Thursday, 28 January 2010

To Grip or Not To Grip

To grip or not to grip – that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer wrist pains while shooting a lot of portrait orientation images for extended periods of time, shorter battery life and feel slightly off balance with longer lenses is entirely up to you.

This post was inspired by a question I saw on the Talk Photography forums, and I thought I would detail a little about the reasons why I chose to shoot with a grip, and why I can't live without it any more.

I started off, photographically speaking, with a Nikon N90s (that's F90x to some of you), a fantastic film camera if you didn't want to spend an absolute fortune (at the time) on an F4s or F5.  America considered the N90s their "lowest end professional 35mm SLR", the rest of the world considered the F90x the "highest end amateur/hobbyist 35mm SLR".  Whichever way it was worded, I loved my N90s (I still have it, although I haven't used it in a few years now).

This was the only 35mm SLR I've owned that I didn't purchase the grip for (although I wish I had now).  I did get the MF-26 replacement back for it though, which added some great features to the camera.

After making the expensive decision to go digital I went for a Nikon D100, along with the MB-D100 grip (a US$1750 purchase at the time).  The primary reason was not the same as why I now choose to use a grip, but I did learn to love it.  Originally I'd bought the grip to give the D100 a 10-Pin port to which I could attach my MC-20 remote.  The D100 body didn't have one built in, but the grip did, although the MB-D100 did have its issues, according to some.

For a while, the majority of my shooting was still done without the grip, as most of my lenses were relatively short (all of them shorter than 80mm), and I felt it just got in the way unless I was on a tripod with my MC-20.  Eventually though, I picked up a Nikon 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 (a much better, sharper and more solidly built lens than the two 70-300mm Nikon "G" & "D" offerings that replaced it in their product line).  This is where the grip started to become invaluable.

The D100 had outstanding battery life, as I never used the popup flash, so the only advantage to me of having the second battery in the grip was to add extra weight.  Some of you may consider this a disadvantage, but it just made the whole rig feel that much more steady in my hands, and really helped to balance out the weight of the longer zoom attached to it, resulting in what I believed to be better images.

After I while I picked up the 300mm f/4 AF-S and this just reinforced my thinking regarding the weight & balance.  So, from this point on, the grip was permanently attached to the D100 body.  I ended up getting 2 more D100 bodies, both with the grip, so that I could shoot a couple of different lenses without having to switch them out mid-shoot, and had one as a backup body in the bag (by this point, the D100 had dropped to around $600 used, including the grip, which is the way I went when acquiring two more).

So by now the virtues of using the grip to help better balance the weight in my hands with longer lenses had well and truly embedded itself in my mind.  Even with shorter lenses, I was starting to get used to it, and the extra shutter button & command dials certainly made life easier if I was shooting a lot of images in portrait orientation.

When I made the decision to upgrade, I sold off two of my D100 bodies, along with their grips and picked up the Nikon D200 along with the MB-D200 grip, using my remaining D100 as my backup body.  As most of my photography by now was wildlife, the D200 resided in my bag with the 300mm f/4 permanently attached, along with the grip, and it was such a reliable camera that I rarely felt the need to pull the D100 out any more.

Incidentally, while the MB-D100 provided extra features to the camera, such as the 10-pin port, and voice memo recording, the MB-D200 provided no other features than the extra set of shutter release, command dials & AF button that already exist on the body.

Since picking up the 300mm, I really hadn't used the 75-300mm lens that much as the two just didn't compare at the 300mm end and that is where I spent most of my time.  But, the times were coming where I needed something that would cover that mid-to-long range at a quality at least as good as the 300mm.  So I took the plunge and bought the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens (the original one, not the recently revamped VRII - and I'm not going to get into arguments why one is better than the other) and also the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 (I didn't feel it was worth almost double the price for the f/3.5 version after reading all the reviews comparing the two).

The 70-200VR is a heavy lens, probably about the same as the 300mm f/4, and the grip again proved its worth.  The 10-20mm is a short stubby lens, but now that I've had a good few years to get used to the grip, I find it difficult to shoot using a lens even this short without one, especially as I shoot "left eyed" (definitely watch this video if you also shoot left eyed).

More recently I upgraded to the D300s, along with the MB-D10 grip.  I'm in two minds about this grip, because there are things I do and don't like about it, although Nikon have gone back to having the grip provide the camera with extra abilities.

My biggest gripe with this grip is that it only holds a single EN-EL3e battery.  Your original battery still resides within the camera body itself, which means that when it dies you have to remove the grip completely to replace that battery, although you do have the option of not using a battery in the body at all (meaning you're back down to using a single battery), and also the ability to tell the camera which battery to use first (I always tell it to use the battery in the grip first, then default to the battery in the body, that way I can switch out the battery in the grip, but I've still got some in reserve when needed).

But, this design does have its advantages.  The MB-D10 grip uses a tray on which you mount the battery before sliding it inside the grip.  Two trays come with the grip, one for using an EN-EL3e battery, and one for using 8x AA batteries.  Using the AA batteries, this bumps your speed up to 7.7fps.  There is also an optional BL-3 tray available that can be used with an EN-EL4a battery giving you a full 8fps shooting speed (assuming your shutter speed is fast enough).  The EN-EL4a battery also has a life expectancy of at least two and a half EN-EL3e batteries before requiring a recharge.

The MB-D10 grip also allows the D300s to improve its base "High Continuous" shooting speed from 7fps up to 7.7 or 8fps depending on which battery you put inside it.

The other new feature on the MB-D10 grip is that it gives you an extra little joystick for zipping through the image review, menus or (probably more importantly) selecting your focus points while holding the camera in portrait orientation.  A very handy feature when shooting sideways up and don't want to (or are unable to) leave the viewfinder or contort your hands to adjust.

In short, I originally went with the grip out of the pure necessity to add the MC-20 remote cable to a body that didn't have a 10-pin port, and I just got so used to shooting with it, that it's a must-have item for me now.

Of course, there is always the argument that it makes you look like you're using a pro body and people will think you actually know what you're doing. ;)

No comments:

Post a Comment