When I purchased my D800 I had fully intended on buying the grip for it, just like I had done with my D700 and D7000. I have pretty big hands and just like the feel of a grip when I shoot. It just feels more natural and allows me to get a better hold on the camera. Of course there are those who buy the grip for the added battery capacity, which I have to admit is an added bonus. I also like having a side shutter release button to make vertical shooting more comfortable. So you can imagine how disappointed I was to find out that the price was for the Nikon MB-D12 D800 battery grip; a staggering $500. Now, for those of you who have purchased battery grips in the past, you know that most of them run between $200 and $300 dollars, which is still pretty hefty for what they are. Nonetheless, I have spent the money because it was worth it for me to have a quality grip to enhance my shooting experience. I can’t say the same for the MB-D12. With a huge $500 price tag there was just no way for me to justify spending that much money, especially when I had just plunked down over $3000 for the camera body. But that’s not where this story ends. See, I knew that it would just be a matter of time until the 3rd-party accessory makers got in gear and started producing replacement accessories for the D800. It took a few months but eventually things like batteries and grips started showing up on the Internet.
The first battery grip I saw was listed on eBay for about $100 and was just taking pre-orders. Next came a grip from Flashpoint, who makes accessory items that are available on Adorama. Their grip lists for about $75 and looks exactly like the MB-D12. I was actually thinking of buying it but then a whole bunch of other low-cost grips started showing up from companies like Meike, Pixel, Phottix, Zeikos, and Smatree. Basically a bunch of companies that you have probably never heard of before. Truth be told, most of them are probably selling the same grip under different names but I decided to check out one of the least expensive options, the Smatree MBD12 Battery Grip for Nikon D800.
The grip costs $45 on Amazon and looks exactly like the Nikon version. Of course I completely understand that it is an inexpensive knockoff but I still wanted to give it a try to see just how good a grip I could get for about one tenth the price of the original. As an added bonus, I also purchased the Smatree EN-EL18 battery, which adds the same battery powercell found in the D4 for use in my grip instead of the EN-EL15, which is the standard battery for the D800. The combined cost for both of these items – an easy to manage $87.
Just in case you were wondering, the Nikon BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover and a Nikon EN-EL18 Battery sells for $175. Oh, and don’t forget the MH-26 battery charger that you will need for the EN-EL18 battery; it will run you about $310. Yes, that’s just for the charger, not a battery. So if I total up the cost of the MB-D12, the BL-5 battery chamber cover, EN-EL18 battery, and the MH-26 charger I’m looking at a total, mind-blowing cost of $892 – all for something that shouldn’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars. So now maybe you understand why I am willing to give a try to the Smatree knockoff.
Fit and Finish –
I received the charger and battery yesterday and wasted no time in unwrapping it and checking out how it would fit on the D800. The top of the grip has a connector that allows the buttons and knobs on the grip to interact with the camera. There are also two small pins that fit in the underside of the camera body, a 1/4-20 screw thread for securing to the tripod mount, and a small area to store the rubber connector cover while the grip is attached. Attaching the grip to the camera is pretty simple. Just remove the rubber connector cover and store it in the grip and then lock the grip to the camera by turning the large wheel that turns the screw. When tightened, the grip makes a very secure seal with the body. The grip itself is probably plastic but looks just like the body, with a very similar finish. The rubber on the grip feels really nice and has just enough tackiness to it to make the camera feel secure as it’s being held.
One nice thing about the battery that I purchased is that it doesn’t require an expensive charger. In fact, the charger comes with the unit and has a power block that plugs into a wall outlet and then plugs into a small hole on the end of the grip. There is a small LED next to the charging plug port that lets you know when the charging process is complete. If you don’t want to opt for the upgraded battery, you can use an EN-EL15 battery in the holder that comes with the grip. There is also an AA adapter if you want to use regular batteries instead of the lithium power cell.
After charging the EN-EL18 battery I turned on the camera and started checking the operation of all the buttons and dials. There is a main command dial on the front and a sub-command dial on the back of the grip. These work just like the ones on the top of the camera and let you change aperture and shutter speeds. The multi-selector joystick on the back worked perfectly when navigating menus or scrolling through images in playback mode. There is also an AF-ON button that allows you to back-focus if you so desire. The button can also be reprogrammed in the custom control menus to serve any number of functions such as AE-Lock/AF-Lock, FV Lock, AE Lock Only, AF Lock Only, Same as FN button, and more. I tested each of these custom settings and all worked just as they should. The shutter release button on the side of the grip felt firm and responsive, just as I would expect and there is a locking switch to keep from accidentally taking a photo.
Plus and Minus –
I hold no delusions about the quality of the grip that I purchased. I fully expected it to be a little lower in quality than the Nikon version and this is certainly the case. While the grip seems to firmly attach to the camera, there is a small gap near one edge of the camera base where I can see light coming through, which means it is not a perfect fit. That being said, it does feel firm and not at all loose while I am holding it. Also, the on/off switch does not have a snappy fell when moving from one position to the other. It does however feel like it is engaging firmly and works as it should. I have not had much of a chance to test out the battery life but that will be something that I have to check out over time.
Considering all that, I feel that I can definitely work with this grip while not feeling that I am paying way more for something than it’s really worth. Of course this will not be the way that everyone should go. My buddy Moose Peterson just gave a review of his D800 and his experience with a 3rd party grip was not altogether great. That being said, I certainly feel that my $87 investment is well worth the $807 in savings for a similar rig from Nikon. Of course only time will tell if it really was worth the savings.