I recently added a Nikon D850 to my arsenal, and more recently, had the opportunity to test it out with the addition of a Vello BG-N19 battery grip. The battery grip was provided to me by B&H for the purposes of this review.
What is a battery grip?
There are generally two different types of battery grips, one built-in (e.g. Nikon D5) and the other an add-on accessory. A battery grip allows for near seamless transition from landscape to portrait orientation, with a redundant set of camera controls and more battery power. The battery grip adds heft and bulk to the camera, which is permanent in the case of the D5 and removable when used as an accessory.
Nikon D5 with built-in battery grip
Nikon sells the MB-D18 Battery grip for the D850. If used with the correct battery (more on this later), it increases the continuous high frame rate from 7 to 9 frames per second (fps). Sounds good, right? Well, the full Nikon kit will set you back $940.85 at B&H. If you forgo the 9fps and opt for just the basic Nikon battery grip, it brings the cost down to $396.95 at B&H.
Cheaper alternatives are available from third-party manufacturers. The cheapest I’ve seen on Amazon is the Mcoplus Vertical Multiple function MB-d18 which sells for $62.99. The Vello BG-N19 grip comes in at a very reasonable $99.95 at B&H.
Who needs a battery grip?
For those shooting handheld at an event (e.g. sports, wedding) and frequently switching from landscape to portrait, a grip may be useful from an ergonomic standpoint, not to mention the extended battery life. Another group of shooters who may benefit are bird photographers where a higher frame rate might make the difference between close and nailing it. Some scoff at the machine gun approach to shooting and I have been guilty of rolling my eyes at those shooting static landscapes, on or off a tripod, at 12 frames per second. However, when it comes to fast action (birds in flight), the 10 fps I get from my Nikon D500 has increased my percentage of keepers.
What’s in the box?
The Vello BG-N19 comes with a locking battery tray for the EN-EL15a rechargeable battery (native to the D850). It also comes with an alternate tray accepting 8 AA batteries. There are a small instruction manual and a warranty card. The battery cover needed to install the larger capacity Nikon EN-EL18a battery is not included.
The Vello BG-N19 came well packed. The grip’s plastic and rubber finish are an excellent match to the Nikon’s body. While clearly plastic, it does not feel flimsy or fragile. The L-plate I took off weighs 3 ounces. The battery grip weighs 7.2 ounces empty and 10 ounces with the EN-EL15a battery. It is quite heavy with 8 AA batteries, weighing in at 15 ounces. Both the Nikon and the Vello are stamped “Made in China”. The Nikon battery grip is weather sealed, and the Vello is not.
The battery grip easily attaches to the camera’s tripod mount with just a tad of expected play. The camera could now be controlled from the grip, even without a battery installed. Like my camera, the grip has back focus, a programmable function button, and the command and subcommand dials felt like those on the camera body. The lockable shutter release on the grip was not as buttery as the camera’s but didn’t pose an issue. With the grip, the camera sits up high and is just a bit rocky, but that is normal using a grip and by no means a gripe with the Vello. The grip has a handy place to put the camera’s contact cover holder and I appreciate the grip’s nonslip bottom. The grip also has a tripod socket.
The battery grip is fully functional even without an internal battery. There are three battery and one AC power supply options, as follows. In each case, it is recommended to turn off the camera and lock the battery grip before proceeding.
1. Use the camera’s native Li-Ion battery (EN-EL15a). The battery installs with a smooth slide in and push down motion.
2. Install the provided battery tray for 8 AA batteries.
3. Install the more powerful EN-EL 18a Li-Ion battery. The needed BL-5 Cover is purchased separately.
4. Remove the cover and insert the Nikon EP-SB Power Supply Connector port. I found removing this cover very difficult and don’t anticipate ever using it.
In either case, the battery grip can now power the camera, even if the camera’s battery is removed. In the case of the AA battery tray, I needed to go to the Set Up menu (wrench icon) and select the MB-D18 battery type (Alkaline, Ni-MH or Lithium). The penalty for not doing so is an inaccurately displayed battery level. The last thing I needed to do was select the battery order. In the Set Up menu, I chose “Use MB-D18 batteries first”.
Here’s the thing about batteries and frames per second
The camera with battery grip uses one or the other’s battery source. It doesn’t “double up” to turbocharge the camera. With Nikon’s own battery grip, if I insert the more powerful EN-EL18a battery, it will go from 7 to 9 fps. If I use the native battery or the AA option in the Nikon grip, it stays at 7 frames per second. When the more powerful battery is used with the Vello, some users report 7 and others 9 fps. As expected, when I press “info”, my back screen indicates 7 fps. Vello’s instruction manual makes no claim of increasing the frame rate, even with the more powerful battery installed.
Nikon D850 info screen with Vello battery grip attached (7 fps indicated in red)
This is my first experience with a battery grip. The Vello is quite intuitive to set up and use and I am impressed by the build quality. I don’t anticipate buying the more powerful battery, necessary charger and battery cover in hopes of possibly achieving 9 fps. I would do so if guaranteed by Vello. I will use it as is, handheld or on a beanbag at 7 fps when shooting fast action and hope it encourages me to shoot more in portrait orientation. At this price point, lack of weather-sealing is not a surprise or a big drawback for the way I shoot.
One-year limited warranty to the original purchaser to be free from defects under normal use.