A battery grip is one accessory that could be handy to have for your digital SLR. The benefits are two-fold; it extends your shooting time by adding another battery, and it makes portrait shooting easier by adding a vertical grip and shutter release button. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a shiny new Nikon MB-D80 as a Christmas gift from Camille. After a few months of use, I’ve decided to share my experience with this battery grip.
Nikon is renowned for their build quality, and my D90 is certainly no exception. The camera feels very solid, is crafted from high quality materials and mine has even survived being dropped on to the road! It was to my surprise then, that the battery grip doesn’t seem to feel the same. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t feel bad, but it’s not the same solid, heavy build quality that I’m used to from my body, lenses and flash. Mind you, the battery grip was also dropped on the road and it’s still working.
I installed the grip and inserted the batteries, but the camera wouldn’t turn on and was only showing a battery warning symbol. The MB-D80 won’t work with most non-genuine batteries, but that wasn’t the problem (I was using the genuine Nikon EN-EL3e batteries). After a quick Google search about the problem I found multiple results with hundreds of people encountering the same thing (see this useful flickr group thread). The MB-D80 battery grip was released when the D80 came out; the D80 and D90 are almost identical bodies, so it is marketed to fit both cameras. As you can see from the flickr link above, the contacts on the battery grip don’t line up properly with the three prongs inside the battery chamber of the D90. Here is what I had to do to get it working, as I posted in the flickr thread:
Take off the battery grip and look inside the battery chamber of the camera. You’ll see 3 little pins at the bottom. Notice how the middle one isn’t lined up? Just get a small flat-head screwdriver and bend it towards the outside of the camera, so that it lines up with the other two. Given that this is a brand new item, I really didn’t want to mess around with it, but it’s not as scary as it sounds, and works perfectly thereafter!
Aside from the build quality and initial problem lining up the battery contacts, I have a couple of other negative points to make about the battery grip. Firstly, the shutter release button on the grip feels quite spongy. Whereas the main shutter release button on the camera has a distinct two-stage action (hold down half way to focus, press fully to shoot), the button on the grip makes it very hard to feel the difference between focusing and shooting – it can be a real pain when you accidentally shoot prematurely. The other point to make is that I have seen non-genuine brands of battery grips to fit the D90 that include an LCD display and an intervalometer function – that means you can easily set up and shoot time lapse photos (something that’s missing from the D90 body).
It’s not all bad news, though. One of the main reasons to buy a battery grip is for the extended time between charges. On a recent holiday to New Zealand I really put the MB-D80 to the test. I used the camera for the entire trip (15 days) and took over 3,000 photos without charging the batteries once! I even returned home with plenty of charge left in the batteries. Conversely, Camille was charging the battery in her Canon 40D every few days. As with many other battery grips, the MB-D80 also comes with a battery cage to insert 6x AA batteries (quite useful if you’re stuck in the middle of Africa and run out of power!).
In conclusion, I’d would definitely recommend investing in a battery grip for your camera, but make sure you shop around and try a few different brands. Buying genuine may give you better resale value, but you might be missing out on useful features and paying too much for something that doesn’t even work properly in the first place!
UPDATE: Please read through the comments below, and my responses to answer some things that weren’t covered in my review.