Brian's Photo Blog — Article 153
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Getting a Grip On the Tiny Olympus OM-D E-M5
Saturday 18 August 2012   —   Category: Equipment
One of the favorite accessories I had for my previous Sony α77 camera was its companion vertical grip — about which, unfortunately, I never wrote a blog article. Although it did add a fair amount of weight and bulk to the camera, it made it much nicer to use, so I always left it attached to the camera. In addition, it held two batteries, which allowed me to go a LONG time before having to replace them.

When I gave my α77 away, obviously the grip went with it. As I was researching a replacement camera, one thing that led me to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was its capacity — unique among Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) cameras — to have a grip attached. Olympus was even thoughtful enough to have designed a special grip just for the E-M5.

One of the main reasons I switched from an APS-C camera to a µ4/3 camera was because of the tremendous reduction in size and weight. So why would I want to add extra size and weight, when the whole point is to have a small and light camera? Well, one nice thing about a grip is that it’s removable, so you can easily take it off when you don’t want it.

Secondly, as you can see by comparing the first two photos to the right, the E-M5 with a grip is quite a bit smaller than the α77 with a grip. But the photos don’t tell the whole story. In reality, the E-M5 is one-half to two-thirds less heavy and bulky than the α77. The difference is really much greater than these comparison photos would lead you to believe.

By the way, the white line outlining the LCD screen on the E-M5 is an add-on screen protector. I always immediately put one on any camera I purchase. I’m very happy with this protector, and it does not impede the use of the touch-screen at all.

Olympus has come up with a clever two-part design for the HLD-6 grip. If you are wanting only a beefed-up horizontal grip, you can just add the smaller section (shown in the upper part of photo #3 to the right). If you are also wanting a vertical grip AND an extra battery, you attach BOTH sections.

Olympus demonstrates their attention to detail by including special areas in the two grip sections in which to store the rubber port flaps which must be removed the from bottom of the camera and from the smaller horizontal grip when putting the whole thing together. You can see these indented flap holders highlighted in red by moving your mouse over photo #3. That’s a really nice touch!

I've only had my E-M5 camera for a little over a month, so I've not had very much opportunity to use the grip. When I go out for hikes, I’m wanting to travel as lightly as possible, so on those occasions I’m leaving the grip off. But I am expecting that as I use the E-M5 over the coming months, I will find that the grip will be very useful in certain photographic situations.

For the sake of comparison, I've included a photo (#4) which shows what the E-M5 looks like with no grip attached. The lens mounted on the camera is my everyday, “normal” lens: a Panasonic Lumix 12-​35​mm f/2.8 zoom. This combination of body and lens weighs in at 1 pound 11 ounces (760g). And, just like this camera body and lens, this two-piece grip is also dust-proof and moisture-proof.

Photo #5 shows the camera with the smaller, horizontal grip attached. Weighing only 3.5 oz. (100g), and adding only 3/8 of an inch (10mm) to the height, it doesn’t make the camera very much heavier or bulkier at all. But the extended grip on the front corner of the camera, and the extra shutter-release button definitely make the camera easier to hold and handle, especially when using large lenses like the Panasonic Lumix 100-​300​mm zoom.

By comparing photos #4 and #5, you can see the almost-nonexistent, so-called grip built into the body, and then the great depth of the add-on horizontal grip. It’s a night and day difference! In fact, the much-deeper grip on the front of the camera is such a significant improvement, I’m thinking that I should keep it on my camera at all times. It really does make a huge difference when trying to hold the camera. And the added shutter-release button is much easier to reach than the one built into the body.

The only negative aspect — besides the extra 3.5 oz. in weight and 3/8 of an inch in height — is that in order to change the battery, you have to remove the grip. But, so far, I have been very impressed with the battery life of the E-M5. Therefore, because the battery would need to be changed infrequently, it’s not really a big deal to have to remove the grip each time, just a minor inconvenience.

In photo #6, you can see that the vertical grip has been attached to the horizontal grip, which is the only way the vertical grip can be used with the camera. Because I would always have a battery in this grip when using it, I have weighed it with a battery installed: 6 ounces (175g). Because of the additional source of power, the vertical grip is much thicker than the horizontal grip, measuring 1.25 inches (32mm). But with this modest increase in weight and bulk, you gain a host of additional features.

With one battery in the camera body, and another in the grip, the camera will automatically switch from one battery to the other, once one of them runs out of juice. In the camera menu, you can even choose which battery will be used first, although to me it makes much more sense to use the battery in the grip first, because you can change that one without having to remove the grip from the camera.

Besides the two programmable function buttons on the camera body, the vertical grip adds an additional two (visible in photo #3), which can be assigned any function from a long list of possibilities, independently of how the function buttons on the body have been programmed.

As you can see in photo #7, the vertical grip has two control dials — one around the shutter-release button, and one near the thumb rest — which have whatever functions you have set up for the identical dials on the camera body. From the photo, you can also see that the grip part has a good amount of depth, for vertically holding the camera comfortably in your hand.

In addition, the grip has a “lock” switch, for those times when you want to disable the buttons and dials on the grip. Furthermore, it has a DC-IN jack for continuous-powered shooting — vital for time-lapse photography — when using Olympus' overpriced AC-3 power adapter.

Well, I suppose this brings my illustrated tour of the Olympus HLD-6 grip to a close. It is a finely-engineered accessory, which raises the OM-D E-M5 much closer to a professional-level camera than any other Micro Four Thirds camera out there. Of course, at $300 it IS quite spendy (as they say in Oregon), but if you want to add this kind of functionality to your E-M5 camera, there is really no other choice available. Think it over, and then get a grip!
UPDATE — 23 April 2014: To find out more about this grip, don’t miss A Gripping Tale of Two OM-D E-M5 Grips and Of Battery Grips and Lens Tripod Collars.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 153
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