaline, usually by 2x. Why didn’t you test other rechargables?

    I still prefer my old battery pack that uses ‘C’ lead cell batteries. They take a beating, lose very little power sitting in storage and last forever. No memory problems either.

    • Pye
      Pye

      As we mentioned in the article/video, we selected Eneloops because we previously did tests on rechargeables and they out performed everything else already. So we wanted to test them against common alkaline batteries. But, perhaps in the future we will do another run and we can do a test strictly on rechargeables.

    • Stan Rogers

      The super-fast recycling times were usually from NiCd cells, which have an extremely low internal resistance, and thus very high current even at their reduced nominal voltage. Unless Vivitar has changed their circuitry, NiCds would burn the 285s out in under five flashes — a major problem with the 285, 285HV and the venerable 283. You’d get about a three-and-a-half-second cycle until the magic smoke left the box.

      NiCds, though, also had charge memory problems and a relatively short working life (under six months from first charge to no longer useful). Neither NiMH nor Li (nor the rechargeable alkalines one occasionally finds) can deliver quite the current that NiCds did. But then again, flashes are much faster recycling these days with lower-current batteries.

    • Pye
      Pye

      Good to know. Yeah, I had always believed growing up that alkalines always performed better than rechargeable. In asking around with other photographers, many had the same belief. While we have been using Eneloops as a studio for nearly 3 years, it was a suprise that they performed overall better than alkaline, especially the so called “advanced” alkalines.

  4. SteveLig

    Love eneloops but agree with Robert. There are numerous other brands of rechargeables that could have been tested.

  5. jmowry

    One issue being overlooked is that eneloops get very hot when used repeatedly in a flash. They will add to the heat in a flash causing most modern flash to shut down to allow cooling. I burned myself removing eneloops in a canon 580ex ii while shooting a wedding.

    • Pye
      Pye

      Not overlooked, read the article. Of the batteries tested, Eneloops had the lowest final temperature.

  6. John Carney

    Great article. Can I make a suggestion? In “Full Flash Power Recycle Times” chart, use different colours rather than different shades of blue. It’s impossible to make sense of as it is.

    • Pye
      Pye

      Yeah, good suggestion. I actually did it first with just the different colors. I thought it was easier to read with the different shades. Guess I was wrong ;)

    • Renaud

      perhaps you could change it now ? Useless as is…

    • Gmellow522

      Somebody please change the graph. Thanks….Bueller………Bueller……..

  7. emp

    nice little puff piece but not very accurate or precise. no control no power output in Joules
    No science.

    • Pye
      Pye

      The last thing we wanted to do was create yet another technical article showing the difference of every battery. That is the problem with most reviews like this, it is hard to transfer that information into real world practical application. Science and precision are great, but we are aiming for practical real world results, which is what the majority care about. Our methodology was sufficient in determining which battery produced the quickest recycle times over the test duration. Accurate down to the millisecond? No. But do we know which is the best battery in this group? Absolutely.

    • emp

      KISS i get that but if i say that car A has 150hp and car B has 400hp then car B must be faster. But depending on other things such as mass and power transfer car A could have a better top end speed than car B.
      Just try to use a control and make the starting points of test subjects known in the future.
      This will be the end of my rant.

  8. Tobias Solem

    Great review, I’ve just ordered a batch of eneloops after growing tired of the old batteries I used.

  9. Darren Murph

    I’ve used my fair share of these as well, and would agree that Eneloops are superior. Great piece.

    • Edmund Chang

      I would agree Eneloops are great batteries

  10. Sarah E. Wamuhiu

    Good to know. I’m glad that you proved what I’ve known for a long time that Energizer Lithium are trash…thought maybe my Nikon SB800 had an issue. Best batteries I’ve found (from practical experience not a test setup – though I would love to know how they perform against other in a test) are Varta…of course living/working in Kenya all we care about it they are the only ones that we KNOW are not fake batteries…duracell and energizer have been faked so you never know.

  11. Adin Softić

    I use Duracell Rechargeable 2650 mAh NiMH batteries for few years now, recharged it countless times and they doped just a little in power. I payed it $6 (pair) and they are brilliant if considering that you can recharge it few hundred times before they die.
    Only back side is that it recharges for 16 hours.

  12. joshdeugan

    what about rayovac alkalines i have always usedthem due to price and the use i get from them comparedto times ive used energizer or duracell but i have never done as good of a test as you have would it be possible fro you to test and repost with that in the mix

  13. Matt Payne

    Really fantastic job. Nice test.

  14. Tanja Schulte

    Eneloops XX all the way.
    i have 5x sets of the regular Eneloops (4 batteries per set).
    and recently i bought another 5 sets of Eneloops XX because they have a bit more power.
    i love them!!

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  16. Sieg Martil

    Ok, this test is between a rechargeable NiMh battery against lithium and alkaline. The battery chemistry alone would show differences in the performance/outcome. It’s no surprise that the NiMh Eneloops came out on top over the other guys. Aren’t alkalines and lithiums “geared” more towards longevity rather than speed… How about on the next test you guys pit the eneloops against energizer or sony or any other rechargeable NiMh batteries with similar amp rating.
    I’ll bet these similarly powered rechargeable NiMh batteries will perform very close to each other, if not similarly. Suggested batteries: Standard Eneloop vs
    Eneloop XX 2400mAh vs Energizer 2450mAh vs Sony 2500mAh.

  17. Fotog4

    I’m surprised that you didn’t even mention another batteries that a lot of pros use; the powerex batteries from MAHA. http://www.mahaenergy.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=415
    What are your thoughts on them?

  18. Stephen Samuel

    That the NiMh batteries out-performed the alkali isn’t a surprise to me at all. I’ve known for decades that NiCad (the predecessor to NiMh) gave better cycling time than Alkali (as someone else pointed out, alkali batteries are geared to long, slow draws not fast cycling.
    The caveat that I had against Nickel based batteries was that they could feed enough power to burn out the flash.  The Vivitar 285 was one flash that was known to be able to take whatever the NiCad batteries could put out.  I even jury rigged mine to draw power from an external (5 pound)  6V Lead acid battery.

  19. Coalish

    Who’s the guy who thought using blues for all of the data sets was a clever idea? 

    I’d like to punch him.  

    :)

  20. Anonymous

    Really? slightly different shades of blue?

  21. Timothy Gray

    You are allowed to use all the other colors to make sure the graph is readable. It is impossible to tell any difference in the lines.

    • graph line color

      it seems the author has left this article untouched even he knew our comment on the graph line colors. shame on him.

    • Allie Moore

      I don’t really think the author deserves shame considering he is not obligated in any way to provide this information to random readers on the internet. . . it’s not as if we’re paying customers. Thanks for the informative article!

  22. Scallywags

    and I’ve finally worked out why my expensive Energisers just plain stop after an hour or so.  Who would have thought…    Thankyou, I’m off to remove the rechargeables from Tickling Elmo!

  23. Tom

    I used the Kirkland batteries for a long time but they just do not last very long. Have to use 2 sets for a hour photo shoot.  The I tried the Energizer Advanceo Lithium and was amazed that the recycle time was instant and after a full shoot the recycle time is 4 secs. Much better that any of your test results but not rechargeable. They are expensive at almost $2.00 a battery buy when you need the fast recycle time you can not beat them. Love to see you do a test on these batteries.

  24. Mike Sweeney

    Interesting.. I did this over a  year ago using an old Vivitar flash that would go till it dropped :)  The low discharge batteries are better but slower on the recharge. The normal NiMH batteries can dump more faster but they get really hot.

     So the results are that the low discharge batteries like Amazon and Imedion offer a flat discharge rate but slow.. using the Vivitar flash and full power pops (60 each), ready was 7.4 seconds for Amazon and 7.0 for Imedion. By contrast, the Tenergies were 5.9 seconds but got very hot and do not last more than two weeks in storage before flat. Energizers were the same but slower.. 7.0 seconds but with a .5 second drop at 50 pops and on.

  25. Ozone Zone Books

    Hi,
    I tested many batteries for my flashes, including the white Eneloops (so called second generation). While these eneloops are fantastic for many devices – for my flash (nikon SB900) which needs lots of juice, and also for a portable photography LED lamp – it was a real disaster.  They are rated 1.2V  but I expect they may run a bit lower. what happened was that power was so low that my flash did SHOOT DOWN every few minutes – like batteries were finished. I had to turn manual power switch off and then on – and all was ok for next few minutes – only to see flash running out of power again. I have several sets, and tested them all – with the same result. Caused me lots of pain, as i was on a location, and just had to use what I had.
    In a continuous LED lamp, after 2 or 3 minutes of use the light went town, like dimmed, and kept going slowly darker and darker. Again – it couldn’t keep up with the need of device.
    Useless. Now i use eneloop only in wireless mouse and similar low-power-drain devices, and all is perfect. For flash – my best rechargable battery is one not mentioned above – Sony CycleEnergy. it is a decent 2700mAh, and  goes strong for a long time.  It never failed me. They can get really hot, but supply all power needed, shot asfter shot, and also in continous LED light. Best of the lot – I tried maybe 10 brands or more. I am a pro pghotographer, and i simply need to know how reliable my gear is. 
    Hope it helps. Cheers!
    Derek  
    http://www.artphotographyservices.com

  26. Andrew

    any part two to this?

  27. Ed Daly

    Excellent review. Really glad you did this. I am hoping you will retest in the near future testing out the brand new Duracell Quantum batteries. They claim they are the best performing alkaline. I bet this will be a very welcomed test among the photographers.

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  29. Parchet laminat

    Good day! I know this is somewhat off topic
    but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  30. RICHARD ODOOM

    I really like your review, but can you hold eneloop xx batteteris up against Imedion AA 2400mAh NiMH Rechargeable Batteries and Powerex AA 2700mAh NiMH Rechargeable Batteries

  31. Jude sr

    Does anyone know if the newer versions of the Eneloop batteries are any different? I noticed that they have changed a bit since 2012…

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