Tuesday, August 2, 2011

02 - Let's Talk Batteries

Let's talk about batteries!

Batteries are the life juice of the ControlTL units.  We want to have good quality batteries in there and when you are not using them for more than a few days, take out the batteries.  Do this religiously, as the last thing you want, is to one day have a battery leak acid into your units rendering them useless and costing you grief and money for nothing.

Let me repeat... get those batteries out of there when you are not using them.  I *always* remove the batteries after each gig when I get home, usually at the same time while I am copying the files from the CF cards to the computer.  For me, there is no reason to leave batteries in there unless they are going to be used within 24 hours.

The choice of batteries for the FlexTT5 was a logical one.  This unit uses common "AA" batteries.  For primary (non-rechargeable) battery users, I highly recommend the very popular and long lasting copper top friend, the Duracell brand of battery.  However, I am a very adamant user of rechargeable batteries and use either NiMH Duracell 2650mAh batteries or PowerEx 2700mAh batteries.  These are very durable, recharge quickly and last a long time.  The last time I bought batteries was 2 years ago, and most of my batteries have gone through the charger a couple hundred times and still perform as good as new.

For the MiniTT1, Pocket Wizard chose a CR-2450 coin style battery.  Frankly, I hate this battery because of several reasons.  First it is expensive... local prices vary from $10 to $15, which is honestly, ridiculous.  Secondly, they are often difficult to find and not stocked everywhere.

However, the MiniTT1 does have a power saving mode (which the FlexTT5 does not have).  If the unit is removed from a camera, the camera is turned off, or if the camera is not used for a period of time, the unit goes into a power saving stand-by mode and this does extend battery life.

Even the power saving feature of the MiniTT1 was not enough to make the unit very attractive to me.  I really honestly preferred the "AA" format that the FlexTT5 used, and I did not purchase a MniTT1 for a a while, wishing that instead of the coin battery, Pocket Wizard chose the "AAA" format instead.

Last February, I had a destination engagement party to cover, and I felt that I would be needing another FlexTT5 to act as a 2nd trigger on my dual camera style of shooting.  I shopped around and none were in stock anywhere, however, one place had the MniTT1 in stock, so I was kinda forced to purchase one.  I figured the battery should be good for one event of about 5 hours if used half the time, as the 2nd camera used a FlexTT5, so I just picked it up.

After using it, I kinda liked the smaller footprint better, but after the destination event, I used it 2 more times and the battery wore out.  I replaced that battery and that one wore out within 2 weddings.  After that, I did not bother replacing the batteries for this unit and picked up a 5th FlexTT5 so that I would be using only rechargeable AA batteries at an event.

The thing is, I really... REALLY hated using batteries that are hard to find and when you do find them, are expensive.  People told me about some of the deals on eBay where one could purchase blocks of 15 to 50 CR2450 batteries for a lot less, and it was an alternative, but then again, once used, you had to toss them away, and that is just not good for the environment.

If only they made a rechargeable solution, I would have been quite happy!

Well, a long hard look all around the internet at the time told me that there was no such animal available anywhere, and some people told me that even if they did make it, they might not be very viable on the MiniTT1, even if it did manage to somehow work, so I put the MiniTT1 away in my photography cabinet, thinking it was in for a forgotten and lonely life.

Five months later, I am again thinking about the MiniTT1 and how I liked it's shape on the camera, but how there were no rechargeable batteries around for it.  I looked all over the internet, doing searches for several hours, and at a point very close to again giving up, I stumbled upon an eBay seller of a very recently released rechargeable version of the CR2450 battery called a LIR-2450 (Lithium Ion Rechargeable).  A small charger and four batteries was well under $30 shipped to my door.  I quickly made the purchase.  Three weeks later, it arrived in my mailbox.  During my wait, again, people told me it was a waste of money, that even if it did work, it would not be very reliable nor last very long.

I installed the charger, pulled out one battery and placed it in the charger, to be left there until it was fully charged.  In the meantime, I was wondering what would the standards be of what I would consider a reliable and useful life and came up with the following numbers;  if it lasted for 2000 photos, that would be cool, but not really useful for my needs full time.  If it lasted 2500 shutter presses, that would be a thumbs up for part time sessiosn like E-sessions and short photoshoots, but if the battery lasted in the MniTT1 for 3500 shutter activations done over several days, *this* would be the double thumbs up for me.

So, how to test this out?  Certainly, I would never test this out at a wedding or anything that involved possibly jeopardizing a shot, so I had to find out some other way.

What I ended up doing was installing the MiniTT1 with the LIR2450 battery on my Nikon D200 and set up a light stand holding a FlexTT5 and a SB-600 and set it to it's lowest power setting, and then I just gave it hell over 3-4 days any time I had a some time available.  During that time, I was mostly in the same room as the flash, but I often moved as far away as 75 feet and 2 stories down or even further a couple of times as I went outside and down the street to get my mail.

At the end of the test, my D200 took the brunt of 3,593 shutter releases, and I stopped well before the LIR2450 battery did, as it was not even dropping distance after that many uses, nor going into the yellow warning mode yet.  I predict it can do a good 4000 or more flashes per charge, and that is good enough for me.

People asked me why I don't get regular CR2450 batteries, as for them it apparently lasted 6 months.  I do not know what they shoot, but I can pretty much drain a CR2450 in under a couple of weddings so, thats 2 weeks for me... also, when it dies, it is fairly sudden, and in the heat of a day covering a wedding, I don't have time to watch for yellow warning signals from my triggers or receivers, nor do I wish to dedicate the time to swap batteries even if I did.  I also won't live with the uncertainty of if this battery will last the day or not, not when there are very important and once in a lifetime moments happening all around me.

I recharge all my batteries the day before an event, so recharging 1 or 2 more is nothing, but I will have the confidence that on the day of, I will be more than fine.  It's not like one doesn't have enough to worry about when covering the most important day of a newly married couple's lives... the additional need to stress about battery life is just so unnecessary!

Oh, just a small note I want to make... I take every aspect of my responsability as a wedding photographer very seriously.  One way I do this is that I constantly practice and always try to better myself, my photography and having the best gear possible.  By me saying the best gear possible, that includes quality rechargeable batteries and yes, even higher end intelligent battery chargers.

I use nothing but Duracell 2650 mAh or PowerEx 2700 mAh batteries.  I never quick charge my batteries, but only use the slow/soft charging modes, and the battery chargers of choice for me are a couple of  MAHA MC-808 8-cell intelligent chargers.

The LIR coin cell charger is probably not a slow charger, but its not a fast charger either, as it takes about 2 hours to charge up a coin cell to a full state, which will not burn out the battery prematurely, shorten it's life nor ability to retain the maximum charge over time.  Nothing lasts forever, but if it lasts me more than a month, it's already paid for itself in savings, and I expect it to last at least 2-3 years.

Before ending this section, I would like to share a hint with you, a hint that I learned a few years ago.

I have a nice collection of watches, most are battery powered, and those that are, the batteries require replacement about once a year.  Well, I learned that the battery life of my watches more than doubles if I do not touch the batteries with my fingers when installing.  When I install those coin style batteries, I use either plastic tweezers (picked up 2 at the dollar store for a buck), or I use latex gloves, the kind that doctors wear.  One could also go to any local pharmacy and purchase those latex rubber fingers (look like little finger condoms... lol).  They cost a couple dollars and you get pretty much a lifetime supply if you re-use them.

My battery life is increased by not directly touching coin cell batteries (for my watches, I now replace them once every 2 years or so and thats a big difference), and this technique I will continue to use with the MiniTT1.

EDIT:  August 11, 2014:  The *first* of my LIR2540's finally gave out, it can only hold enough juice to do about 1/2 a wedding or 1200 photos and when placed in the charger, is shown with a status of RED meaning, not fully charged.  When I picked up these rechargeable coin cell batteries, I did not think that they would last for 3 years and put up with all my many recharges and usages.  That is some EXCELLENT results for the price, and if I do the calculations, they've paid for themselves about 198 times over... that's a savings of ($5 each X 198 events) $990 over 3 years!

No one can convince me that at even at 1/10th this capacity, that the LIR2450's are not worth it.

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