- Ed Dozier
Vello Battery Grips: Good, Bad, and Ugly
I do love my camera battery grips. I have a grip on nearly all of my cameras. My hands are just too big for all Nikons except the D3/D4/D5/D6 series (with their built-in vertical grips). I detest having my pinky finger dangling off of the bottom of the camera; grips fix this ergonomic issue perfectly.
I don’t normally do much vertical shooting (computer screens being horizontal and all), but the battery grips make this a pleasant experience when I do. Many of my overlapped vertical shots get combined into panoramas; vertical grips make shooting these a pleasure.
It’s comforting to have the extra battery in the grip, but DSLRs are so power-efficient that running out of battery juice is rarely a problem for me. Videographers will of course disagree with this observation.
All of the Vello grips come with an extra battery drawer that holds AA batteries, in case you’re somewhere that you can’t recharge your regular camera batteries.
Many people don’t know this, but the buttons and controls in a grip still work even if there’s no battery installed inside the grip. Similarly, your camera will work just fine if there’s no battery in the camera, but just in the grip instead. Also, it’s easier to remove the battery from the grip than the camera for recharging.
I really love the improved balance and extra inertia that grips provide. Hand-held shots are almost always a tiny bit sharper when using a grip, at least at slow shutter speeds. A typical grip weighs about 8 ounces.
Vello makes grips for multiple camera manufacturers, but my own experiences are strictly with Nikons.
If you have ever priced the Nikon grips, they’re quite expensive. A couple examples follow. The D500 MB-D17 grip is $370.00 and the D850 MB-D18 grip is $400.00. The D500 Vello BG-N17 grip is just $70.00, and the D850 Vello BG-N19 grip is only $80.00.
The Nikon grips typically cost about 5 times as much as the Vello grips! If a Vello grip fails, you can re-buy it many times and still come out money ahead.
Vello BG-N19 on Nikon D850
The Vello grip for my Nikon D850 is shown above. It has the exact same finish as the D850. It has a programmable function button near its shutter release. It also has the little joystick like the D850 body has, located near the grip’s “AF-ON” button. It has the front and rear command dials, just like the camera body. This grip feels like an integral part of the camera, and not an add-on.
The controls on the Vello grip are programmable, just like the official Nikon battery grip controls. These controls are well-placed and work perfectly.
There’s also a newer BG-N19-2 grip that can hold the EN-EL18b (or generic equivalent) to bump up the D850 frame rate to 9fps. You also need a BL-5 cover for this feature. Going the generic route, you can get 9fps for less than $300.00, compared to nearly $1,000.00 to get there using the official Nikon parts.
The Vello grips for my D610, D500, and D850 have all worked perfectly for years.
So, do Vello grips have any issues? I’d estimate the risk of an eventual problem at about 40%, purely based on my own experiences. I have had two issues out of my five Vello grips. These issues both involved battery power; in one case, the grip control functionality was also affected.
A fairly common problem that I have read about and personally experienced is with the battery drawer. The power to the camera from the grip fails, and the grip’s battery drawer needs to be opened and re-closed to fix it. My D7100 grip (Vello BG-N11) has this problem once in a great while, and it takes about 2 seconds to fix it. This problem hasn’t affected using the grip control buttons or dials, so it’s more of an occasional nuisance than anything else.
Vello BG-N4 on Nikon D7000
My D7000 and the BG-N4 is shown above. Several times, a loose electrical connection to the camera caused lost battery power from the grip.
This problem is quite irritating, and one of these days I should probably just replace this grip. My D7000 grip (BG-N4) camera electrical connector is a little loose, which can cause battery power to be lost. Worse still, the grip’s button controls stopped working. I made the connection more reliable by slightly raising the connector, but the problem still shows up once in a while. Interestingly, the problem never happened in the middle of shooting, but instead only after the camera sits around for several weeks.
Other photographers have noted similar electrical connector issues to this, which has, for instance, caused people to lose the 9 fps ability on the D850 (it still would shoot at 7 fps).
I decided to see if I could remedy the situation, and get a more reliable connection by raising the connector. Alas, it still isn’t totally reliable after my “fix”.
BG-N4 Top plate with arrows showing screws to remove
There are 6 ‘Allen’ screws holding the top plate onto the grip (see the green arrows). The right-hand side of the grip shows the “too short” electrical connector and also the storage bay with the camera’s rubber connector cover.
My attempted fix involves removing this grip cover, by removing the 6 screws. The cover just lifts off, to expose the electronics.
Connector with top plate removed
In the shot above, you can see the electronics around the connector. This connector is slightly loose, probably so that it can slip into the camera electrical socket more easily. You can see the grip tripod screw on the left-hand side of the shot.
This shot shows two clear plastic shims already in place under the connector base I have added, although they’re hard to see.
You’ll note that the Vello grip doesn’t have any weather-proofing seals. It won’t thank you for going out in the rain.
Clear plastic shims under connector lip
The shot above shows two thin (0.007 inches thick) plastic strips (shims) that I slid underneath the lip of the rectangular connector that has rounded corners. I put a dab of glue on the ends of the shims to keep them in place. The shims slightly raise the electrical connector, so it slips further into the camera body’s electrical socket for a more secure connection.
The connector can’t be safely raised much more than what I did. This is a very minor change to the physical connection; I wanted to be able to remove the shims later, in case it didn’t help the situation any. The top plate of the grip cannot be replaced properly if the shims were to raise this connector too much.
The grip battery power to the camera is now slightly more reliable, but sometimes it still fails. When I see a power failure, I can (so far) fix it by disconnecting/re-connecting the grip to the camera.
I figured that this was a low-risk fix, since the grip is pretty inexpensive. It was also fun to see the electrical workings inside of the grip.
All in all, I’m happy with the Vello grips. Except for the occasional D7000 startup failures with the BG-N4, I haven’t had any other significant issues in my ten years of using them. I have lost the grip battery power from the D7100’s BG-N11 maybe a dozen times, but as I said I could fix it in just a couple of seconds. I own a total of 5 Vello grips. The good outweighs the bad and the ugly by a large margin.
If you have any problems with the Vello grips, you could just re-purchase two or three or four of them and still save money, compared to buying the official Nikon grips. Just don’t go out in the rain with them.