Starting in the 1950s and 1960s film cameras began to use batteries for various purposes. Initially they were typically used only for metering, to allow for more reliable metering than achievable with selenium cell meters (which require no battery). By the 1970s the need for batteries became more necessary as manufacturers started to move to solid state electronic control over exposure, then later film transport. The first crop of Canon cameras in the A series quickly became completely dependent on a little 6v battery, and would not even take a single shot with their electronically controlled shutter without a good battery installed. Meanwhile there were plenty of cameras which used batteries only for coupled – or uncoupled – exposure meters, which would still work in fully manual mode if the battery was missing or dead.
For whatever reason, many of these batteries have multiple names. Sometimes this has to do with battery chemistry, and sometimes it seems to be variations between manufacturers. Personally I have found little logic or consistency in the naming.
Common batteries found in 1960s-1990s era film cameras:
Discontinued 1.3v mercury battery, various solutions available
The 625 battery was extremely common with 1960s and 1970s era SLRs, particularly almost every Canon F, EX and FL series SLR cameras. Generally only one battery was used, but I do have at least one camera which used two of these. The original mercury battery would have been 1.3v, however these are no longer made due to their mercury content.
Suitable replacements abound, but all come with caveats.
The WeinCell MRB625 in a zinc-air battery. Once it is exposed to air it starts draining. These are fairly expensive, and once put in the camera have a relatively short shelf life. The one I tried went dead within a month and cost me about $12 (I’ve seen them now for under $5). The upside is these are 1.35 volts, so are a drop in replacement for those cameras which use the battery for exposure metering but don’t regulate voltage.
Personally I go with 1.5v alkaline LR44 batteries with an adapter. This solution does have error in certain camera bodies. I bank on film exposure latitude to save me and don’t sweat the imperfect metering. This has the upside that the batteries are cheap and last a long time, and the adapters run less than $10 each (one time purchase). The downside is that alkaline batteries have a voltage drop off with age, so for cameras with unregulated voltage, exposure metering will always be slightly unpredictable
- PX625 on Camerapedia
- Rick Oleson’s solution uses cheap and easily available 1.4v zinc-air batteries along with an adapter made of bent electrical cable.
- Camerapedia’s list of cameras which use the PX625. There are a LOT. Particularly my beloved Canons…
- The WeinCell on Amazon. At over $10 per battery I can’t personally recommend this solution, but others swear by it.
Easily available 6v lithium battery
Used in all A series Canon cameras, as well as the Databack A. In many cameras, 4x 1.5v LR44 batteries can be stacked and used instead.
This is also the battery used in the Yashica Guy adapter for Yashica 35 Rangefinders.
Easily available 3V lithium battery
Much smaller than the CR123 below, even though they look similar in the photos.
Tend to be used in pairs. Extremely common in 1990s consumer film cameras from Nikon and Canon.
Easily available 6v battery
Used by a number of mid 90’s autofocus Canon Rebel cameras, among many others. In my experience these tend to be used in pairs, either installed next to each other or in rare circumstances stacked in a tube.
Eveready TR164/E164, Mallory TR164, National HM-4N, Duracell PX32A
Discontinued 6v battery, adapter available
Used in various Yashica 35 rangefinders. Long discontinued mercury battery. Original (and quite dead) mercury battery shown at right, along with a modern adapter available from “Yashica Guy” for under $20 with shipping. The adapter uses a commonly available 6V 28L/28A battery.
Eveready Type 460
Discontinued 45v (!) battery
I’ve only seen this battery once, in the Winklight flash which came with my Polaroid Model 800. I’m honestly scared to even test it, even though this battery was probably made back in the late 1950s. Shocking there is no damage or corrosion on my battery.
Excell makes a battery which claims to be compatible for a whopping $30. It looks like it is thinner and would need some form of spacer to work in the Winklight.. Since my 800 won’t be shooting any discontinued roll film any time soon, much less needed a working Winklight, I’ll be leave the testing of the Excell to someone else.
Also apparently used as a radio battery.
AA batteries (alkaline)
Extremely common ~1.5 v battery, $0.30 to $1 a piece (depends on brand, quantity)
The old batteries just look cool!
For my own experience, I’ve seen AA batteries start to get used in flash guns in the 1970s, then in some camera bodies in the early 80s to 90s as cameras became more powerful and needed increased energy to run the various electronics running the camera. Generally used in pairs (3v) and groups of 4 (6v).
Not all cameras would accept rechargeable NIMH batteries with a voltage of 1.2v/battery.
While most AA batteries I find in old camera gear has leaked and made a corroded mess, I occasionally find pristine vintage batteries as shown at right.
Easily available 6V photo battery, approx $4-$10 each
This is a fairly typical photo battery of the early 1990s through 2000. Used in many Canon Rebel as well as other cameras, this is still available in most corner drug stores.
Type 531 battery
Discontinued 4.5v battery, can use generic A19PX or adapters
Has male and female connectors on the ends which are physically the same as 9V battery snap connectors. Used in various Polaroid 100 series pack film cameras. Some cameras were designed for 3v, others for 4.5v – this is the battery designed for the 4.5v cameras.
I’m not sure I trust the random 3rd party (and super expensive) batteries out there, so I went the route of using a 3 battery AAA adapter from a broken flashlight and wired it up to my Polaroid 250. The built in snap connectors on my camera had already been broken by a prior owner, so it needed some work anyway!
Some of these batteries are just strange.
Available 6V photo battery, approx $8 each
I have one – and only one – Nikon camera which uses this battery. I suspect there are likely more, but I haven’t run into any yet. Has a passing resemblance to the more common 2CR5 battery, but these are *not* the same thing.