Roll-your-own Nikon F5 battery pack!!
To those who think that this is a waste of time and prefer shelling
out big bucks for Energizer Lithium’s, hit the ‘back’ button and
forget you ever saw this.
For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, and are capable of
making a circuit board and doing a bit of research in order to have a perfectly
good battery pack and charger for an F5…well, a wordy welcome to you.
If this whole page seems a little rough,
well, sorry. I'm not a real web-head...what you see here is actually
the kind of page that I, as a surfer, prefer. All the content in one
big continuous drawl that just goes on and on until you hit the bottom of
the page. I personally can't stand pages that dole out the info in
small sections, forcing you to go page after page after page...
If you're a Nikonian, sorry for the visual shock factor...coming from Nikonians
to this page is like suddenly driving from the nice part of town into skid
row. But hey, I assume you're here for the meat and not the trimmins'
so here ya go...
First off, you can really bork your camera if you do this wrong, so don’t
mess it up or you’ll be dishing out some $$ to get your F5 un-screwed-up
by Nikon repair. I think that this would be a real drag, so
I was careful when I made mine. Now, I’m an actual qualified electronics
tech, so this really isn’t that big of a deal of a project for me.
If you’ve built a few things already from scratch, you’ll probably find
this one pretty straightforward. If you’ve never done anything
like this, then forget it.
Also, this isn’t really a step by step how to…I will assume you’re resourceful
enough to find the little bits that are missing and know what tools to
use etc. This is just to inform whoever reads this (mainly fellow
Nikonians) that it is possible to do this, and that you don’t have to spend
the big bucks for a Nikon pack. In case the first line (wayyy up
at the top of the page) applies to you, but you’re still reading, you should
know that just because one decides to afford an F5 doesn’t mean one should
want to afford the Nikon pack or Lithiums . I have an F5 because
it’s good value (for ME), and the Nikon packs just aren’t (for ME) and I’m
not a pro so I didn't go for the Nikon stuff. I’d also
make my own remote cord if the connector wasn’t proprietary, but that’s
Of course, if I was a pro photographer then I would not do this…I’d just
buy a few packs and a charger, smile about it and deduct it come tax time.
I’m sure the Nikon packs are excellent (though overpriced) and that the
charger is pretty good too. But, since I’m good at electronics, can’t
justify the expense and CAN actually do it (regardless of what other Nikonians
may think)…I did it and am happy with the result. Again, I'm not a
pro...schmoe maybe...but not pro.
Allow me to pontificate for a moment:
Now, some people seem to believe that there is some kind of voodoo going
on inside the camera, and start talking all sorts of trash about current
and electrons and e=mc^2 and how the camera knows blah blah blah and that
the camera is going to explode if you try anything slightly different from
what the book says. The simple story is that rechargeables make the
camera wind faster because their internal resistance is lower, and can deliver
more power (power = volts * current) to the camera. When the power
demand of the camera is high, alkaline batteries run out of steam and can't
deliver; rechargeables can. You can't hurt an F5 as long as you are
delivering 12 DC volts to it, and not exceeding by any large amount (I'd
say no more that 13 volts total). (That's a CLEAN 12 volts...ie, not
from one of those crummy wall-wart adapters...their power output is full
of ripple) OK...so the 12 volts has to be from a battery, or from
a super-clean AC adapter. There is no magic going on in there (it's
a CAMERA, not a plasma ball, ouija board or mini Teletubbie)....it's all
ohm's law, and nothing more. Of course, making your own pack would
probably void the warranty, but what you see here on this page does not
modify the standard battery holder in any way...it's totally reversible,
and I can go back to alkalines or lithiums if I want to at any time...(but
I really don't want to). Some people really need to get over this
'expensive camera mystique' thing and realize that it's just a box with
some motors and mirrors and circuits...it's dumber than the average computer
and Nikon sells their cameras by the pound. (It is the heaviest
Now, it's a wonderful, beautiful, powerful sexy camera; and I just love
it....but it's just a CAMERA! People in the F5 forum talk as if it's
magical or something...it's not.
Maybe I'm not as romantic about it because I got mine third-hand and a
little rough around the edges. It's liberating to have a scratched-up
camera...you don't priss about it all of the time and just worry about taking
pictures with it (and, well, building battery packs for it). Hmmm...I
guess you think about lenses too; but that's another story, to be written
while looking over the Nikkor lenses brochure. "hmm...how much for
that 600mm AF-S again?....or how about that 28mm f1.4"
I suppose if you really wanted something long-lasting you could make yourself
a battery belt with 9 rechargeable D cells. It would probably go 30
or 40 rolls, and, since it's a belt, it would be good in cold weather too...
(Here in Northern Ontario, you think about these kinds of things!)
But I'll pass on that because I like the cold about as much as the
batteries do, which isn't all that much.... But to close out the idea,
I think it would work well with ultra-soft microphone cable to connect the
battery belt to the body...
OK...on to the battery pack project...
What you need:
- 1987 edition of the ARRL
Handbook (a handbook for radio amateurs) and all of the parts for the battery
- 9 rechargeable batteries (I used NiCad…you could probably use NiMh)
My thinking was that, since I only shoot 4 or 5 rolls per month, I could
kill and recharge the pack once a month, thus giving the batteries thorough
workouts, which is what these things like best. NiMH probably has
too much capacity for MY use but I might go that route at some point, if
I find myself shooting more. Now, when you're looking at these different
types of batteries, keep in mind that the maH rating is only an indicator
of the CAPACITY of the battery (like the GALLONS spec of your gas tank).
This in no way indicates how that battery will act under the actual
stress of actual use...that is determined by the internal composition of
the battery itself and boils down to its' internal resistance. As far
as I understand it, NiMh and NiCad are about the same in terms of internal
resistance, and therefore perform about the same. (Check this out by
reading the recycle times for an SB28 flash with different batteries). I
could be way wrong on this, so I will leave lots of room for that (It's been
known to happen....me being wrong, that is).
Sorry...I didn't mean to take us off track there about batteries....I used
NiCads because they suited my needs and the price was right $6 CDN for 4 at
the Home Depot versus $20 for 4 NiMh. Another factor in that decision:
I don't have and wasn't able to find any info about charging NiMh batteries...it's
not rocket science, but I didn't want to guess at how to do it. If I
find some good info, I may change horses and go NiMh, if only for the higher
resistance to memory effects....
1. Making the 2-cell pack
First off, you need to make
the battery pack hold 9 batteries. This is well documented
and I’m not going to go into it in any great detail. The short
of it is that I’d been thinking about how to do this with an MB16 battery
pack for a Nikon F80 camera, but gave up because there is really no place
to put the extra cell unless you mangle the MB16 and I didn’t like that
idea too much because the silly thing is $100. But the F5 is different…it
physically has enough space for a 9th cell right there in the body cavity.
My F80 is now a dust collector BTW, because the F5 makes an F80/MB16
combo seem like it was made by Fisher Price...but that's another story for
OK, back to the pack: Instead of buying the 9th cell adapter, I wired 2
batteries in series with some wire and some solder. This is a bit
risky if you’ve never done it before….basically you need a pretty hot iron
and a good hand…solder a jumper from the negative side of the battery that
will go in the holder over to the positive of the one that will sit on the
side. Next, cover the soldered area on the one that will stay
in the holder. Then, take a short piece of solder tab from a
headphone jack and solder it on the ‘side’ battery, and make sure it extends
over to the insulated area of the ‘holder’ battery. Don't use
too much heat, or bad things might happen to both you and the battery.
This all will take some exprerimenting…basically you want these 2 batteries
to be in series, and make it so they can sit side-by-side in the holder…
You have to leave a few millimeters between them so that the 9th battery
can sit outside the plastic holder clips.
Making this 2-pack is critical because if it’s messed up, you risk shorting
out a cell, which will make it go into meltdown, and if it’s inside your
F5 when that happens you're gonna have a bad day…don’t say that you were
not sufficiently warned about that.
Now, the '9th cell adapter' that's for sale is a nifty little thing...and
makes the above step un-necessary, which is good because it's kind of a
funky thing to do anyway. I was just too pig-headed to cough up the
$$ to buy one of those...If it had been cheaper I may have bought it, just
to save me the trouble of the above steps.
2. Read the article, build
The article (in the ARRL handbook)
is quite good, and the book includes a template for your circuit board.
I tried out this new iron-on masking material (that you create by feeding
through a laser printer), but I don’t think it was that good…results were
OK, but only the 2nd board was usable…the first was ruined because the mask
lifted off while the board was etching. Also tried ammonium
perslulfate etchant for the first time, so that may be part of why I lost
1 board. If I was really ambitions, I could have come up with a circuit
of my own design...but hey...why re-invent the wheel...this one seemed pretty
good and I'm not so sure I could have come up with something better without
spending a lot of time designing and testing...not worth it...
Here are a few shots from my little project…
This is the first of the masked boards, the second one
awaiting masking with the new material.
Etching the two boards.
I thought the heat from my monitor would
help things along…it's a 21" NEC
Multisync, and gets pretty hot!
This is the completed, etched board. A little rough
looking, but fully functional.
This is the partially completed board, component side.
3. Test and adjust
The article in ARRL handbook
tells you how to set it up…adjusting the voltage to 1.44 volts per cell
etc. This is critical, since if you don’t charge to batteries to just
the right voltage, you will not get all of their capacity…this is a weird
pack, of course, because it’s 9 cells, and must be adjusted to 12.96 volts
(I did 13.05, actually…). 'Course, if the pack wasn't a bizzarro voltage,
I wouldn't have had to build a charger.... Connecting to the Nikon battery
holder is easy...just use alligator clips...of course, make sure you've got
the polarity right... It's actually not all that obvious when you look
at the holder...I used the meter to make sure....
Initial charging of the pack…woo-hoo !...no smoke!
One meter monitoring current, the other monitoring
Note the fancy self-adhesive bonding strips
used to fasten the 9th battery beside the pack…
(I took these with my F80, in case you were
Discharging the pack, to give it another go…that's 2 8-ohm
power resistors in series...This is just to
sure that the pack is discharged to about .8
volts per cell…note the voltmeter to make sure. I plan on
doing this every month or so, just to keep
those memory-loving NiCads in line...
(I scanned this from a negative...and didn't clean up the scratches...don't
worry...it's not your eyeballs!)
(But the bottom of my F5 is a little battle-worn...)
4. Take pictures, and have
Total Cost: $15 CDN for the
batteries, and about $20 worth of parts and material. Thinking
about ordering another AA holder to make a 2nd pack.
I did this during break time/lunch time at work, so I don’t know the
actual time…maybe 4-5 hours total. YMMV.
I don’t know if I’m getting 8FPS instead of 7.4…and I don’t really care
because I haven’t used this fast mode yet, and if I ever do, 7.4 is probably
The rewind speed seems much faster, probably 4 secs like Nikon claims
for the NiMH pack…nice…convenient…but again, I don’t care.
I built the pack to avoid feeding the camera batteries all of the time…this
is better for the environment, and allows me to easily top up the pack
before I need it.
My next project?...I'm going to build my own AF-S 17-35mm f2.8 lens!