In December of last year, I received Panasonic’s press release announcing their European photo contest that revolves around eneloop batteries. The prize to be given away for the ‘WINTER’ theme currently running (February 3, 2016 with a winner to be announced on April first) is a Panasonic action cam HX-A1 and two sets of “eneloop pro” rechargeable batteries with a CC16 charger (For those who missed the WINTER photo contest, the eneloop ‘SPRING’ photo challenge has recently been launched on https://photochallenge.panasonic-eneloop.eu). The eneloop pro battery is recommended for use in extreme low temperatures (-20 degrees Celsius) and for demanding devices, such as photo strobe speedlights. Reason enough to try these new eneloop batteries and see for myself how good they actually are.
Every user of an Apple wireless keyboard knows how comfortable it is to know a set of batteries will hold about 80% of its charge for an extended period of time — often more than a year. We’re equally satisfied with our ability to recharge the Apple AA batteries at least 1,000 times. There’s a rumour Apple AA batteries are really eneloop cells with a different wrapper. Regardless of whether that rumour is true, the “common” eneloop battery is well-known for its advantages.
Regular eneloop cells can be charged 2100 times and have a capacity of 1900 mAh, eneloop pro batteries can be charged 500 times and have a capacity of 2500 mAh. There’s also an eneloop lite range of batteries that can be charged 3000 times with a capacity of 950 mAh, but I’ll leave these out of my comparison as they are of little use in a photo/video environment.
One thing is clear, though: battery cycle life is linked to battery capacity. The higher the capacity, the lower the cycle life and vice versa. A high capacity is needed for appliances that need a lot of energy such as a camera flash. The question is whether the battery capacity of a rechargeable AA cell makes a huge difference when using it in a speedlight or a remote camera control. I wanted to know and set up a test.
Capacity at low temperatures
The first thing I tested was Panasonic’s claim about the eneloop pro and freezing temperatures. What I did was simple: I put four eneloop pro’s in the freezer set at -25 degrees Celsius for half an hour, then fired them up immediately after taking them out with the LumoPro LP180 speedlight I have run all of my tests with.
This proved to be mildly challenging as the batteries came somewhat wet out of the freezer — condensation occurs when your battery is freezing but it’s 5 degrees Celsius outside. I solved the problem by quickly wiping them dry before inserting them into the LP180’s battery compartment.
Much to my surprise, the flash actually fired as soon as I had installed all four of the eneloop pro’s and started the flash. More importantly, there was no difference in the speed of firing the flash. The recovery time was the same as when I tested the eneloop pro’s at room temperature. That’s pretty impressive if you consider that almost every other battery quickly looses its power at sub-zero degree temperatures.
eneloop pro vs. other cells
To compare the eneloop pro’s with another type of battery, I used Powertraveller batteries. These are rated for an 1800 mAh capacity. I used them — and subsequently the eneloop pro’s — in the LumoPro LP180 strobe flash set to 1/1 power. With the Powertraveller cells the recovery time the flash needed was 4 seconds, 24/100 sec. After 65 strobes, this time had increased to 5 seconds.
With the eneloop pro batteries, the initial recovery time was 2 seconds, 57/100 sec. After 19 strobes, the LP180 showed its overheating icon, forcing me to pause the test. After 65 strobes, the time was still 2 seconds 57/100 sec.
Using two Apple AA cells, I powered the Zoom H4n sound recorder connected to my studio condenser mic, the sE Electronics 2200a. This microphone requires 48V phantom power, which will drain the batteries faster than a self-powered mic. The Apple AA cells lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.
I repeated this test with the eneloop pro cells. After 3 hours and 15 minutes I stopped recording. At that point, the eneloop pro’s were for about 80% depleted.
I — and I presume many of my readers as well — already knew that eneloop batteries are really, really good. Their 2100 times recharging trick is like magic and they certainly deserve a “stamina” label. However, for some applications like speedlights and audio recorders, you need batteries to go on and on. The eneloop pro fills that need with fervour. True, they can be recharged “only” 500 times, but they last well over twice as long as the regular eneloop.
They’re also the only batteries I know that will work in sub-zero temperatures. So, instead of using regular eneloop cells to power an Elgato outside weather sensor, you’re far better off with eneloop pro’s. They will keep on going on, even if it’s freezing outside.
I found original eneloop pro AA cells for as low a price as €15.