Accessory Review: Pixel Vertax D12 Grip for Nikon D800/E
Pixel Vertax D12 Battery Grip for Nikon D800/E
$99 / £65 www.pixelhk.com
A long-standing characteristic of professional SLRs is two sets of controls - horizontal and vertical. Vertical controls make the cameras easier to handle when shooting in the portrait format, and the more substantial grip also aids handling with long, heavy lenses. Many battery grips also come with another benefit - an increase in maximum framerate. The Nikon D300S, for example, can shoot at a maximum rate of 6fps 'out of the box' but with the addition of Nikon's MB-D10 battery grip, the extra power boosts it to 8fps. Depending on the sort of photography that you do, this might be a significant speed increase.
The Nikon D800 and D800E are limited to 4fps in full-resolution FX format, but Nikon's MB-D12 grip does allow them to achieve 6fps in DX mode (using AA batteries or the EN-EL18 battery from the D4, which requires the optional BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover) as well as providing those useful vertical controls. The bad news is that depending on where you buy it, the MB-D12 will cost you between $450-616, and that's not including the cost of an additional EN-EL15 battery, the BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover to support the EN-EL18, or 8X AAs.
The good news if you're a D800 owner, is that the MB-D12 isn't your only option. The Vertax D12, from Hong Kong-based Pixel Enterprises replicates almost all of the functionality of the Nikon MB-D12 battery grip for the Nikon D800/E, and also duplicates the vertical controls. Compared to the MB-D12 though, its major selling point (literally) is a considerably lower price of around $99.
So what does your $99 buy you? Well, it buys you a near clone of Nikon's MB-D12, with the same power options (a tray for holding an additional EN-EL15 battery, and another for 8x AA cells, and a small velveteen pouch to hold whichever you're not using) and the same vertical controls, including an 'AF-On' button and rear joystick. Pixel is ambiguous about the construction material, but while very well put-together it is obvious from close inspection that the Vertax is made from polycarbonate rather than the more expensive combination of plastic and magnesium-alloy that Nikon employs in the MB-D12.
A tiny USB port can be found under the 'Pixel' blanking plate on the front of the grip, presumably for firmware updates to maintain compatibility if necessary in the future (at time of writing, no firmware is available for the Vertax D12 grip).
Despite the cheaper materials, the Vertax is very well built. The battery trays lock securely in place with no 'wobble', and all of the seams are nice and tight with no flex. The majority of the grip is covered in thick rubber, just like the MB-D12, and the front and rear control wheels are also rubberised, and rotate with firm detents. The AF-on and shutter buttons don't have quite the same positive travel as the equivalent controls on the D800's body, but they don't feel dry or 'clicky'. The slight difference in the feel of these controls is probably due, at least in part, to a lack of weather-sealing. The Nikon MB-D12 is fully weather-sealed, but the Vertax offers an incomplete safeguard against the elements. A rubber seal protects the electrical contacts that connect the camera to the grip, and the multi-controller appears to have a rubber sleeve, too, but as far as I can establish, the battery compartment door is entirely unprotected.
In use, the Vertax grip feels solid, and screws very securely on the base of the D800. Even with a heavy 300mm F4 lens fitted to the camera, the grip was locked tightly to the D800, with no noticeable 'give'. The vertical controls work exactly as expected, and made the D800 considerably more comfortable to use when shooting portraits.
Overall, the Vertax D12 is excellent value. For the price (which includes a 2-year warranty from Pixel), I have no serious complaints, but it isn't a complete no-brainer. There are good reasons why Pixel is charging so much less than Nikon. Those prepared to spend the extra for Nikon's MB-D12 will be rewarded with slightly better build quality, the option to use the D4's EN-EL18 battery (via the $30 BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover) full weather sealing, and a magnesium alloy shell that feels more like an extension of the camera. The Vertax D12's polycarbonate shell is tough and well-built, but still feels rather a little like an 'add on', albeit a very solid one. Also, there's more than one way to think about cost. As with all third-party accessories, in the unlikely event of the Vertax D12 damaging your camera you shouldn't expect much sympathy from Nikon...
Does any of this stuff add up to a $350+ price difference though? Ultimately that's for you decide, but for many photographers, I don't think it will.
What we like: Solid and well made, vertical controls aid handling in portrait format and extra grip makes using long heavy lenses more comfortable. Extra frame per second in DX format (using AA batteries), very good value compared to Nikon's MB-D12.
What we don't like: Plastic body doesn't feel quite as integral to the D800 as mag-alloy, buttons not quite as nice as D800/MB-D12, no option to use the D4's EN-EL18 battery, incomplete weather-sealing.
This product is available at Amazon.com