[Editorial] Why Does The Nikon MB-D12 Cost So Much?

[Editorial] Why Does The Nikon MB-D12 Cost So Much?

The Nikon D800 was just announced and the 36mp powerhouse is being sold at the extremely reasonable price of $3000. Like many photographers, I planned to buy a D800 and the grip together. Once again Nikon has created a proprietary grip for the D800, the MB-D12. The biggest surprise was that this grip is double the price of the most expensive grip for the previous camera. Why?

Why do you need a vertical grip anyway?
There are a couple of reasons to purchase a vertical grip with your camera. The first is battery life. With the vertical grip your camera can now hold 2 batteries which will double the life of the camera. If you are in a jam and run out of charged batteries you can use the included AA battery pack adapter to power your camera will standard AA batteries. Although having these extra battery options is convenient, it is not the main reason that I like having a vertical grip. As a wedding photographer that shoots for 8-10 hours at a time, the vertical grip makes shooting far more comfortable. Without a grip, vertical images require that I hold my right elbow high in the air to take an image. When you do this you are actually holding the weight of the camera with your back in a very unnatural way. After hours of holding up a camera with a 70-200mm lens this way you will experience major back pain.

The vertical grip allows me to keep my right elbow down, pressing against my chest, when I take vertical images. This position relieves all of the pressure from my back and I can shoot all day without issue.

Why we need another proprietary grip
Nikon decided to change the shape of the D800 (from the D700) which means that the older Mb-D10 grip wouldn't fit on the newer camera. Because of this redesign Nikon built the MB-D12. Nikon had the opportunity to put new features into the grip like bluetooth, wifi, gps, or a radio trigger but they didn't. From what I have read, the grip is the exact same as every previous grip Nikon has made. Ok, no big deal, right? One would probably think that this grip would cost about $250 since it is the exact same thing as the last grip. That would be fine. But shockingly, it does not. No, instead it costs about $500. Yesterday it was $500 on B&H Photo Video and today it is $450. On Nikon's website it is $616! Who knows what it will actually cost once it is released.

The knockoff grips
To make the price of the Mb-D12 look even more absurd, let's look at the knockoff grip market. The Nikon D7000 camera body sells for $1299.00 and the matching MB-D11 grip for $219.00. This price seems pretty reasonable until you find out that China has created a knockoff version of the MB-D11 that sells for $42.00. This "fake" grip is so well made that even though I owned a real one as well, I couldn't tell that it was was fake. Check out the full story on that fiasco here.

If China can make a grip that is almost the exact same quality, ship it to the to the other side of the world, pay Amazon a percentage of each sale, and then ship it to your house for $42 and still make a profit, why does Nikon's version cost 12 times more? The "Nikon" name is worth a lot but not that much.

On the bright side
This huge jump in price opens up the door for 3rd party companies to create not just an equivalent grip, but a far superior grip with some ground breaking new features for a significantly cheaper price. Imagine if you could get an MB-D12 with a GPS receiver or a Pocket Wizard build in for $399. Patrick Hall suggested another innovative idea over a year ago: allow the vertical grip to add extra power to the on-camera SB900! Any company who could produce this would make a massive profit and consumers would still be saving $100. Let's hope that Nikon's decision to charge a premium for a standard, boring battery grip will open up the doors for innovation in this market. Hopefully it will work out for customers in the end, but I cannot wait. I will be paying the premium to have the camera and the grip from Nikon because I hate shooting on a camera without a vertical grip... So maybe Nikon actually knows what they are doing.

Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of Fstoppers.com

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Yeah, I originally balked at the price, but I just can't imagine shooting without one, so I begrudgingly ponied up the $450.00 at Adorama.  Yes, it hurts, but being able to use AA batteries and upping the frame rate from 4 to 6 FPS is a significant jump in speed, not to mention the ergonomics of shooting with a grip. Yes Nikon has me by the short and curlies, and I was willing to pay the price, but I'm not happy about it.

The frame rate is another interesting point that I didn't touch on. Nikon simply limits the cameras frame rate and then "enables" the full frame rate when you put a grip on it. The grip isn't adding processing power to the camera. It's another game that these camera companies play to make the price of the grip seem more appealing.

Using AA batteries ups the voltage of the camera which is why there is an increase in FPS.  Believe it or not the ENeLwhatever are not as powerful as AA batteries.  Nothing is getting "enabled" by attaching a grip.  

I'm not sure I buy that... I think I read something years ago where someone had bypassed the "grip" and got the camera to shoot a faster frame rate without it. 

Yes, there was a "bracketing" hack for a D300 to get 8FPS

Yeah... but you still didn't have that great a buffer, as you could only shoot the entire bracket at a time...

And considering we're getting a camera that likely has better than D3x specs, with video, that's also way lighter, $500 is pretty reasonable.

And the grips have always gotten more expensive each generation.

$180ish for D200, $250ish for D300/700, and now $500 for D800/400.

They could have easily priced this camera at $4k, but didn't, and for that, I think we should be thankful.

So you're saying we "tip" them for not charging as much as they could have charged for the camera?

$500 is ludicrous, any way you cut it, for this thing. Most anything that attaches to a camera is ridiculously priced. Street cred: engineer at MIT.

I agree, There is no way I am shelling out 500 extra bucks for this.  I bought one for my D7000 and the thing barely sees the light of day.  Batteries are cheap and light enough to have plenty of life around if needed.  I didn't buy this camera for a high frame rate - I am a landscape/street photographer.  I bought this because it is compact, very well priced, and full of wonderful features.  I can't see any way I would buy a battery pack unless the price was cut in half or they really packed in some amazing features.  You are basically paying 500 bucks for an extra battery, oh, and the ability to shoot vertical shots without holding up your arm... 

Not to attack this, just to point out that if you put the same En battery into the grip that would normally be in a camera, you get 8fps which proves a point that it has nothing to do with the added voltage of AAs or optional D3's battery. I experienced this "upgrade" with my D300. I have taken it apart when AF-ON button needed repair and did not find any magic there :)

Actually Nikon do note that you only get the 6fps if you use the AA batteries or the Nikon D4 battery. Apparently if you only use the EN battery you won't see any difference in frame rate. Who knows if it's true though. 

Canon vertical grips are made to accomodate an extra battery, adaptor for AA batteries and duplicate some horizontal dials and buttons - nothing more nothing less.  Full speed of frame rate (continuous shooting) at full frame is always available with or without vertical grip.

"full-frame" meaning whether the Canon body is APS-C or full-frame :)

This is the type of declensions that really surprise me in a pro product, I'm a huge support in never pay only for the brand, if there product is so much expensive and don't have any plus or are not really justify the excessive price I always look for alternatives and I found amazing deals with Chinese brands, always look for ebay alternatives before purchase an expensive accessory for your camera

You may never buy something as important as a Lens that is a "no name" brand because a lens is directly related to the quality of the image. Something as simple as a vertical grip isn't as important to people. Even if the grip fails, you still have all of the same buttons a few inches away. I think Nikon has make a mistake with this pricing. We will see what happens 6 months after the camera is released. 

They didn't want to get attacked on the price of the D800 and they probably said... we'll make it cheaper but Pros will get the Vertical Grip so we'll make money out of it. I think they wanted to price the D800 more expensive but they probably heard something about the new 5D and backed down on this but said.... we'll make profits out of accessories...

I have actually had friends who bought knock-off grips and the wheel that tightened the screw into the tripod mount wound up breaking off. They were forever cursed with using the knock-off. I bet if that happened on a Canon/Nikon-branded grip they would have replaced it.

never had this problem with past d300s, or d700...huh...

they have probably hired someone previously employed at Sigma.

Ha! I like that. :-)

"If China can make a grip that is almost the exact same quality, ship it to the to the other side of the world, pay Amazon a percentage of each sale, and then ship it to your house for $42 and still make a profit, why does Nikon’s version cost 12 times more? The “Nikon” name is worth a lot but not that much."
Seriously? Why do you charge the prices you charge? I'm assuming it is because you have specific related expenses, operating costs, income requirements, etc. The Nikon grip costs more because they are the one's that pay for the design, development, marketing, support after the sale, and so on. The ripoff gear being sold really isn't that different from someone ripping off your work is it? 

If someone takes the exact same images as me and is 12 times cheaper then there is no reason to book me. I like to believe that my photography prices are high because my images are different than those that come at a cheaper price. I'm all for buying the best photo gear but when it comes to something as simple as a grip, it doesn't have to have Nikon branding on it for me to be happy. As long as it works well I'd be happy with it. 

Lee, I totally understand your comments and those who don't well they should read more carefully. I am 300% sure that you wouldn't have complained about the price if the VGrip of the D800 was a major improvement from the MD-10 but it isn't.

A 500$ Vertical Grip should have had a lot more than what is has right now.
It is pratically the same as for the D700 so it should have been priced out the same. It has absolutely no reason to be 500$ and honestly, I think it will cost them a lot. I won't buy it for my D800 because the Grip for my D300 isn't that great. Sure I love having the second battery in there but that's about it.... the button to scroll down the focus point is so cheap that I've stopped using it lately... 

I agree with Chad here on the China knock-offs part. Nikon has to invest the money and the resources to make this happen. The China place just has to take all the work that Nikon did and reproduce it, with none of the overhead of branding, development, and distribution that Nikon does.

Now… none of that excuse $500 for a basic battery grip. I agree that's ridiculous, but your argument that "if someone take the exact same images as me and is 12 times cheaper" isn't really analogous. Someone hires you, presumably, for your vision, your creativity, your ability to think through the problem and come up with a unique solution, not just as a trained monkey that can set up the shot they have in their head and push a button. The photo you take is YOUR vision, and that vision is unique. No other photographer would take that shot. Now if a company were to come to you and say "we love that cat photo you took 4 years ago, but we have this guy who's willing to reproduce it for 1/12th the price" I'm sure you probably wouldn't lose too much sleep over losing that client.
The point is it's one thing to copy something and make it look the same and function the same. And it takes FAR less work to do that then to create something new from scratch. Also, $500 for a battery grip is outrageous.

I think you need to rethink your thinking...

"The China place just has to take all the work that Nikon did and reproduce it, with none of the overhead of branding, development, and distribution that Nikon does."

Nikon already has the equipment in their plants to make grips (machinery from making a bazillion MD-blahs earlier).
Nikon already most of the individual parts (thread, pins, battery housing covers).
Nikon already has designed the camera the grip goes on.
Nikon already knows the pinouts, dimensions, and voltages it needs on the grip.

You say they need to do _more_ work than the China place that's making a competitive product at 1/10 the price? No, sir. The folks who are competing need to reverse engineer the whole thing and then (at least _did_ the first time through this endeavor) need to come up with dies from scratch to do the molding, pinouts, toggle switches, and figure out the whole assembly process... this is much, much more work.

But we both agree that they're high charging $500 for a grip.

 I really don't think theyhave that much into building a Vgrip. Seriously its not different than the grip for the D7000 or the D300/D700 grip. How much research and develpment really goes into building a VGrip? Its just a different size, thats it thats all. Nikon needs to stop price gauging just because they can.

Why? Sadly, because they can.

While we are on the subject why the heck is the Canon grip with the built in Wi-Fi system so expensive? 
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/650270-REG/Canon_3829B001_WFT_E5A_... I mean it is not like this technology has proven to be expensive it is just a Wi-Fi card and Bluetooth. If you add that to the cost of the regular battery grip is should be around $200-$225 tops. The funny thing is no one else is making an alternative that I am aware of...why?

Haha I'm sorry but I have no remorse for you. Have you seen how much Nikon's version cost!! 

Now THAT is a markup... But once again I will buy one since there is no other option. 


Geez man...I can't believe any of us put up with this stuff. I am okay with paying a fair price for a fair product, but it is highway robbery.

I'm thinking that they assume the only people who would buy such a grip are pros who have the bank to just scoff at the absurd price and pony up their wallets.  Realistically the camera should have wifi tethering capability built in.  The tech is so damn old virtually all mainstream electronics have it... they can cram it into a tiny SD card there is no reason to NOT put it into the body of a DSLR.  

I also hope to god the next version of the 5D has thunderbolt for totally amazing tethering and transfer speeds.

In Canon's defense, at least that is a vertical grip with a wi-fi system, unlike the MB-D12 :)

i am just going to buy 2 extra batteries. no way in hell am I giving Nikon $500 for a grip. NEVER!

I see a lot of people buying the replica.

The pocket wizard is a great idea!  

I really really start to dislike Nikon and regret that all my equipment is made by them.

First, they insult every photographer on Facebook, then they release the D800 with - in my opinion - good but very "weird" specs, and now this ridiculous grip (that of course you need with a D800).

Nikon becomes more and more evil, doesn't care about it's customers, and gets very unfriendly. I seriously wish I had Canon gear.

What did Nikon do on Facebook?

Some time ago they sortta said that the most important part is the gear, that a photographer is just as good as the lens he uses and that without proper gear you could not get good pictures. More here: 

New way to recover after Nikon's factory flood in Thailand lol...

Wow that is crazy, I think I will seriously consider the Chinese knock-off this time. I'm all for supporting the manufacturers to keep innovating and paying the slight premium at times versus the knock-off versions, but this is a little ridiculous...

because they can!

I own a $42 grip for my D300s. It fits with a tiny wobble. Not enough to bother me. Functions perfectly and even adds the ability to trigger the shutter with an IR remote that it came with.

It does not increase the shooting speed like the Nikon version. I believe the increase is from 7.3 FPS to 8FPS. Not a significant enough increase for me to concern myself with my type of shooting. Not for $250.

It sucks that Nikon, or any company really, takes the brunt of the cost for R&D and then someone else comes along and rips it off. That's not cool at all.... and yet, if the Nikon version was what I would consider "reasonably" priced. I'd have bought the Nikon instead.

Normally, I'd echo your argument about the difference being R&D and the people of China taking an already developed product and  making a copy. But we're talking about a grip. it's some plastic, four buttons, two battery slots and a couple wires to connect those thing to the camera. It doesn't actually *do* anything, it just triggers functions that are already included in the price of the camera. 

And also, factories producing Nikon and knock-off versions are probably a couple of blocks away, so the costs should be only lower for the Nikon because of the higher quantity of production. They're not producing them in Detroit, so that you could say that cheap labor is the reason for the difference.

i same predicament with canon, and I settle for the knockoff one. I only want it as handle and trigger. I don't even put batteries inside as they all drain together.

I plan to buy a vertical grip with my next body (hopefully, the D800). I've never owned one before so I have a couple of questions:

1. Are there certain 3rd party makers that are more reliable and/or have a better reputation that the others? If so, what are their names?

2. I understand the MB-D12 can be powered by eight AA batteries. Does the use of AA batteries require a battery holder? If so, is it normally included with grip or purchased separately? If purchased separately, how many battery holders are needed (ie, one that holds 8 batteries or four that holds 2 batteries each)?

I bet there will be good and bad knockoff grips but you won't know until they are released. I read on some  blog that not only is the MB-12 twice as expensive but it also doesn't come with the AA battery holder. That will cost you another $60. 

Really Lee ? If the AA holder isn't there then GO TO HELL NIKON, we should really complain just like Scott Kelby did against Adobe :) 500$ is already a RIP off, now if the AA holder is not included, that's insane...

it does come with the AA battery carriage. 
but the Nikon grip is MADE IN CHINA.

I like the Zeikos brand grips...never had an issue... http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?atclk=Category_Photography+Batterie...

FWIW i bought a knock off d7000 grip, and a d300 grip...both work great, never had an issue...and for $50 bucks, if they break, i'll buy another and STILL be ahead of the game as opposed to a Nikon branded grip....ESPECIALLY if you're talking about $500 for a D800 grip...

A fantastic idea of providing additional power to the flash gun, even though personally I don't use mine for anything other than a master for remotes. One problem is that there is no provided electrical path from the grip to the hot shoe, so an external cable would have to be used.
 The current price is completely unjustified and I myself will be waiting for third party makers to catch up. If Nikon added some smarts to it, some forward thinking design then I'd be all for it. There are so many options that could be integrated into the grip, wifi/BT radio controller is about $30-40 (less for big mfgs), a modular plug in could be integrated for adding a wifi card, Pocket Wizard card that Seconic is using for 358, leave room for future ideas and there is still plenty of room for a battery. To do all this is not complicated at all and does not require extensive development.

So if anybody can get their hands on Nikon's Vgrip schematics and detailed info about what they use the extra contacts for, we can make our own add-ons! :))

I've always wanted a grip with raido triger or port for powering a flash, built-in it makes perfict sense as a place for those items. I have contomplanted digging out my old A300 with grip and seeing if I could modify it by working one of those cheap triggers from ebay in to it.

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