Lithium Batteries – Bad For Your Flash

Lithium Batteries Are Evil

I thought I would share a “technical incident” I experienced the other week.  I had a bad experience using Lithium batteries in my Canon Speedlight 430EX flash.  In short, I don’t recommend using lithium batteries in your flash.  Of course, YMMV, but I won’t use them anymore.

I put four Energizer “advanced lithium” batteries in my 430EX flash for the first time to shoot my niece’s wedding all weekend and it went well. Very well actually as I loved that the batteries lasted all weekend and the unit appeared to recharge very quickly.   I could rapid fire flashes with almost no recharge wait.  So, what’s the problem?

Well the next week, I started shooting some with the same flash and batteries then the following:

  • Camera, 5D Mk II started acting flaky.  I was in Manual mode but I couldn’t put the shutter faster than 200.  Spun my dial, back to manual, all ok.  Then it started again. Other odd flaky behaviors too.
  • I couldn’t change any settings on the flash, shut it off, on, then could make some changes
  • Inconsistent recharge times
  • Clearly something was really wrong with my camera and flash unit

I though the batteries were dying so I popped them out and — no kidding, they were so freaking hot!!  They weren’t hot enough to blister my hand but pretty darn close and my hand stung for a few days.  I then swapped them out for some Alkaline batteries I had in my bag, but they were near death so I only got a shot or two off with them but the camera and flash appeared to be working.  At home, I checked the lithium batteries on a tester afterward and they are still strong but put out 1.73 volts each although they are spec’d at 1.5v.  So using the Google, I found that lithium batteries have a spotty reputation for overheating and in some cases, according to some posters, actually melted the plastic in their flash units.

What does Canon say about lithium batteries?  Well there is some confusion. From the flash manual:

  • Size-AA Ni-MH or lithium batteries can also be used
  • To avoid overheating and deteriorating the flash head, do not fire rapid bursts of more than 20 continuous flashes.  After 20 continuous flashes, allow a rest time of at least 10 min.

From their technical support representative after I sent them an email describing my situation:

  • “Lithium batteries do get hotter than alkaline or Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMh) batteries. I do not recommend lithium batteries for this reason. This may explain the “flaky” symptoms you are describing.”

Use Rechargeable Nickle-Metal Hydride Batteries

So, I don’t recommend using Lithium batteries in your flash despite their superior performance with longevity and flash recharge speed.  I now use the new rechargeable Ni-Mh and use their special and required chargers.   I use a small, Sony charger and battery set.  I purchased a second set of Energizer NiMh batteries so I have one set in the flash and the other in a charger at all times.  I find Ni-Mh batteries to be economical but frankly, I get better performance and longevity from simple throw away alkaline batteries.  YMMV.

If you purchase NiMh batteries, make sure you get their special charger as other chargers can damage these batteries.  Also get batteries that have the highest milliamp hour rating you can find.  My Energizers are rated for 2450mAh but you can get higher outputs.

The Google is your friend when it comes to batteries for flash recommendations so I don’t want to endorse any one brand or type except to share my very strong concern using lithium batteries.  Using lithium batteries gave me fantastic performance and caused my flash and camera to malfunction.  Not recommended.

Galleries: Camera Tech and Flash. Tags: 430EX Flash.

3 Responses to “Lithium Batteries – Bad For Your Flash”

  1. Mel August 13, 2015 10:57 pm #

    I just sold my Canon 420EZ and was contacted by the buyer saying I sold a dangerous unit which should not have been sold. “It got so hot that the battery latch melted.” I sent him this URL hoping to talk some sense into him to no avail. I also explained I had the unit sitting next to me in my room with the batteries (alkaline) inside for 2 months or so with issues.

  2. Will March 17, 2017 5:56 am #

    Almost the exact same experience with my Canon 430EX II. I was surprised nothing got melted as I was trying to work out what was wrong with my speedlight so popped out the Energizer lithium’s and burnt my hand. I hadn’t even taken many shots before things went bad. Normally I just used alkaline but had some spare lithiums so I thought they’d be fine but I was very wrong. I’m now using the same Energizer rechargeables as you mentioned and they are much better but I’m still cautious of too many bursts of flash.

  3. Nick Stubbs March 22, 2017 6:47 pm #

    This is interesting.

    I just did a full review of these batteries over the weekend in my old Canon 580EX II. Both Energizer Rechargeable batteries and Duracell Power Plus standard batteries got 229 continuous flashes at full power (both the same which was amazing).

    The Energizer Lithium batteries got incredibly hot and stopped working after around 40-60 flashes each time but once they had cooled (in about 5 minutes) I put them back in and continued firing at full power. As my office cooled with the window open, I got up to 80 flashes at a time on full power.

    I ended up firing off 466 flashes with the lithium batteries in the 580EX II until they depleted with no damage to the speedlight and it still works fine.

    I am thinking that if I were to use them intermittently (not firing on full power and non stop), like at a wedding, on ETTL, things should be a lot better. Still, good article so thanks for that.

Leave a Reply