avoid-lithium-batteries

While updating the information in my chapter on batteries for the new edition of the Speedliter’s Handbook, I came upon a relatively new service advisory from Canon (December 2014) that advises against the use of lithium batteries in virtually all Speedlites. Canon acknowledges that lithium batteries may become extremely hot when used in Speedlites.

This should be considered breaking news for Speedliters. I checked the user manuals for the last five Speedlite introductions and they all say that lithium batteries can be used in the Speedlite.

I said a long while back that lithium batteries are bad for Speedlites. Five years ago, when I wrote about my AA Battery Torture Test in the original Speedliter’s Handbook, I reported three disturbing facts about the performance of lithium batteries during the test.

  • When a 580EX Speedlite with lithium batteries was fired at full power every 20-seconds (the standard interval in my AA Battery Torture Test), the average flashes-to-failure was 52 pops. This compares to averages of 165 for alkaline and 235 for low-discharge nickel-metal hydride batteries, like Eneloops.
  • When the Speedlite with lithium batteries was fired at full power every 3-minutes, the average flash-to-failure rose to 218. It’s not that the lithiums lacked the electrons. Rather, they just like to hold onto them—which is why they can hold a charge for many years.
  • Most importantly—under the standard 20-second test interval, the sets of lithium batteries would be too hot to hold immediately after the test—on the high side of 140ºF/60ºC.

Recommended Batteries For Speedlites

Maha-Charger-C801D-Eneloops-600px

My favorites: Eneloop batteries and Maha C801D charger

My favorite batteries for Speedlites are Eneloops. They are low-discharge rechargeables. Low-discharge is the key. Regular nickel-metal hydride batteries will lose most of their charge while sitting for a month in your bag. The low-discharge chemistry in Eneloops holds onto most of its charge for up to a year. (Eneloops here on B&H / Amazon)

The key to happiness with rechargeable batteries is the circuity of the charger. You need a charger that treats each cell as an individual. Otherwise, the charger will turn off when the strongest cell is charged—leaving the weak cells undercharged. My favorite charger is the Maha C801D (here on B&H / Amazon).

Text Of  The Canon Advisory (source)

AA Lithium batteries cannot be used with any Speedlite or Macrolite products and compact battery packs including those listed below because certain AA lithium batteries, in rare cases, may become extremely hot during usage in such products.

Speedlite 220EX
Speedlite 270EX
Speedlite 270EX II
Speedlite 320EX
Speedlite 380EX
Speedlite 420EX
Speedlite 430EX
Speedlite 430EX II
Speedlite 540EZ
Speedlite 550EX
Speedlite 580EX
Speedlite 580EX II
Speedlite 600EX
Speedlite 600EX-RT
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX
Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II
Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX
Compact Battery Pack CP-E2
Compact Battery Pack CP-E3
Compact Battery Pack CP-E4

You can find all Canon EOS-centric advisories here.

 

12 Responses to Do Not Use Lithium Batteries in Speedlites—New Canon Advisory

  1. Walt Bush says:

    Hey Syl! Great post. I took your advice about eneloops and a charger year ago. Glad I did. Any idea if Canon will warranty a flash if lithium batteries are used?

  2. Shane says:

    I just love my Maha C801D charger. I almost always use the default charge program and have never had any problem of any kind with it. Its power supply works wherever in the world I’ve gone, too.

  3. I love the speedy recharge I got from using lithiums, but I blew out 9 speedlites with all that speed. Now I use eneloops inside my 600ex-rt Speedlites and an external battery & cable to go for hours & goes of wedding and event photography.

  4. Ed says:

    Never used anything but Eneloop batteries in my Speedlites. I use the Black, 2500mah version.

  5. Michael Santistevan says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this post! I have a bag full of 600 EX-RT’s (which I know how to use thanks to your books and video tutorials), and I’ve been using the hot, unreliable lithium batteries all this time and never knew why the performance was spotty.

  6. […] (subject looking out of the frame). What are your thoughts? Valid composition, or utter shite? Canon issues an advisory against using lithium ion batteries in their speedlights, Sony’s new 24-240mm zoom for 35mm […]

  7. Joe says:

    The picture in the article looks like the 2000mah Panasonic. Those are sufficient for the 580ex? I’ll say yes since that’s what’s in the picture, but on the other hand it could just be an example, and the higher power are recommended.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Joe – I’ve used the Eneloop 2000mah batteries in my Canon Speedlites for many years. I am completely happy with them. The key to success with low-discharge, nickel metal hydride batteries is to buy a quality charger that has individual circuits for each battery. I’m a fan of the Maha C-801.

  8. Monica says:

    I used the Energizer regular non rechargeable AA batteries today for the first time in my Canon 550EX Speedlite. I noticed it had surprisingly started to slow down as if the batteries were running out of charge. I went to replace them with the usual rechargeable batteries I always use and now my Speedlite will not turn on at all. Any ideas of what may have happened? Will I be able to get this fixed or will I have to spend hundreds of dollars to buy a new one?

  9. Frank W says:

    In our paper, we had been using Energiser Lithium primary batteries in all our Speedlights for quite a few years, and often with on location light modifiers which necessitaded almost full power from the flash. Sure, they got hot. Just like high-discharge NiCds got hot (these got hot even more). Although I don’t know if it was dangerously hot, I don’t remember much problems with the flash dying untimely. Of course, it might have shortened the speedlight’s life, but I am still using a 580Ex and 580ExII that had been used with Li primary cells for several years daily (before we moved to Eneloops) and they still work well. But we might have just gotten lucky?

  10. Perry Smith says:

    Canon rearranged its web site. I made a bit.ly for the new <a href="http://bit.ly/1Oyr0PP&quot;)advisory.

    By the way, I bought your Speedlite book via Apple iBooks. Its quite a bit more expensive than Amazon. I hope you get that extra money and not Steve Jobs’ heirs.

  11. Evan McKay says:

    I’ve used Energizer advanced lithium for photoshoots before and they did get quite warm but not to dangerous levels. They’re perfectly fine if you do calculated shots over a longer period of time.

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