When major brands build product enhancements or special components, it’s only a matter of time before after-market options with much lower price tags become available. Generally speaking, off-brand products have about a 50/50 chance of being successful or disappointing. With the Nikon MB-D12 grip for the D800 being so highly priced, I took a look at Vello’s after-market model to see if it’s a worthy substitute. If Vello's BG-N7 grip design is only 90% as good as Nikon’s, it would still be a worthy substitute given the vast difference in price points. Nikon’s grip is $389.00 while Vello’s will only run you $90.
Upon opening the Vello box, the first thing I noticed was the difference in color. The Vello BG-N7 has a shinier, glossier finish than the Nikon grip, which has the same dull, less noticeable micro-leather look that you find on the D800. Personally, I prefer the appearance of the Nikon MB-D12 grip because it blends in with my camera. I don’t want my grip to stand out, but rather appear to be part of my camera. If a grip stands out, to me, it looks cheap. The Vello grip material is just a bit softer than the Nikon, but this is barely noticeable. Blindfolded and given just a few seconds with each, I probably would not be able to tell the difference so that is good news for the Vello. I would have to play with the buttons or feel the battery latch before I would be able to pick the Vello apart from the Nikon.
When I put these grips to a field test, I noticed on the Vello that the buttons and dials were definitely looser and didn't have the quality feel that the Nikon grip has. This is a common complaint with after-market grips, even with the one that Lee previously purchased that was a Nikon knock-off. Whatever Nikon is doing, the way they build their buttons and dials just feels better. The battery open/close latch is built differently on the Vello and in a way that I have found to be difficult to adjust to, but likely only because I am used to the way Nikon built theirs. It’s different, but not necessarily better or worse. Surprisingly, the weight of the batteries in each grip were nearly identical. The shape on the Vello is much boxier than that of the Nikon grip, however it didn't affect me when I was shooting.
Something interesting I was not expecting: the Vello doesn't rattle much at all. When I put a battery in the Nikon grip and shook it, there was a definite rattle to it. There is nothing wrong with this, just an observation. With the Vello, there is hardly a rattle at all in the same situation. The batteries fit far more snugly into the Vello, which is probably why there is significantly less noise when I shook it. Though there is less noise with the Vello, I was actually more irritated with the Vello in this instance because the batteries don’t just click into place like they do on the Nikon. You have to push them harder- like they don’t fit quite right. Another small difference is the placement of the USB cord insert. At first, I had no idea that it came off and was a little confused with the setup of the Vello. Again, this is probably due to my extensive experience with Nikon product. I’m just a victim of habit.
The best part about this grip is the price. As someone who is just starting out, I can’t always afford the nicest or the best available, so for $90, I am more than happy to spend the remaining $300 on something else for my business.
What I Liked:
The weight and feel
What Could Use Improvement:
As far as I am concerned, these minor complaints would not hold me back from using the Vello over the Nikon. The Nikon grip is almost absurdly priced, leaving many with the desire to try something more affordable.