Mission to banish AA's, part I

I truly HATE AA batteries.

I frikkin' hate them with a PASSION.

The treehugger in me hates them because I have to collect them in a milk jug and unload them for proper disposal at a special recycling event that only happens twice a month in these parts.

I hate them because they cost money. And any and all cost savings are vital in this economy.

And most importantly, as a professional photographer, I hate them because the performance sucks. I get approximately 30 to 40 good flashes with decent but far-from-stellar recycle times before the flash unit begins to slow to an annoying degree. I hang with a set of batteries for 20 or 30 more flashes to get my money's worth or until recycle times begin to put me in serious danger of missing a "money" shot. Then I break out another 3 dollars worth of batteries, fumble with an awkward exchange, and start all over.

The Quantum 1 battery is an obvious solution. Quality flash performance for about 120 to 170 flashes (or perhaps MANY more, depending on how you flash) and then take it home and recharge practically for free. But there's that awkward cable going down to your belt. It gets pinched in my rotating flash bracket. It ends up caught on the petals of my lens shade and is visible in the picture. It beats AA's, but still has it's annoyances.

In a "There's got to be a better way" Google search, I turned up a pre-wrapped, pre-wired five-AA NiMH cluster intended for radio control model airplane servos. I found a pair of such packs rated at 6V and 2300mAh on eBay for about $15 including shipping. Even if this works well, there will still be days I need to use the Quantum 1 for extended shooting without fussing with battery swaps, but I thought these units would be worth a try for shorter, lighter assignments.

A little research in RC model forums confirms my assumption that the five cells in this cluster are 1.2 volts each to make up the 6V usually found in a set of four 1.5V AA's. Obviously this cluster will not fit in the usual battery compartment on my Vivitar 283's but a Quantum style "battery replacer" module can't be hard to whip together.

I'm going out on a limb a bit by posting a blog entry on this experiment which, for all I know, will be an abject failure. But hey, the failures teach us too, right? This will be the first of at least two and possibly three posts on the subject. My immediate challenge now will be to find a way to charge the packs and adapt them for use in the Vivitar 283 (should be easy enough) and to test the performance. If that goes well, I will document a mod I'm planning to the 283 that will allow quick and easy transition from powering the flash with this battery pack to powering it with the Quantum 1.

I may then follow with a couple of related posts on topics like "Why the 283 and not the 285, which is readily available new?" and "OK. You've convinced me to go with the 283. How do I keep it from destroying my digital camera?"

Stay tuned.


Ron said...

I'm right there with you. I'm thinking about getting one of the Maha battery chargers to recharge a couple sets of NiMH AAs. The chargers have been getting very good reviews and may be able to save you a lot of money over the long term. Just a thought. You can find the 4-cell unit here:


Or the 8-cell here:


Brian Drumm said...

Those look cool, Ron. The only thing they don't fulfill for me is that it's still individual AA's and not a single pack. I'll post a photo of the paks I have in a later moment of reduced laziness, but one of the main things I'll looking for is a consolidated unit that is easy to switch out.

I want: Unplug. Plug in. Go.

I do NOT want: Get out fresh AA's. Put in right pocket. Remove old AA's from flash. Put in left pocket (so as not to mix them up). Fish out fresh AA's from right pocket and fumble them into the battery compartment, all the while observing correct polarity.