Thursday, 14 July 2016

Get a Grip! Review of the Olympus HLD-8

I’m a battery grip kinda guy. I love using them, and they are almost the first accessory I get when I have a camera (apart from the obligatory spare battery). Yes they add weight, and yes they add bulk – and that’s one of the reasons I like them. Up until switching to a mirrorless micro four thirds system I was of the ‘bigger and heavier is better” persuasion. It’s something I still sort of believe – to a point.

There are other reasons why I always opt for the grip. I like the portrait-orientation shutter button, the extra purchase it gives your hand, and the ability to add a second battery for extended shooting times. All things that, as a wedding photographer, I found very useful.

But I’m not a wedding photographer anymore. And I have ‘lightened’ my load by moving to the Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mk2. So why add a battery grip to the EM-5?

The HLD-8 comes in two sections. Genius!
For me, the addition of the HLD-8 grip for the EM-5 Mk2 makes sense for all the reasons mentioned above. It adds a portrait orientation shutter button. It adds an extra battery slot. It gives my hand more to grip onto when holding the camera, and it also adds a headphone jack for listening to audio when capturing video. The really clever design of the HLD-8 also means that you can have you cake and eat it too! Only want the extra grip portion for 90% of your shooting? Fine – just add the grip attachment (HLD-8G) section. Need more battery power (and an audio in for filming), then attach the additional battery section. Or leave the grip at home and just shoot with the camera. Lots of options. Ok, that last one you had anyway without paying for the grip – but you get what I mean.

Yet as much as I love battery grips, and always get one for whatever camera I own, it’s been almost a year with my EM-5 Mk2 and I’ve only just got the grip for it now. Why the long wait?

Mostly it was because I had convinced myself I shouldn’t get a grip for the EM-5 Mk2. With some camera decisions I make – especially if it’s a fairly costly one – I can occasionally suffer from analysis paralysis. The internet is a wonderful tool for learning and making ‘informed’ decisions about all sorts of gear – I contribute to this knowledge base myself with my blogs. But it can also subject us to information overload.

I read countless reviews on mirrorless systems, and on the Olympus EM-5 specifically, before deciding to buy one myself. And most of those reviews centred on going as light as possible and using just the body with two or three prime lenses. So that’s the way I was tempted go. Only a month or so after buying the body with 12-50mm EZ lens, I travelled to my nearest city to purchase the grip, but just couldn’t do it. I bought a 45mm f1.8 prime instead, and thought I’d done the right thing. Just me, my EM-5 Mk2, and some prime lenses against the world. Who cares about a big old grip – that’s just for DSLR users!

Trouble is, I’ve come to realise that I’m not a prime lens kinda guy. I’m a zoom lens guy. I LOVE the 12-50mm EZ lens, even if it is f6.3 at the long end. I LOVE the 40-150mm f4/5.6 as well – it’s so sharp and light (and cheap). Of course it would be great if they were faster. I would love to replace them one day with the PRO versions at a constant f2.8. But the 45mm f1.8 prime lens… not so much. I bought it, I used it once and I sold it. Same with the 17mm f2.8. I had grand delusions of being a hipster street shooter with a small camera and 17mm prime, but it’s just not me. Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing lenses. I’m just not a prime lens kinda guy. The next lens I have my eye on is the Olympus ultra-wide 9-18mm f4/5.6 lens, followed by the 75-300mm f4.8/6.7. There are rumours of a 30mm f2.8 macro coming soon – which is a prime lens that would interest me. But I’d be happy if my kit consisted entirely of zooms (with the exception of the 9mm fisheye bodycap lens).

Once I’d had this epiphany (it only took me 30 years), it freed me up to accept that the handling of my EM-5 Mk2 would be greatly improved, for me, if I added the extra grip. What tipped me over the edge was using the Olympus EM-1 recently (see my earlier post). The handling of that camera, with its large grip, was superb. With the extra grip attached, the EM-5 Mk2 looked like it would feel and handle similarly to the EM-1. So from that moment on I was sold.

So now that I have one, am I happy with it? Has it made a difference? You bet your sweet Nelly it has! My camera might be bigger and heavier now, but I don’t care. In fact, I like it better that way. It’s still nowhere near the size and weight of a 1D Mk3, or even a Canon 50D with battery grip and equivalent 24-100mm zoom lens attached. Not even close. But it has made a significant difference to the ergonomics and the handling of the EM-5 Mk2. It’s now much more comfortable (and secure) walking around carrying it one-handed (as is my want to do). The shutter button is now in a much more comfortable location – not to mention the second button for vertical shooting – and the added heft gives the camera a more stable and solid feeling when held up to the eye. Overall I’m a happy camper.

Also, with the grip attached, the cameras strap eyelet now has more room around it so my hand doesn’t rest up against it as much. This makes it far more comfortable for my hand than without the grip. Nice.

It’s not all roses though. With the grip attached, I now find accessing the function buttons on top of the camera to be a bit more awkward. Because the grip naturally moves your hand placement forward of the camera, accessing the function buttons means letting go of the grip altogether to reach them. So now it’s become very much a two-handed operation, whereas without the grip attached your shutter finger is within easy reach of these programmable buttons. A shame – but not a deal breaker. Maybe it’s something I need to get more used to?

Also, the grip completely covers the battery door at the bottom of the camera. So to change batteries in the camera you need to completely remove the grip. This isn’t hard to do of course, but just takes a little more time. To counteract this, Olympus have included an option in the menu (section K under battery options) that lets you choose which battery to use first – the one in the camera or the one in the grip. If you choose to use the one in the grip first, then once that is exhausted and it switches to the in-camera battery, just pop a fresh battery in the grip and it will start using that again. Simple.
Prime-only shooters will probably pass on the HLD-8 because of the extra weight it adds to the EM-5 Mk2. I totally get that. Maybe some should consider getting the HLD-8’G’ – just the grip portion of the unit (sans battery section)? But even that might be an unnecessary addition. If however, like me, you are more of a zoom shooter and feel that the handling of the EM-5 Mk2 could be improved if it were just a tad bigger, then the HLD-8 isn’t really an option, it’s a necessity. A beautifully made, cleverly designed and highly customisable necessity. 

Finally – just a word on what for me was the ‘elephant in the room’ so to speak – the price. At just a tad over $400NZ it certainly isn’t a cheap accessory. You can buy a 45mm f1.8 prime for that kind of money (and I did). Of course I wish it was half the price.  But after finally sucking it up and actually getting one, I’m very, very, very happy that I did.

And on that note – just a quick shout out to Hayden Himberg at Southern Cameras in Dunedin, here in New Zealand. Hayden stocks a great range of Olympus (and other) products and always seems to be able to get me what I want quickly and competitively priced. If you are looking for any kind of camera gear and live in New Zealand, give Hayden a call and see what he can do for you. Tell him I sent you :-)


  1. Is it possible to program the third wheel to a different function than the two control wheels so that you have one for aperture, shutter speed, and iso?

  2. Hi Charlie. I've thought the same thing, but unfortunately no - I don't think this is possible. The grips shutter wheel simply mimics what the cameras shutter wheel is already programmed to. Maybe a firmware update might change this? I've just used one of the function buttons (Fn1) to change ISO quickly....


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