The battery grip is an aftermarket accessory which for some togs (like me) is indispensable – but is it for everyone and will YOU feel the benefits with your photography?
This article is for the beginner or intermediate who has a dSLR / SLR camera who is planning on investing in their kit, or want to move towards a decent photographic outfit. Most pros will know what a battery grip is, most will in fact have one (or two, if they have multiple camera bodies) – and some studio quality cameras come with them effectively as part of the cameras market footprint e.g the Nikon D4 (SRP:£4300).
What is a Battery Grip?
A battery grip (also called a “vertical grip”, or “portrait grip”) is a device that is attached firmly to the base of your camera which allows you to rotate the camera to the portrait position (e.g. vertically), whilst still being able to handle the camera as if it was in the traditional horizontal position -it contains on-board electronics, additional control wheels and nav buttons that match the camera’s native controls. This means that you can control the camera via the new grip as well as the standard control system. If your photography goes on for any length of time in a go, you will realise how useful this is in terms of handling and also in terms of reducing aches and pains post-shoot.
Battery grips are hollow and contain a battery rack with space for two batteries (if you have them), and modern cameras will hook up to the grip’s electronics to meter both batteries and switch between them seamlessly when one depletes.
These grips, much like most photography accessories have been hewn out of necessity to make photography more functional and (in some cases) easier. The modern battery grip offers a range of features to make your camera work easier – but not necessarily better.
Ease of Control (physical and electronic)
A vertical grip not only allows you a set of redundant controls for when you handle your camera in the portrait position, it also adds a convenient hunk of material to hold onto. They are built out of strong ABS, and make even the smallest SLR feel more rugged and solid.
Less Aches and Pains (and reduced risk of damage to yourself)
Get your camera and hold it to take a landscape image. Now rotate the camera into the portrait position. Note how your arm has to reach over the top. Now imagine holding this for several hours at a dance shoot or fashion show. The next day I guarantee that you will have shoulder, rib, wrist and lower back aches which can be a nightmare. A battery grip allows you to handle the camera with less strain, and over long shooting days this can be a real gift allowing you to get on with that you are there for – to take great photos.
Having an extra slot for a second battery can be really helpful in the field. A good tog will always have a spare battery, and having them both in the camera will mean that you wont need to dig into your camera bag mid-shoot to change over – if you’re shooting video this is even more important. Your SLR camera will auto meter both batteries, display their discharge state independently, and seamlessly switch from one to the other on depletion.
For all the good, there are a few bad points to consider that might put this particular accessory out of your kit bag. Depending on your style and kit set up, these points could be severe.
Battery grips can be expensive, even third party versions can cost a hundred pounds or more – these vary from brand to brand and from model to model (e.g. a battery grip for a Sony Alpha A900 is different to a Sony A580) – usually because the batteries themselves are different between models. The relatively new Nikon D800’s grip retails at around £250. This is no small investment (though one could consider that at £2000 for the camera body, its not too bad). Add to that the additional cost of the second battery (if you don’t already have one) to get the full benefit. A battery grip will still work with a single battery in it.
A battery grip and batteries is a significant addition of mass to the camera – mine adds about 500 g (taking my camera up to 1.6 kg). This can be a problem if you are travelling and want to keep the weight down. It can mean the difference between taking an extra lens with you if you are trying to stay light.
Above I posited that the additional bulk of a battery grip makes my camera feel more secure and easier to handle, but it takes up more space in my camera bag. This isn’t a problem for me, but if you have a messenger type bag, where your camera faces down into the bag, then the additional size might make it not fit the compartments so well.
All in all a battery grip is a useful bit of kit, that allows you more control and additional shoot life over your bare camera, though it does come with the drawback of being expensive (people prefer to spend money on things that directly have a visible impact on their photography rather than supporting kit), and being heavy. There are various third parties (e.g. Hahnel) that sell cheaper battery grips across brands that might save you a few quid. In my experience though, I found the Hahnel ones to not have the same quality feel as premium brands- but each to their own, you might be able to blag a bargain.
Its down to you as to your needs, but for me it never leaves my camera and now when I reach for a camera without one, I really miss it (and it makes all other cameras feel flimsy). I have shot 6 hour dance events with and without one, and I can tell you now that it has saved me from feeling half-dead the next day from aches on many occasions.