Clarification of AA battery use with E-3 HLD-4 grip

AA batteries for the HLD-4 for emergency use only

UPDATE: Read an update on this story at the bottom of the article...

If, like me, you have an Olympus E-3 and an HLD-4 power grip, you may have discovered that the 6xAA alternative power source isn't as effective as using standard Olympus BLM-1 Lithium ion rechargeables. But many have reported that getting AAs to work with the HLD-4 at all is a struggle. I've now had a response from Olympus Europe on this subject.

AA batteries are form emergencies only according to Olympus

The advice is - only use AA batteries for emergencies and choose the type of AA battery with care. In fact (as indicated in a portion of the user instructions reproduced below) it is stated that AAs are for emergencies only and that environmental conditions (temperature) and battery type and brand amy have a bearing on how effective the batteries are when used in an HLD-4.

AA battery types vary in performance widely with the HLD-4

Late last year I tested standard alkaline AAs, heavy duty alkaline AAs (Duracell Ultra M3) 2800mAh NiMH rechargeables, and Lithium AAs (Energizer brand). Standard alkalines and the NiMHs worked for just a couple of shots and using live view almost immediately triggered the battery expired warning. Heavy duty alkalines worked slightly better and I was able to get about ten shots before the camera refused to take any more pictures, and Lithiums were slightly better again. However, Olympus says that with alkaline batteries between 30-100 shots should be possible. The best I have managed is about a dozen shots. Olympus does point out that if you power-off and wait a short while, you can get more shots out of the same set of batteries.

Firmware update

One of the claimed benefits of the E-3's firmware version 1.1 is: "Increased the number of storable still pictures by improving the battery check when the Power Battery Holder HLD-4 is attached." Since upgrading to the firmware version 1.1 on my E-3, I notice a small improvement when using AAs, but a small improvement if not much remains - not much.

Japanese batteries?

One of the clear messages in the information we received from Olympus was that Japanese alkaline batteries are significantly longer lasting than typical AAs sold on the European and US markets. I'm going to investigate this further and I happen to be visiting Japan in a couple of weeks, so I'll be bringing home the optimum Japanese brand AAs as advised by Olympus.

For most of us, the AA battery issue is not that a big deal. The HLD-4 works fine with BLM-1 batteries. But I think it's fair to say that we mostly expected better usable battery stamina from AAs. This topic won't go away any time soon and I'll update this article once I have further news.

UPDATE: The E-3 v.1.1 firmware update 'Increased the number of storable still pictures by improving the battery check when the Power Battery Holder HLD-4 is attached.' Personally, I didn't see a great benefit. In the v.1.3 firmware update released in February, Olympus said it 'Enhanced the accuracy of the battery check when using the Power Battery Holder HLD-4.' Well, I've just had a chance to try out a set of alkaline AAs and a freshly charged set of AA NiMH batteries in the HLD-4 power grip on both an E-3, with v.1.3 firmware, and on an E-30 body. The disappointing news is that I don't really see any evidence that things have improved on the E-3. This is all the more frustrating as alkalines, at least, work fine on the E-30, though NiMH rechargeables remain of limited use as the battery flat indicator quickly kicks in. My advice is, if you really need to use AAs with an HLD-4 on an E-3, it's for absolute emergencies only. You should switch off the LCD screen and avoid using live view. Advanced technology AAs, like Panasonic Oxyride, are the best to choose.

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