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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Same Camera, Two Configurations

Many people regard a "Grip" on a DSLR camera less as an accessory than as a permanent modification, if not something that just should have been included in the first place.

I don't feel that way about it. I recall, back in the dark ages, when my primary working cameras for commercial assignments were Nikon F2's, I thought that the camera with grip/motor module, without the additional bulk of the separate battery pack, would be a much nicer package, if only it would work that way. I never equipped my Olympus E-1 camera with a grip, even though it could certainly have used the increased battery capacity. I preferred to carry two or three spare batteries in my pockets or a camera bag to get through a day of shooting in cold weather, rather than increase the size and weight of the camera itself.

So I didn't expect to like the grip that the elves at Pentax sent me to check out. But expectations are meant to become surprises. The K10D grip, once it's on the camera, doesn't feel like an add-on at all. You simply have a different and equally well-balanced camera in your hand. This reminds me of the Nikon F3, which was completely at home in its own skin either with or without the MD4 accessory motor drive. In a clever move, the Pentax grip has slots to store an extra memory card and a remote cordless release in the slide-out tray that holds the second battery.

Some DSLR grips use a different, larger, battery than the camera's normal one, while others hold two of the regulars. But all, as far as I know, put those batteries in the grip. To install the grip, you first have to remove the camera's battery, remove the battery compartment cover and stow it somewhere on the grip, and then marry the grip and camera. Pentax has chosen to do it very differently. You leave the camera's battery (and compartment cover) in place. You just uncover a set of electrical contacts, stow the cover on the grip, and screw the thing onto the bottom of the camera. Attaching or removing the grip takes five or ten seconds—about as long as changing a lens.

Anyone who thinks of the grip as a permanent item will immediately see a problem here. Every time you need to charge the battery in the camera, you're going to have to remove the grip to get at it. What the hell kind of idea is that?

Well, a pretty clever one, at least if you are in the camp that regards the grip as an accessory, not a permanent installation.

I'm playing with a 12–24mm DA zoom that the elves sent me. It is a monster. After a few weeks shooting with the compact prime lenses, this thing, especially with it's properly engineered (read big) lens shade, seems to be about the size of my new car. But my early results show it to be optically excellent, and while I was sure I would hate it the minute I laid eyes on it, when I pick up the camera with the grip and the lens mounted, it's all ergonomically perfect. This is no rig for inconspicuous shooting, but it is perfectly balanced in my hands. The combination of a zoom that covers the focal lengths I use for almost all my pictures with enormous battery capacity and a storage slot for more memory becomes a pretty universal axe. Just the thing to go out and spend a day with hunting for pictures.

But what if I need to spend the morning doing errands, taking packages to FedEx, and so on, and just want to have a camera along? Look at this:

Same camera, two configurations.

The camera on the right is not something to grab and sling over my shoulder when I'm not entirely centered on making pictures. The camera on the left is. The transformation takes less than half a minute. Good idea.

Posted by: CARL WEESE


Blogger Jon said...

I do the same thing with my Dynax 7D...the battery grip slides into the normal battery holder. The normal battery cover slips nicely into a slot in the grip, so you don't need to remove it. The grip takes 2 of the regular batteries, and also has a carriage to take AAs should the need arise.

I love the ergonomics of the camera with the grip much so that I often prefer to hold the camera in portrait orientation. All the controls are duplicated so you don't lose out by using it. But I, like you, sometimes don't want to be carrying a ten-ton monster around, so I whip off the grip and stick the tiny little 50mm f1.7 lens on there. Two different cameras on the same day....

8:41 AM  
Blogger Player said...

I leave the grip, MB-D200, permanently affixed to the D200, and I take the D80, without grip, for a lightweight package. If I'm using both the D200 and D80, I have grips on both. If I'm shooting on a tripod, I have a RRS plate that fits the MB-D200.

It seems both systems, Pentax and Nikon, have their pros and cons. It's nice, and I wasn't aware, that you don't have to store the battery door with the Pentax, but a little troublesome if you wanted to keep the grip permanently affixed. For me, I'd rather have easy access to the batteries, but the Pentax way seems to fit you perfectly. Nice blog!

9:54 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Hey Carl, off topic a little (since I don't think the grip will work on my K100D) - did you ever get any resolution on the 21mm focus issue? I've seen it on my K100D, though very rarely. Do you have a problem number or something I could reference if I called Pentax as well?

Also, I see you have the 40mm attached. How is that lens? I'm in awe of the 21mm, and I wonder if the 40mm is worth adding - I'm also coveting a used 35mm/2 FA.


10:23 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

You can set the pentax to use up the battery in the grip first which greatly reduces the need to swap the one in-camera.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

I'm addicted to using the handstrap (HS-1) with my Canon DSLR bodies, first the Digital Rebel, and now the 20D. Unfortunately, neither of those bodies supply the lower anchor point for the Canon handstrap (the professional '1' series do), unless you install the optional battery grip.

On the plus side, the grip holds two batteries, and for the 20D, also comes with an AA battery tray (although this tends to make the 20D grip larger front-to-back -- I affectionately call it "bigfoot").

Even though each grip adds additional controls for portrait orientation, I rarely use them, because I have my hand firmly in the handstrap. So I just rotate my hand along with the camera counter-clockwise, in the time-honored tradition, and just keep shooting.

Using the handstrap means that I can hold the camera one-handed at my side, completely fearless about dropping the camera, even if I'm surprised and open my hand. I can then bring it up to my eye and cup the lens barrel with my left hand, in one fluid motion, snap a picture, and return the camera to my side.

A Leica it ain't, but for lack of the funds for something like a Leica, using the handstrap is the closest thing I have to being able to do street photography with a DSLR with a minimum of fuss.

Why don't I just get a 3rd-party handstrap that works on the body only? After all, there are ones made that hook to the tripod socket on the bottom. Well, mainly because they simply don't work for me. The Digital Rebel and 20D bodies are so short without the grip, that there isn't enough vertical space to accomodate my hand comfortably in one of those straps.

So, for me, the battery grip (and associated handstrap) is a permanent (and much used and welcome) configuration on my camera.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Carl Weese said...


Pentax is looking into the focus issue, and a disc of my test captures has gone out for analysis by the engineers.

The 40DA is great optically, and astonishingly small. If you pop over to my blog, the top shot for today's post and all three shots in yesterday's post were made with it. You can't tell technical quality from these JPEGs of course but you can get a sense of the "feel" of the lens. I find I use it more than I expected to--it's longer than I normally tend to use but somehow is working really well for me.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Matthew Robertson said...

I'm glad to see someone who works the way I do. I'm using the E-1, and I usually choose gripped or ungripped based on the bag I'll be using to carry the camera.

When I have the grip, I miss the small size of the body.
When I don't have the grip, I miss the extra size.

Who said photography is about logic?

8:17 PM  

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