When the Nikon D800 was release, the matching Nikon MB-D12 battery grip created a little minor outrage. Despite being basically a piece of injection molded plastic, the MB-D12 had a retail price of $450, or nearly twice the price of the Nikon D700's battery grip. While most photographers are willing to pay a little bit of a premium for an OEM product, the added price of the MB-D12 was insult to injury.
Third party manufacturers have always offered accessory items like battery grips at vastly reduced prices, but the mildly insane pricing on the D800's grip made alternatives even more hotly anticipated. Enter the Aputure BP-MD12 battery grip for the Nikon D800.
At $90 shipped direct from China, the Aputure BP-MD12 is less than 1/4 the price of the $369 Nikon grip. Is this price right? If you're looking for an alternative to the Nikon MB-D12, read the full review for the answer.
As regular readers of www.ishootshows.com will now, I only review gear that I would personally use. This is no different with Aputure BP-MD12. Aputure sent me their BP-MD12 for review. I have zero affiliation with them.
I already own the Nikon MB-D12 battery grip, which I bought for full retail when it came out, for what that's worth.
What's in the Box
Aputure's package for the BP-MD12 includes the grip itself, the standard tray for a Nikon EN-EL15 or equivalent battery, as well as an extra tray for using 8 AA batteries, such as the ever-popular Sanyo Eneloop variety.
The design of the Aputure BP-MD12 is identical to that of the Nikon MB-D12. Identical. It's as if these things came out of the exact same molds. There are some very small differences in the seams of some of the parts, but overall, the Aputure and Nikon grips are 97% identical.
The Aputure Grip fits perfectly with the D800—no surprises or “gotchas.”
The build quality of the Aputure battery grip feels nearly identical to the Nikon grip. With a Nikon EN-EL15 battery installed, the Aputure grip weighs in at 12.12 oz, compared to 12.91 oz of the Nikon version. In the hand, the two grips feel essentially the exact same.
The only real difference in build quality that's apparent is that the Aputure grip's thumb screw dial rattles when shaken. It seems to lack the dampening of the original Nikon grip.
Function & Feel
The function of the Aputure BP-MD12 is the same as that of the Nikon MB-D12. You've got your AF-ON button, a multi-selector pad for AF point selection, and a vertical shutter release with a collar lock. Below you can see comparisons between the two grips for the D800, with the Aputure grip on top. Don't mind the grip tape on my Nikon grip.
Now, in the feel and use of the grip, there is a bit of a difference. The AF-ON button on the Aputure grip feels a little more “squishy” than the Nikon grip. The button material is identical, but the AF-ON button the Aputure grip has more travel in it, which means that you can press it into the grip father than the original Nikon grip.
The effect of this on use is minor, but it does make the Aputure grip feel less responsive, since it takes more “work” to actually use the button. It's a really subtle difference, but the one single instance where the Nikon grip is clearly preferable.
OK, now here's where things get interesting. The Nikon grip has more travel in the shutter release compared to the Aputure grip. So as a result, the Aputure grip actually feels more positive in use with the shutter release. The only possible downside to the harder shutter on the Aputure is that it might contribute to camera shake more than the Nikon grip. With this shorter travel, For what it's worth, the Nikon MB-D12's shutter release feels exactly the way the shutter release on Nikon's DSLRs feel.
I will say that these small differences are basically undistinguishable/irrelevant when actually using the grips. The two grips basically feel identical in real world use.
Here's a top view of the Aputure and Nikon grips.
While the price of the Nikon MB-D12 has dropped to a slightly less ridiculous $350, it's still a bitter pill to swallow. Considering that the Aputure BP-MD12 and rebranded versions can be bought for basically a full 1/4 less, the value on the Aputure grip is pretty outstanding.
Let's give Nikon the benefit of the doubt and pretend like the MB-D12 is a better built product (despite the fact that materials and workmanship appear identical to the Aputure grip) and assume that the Aputure BP-MD12 breaks on you. You can still literally buy three more for the full price of the Nikon. Or, you know, use that money for something else, like groceries.
Where to Buy
Aputure sells its products direct through AliExpress.com, which is associated with the e-commerce site Alibaba.com. Through AliExpress, the Aputure grip is listed at $89.99 with free shipping:
Aputure Vertical Camera Battery Grip for Nikon D800
Summary and End Notes
The action of the AF-ON buttons and the shutter releases are the one real and tangible point of difference that I found between the Aputure and Nikon grips. Other than that, they're basically identical. It's worth noting that for most people, these difference would never be noticed. The only reason I can really tell the difference between the two grips is because I have them side by side to compare.
Overall, I'd say that if you're looking for a vertical grip option for the D800 that won't break the bank, the Aputure BP-MD12 is an extremely economical option. It looks exactly like the OEM Nikon grip and feels 95% like Nikon grip.
I'd especially recommend the Aputure grip if you're the kind of shooter who only has occasional use for a vertical grip (i.e., occasional portrait shooting). Any grip with a camera like the D800 will make it a larger, more unwieldy piece of equipment, and of course the beauty of a grip like this is that it can be removed when it's not needed.
I've personally been using the Aputure grip instead of my Nikon grip so I could evaluate it for this review, and frankly, there's no real difference between the two except for the price. All the minor differences I noted above disappear when you're actually using the two grips.
And on that note, anyone want to buy a Nikon MB-D12?