Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Project: Nikon SB-800/SB-900/SB-910 Quick Battery Loader-Unloader


AA Battery Loader/Unloader

The goal of this project is to develop a method for quickly loading and unloading AA batteries from Nikon SB-800, SB-900, and SB-910 flash units.  While this won't save much time for a single flash, it can be real handy when using multiple flashes.

Why go to this much trouble?

   Being the geeky technical-type, taking care of equipment is a big peeve of mine.  Having had a few pieces of electronic gear ruined by leaking batteries - not only as a kid but also as an adult - I decided that leaving AA batteries in my Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 flashes was not an option.  I tried the generic AA battery holders, but quickly grew tired of having to handle each individual battery at the beginning and end of every use. With multiple flashes, the process of dealing with batteries became a real pain.  As a result, I sought a better and faster way to load and unload batteries from these flash units.  Although this article is targeted at Nikon units, any flash unit that has batteries arranged in a single line will work with this holder.


   The loader-unloader that was developed is merely a slight modification to a commercially available battery holder.  The Batuca case, which appears to have been developed for the military, is a very sturdy unit.  The cases have grooves on the bottom that allow two cases to be paired in an opposing manner, which makes them just the right size to store in a camera bag.  Although there are a few retailers that sell these, I bought mine here: Multi Storage Battery Case - Batuca® (InAnyCase.com).  Now onto the simple mods...

Modifying the Cases

   The first modification involves removing the ridges from inside of the case, as shown in Figure 1.  With these ridges, the batteries fit tightly in the case.  Snug fitting batteries are not convenient for quick and easy loading and unloading.  While an exacto-knife works for removing these ridges, the trimming process can be laborious and take a bit of time.  It is recommended that all four ridges in each battery compartment be shaved so that the batteries slide all the way in and back out without any resistance.  The shaving process can be done fairly quickly with a sharp drill bit.  While I used a 21/32" drill bit that was available, a 5/8" drill bit should also work.  If the bit is sharp, a power drill won't even be needed as the bit can be turned by hand.  Just a few turns of the bit and the internal ridges will mostly be gone.  Unless the bit has a flat tip, it may be necessary to use a knife to trim the very last part near the bottom.  The batteries must go in all the way without touching any remaining ridges.  Make sure that all the debris from inside the case is cleaned out as you don't want that plastic debris making its way inside a Nikon flash!

Figure 1. Remove ridges from inside of Batuca battery holder so batteries easily slide out when inverting case.  Remove all four ridges in each compartment, if necessary.

   Before performing the next modification, insert the AA batteries in the flash with the proper polarity.   Then, placing the lid of the battery case along the back of the flash, tilt the flash and case in unison so that the batteries slide into the case.  With the Batuca case, everything should line up as shown in Figure 2.  Because the ridges have been removed, the batteries should easily slide all the way into the holder.     Then, use a marker to label the inside of the lid with the terminal polarity that is facing up for each battery (see Figure 3).  These labels make installing fresh batteries into the case easy - or when you happen to be clumsy like me and dump the batteries on the floor.  

Figure 2.  Remove properly installed batteries from flash and allow them to slide into holder.

   The next modification involves trimming the ridges along the inside top of the case, which turned out to be necessary for the slightly longer eneloop batteries that I later used.  If you are using regular alkalines, this step may not be necessary.  With the  rechargeables, the batteries are just a little long preventing the case from closing when the batteries are installed like shown back in Figure 2.  This trimming is only necessary where the negative terminal of the battery will be on the open end of the case, as shown in Figure 3a and 3b for eneloops.  It should be easy to do a custom-fit trim using an exacto-knife or a power tool like a Dremel. The ridge does not need to be removed, but it does need to be shortened.  Of course, the batteries should be removed when doing this trimming.

Figure 3a. For rechargeable batteries, it may be necessary to trim the ridges along the inside of the lid near the negative terminals. The alkalines shown did not require trimming.
Figure 3b.  Showing trimmed lid ridges on translucent case for eneloop batteries.

 Now the complete loader/unloader, shown in Figure 4, is ready to be used.

Figure 4.  Complete battery holders containing eneloop batteries.  Note that the sharpie labels on the batteries are visible through the translucent case.

Using the Loader/Unloader

   Loading batteries into a flash is quite simple and fast.  Open the case lid and flash battery compartment.  Then place the case lid along the back side of the flash, lining up the batteries (see Figure 5).  Next, simply dump the batteries into the flash (see Figure 6).  Now, the batteries are loaded in the flash (Figure 7).

Figure 5.  To load batteries, first line up batteries with lid along back of flash.
Figure 6.  Then dump batteries into flash.
Figure 7.  Batteries all loaded up.

    Removing the batteries is simply a reversal of the above steps. First open the case and battery compartment.  Line the case lid up along the back of the flash unit.  Rotate both units together so the batteries slide into the case. That's all there is to it.  The only time the batteries need to be individually  handled is when they need to be replaced or recharged.  


   Although there are a few modifications that need to be made to the cases, the time spent making those simple mods seemed to be well worth the effort.  It is so quick to load and unload batteries now.  The battery cases are so durable that I expect them to last for quite some time.  Furthermore, they easily fit in my camera bag.  As a footnote, I did add the translucent battery holders. These holders enable the cases with batteries in them to be more quickly identified.  The Batuca come in a range of colors and translucency.

Other Uses for Unmodified Cases

The Batuca cases work very well for holding other commonly used photography batteries as well.  As shown in Figure 8, the case easily hold 6 AAA batteries.  I carry these as spares to radio triggers for the flashes.   Furthermore, the SU-800 requires CR123 batteries.  If the cases are unmodified, then they will hold 4 of these batteries as shown in Figure 9.  Note that if the internal ridges are removed, the 123 batteries will go too far into the case - making it extremely difficult to remove them.

Figure 8.  Holder containing six AAA batteries.
Figure 9.  Holding four CR 123 batteries.  Note that internal ridges should NOT be trimmed when using these batteries.

Other sources for cases:
Battery Holder at Amazon (single case)
InAnyCase: Green/White
InAnyCase: Green/Blue

Thanks for reading and be sure to provide feedback.

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