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Batteries, Batteries, Batteries


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Batteries, Batteries, Batteries

9 Apr 2021 4:52PM   Views : 428 Unique : 277

They're everywhere, and with modern photography we can't do without them.

The electrochemical cell. The technical term for what we commonly refer to as a battery. Invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800, predating photography by almost three decades. Both have come a long way since then and well over a century before they became inseparable.

Apart from my first camera, a Kodak 126 Instamatic, all my cameras have required a battery. My Praktica Super TL3 was an all mechanical device and while operable without batteries it required a PX625 button cell as I recall in order to power the meter. My Pentax ME Super had an electronically controlled shutter so needed batteries, two LR44s which are still a popular size today. It did have two mechanical speeds, 1/125 ad 1/1000 for emergencies. Move onto the Canons, a T90 and EOS film models and no battery meant no pictures. I did, however, power those EOS models with rechargeable batteries in a handgrip rather than single use 2CR5 lithium cells. Cost, availability of AA size (not that I ever found myself without a charged set) and importantly the improved handling led me down that route. The digital EOS cameras moved on with rechargeable lithium batteries so my AA rechargeables were solely for flash and more recently a small LED panel.

I was an early (in terms of my photographic journey) adopter of rechargeable batteries. This was more to do with cost at the time rather than environmental concerns, plus the much faster recycling time for flash. I had a Sunpak and Metz hammerhead guns that would have chomped their way though plenty of alkaline cells.

I started off with some Fuji rechargeable cells in the early 1980s. They were coloured green and brown which reminded me of school dinners, specifically chocolate shortbread which was rock solid and just about palatable and luminous green peppermint custard which I couldn't stand. Unlike earlier generations at least we had things like curry for school dinners which made up for it.


Now where we, oh yes, batteries. Those early rechargeables used Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) technology. They had lower capacity than alkalines but did give fast flash recycle times, a trade-off that was worth it. Cadmium is a toxic material so it was good to see the introduction of NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) versions replace NiCads in the 1990s. Another benefit was better capacity and no 'memory'. Memory was the problem with NiCads if they were 'topped up' rather than fully drained and recharged. The cells 'remembered' that short charge as being 'normal' so their capacity became much reduced.

Move on a decade or so and the introduction of the NiMH hybrid. Unlike the NiCad and NiMH cells previously which lose charge over time the hybrid cells can be charged and still retain a claimed 90% after a year. That said I only recharge mine when I'm close to needing to use them and they work fine that way. I use Eneloop Pro batteries and they store over four times the energy of those NiCads I started with, which is useful on a shoot when you're taking hundreds of images with flash.

Energy density is the key to longer lasting and more powerful batteries. Lithium ions are small and can be intercalated in a carbon matrix in high quantities. Graphene technology for example offers huge potential (no pun intended) in energy density, very useful in automotive and aerospace applications but we should see benefits in smaller, lighter and higher capacity batteries for our electronic devices.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2021


9 Apr 2021 5:51PM
Thanks for the article! Brings back memories. Maybe it is me getting older and having more grey pounds at my disposal.... but I remember how carefully I looked after nicads and even learned how to rescue them when they went short circuit.... (Nickel needles)... you had to flash a large battery across them...melt the needles. Not sure it would pass health and safety these days! All the best andy
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 826 England
9 Apr 2021 9:23PM
I don't recall that method Andy, perhaps it's just as well Grin
dudler Plus
19 1.9k 1950 England
28 Apr 2021 9:08PM
You can't get away from them... My Instamatic 100 and 200 required batteries to fire the flashbulbs: you obviously had those new-fangled Magicubes on top of your Instamatic, Keith!

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