Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Should I Get a Battery Grip?"

Here's a question I should've answered a long time ago. "Should I get a battery grip for my Nikon?" - usually followed by the question "Original or copy? Is a third party battery grip safe?". Today I will answer both of these.

A battery grip, as you probably already know since you found this page, has two functions - as the name reveals. The first is to expand your battery life, as it allows you to store (and use) more batteries; the second is to offer you a better grip for physically handling the camera.

Let's see what this actually means, and whether you need a battery grip or not.

Nikon MB-D11 grip for the Nikon D7000 camera

1) Battery Life 
The idea of more battery life is, of course, appealing. I mean, what could be wrong about that, right? The problem is to realize that this comes with a weight/size penalty. Particularly with smaller cameras (say, a Nikon D3300), the size & weight difference with a grip can be significant.

In order to answer the question "Do I need a battery grip?" for purposes related to battery life, you must first consider how many shots in the row you plan to take in a single session. Battery life can vary due to a number of reasons - camera model, battery condition, temperature, use of on-board flash, etc - but generally speaking you can expect a single battery to last you at least a few hundred shots. If you plan to shoot more in a single session (that is, without having the chance to stop taking photos for couple of hours in order to charge the battery), then a second battery in your pocket will allow you to continue. And a third...And a fourth... Just because you don't have a grip, it doesn't mean you can't have extra batteries - it takes 5 seconds to change a battery, and you can continue shooting.

Someone could point out that a battery grip (depending on the model) allows you to shoot using AA batteries, that should be more easily accessible on an emergency. Although technically true, I think it's a marginal benefit. Another point someone could make would be that related to fps. Some cameras (e.g. the D300) allow faster frame rates with the appropriate battery grip and battery. Well, I don't wanna be absolute: if you need 8 versus 6 fps, then go ahead. In my photographic world, the benefit is again marginal.

Nikon MB-D15 grip for the Nikon D7100

2) Grip
As you might have concluded from my analysis so far, I don't think a battery grip is a great benefit in terms of giving you more battery life; that you can have without it, too. But what about the grip part? Is it worth it? Does it make the camera balance somehow better?

First of all, let's clarify that a battery grip offers a grip for portrait orientation. That's what it does. The idea is that when you have to rotate the camera in portrait orientation, you have an extra handle for your right hand to grip (with the appropriate buttons and command dials). For portrait photographers this might be actually important. Being a portrait photographer, I can assure you that it's worth it. However, it's one thing having to take 400 shots in portrait orientation in one hour, and another going for a walk in the park and taking 30 shots of your kids. Once again, you must ask yourself: Is it worth it for my kind of shooting? Especially with smaller DSLRs, that don't have an integrated grip, the difference is significant. A D810 with a grip is chunkier than a D4 (with the integrated grip).

What about Third Party Grips?
Avoid. As simple as that. It's not that they are third party, but that they are usually low quality third party; made in some lost factory on some Chinese mountain, and being cheap copies of Nikon's genuine products. I wouldn't put anything non-genuine near the electric contacts of my camera. I know many people use them and don't have a problem, but if you happen to be the unlucky one, your camera will fry before your eyes and it won't be covered by the guarantee. If you absolutely want to use one, at least pick something made by a reputable manufacturer - for example Vivitar.

Is it worth it or not? Should I get one or not? Third party or not? Ultimately, you are the one to answer the question. Hopefully I have given you some food for thought. If you want to know how I feel about grips, I don't care about the battery aspect of it, but the grip is awesome for a portrait photographer. That is, a portrait photographer who takes hundreds of pics in a single session. I would have developed carpal tunnel syndrome if I didn't have a grip. But that's me, that's not you. If you only take a few portrait pics per session, and if you prefer to handle a small and light camera, maybe you don't need a grip.

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