Good Looking Counterfeit: Nikon EN-EL14a Battery

Something most digital photographers don’t leave home without is a spare battery. Nikon’s excellent entry-level DSLRs (e.g. D3200, D3300) use the EN-EL14 series of batteries, with the EN-EL14a being the higher capacity revision that can be interchanged in the older D3200 (which originally shipped with EN-EL14) provided the firmware is updated. These newer Nikon cameras did feature a DRM “feature” which locked the shutter when an unapproved battery is used, resulting in a period where people were disappointed that there were no spare batteries that would actually work.

Of course, that didn’t last long, and several different designs of EN-EL14 replacement batteries made it to the market. Unfortunately, as I’ve found out the hard way, they fall short on longevity with cell failures in two of the designs I had tried. They also fall short on capacity claims as well, quite significantly too.

Seeing there wasn’t many options when it comes to EN-EL14 clones, and tired of having low-quality clones which undergo sudden death, I decided to step up to some EN-EL14a batteries. These are a higher capacity version of the EN-EL14, which bumps the capacity up to 1230mAh from 1030mAh (a 19.4% increase). I had hoped that the newer battery would also be less likely to be targeted by counterfeiters, or might result in higher quality clones.

I ordered a pair of genuine looking batteries from eBay at AU$22 each. The images didn’t any different to listings where the batteries were sold for AU$55 and upwards, so it wasn’t worth me risking more money.

The Product

The product arrived in a repackaged state inside a padded envelope. This is “claimed” to be a usual business practice to minimise shipping volume by opening a retail package and re-organizing its contents, but it hardly makes sense in this case. Why would a repackaged genuine Nikon battery come with a box that has NO signs of ever being folded?

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Further issues include the slightly blurry printing of the black text on the box, and the poor registration of the colour logo with the background colouration. This results in a small white gap between the logo and the gold background. The “so called” hologram is adhered in the right place, but something about it doesn’t look right – it is shiny and metallic but doesn’t have 3D “shifting” when tilted, suggesting it is NOT a hologram.

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The rear of the box also has some blurryness in the barcode printing, which I don’t expect from Nikon themselves. I am not sure if the text on an original box would have a lower-case m for “made”, although I don’t have a genuine package to compare with.

There is another further logical problem with this product – the manual itself. The manual itself is quite long, and is bigger than the box when folded. When you expect the manual to be included with the retail package, how can it be bigger than the box when it is repackaged? Again, this should not be the case. Further to this, the shaded front would usually cover the whole first fold, rather than having the fold further down past the first panel – this is inconsistent with expectations.

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A closer look at the manual printing shows a subtle change in the “o” in Nikon, some font irregularities with the letters, and specifically alignment issues with the white knock-out area which says Printed in Japan – note how it doesn’t seem straight?

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The folding of the manuals was very lousy and inconsistent. None of my Nikon products have had such inconsistent, thick creasing in the manuals.

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The manual was only printed on one side of the sheet, which is also inconsistent with my experience – most Nikon products have manuals printed on both sides of a thin, very well folded pamphlet with no additional “creasing” outside a well-defined crease line.

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Further inconsistencies are found in the text of the manual, where the manual makes reference to the battery as an EN-EL14, despite the battery being an EN-EL14a.

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The battery itself came inside a bubble-wrap bag.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Having recently purchased a Nikon D3300 camera, I’ve done side-by-side comparisons with the EN-EL14a genuine cell which came with the camera, which clearly shows the inconsistencies with the supplied product.

             GENUINE Product                                        COUNTERFEIT Product

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From a front view, we can already see that all the caps supplied with genuine Nikon cells use a milky coloured opaque plastic. The counterfeit product came with a translucent cap. The text on the counterfeit is thinner, and seemed “inconsistent” in height and alignment (see full size by clicking), whereas the text on the genuine is well formed, thick and at consistent levels.

             GENUINE Product                                        COUNTERFEIT Product

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The rear of the batteries exemplifies this characteristic even further – notice how the text, especially the word “short” is clipped and wavy in appearance. The low-quality printing is very inconsistent in size and alignment – even around the Nikon Corp., Japan line. Also, the genuine battery has a batch number S46B in a different style of printing, whereas the counterfeit uses the same type of printing.

             GENUINE Product                                        COUNTERFEIT Product

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Looking at the top of the batteries, the counterfeit has wider contacts which are not as recessed as the original. There is also a pressed batch code on the counterfeit, where a special label is normally adhered (probably a water damage label, or a diagnostic port cover label).

             GENUINE Product                                        COUNTERFEIT Product

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The most conclusive evidence comes when we examine the hologram. The real hologram has a colour shift at extreme viewing angles, and has thick, well formed text. The fake hologram does not exhibit any colour shifting, and has inconsistent text which is too thin, and does not align with the “cleared” area of the background. It is also poorly centred in the cut-out of the cell.

There is no doubt that the product I have been supplied is definitely a counterfeit.

Aftermath

Unfortunately, I had left a moderate positive feedback for the seller prior to this careful analysis and kissed my money goodbye, as I cannot open a dispute anymore. The listing itself used images featuring Nikon’s trademarks and is technically an illegal counterfeit item.

Again, let me refer to the PayPal policy document:

Under Section 4.3 Potential Buyer Risks:

COUNTERFEIT ITEM CLAIMS

If you file a claim about a counterfeit item you may be required to:

  • Obtain documentation from a qualified third party to substantiate your claim and/or
  • Destroy the item and provide evidence of this at your expense; or
  • Make the item available for the seller to collect at their expense.

It is against the law to possess or sell a counterfeit item.

Under Section 4.4 Potential Seller Risks:

ITEMS MAY NOT BE RETURNED If your buyer files a claim about a counterfeit item they may be required to:

  • Obtain documentation from a qualified third party to substantiate their claim and/or
  • Destroy the item and provide evidence of this at their expense; or
  • Make the item available for you to collect at your expense.

The payment may be reversed.

It is against the law to sell a counterfeit item.

In hindsight, it was probably the wrong thing to have done. The product is indeed illegal because of the counterfeiting in the use of the Nikon trademarks, and that would be basis alone to receive a refund provided that you can prove this despite not having the word “genuine” in the listing as it is misleading and intruding on Nikon’s intellectual property.

The battery itself does pass the DRM checks on the Nikon D3300, and otherwise seems to behave, but already one of the batteries have elicited the fast-flashing charger error which suggests to me that the pack has (likely) either a control circuit issue or a cell-balance issue which suggests cell failure already as received new. This does not bode well for the quality of this counterfeit product – and it will be torn down once it actually fails beyond all usability.

Conclusion

Chinese counterfeiters seem to be getting more and more speedy in bringing new counterfeits to the market. They seem to be more careful in the way they bundle their packages, so that your average user and even some sellers will not realize that they have a counterfeit product on hand. However, the products fail to meet the same level of quality as their originals, and are likely to have early sudden failure and inconsistent behaviour. They could also pose safety risks as well.

In this case, the counterfeiters have quality issues which are easily distinguished when compared with the real unit side-by-side, and some logical errors in their packaging which should not pass muster with anyone that has considered exactly what they have received.

I have tried to contact the seller to see what they have to say about this.

About lui_gough

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18 Responses to Good Looking Counterfeit: Nikon EN-EL14a Battery

  1. Aardvark says:

    I hate counterfeits but the sad thing is the manufacturers bring it on themselves. Rather than offer reasonably priced batteries and accessories for their items, which they have the financial capability to do, they have decided that high prices for items that cost them next to nothing to manufacture is the way to go. I have an old Canon SD630 camera that uses Canon NB-4L batteries. Canon originally charged USD$59.99 for a replacement battery but now sells it for $47.99. Reasonably good knockoffs can be had for under USD$20. This begs the question, why can’t Canon charge perhaps USD$21? Instead their overpriced battery creates a market for cheap knockoffs though none of the replacement batteries I have claim to be genuine Canon so they would not be considered counterfeit.

    • lui_gough says:

      I do agree with the sentiment to some extent, and of course, I think they could reasonably bring a replacement to the market at US$20 or thereabouts even with the quality manufacturing, cells and protective circuitry involved. It’s all price-gouging when it comes to accessories, and is part of where they make their money.

      I would be happy if I could find a decent knock-off, as the designs I’ve tested (I’m sure there would be a third I have tested, but I’ve since lost the failed battery) continue to suffer sudden death due to cell failure, and that seems to be a continuing trend. Batteries utilizing domestic-China grade Li-Ion cells are just not reliable by any stretch, and tend to give in within a year or two. Sure, the price can compensate for that, but when they’re building “1030mAh” rated cells with just 500mAh of printed capacity and probably less, there’s an inconvenience of bulk, safety and sudden death to worry about.

      My quest for some quality compatible batteries will probably continue into the future, but the EN-EL14 and EN-EL14a bring price gouging to a different level. The current price at Digital Camera Warehouse for an EN-EL14a is AU$99. A camera body, with charger, accessories, and EN-EL14a battery can be had (grey imported) for AU$380 or thereabouts. So the replacement battery costs 26% of a new camera, which is just absurd. Some better looking replacements, like the Hahnel Extreme EN-EL14 replacement are being sold at AU$79, which doesn’t really give you much savings over the genuine.

      EDIT: Just checked some grey importers, and it seems some are going for AU$59 + shipping, which brings it up to about AU$84 due to the rip-off shipping, and others which are claiming AU$79. I have no idea how genuine they are … or whether they will blame upstream supplier “as normal” for an occasional “mistake”.

      In the meantime, I’ll see what the seller says. I hope I’m not completely out on this one.

      – Gough

  2. Pingback: Teardown: Good Looking Counterfeit Nikon EN-EL14a Battery | Gough's Tech Zone

  3. This post is so helpful – I just received one of these fakes in the name of a genuine one. Looks exactly the same as the one you got. I’ve requested for a return. :\

  4. Colin says:

    Most informative and comprehensive article.

    I was about to “pull the trigger” on said Batteries but decided to do a bit of Googling.

    Thank You for saving me from imminent dissatisfaction.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Chris La Mantia says:

    Sometimes it’s just not worth trying to save a few dollars. Thank you!

  6. Mike says:

    I received ebay ordered EL-14A batteries together with MH-24 chargers which appear to be like those described in your posts regarding both as counterfeits. Specifically the EL-14A’s have the same differences between ebay items and the battery that came with the D3300 in front and back text, most tellingly the truncated word ‘short’ on the back, same different plastic caps, same pressed batch code on the end of ebay items, and same difference in batch code printed in lower rear back R40A vs S46B, as well as similar printed manual and packaging as you describe; the only difference is that in mine the holograms do shift color unlike in your description. Because of these differences between the battery included with my D3300 and the ebay ones received almost identically matching those you described, I inquired of my seller, and uploaded images to Nikon including of the hologram inquiring of them. [I first investigated on the net and found your threads because of the ebay MH-24 design being radically different from that included with my camera, also conforming to that you received from ebay, though Nikon confirms their sold-standalonf MH-24’s do indeed use cords unlike the swivel-out prongs with thise packaged with the D3300]. My seller replied “our supplier told us the item is oem product, chip was made in japan, but assembled in china”, and Nikon replied that the photos of front, reverse, and side including clear image of hologram I uploaded to their website, also of MH-24 charger similar to that in your thread describing that also as counterfeit, are not inconsistent with EOM products, but they invite me to send items in for teardown to confirm if they are genuine [which I don’t plan on doing]. While your teardowns seem to confirm these items were problematic, especially the battery with unmatched battery components, Nikon’s reply also suggests that the details regarding print and external discrepancies between R40A and S46B are genuine Nikon batch differences rather than evidence of counterfeits, so I don’t know what to make of the fact that you used this evidence to conduct teardowns which apparently confirmed they were counterfeit. With this response from Nikon, I won’t be disputing my ebay purchases, but wonder if there are non-destructive tests of the batteries I can perform [I’m guessing not], or other comments from you [you’re clearly more knowledgeable about these things by far than me, though I’m inclined to accept Nikon’s evaluation of the design differences between R40A and S46B as consistent with genuine OEM over your diagnosis]. Anyway I thank you for your info.

    • lui_gough says:

      I’ve had sellers use that line on me with obviously counterfeit products. While I’m not saying that the seller is dishonest, there is so much counterfeit Nikon accessories going around, including fake printed boxes and manuals in some cases that it’s really pathetic that some sellers like to cause this confusion and provide sub-standard products. One difference I forgot to explicitly mention was that the real Nikon charger I have used Torx screws, whereas the fake used regular Philips screws, but whether this is indicative is unknown.

      – Gough

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful replies. My ebay batteries are also lighter than that which came with the camera. I think I’ll contact them again with this info and links to your pages. Nikon did, however, ‘escalate’ my case, presumably to a knowledgeable dept., and took almost a week before its reply, and presumably is motivated to identify items brought to its attention as possibly counterfeit. The differences in print darkness and placement aren’t that subtle. The question is whether different genuine eom products can vary in weight and design. I’ll post again on what they say.

      • Mike says:

        Nikon Corporate also responds that nothing in the amount of attention they paid to my questions, specifically whether batteries could vary 15% by weight and whether the hologram image is inconsistent with genuine items, that nothing is inconsistent with genuine items enough for them to remark on it, and I can send in the items for better analysis. On the other hand nothing in the response is specific so perhaps they are simply uninterested in looking at it closely. – I do see on ebay multiple sellers selling what seems much like the batteries under discussion, with boxes and manual sheets, with the word ‘Nikon’ pixelated out of photos and listings’ seller comments that they are not genuine Nikon but compatible; so while I suspect mine are counterfeit/same as yours, Nikon’s response or disinterest makes it impossible for me to judge enough to contest things with the seller or ebay. I’ll be curious to see these batteries’ performance. If you’d care to comment, I wonder if, if they are indeed counterfeit, the problems are most likely to be simply battery life, or also lesser number of photos per charge? Can they damage the camera? Anyway thanks for your attention and interesting work. It’s too bad Nikon’s interest seems very limited.

        • lui_gough says:

          That’s unfortunate. I suspect their lack of interest may also help the proliferation of counterfeit vendors, and it really does their brand no good in the end.

          That being said, my experience are that:
          – Counterfeit batteries fail more quickly. I’ve had three clones/counterfeits fail within their first year due to charge imbalance between the two cells which suggests one of the cells had failed. This results in the “fast flashing” on the charger.
          – Counterfeit batteries take less photos – I’d estimate at least 20% less per battery.
          – Counterfeit batteries struggle with high current as they age – I’ve had issues with live view shutting down quickly on older counterfeit batteries which couldn’t handle the draw, and occasional shutter release errors that say “press the shutter button again”, and missed the shot as a result. This seems to be a case of increasing internal resistance as the cells approach end of life.

          I haven’t had a counterfeit battery damage a camera (yet), although it’s conceivable that the lower quality cells could fail dramatically if you’re unlucky, resulting in “vent with flame” which almost certainly will damage a camera and potentially more. However, the risk is relatively low. You’re more likely just to get annoyed on intervalometer shoots where the genuine battery might manage 1200+ shots, that the copies are dead before 750, and live-view might time out quickly as the batteries age.

          To date, none of the camera-supplied genuine cells have failed or shown any appreciable capacity loss.

          – Gough

  7. Mike says:

    I’ve recontacted Nikon with this info and links to your 4 threads, and spoken with them on the phone. They say while my photos including of the hologram are not inconsistent with genuine OEM to their understanding, their analysis of visual detail and of differences between batches is not comprehensive without me sending items to them for teardown. I asked if 15% variation in weight is possible between genuine batches; they say they do not have this kind of info, and after consult with a supervisor, they forwarded all my info to corporate and claim I should hear back soon.

  8. AutofocusRoss says:

    I got three Nikon EN-EL14 batteries for my D5200 which I sold a year ago. I supplied the buyer with the original battery, and two of the ‘ebay’ cheap batteries. In fairness, the cheap batteries worked a treat for nearly two years before I parted company. I bought a D5500 to replace the D5200 (within a day or so) and found the remaining ebay battery also worked fine with that. It continued to work until yesterday, when putting it ‘fullly charged’ into the camera, and using live view for just 1 – 2 mins, the charge bar on the LCD was showing 2/3rds charged. It seems they have a shorter life, and when they go, they start losing capacity, unless this was a fluke and the other ebayed batteries are still working for my d5200 buyer – no way of knowing that now.

    Your article was quite informative and a bit worrying, I think maybe the time has come to bite the bullet and pay the extortionate price for an original battery, if these fakes are going to pack up after 2 or 3 years, or even sooner. Nikon are not doing themeselves any favours though, with the pricing policy. In the UK the cheapest genuine I have seen, from a retail dealer, runs at about 43-00 GBP which is four times the price of some of these online.

    Other options I have seen – maybe you know how good these are – are two ‘branded’ alternatives. I see in the USA there are Vivitar 2300mah versions of the Nikon EN-EL14a – while in the UK there are Duracell versions (at half the price of a Nikon genuine). They mention the D5500 in the list of compatible cameras, I wondered if you had encountered either of these and how good you found them to be – including compatibility with the ‘charge remaining’ issue that some reported a year or so ago (but regarding ebay batteries not these).?

    • lui_gough says:

      Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the other branded batteries. After all, Vivitar is not the brand it once was in the photography world, and I’m fairly sure they just rebadge someone else’s clone-battery. As for Duracell branded batteries, I’ve never seen that – but then again, I’ve never seen an Energizer branded car battery which apparently “is a thing” in the UK as well.

      Regardless, as for the live view power discrepancy, I can definitely concur with this. The main reason for it is that ageing lithium ion cells develop higher internal resistance which reduces their ability to deliver sustained high currents. As a result, in demanding modes such as live view/video shooting, they tend to pack-up well before the 20-minute limit of my D3200/3300 kicks in, whereas the original cells tend to be just fine. However, that being said, the discrepancy between still shots done through the viewfinder is much less, as the camera sits in “idle low-power sleep” most of the time. I do get occasional error messages saying “press the shutter button again”, which only occur when using older clone batteries which might be related, as firing the shutter is probably a high current event.

      Regardless, the only batteries that have lasted throughout have been the original camera-supplied batteries. Obtaining quality replacement original batteries is an exercise fraught with difficulties, and I would agree that Nikon haven’t done themselves any favours with their pricing and the fact there are so many copies which are not easily distinguished (and the fact they themselves don’t do a good job of spotting them either). This could eventually manifest itself as a safety issue as well … but anyhow, I still have clone batteries, but I tend to only use them when I get desperate or on very short shooting runs.

      – Gough

      • AutofocusRoss says:

        Wow, and thank you for such a speedy reply. I take what you say onboard. I suspect but cannot prove that the Vivitar and the Duracell equivalents (clones) I mentioned come from well known branding and our expectations would be higher than they would be when looking at the cheaper Hong Kong or China clones at lower prices. The annoyance is, it is impossible to know how good (or bad) they are unless they fail or keep going. Colour printer cartridges are a similar product from a marketing perspective. You buy third party brands to find the printer clogs up, or they simply don’t work properly 🙁

        My cheap clone batteries kept going for not far off three years before I hit this issue, so it is simple maths, is it cheaper to buy a ‘disposable in three years’ battery for a third of the price, or cheaper to buy a genuine battery which may last a lot longer? Temper this with the fact that most people change camera bodies every two years or so, to keep up, and you wonder if the expense of the Nikon is worth it.

        You have really made me think about what is a simple issue, but once you start taking things like this onboard, you realise what a minefield it is. I have my original battery with my D5500 so I will probably try a Duracell or a Vivitar in the hope they are .better’ than the cheap clones, even if the expectation is psychological more than proveable – as I have had the D5500 for a year, and it is possible the next release will offer me something I want, though the new D5600 is rather poor in feature upgrades so I won’t be buying that.

        Thanks for taking the time to delve into this issue, Who knows, maybe the guys at Nikon will wake up to the fact that you NEED a spare battery and start supplying bodies and kits with TWO batteries, in the DIY market, rechargable drills have been sold like this for many years, so there is no ‘down time’.

        As for safety, I did read somewhere that Lion batteries can self-ignite in air travel, I can’t recall if they were talking about ‘in the hold’ or ‘in the cabin’ but I think the former – which is worrying with all these cheap batteries flying about the world. We had that recent new mobile phone bursting into flames, all over the news a month or so ago, so perhaps the people at Nikon should take this more seriously and price for two batteries with each camera from now on!

        Thanks again for your thought provoking observations.

  9. Sikko van der Ploeg says:

    I’ve recently ordered a pair of en-el15 from Hong Kong and was expecting an original battery. But when it didn’t fit my charger, suspicions were raised. Examining the manual learned that it was the manual provided with the en-el3 and not the en-el15.
    In comparing the two batteries I found the same slight differences in fonts and build quality that you mention in your article.
    I would have settled for a pair of fakes if they just worked and fit my charger, but this is ridiculous.
    Why go through so much trouble to manufacture a product that doesn’t work?

  10. Peter says:

    Another giveaway with the “fake” battery identified in the article is that it actually weights a little less than the original 1230mA Genuine Nikon battery that came with my D5500.

  11. Many thanks for this very useful article – I have to admit that I am all the more pleased with it as it shows that the battery in a camera I bought on eBay is genuine.
    Of course, this suggestion comes years too late, but I am sure that you can still raise a claim with eBay if you have already left good feedback. I am almost certain I have done this myself, with dodgy USB sticks, which, to be fair, is a more clear-cut area (the sticks aren’t just fake but not fit for purpose at all). eBay seems to enjoy holding ads for dodgy items as part of its massive business, but it is keen to see that it is outlawing them, nonetheless. For me, it was enough to provide minimal evidence and I was very soon refunded in full without having to return the item (in that case, I got a dodgy 2GB flash drive instead of a 16GB one, but at least I could keep it for free…)

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