Batteries Not Included

Sunday, January 24, 2010

#$+%&@*:-P! Are you as frustrated with batteries as I am? Although they are everywhere—as ubiquitous a part of modern technology as pixels, they are the bane of my existence. Buy any device: pocket radio, wristwatch, flashlight, hearing aid, Hot Wheels toy car track & right on the package, “BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED”. We can put a man on the moon but we cannot develop a decent battery. That science lags behind all the other marvelous inventions made over the last century.

AA, AAA, C, D. Alphabet soup. I buy them new & install them according to the embossed diagrams can barely be read with bifocals or a magnifying glass & when I need them, the batteries are dead. Like a line straight out of a Boris Karloff movie. I am sure it is a communist conspiracy left over from the Cold War.

One of the most important discoveries of the last 400 years has been electricity. Major & minor metropolises devour around the clock. Every appliance we own blinks & bleeps & buzzes, reminding us of the amperes they are consuming. And we are slaves to their hunger. In photography it is the weakest link.

1748 Ben Franklin invented the first electrical battery
1800 Italian named Alessandro Volta is credited with inventing the first battery sometimes called Voltaic Pile
1887 first dry cell battery
1955 common alkaline battery
1972 Polaroid introduces integral film with “flat” battery
1989 Nickel metal hydride battery was introduced for consumers

The Energizer bunny pompously bangs his/her drum all over the television set bragging that the coppertops will last forever. Although it is a lie, you can buy the most common types in Rome, Tokyo, Sri Lanka, Sioux Fall, South Dakota. A miracle of globalization. For years I was a disciple of AAs because I could fill my cameras with them anywhere, any corner store, bodega or tourist gift shop. But when the camera manufacturers got wind of that, they closed the loophole & made batteries only their camera could use & then charged a fortune for them.

More than once, just as Queen Elizabeth or some other celebrity was passing my spot in the crowd, some numbnut would hit me on the shoulder & announce his camera was not working. “Can you fix it? I’ve been standing here all day. I don’t want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The fact that I was obviously working & this was also my one chance was lost on him. After examination I informed him the batteries were dead. “Do you have any spare ones? I’ll pay you.” Now, of course, I did. And not only that, but the standard batteries used to fit everything. But no more.

Now they have a new wrinkle, i.e. rechargeable. Expensive & they require another device that you have to carry, find a compatible outlet & plug in every night. Have you read the instructions for these things. Enough to make you return to rubbing two sticks together. Again charge slowly into uniform approval device. Take most care to insure polarity. Resist to use with fire. I have thought very seriously of attaching an infinitely long extension cord to my camera & ignoring the whole problem but I fly too much.

Moreover, batteries are susceptible to cold weather. When there is snow on the ground, they go on strike. Down with unfair working conditions. Never mind that I am out there freezing my touchas off. When I first started to photograph the Winter Olympics, my crew ran into a myriad of problems. We canvassed sports photographers for solutions. Sports Illustrated, AP, ABC. We asked them all. I do not know if they were being obtuse or they had no real idea but we got nowhere. I even called Nikon & the nonsense they gave me was worse. In total panic, at the last minute, I ordered several battery holders, at great expense. And off to the mountains we sauntered. To this day my beleaguered assistants keep several of the packs under their parkas, next to their bodies. Body heat to the rescue. We just switch out whenever a set starts to slow down. I am not the one suffering. What are assistants for?

For the last couple years we have been doing more & more assignments with speedlights. When I had only one or two I was still devoted to AAs. But these technical marvels go through batteries like Grant went through Richmond. Eventually we had to convert to rechargeables--for survival. The recommended type is NiMH (nickel metal hydride). The ritual for recharging is draconian. We “letter” the sets with Sharpie pens. Try to charge each set together. And they lose power so you have to “top them off” before each use. My normal travel lighting kit has five flashes: 3 Nikon SB800s, 2 SB900s & 48 NiMHs as backup. Try explaining that to airport security.

Q: What’s the difference between a battery & a woman?
A: A battery has a positive side.

Such an insignificant item. Small, common, unassuming. But it creates so much havoc. But oh! the things it allows us to produce.


Cemal Ekin January 27, 2010 at 4:50 AM  

Lou, you beat me to the punch! I cannot agree more, there are five separate chargers, 8 batteries on my desk; and they all need to go where I go for an overnight trip. Not to mention the battery pack on the laptop, the phone, little camcorder, the voice recorder ... This is madness!!


pat wj,  January 27, 2010 at 11:58 PM  

love the batteries in the vice grip - both the photograph and metaphors. And what's with the bad riddle?! ouch. If only a snappy retort would pop into my brain . . . i laughed but only because i was so surprised at the ridiculous political incorrectness.

I opened a new camera battery yesterday - and did a double take - no instructions at all - nothing. Aren't i suppose to charge one of these 24 hrs or 12 hrs before using it the first time? These things usually come overflowing with print the size of pin heads, most of which we don't need - but letting us know how long we have to charge it for. I once didn't charge it for all those hours before the first use and the battery hardly held a charge from day one. Pesky items, and terrible for the environment - but wonderful, too. With one valuable instruction buried within pages of silly superfluous instructions - or none at all.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.