Best Batteries and Chargers for Light Painting Photography 2023
Updated: 1 day ago
This is the 2023 edition of the Battery and Charger Buying Guide written for light painting, night, and astro photographers. This article is now in its 7th year. Many Li-ion battery based flashlights/torches now come with high quality internal charging, and included batteries. However, I still recommend using dedicated chargers when possible. If your flashlight / torch does not come with batteries, or you need spares, this article will be very useful. The Li-ion battery safety section is a must read!
Most peoples first flashlights/torches are based on AAA, AA, and less commonly C, D, and 9V size batteries. Most photography flash units also use AA batteries. These can use non-rechargeable Alkaline, Zinc-chloride (Heavy Duty), Lithium, or rechargeable NiMH batteries. These all have a max voltage of approximately 1.5V, apart from 9V batteries. Compared to larger Li-ion batteries, these are generally very safe to use, and easy to purchase.
Alkaline non-rechargeable batteries generally have good capacity, and are widely available almost everywhere. As they are not rechargeable, they are quite wasteful. Alkaline batteries can also leak, especially if they are left is a discharged state for a long time, which can destroy your flashlight or flash unit. Heavy Duty (Zinc-chloride) non-rechargeable batteries are cheaper, but have terrible capacity. Avoid both.
Lithium non-rechargeable 1.7V batteries (such as Energizer Ultimate Lithium) typically last twice as long as good Alkaline or NiMH batteries, but can also cost more than twice the price of Alkaline. As they are not rechargeable, I would only really recommend them for use in extreme temperatures (-40C to +60C) or if you no access to a power supply for a while.
NiMH rechargeable 1.2V batteries are what I personally recommend for AAA/AA batteries in most use cases. Recommended low self discharge AAA and AA size NiMH batteries include:
Ikea Ladda - high quality, low price, made in the same factory as Eneloops!
Panasonic Eneloop/Eneloop Pro (made in Japan in versions only) - highest quality, but relatively expensive.
Fujitsu Ready To Use - same as Eneloops.
GP - good quality.
Powerex - good quality.
Panasonic Eneloop (made in China version) - good quality, but not as good as made in Japan versions despite the premium price.
For rechargeable C, D, and 9V batteries there are decent NiMH options from Varta/Rayovac, GP, and Powerex.
1.5V Li-ion rechargeable batteries are a new addition for AAA/AA batteries from XTAR and Tenavolts. These use a step down converter inside the battery to maintain a constant 1.5V, unlike other AA/AAA battery types which suffer from voltage sag. They can only be charged in their specific chargers - XTAR LC4 and various Tenavolts chargers respectively. As they are new to the market, there hasn't been much testing with flashlights, and for now I would still recommend NiMH rechargeable batteries instead.
Some very small 'keyring' flashlights, LED glow sticks, and RF remote controls may use lithium or alkaline button/coin batteries. Be extremely careful with button batteries around children, as there have been many cases of permanent injury and death in children who have swallowed them.
Lithium CR123A (3V) batteries are non-rechargeable, and were popular in the earlier years of LED flashlights. They have a good shelf life and can handle large temperature ranges. Unfortunately, they have been known to explode if two CR123As in series have different voltages. They have largely been superseded by rechargeable Li-ion batteries, and thus I don’t recommend using CR123A batteries.
Li-ion - Overview and Safety
The rest of the battery section of this buying guide will focus on Li-ion batteries, which are pretty much essential if you want to use high brightness flashlights. The vast majority of Li-ion batteries used in flashlights have a nominal voltage of 3.6 to 3.7V and maximum voltage of 4.2V. If the charger has multiple Li-ion charging options, this is the one that needs to be selected! I'm not aware of any flashlights that use nominal 3.8V/max 4.35V Li-ion batteries, or nominal 3.2V/max 3.7V LiFePO4 batteries.
The only major exceptions are Olight's 2.4V AA/14500 sized Li-ion batteries which have internal charging and should only be used in the Olight i5R flashlight, and aforementioned 1.5V Li-ion AAA/AA batteries from XTAR and Tenavolt which require dedicated chargers.
Whilst newer IMR and INR Li-ion batteries are more chemically stable than older ICR types, use of Li-ion batteries still requires knowledge of the safety risks required to safely use these batteries. Key Li-ion safety aspects so as to avoid damaging the battery are as follows:
Do not charge above 4.2V. High quality chargers should terminate charge at approx. 4.2V.
Do not discharge below 2.5V. Look for flashlights with low voltage protection, or mechanically lock out the flashlight if possible (usually by unscrewing the tail cap). Beware of parasitic drain depleting batteries in stored lights.
Use a Li-ion charger with voltage readout.
For lights that use more than one Li-ion battery in series or parallel, you must use matching batteries and they must always be at the same voltage before use (check using a charger with voltage readout). If voltages are not the same, you risk reverse charging, and a possible explosion!
Always insert batteries with the correct polarity (usually +ve towards head). Most flashlights now have reverse polarity detection or prevention.
Do not short circuit the battery.
Store spare batteries in plastic cases. No one likes battery explosions in their trousers!
Do not use damaged Li-ion batteries, this includes damaged wrappers.
Do not charge or discharge at currents higher than the battery’s rating.
Always periodically check on the batteries during a charge – do not charge whilst you are sleeping or out of the house.
For flashlights with internal charging, cease charging as soon as the fully charged indicator light has been activated.
Keep magnetic charging connections away from flammable items such as steel wool.
Charge, and store batteries and flashlights in non-flammable locations.
Keep batteries out of reach of children and people with no common sense.
Li-ion batteries will degrade slower if stored closer to 50% capacity (around 3.6-3.7V)
With high quality batteries and safe use, Li-ion batteries are very safe. However, if you were very unfortunate, and a Li-ion battery starts to heat up rapidly (thermal runaway), quickly place it in a non-flammable place and keep your distance. The pressure build up during a battery vent will cause an explosion from both ends of the flashlight tube (and side if there is a side button). If there is a source if ignition, there may be flames and resulting fire. Avoid breathing in the fumes, and call the fire brigade immediately.
Li-ion batteries have names that denote the approximate size of that battery in mm. The first two numbers are width, and the second two are length. The most commonly used in flashlights for light painting and night photography are 18650, 21700, and 26650 batteries. Unfortunately, that is where the standardization ends, especially when you add protection circuits onto the ends of some batteries, which adds to both the length and width. Not all 18650, 21700, or 26650 batteries will fit in a flashlight (and even some chargers) as they may be too short, too long, or too wide. Some flashlights require button tops, some don’t. Thus it is advised to read reviews, or follow manufacturer recommendations of battery sizes that will fit.
Li-ion - recommendations
Most consumer grade flashlights (such as Nitecore, Fenix, Klarus, Ledlenser, Olight, Acebeam, and Thrunite) are now sold with Li-ion batteries either included or optional. Given the current worldwide shortage of Li-ion batteries, I usually advise purchasing the light with optional batteries. Battery to flashlight compatibility is getting complicated, as some flashlights are only compatible with button top protected batteries, some are only compatible with customised/proprietary batteries (often with +ve and -ve connections at one end), some come with USB charging in the actual battery. Due to this complexity, I now just recommend that users follow the manufacturer's recommendations (even if it is more expensive), and I no longer recommend 3rd party protected batteries for consumer grade lights as there is too high a risk of incompatibility.
A few flashlights, some headlamps, and almost all pocket LED panel lights are only available with integrated and non-user replaceable batteries. Whilst this is great for ease of use, also means that the light may become a doorstop after around 3 years of heavy use. Li-ion batteries last longer the more that the battery charge sits closer to 50%, so try not to leave these lights fully charged or fully discharged for long periods of time.
For the enthusiast flashlight market, the situation is different. High power lights aimed at flashlight enthusiasts (such as Convoy, Noctigon, Emisar, Fireflies, and Lumintop) tend to use unprotected Li-ion batteries. These can sometimes be purchased as an optional extra with the flashlight, but in some cases you may need to purchase the batteries separately. These unprotected Li-ion batteries are all manufactured with a flat top (+ve pole). Unfortunately, unprotected batteries are getting harder and more expensive to purchase - see the next section on where to buy.
Some larger flashlights (notably "soda can" sized) require multiple Li-ion batteries with added button tops. As these batteries are increasingly difficult to find, plus increased risks with using multiple Li-ion batteries, I no longer recommend multiple Li-ion battery flashlights unless they use a proprietary battery pack.
Best Unprotected 18650 for Good Current (<8A) and Maximum Capacity (3200-3600mAh):
Panasonic/Sanyo NCR18650GA - most recommended.
Best Unprotected 18650 for High Current (>8A) and Good Capacity (approx. 3000mAh):
Sony US18650VTC6 3000mAh 30A.
Samsung INR18650-30Q 3000mAh 15A - most popular with flashlight enthusiasts.
LG INR18650-HG2 3000mAh 20A.
Molicell P28A 2800mAh 25A.
Best Unprotected 21700:
Samsung 50E / BAK N21700CG-50 / Molicell M50A – good for 5000mAh capacity and <10A current.
Samsung 50S - good for 5000mAh capacity and <15A current, if you can find one!
Molicell P45B - excellent for good 4500mAh capacity and high current <20A, successor to the also excellent 4200mAh Molicell P42A.
Samsung 40T / LG H40A 30A – excellent for 4000mAh capacity and high current <30A.
Best Unprotected 26650:
Keeppower 5500mAh - high quality 26650 with good current and capacity.
Where to buy Li-ion batteries
Due to safety reasons, Li-ion shipping is currently problematic. International shipping has become more restricted. High demand for Li-ion batteries in consumer products such as eBikes and eScooters have caused severe stock shortages and price increases. Many Li-ion battery manufacturers also do not wish to sell loose batteries to consumers. If Li-ion batteries are not included or optional with a flashlight, I would recommend to purchase from as close to home as possible. Flashlight/torch stores are good places to start, especially for flashlight brand batteries, but can be expensive. Online retailers recommended by members of the BLF flashlight forum include (these are all non-affiliate links):
Tinkertech (Australia) - currently the best prices in Australia.
Nkon (EU) - most recommended EU retailer.
Illumn (USA, also ship to Canada)
Liion Wholesale (USA)
18650 Battery Store (USA)
Mountain Electronics (USA)
Li-ion – What To Avoid
Unfortunately, there are still many very bad and dangerous Li-ion batteries available (including from Amazon, eBay, and Chinese electronics retailers), with highly over-exaggerated current and capacity ratings. Any 18650 battery advertised with a capacity over 4000mAh, or 21700 battery with a capacity over 5800mAh, is fake or misleading! Brands to avoid include Ultrafire, GTL, GTF, GIF, SkyWolfeye, Meco, and Elfeland.
Most NiMH chargers (including ones for sale at supermarkets) are 'dumb' timer based and can overcook batteries, rapidly shortening their lifespan. Thus it is recommended to only use smart chargers. Prices are in US$.
Best NiMH only smart chargers are:
Panasonic BQ-CC65 ($70) – advanced 4 bay smart charger.
Panasonic BQ-CC63 ($65) – 8 bay smart charger.
Panasonic BQ-CC55 ($50 incl. 4xAA) – low cost 4 bay smart charger.
Ikea Stenkol ($10)- best value 4 bay smart charger.
Maha Powerex MH-C980 Turbo ($80)- 8 bay "Rolls Royce" of NiMH analyzing chargers.
Unless you are only ever intending on using NiMH batteries, I would highly recommend looking at multi-chemistry chargers (see below) that can charge both NiMH and Li-ion batteries, plus some can also act as powerbanks.
Many multi-chemistry chargers can also charge C and D batteries, but for 9V there are fewer options, with some specialist Maha Powerex models being recommended.
Flashlight Internal Chargers (Li-ion)
Most consumer grade, and some enthusiast grade Li-ion battery flashlights, and almost all LED panel lights, now have internal charging mechanisms, using USB (micro USB, USB-A, USB-C) or magnetic chargers. In some cases, the charging port is in the battery. As long as you buy from reputable flashlight brands, the quality should be very high. However, I'm always very cautious during first time use in case the internal charger fails to terminate charge. If I think the first charge is taking too long, I'll remove the battery and check that voltage is <4.2V. Once charging has terminated, I place the fully charged battery in an analysing charger to check that the battery voltage is in the 4.15V to 4.21V range. Unless I'm travelling, or the battery is non-removeable, I prefer to use Multi-chemistry (NiMH and Li-ion) Chargers - see next section.
Multi-chemistry (NiMH and Li-ion) Chargers
If any of your flashlights do not have internal charging, you want to keep a better eye on your battery voltage, or you need to charge lots of batteries at the same time, I would highly recommend purchasing dedicated multi chemistry chargers (NiMH and Li-ion). These allow you to monitor battery voltage, or even battery analyzing functionality such as internal resistance, and capacity testing. I generally don't recommend basic Li-ion chargers without voltage display (with 1 exceptions below), or chargers with documented quality control issues, which is why some popular chargers are not on this list.
Basic Li-ion only Chargers (recommended for travel or backup use only):
Nitecore UI1 USB Charger ($8) - high quality budget charger, that can charge most Li-ion batteries at up to 1A. Micro USB input. Nitecore Store (USA) (affiliate).
Best NiMH/Li-ion Chargers (with voltage display):
Nitecore UMS2 ($29) – Nitecore’s most advanced 2 slot charger. Nitecore Store (USA) (affiliate).
Nitecore UMS4 ($39) – Nitecore’s most advanced 4 slot charger. Nitecore Store (USA) (affiliate).
Best Analyzing NiMH/Li-ion Chargers (with voltage display, internal resistance, and capacity testing):
Vapcell S4 Plus (V2.0) ($50) – advanced and reliable 4 slot analyzing charger, fits protected 21700s. I prefer to use it in manual mode. Over-discharged NiMH batteries may need to be "jump started" in NiMH dumb/smart chargers first though. This charger is what I currently use, and is in my opinion the best overall charger. The V3.0 has just been released, but has yet to be independently tested. Vapcell Aliexpress
SkyRC MC3000 ($130) – most advanced analyzing charger, but for experts/enthusiasts only.
Camera Battery Chargers
For most photographers, the charger that comes with your camera (if it even comes with a charger) will be adequate. However, if you want to charge 2 batteries simultaneously, check battery health, battery voltage, or even have a rough idea of how much longer the batteries have to charge, then Nitecore and Hahnel have an excellent range of advanced camera battery chargers. They are available for various battery types for a range of different camera manufacturers. The Nitecore (affiliate link) models display battery voltage, charging current, charged capacity, battery health, and temperature. Input is either by USB or mains depending on the model. The Hahnel PROCUBE2 models display percentage full, charged capacity, battery health check, and has mains or 12V input, USB output, and integrated 4xAA charger (though it is unknown if this is a dumb or smart NiMH charger).
Running a light painting or night photography meetup or workshop in an off-grid location, or whilst camping? Or do you want to run a star tracker for astro-photography in the wilderness? You might need a portable "power station", which is basically a large power bank. These can typically be charged from the mains, car 12V power supply, or solar power. The output options vary between models, but can typically supply 120/240V (with Watt output limitations), USB-A, USB-C, and 12V power. Devices with less than 20Ah are more useful for charging camera, phone, and flashlight batteries multiple times. Devices with more than 20Ah or more can additionally be used to charge laptop or drone batteries multiple times, plus various mains powered devices or even a small smoke machine. However, as even an entry level(ish) 18Wh version can weigh 4kg, then unless you need 120/240V mains power, you might be better off just bringing spare batteries. Recommended manufacturers (of which brand availability varies between countries) include Nitecore (affiliate link), Anker, Jackery, EcoFlow, Dometic, Goal Zero, and XTAR (affiliate link). The Nitecore range has had some good reviews recently from flashlight enthusiasts. Take care when reviewing available inputs, outputs, and power limitations when purchasing.
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