Brian's Photo Blog — Article 314
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Of Battery Grips and Lens Tripod Collars
Wednesday 23 April 2014   —   Category: Equipment
In response to my popular article A German Tripod Collar for Panasonic 100-300 Lens, a reader named Hector left the following comment:
Hi Brian. Do you know if the collar interferes with the optional battery grip on the GH3/GH4? I read in another post (by David Ferrone) that one can not use the battery grip when using a lens collar made by the same guys for the Lumix 35-​100​mm f/2.8. I just ordered a GH4 with the battery grip. The GH3 & GH4 use the same battery grip. I want to order the collar for the 100-​300​mm, but I don’t really want to have to remove the grip when using the collar.
I must start off by making it clear that the only Micro Four Thirds camera I own is an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Therefore, seeing that I don’t own a Panasonic GH3 or GH4 body, nor do I have access to any camera bodies other than my E-M5, I am not really qualified to answer questions relating to those other cameras.

Nevertheless, Hector’s question about using a lens tripod collar with a vertical battery grip got me wondering about my own camera. I had purchased the cleverly-designed, two-part battery grip which Olympus made especially for the E-M5 not long after I bought the camera, as I recounted in Getting a Grip On the Tiny Olympus OM-D E-M5.

However, for the type of photography I’m usually involved in — taking pictures of nature while out hiking — I don’t really need or want to use this grip. Therefore, I have to admit that I have never had an opportunity to use this grip for any actual picture taking. Perhaps if I liked shooting events rather than nature....

Although I have used my Panasonic 100-​300​mm lens on numerous occasions, the lens collar accessory is a fairly recent addition. Therefore, in light of all these facts, it should be apparent that I have never had the 100-​300​mm lens, with the collar, attached to my camera at the same time as the vertical battery grip. But all that changed this very day! More on that in a moment — first we need to look at a couple of other issues.

In his comment, Hector mentioned an online article which discusses using a lens collar, not on the Panasonic 100-​300​mm lens, but on the smaller Panasonic 35-​100​mm lens. On the face of it, there seems no good reason to buy an expensive lens collar for the 35-​100​mm because it is significantly lighter and shorter than the 100-​300​mm. In addition, the 35-​100​mm does not get longer when you zoom to the longest focal length, as opposed to the 100-​300​mm, which is almost 50% longer at 300mm than it is at 100mm.

Once you read the details of Mr. Ferrone’s article, you discover that he is wanting a tripod collar on the 35-​100​mm lens, not for the traditional reason of supporting a long lens, but for an entirely different reason related to the vertical battery grip. Even though he was talking about his Panasonic GH3 and its accompanying vertical battery grip, my Olympus E-M5 and companion grip have the same issue, so for the rest of the article I will use my equipment as the example instead of Mr. Ferrone’s.

As you can see from the photo to the right, the tripod socket on the Olympus vertical battery grip is offset from the axis of the lens / sensor. This is the “problem” which Mr. Ferrone was attempting to fix by adding a tripod collar to his Panasonic 35-​100​mm lens, so that instead of attaching his camera via the offset tripod socket of the vertical grip, he would attach his camera to the tripod via the collar, which is aligned with the central axis of the lens.

You can read in Mr. Ferrone’s article how he was eventually able to get a tripod collar for his Panasonic 35-​100​mm lens, only to discover that the mounting foot of the collar was colliding with the handhold of the vertical grip. But he didn’t have this problem with the 100-​300​mm lens. After a quick comparison of these two lenses, it’s easy to see why.

In this next photo, I have aligned the end caps of the Panasonic 100-​300​mm and 35-​100​mm lenses. Then I superimposed a red line, showing how the O.I.S. switch on the 100-​300​mm lens is to the left of the red line, while on the 35-​100​mm lens, the switch is to the right of the line. It is this offset that is causing Mr. Ferrone’s problems.

As was made clear in my article about the tripod collar, it is designed to mount on the section of the lens barrel where the O.I.S. switch is located, and there are cut-outs in the collar so that the switch is still accessible, whether in landscape or portrait orientation.

Because the O.I.S. switch is closer to the mounting end of the 35-​100​mm lens than it is on the 100-​300​mm lens, the tripod collar is closer to the camera body and vertical battery grip on that lens as well. Apparently the difference is enough to cause the foot of the tripod collar to collide with the handhold of the grip, making it impossible to mount the 35-​100​mm lens with collar while the grip is attached to the camera.

How much difference IS there between the placement of the O.I.S. switch on these two lenses? I’m glad you asked, because I have a visual, photographic answer for you!
From what I can see, the switch on the 35-​100​mm lens is about 7.5mm closer to the end of the lens than the switch on the 100-​300​mm camera. Now that’s not a huge difference, but it the situation we are discussing, it is enough to cause problems.

With my equipment, when I mount the 100-​300​mm lens with the collar to my E-M5 body with the vertical battery grip attached, there is only 3.5mm clearance between the foot of the collar and the handhold of the grip. Because the switches on the two lenses are further apart than that — measured at 7.5mm — the 35-​100​mm definitely would not mount with a tripod collar attach. I have verified this by trying to place the collar for the 100-​300​mm lens in the correct position on the 35-​100​mm lens while it is mounted to the camera — no go.

If you will remember, the reason Mr. Ferrone wanted a tripod collar for the 35-​100​mm lens was in order to attach his camera, with the vertical battery grip, to his tripod so that the mounting point is aligned with the axis of the lens. He mentioned in his article that he wanted to use a collar on his Panasonic 12-​35​mm lens as well, which because of the placement of the O.I.S. switch will have this very same problem. In my opinion he is not going about this in the best way.

Rather than buying a separate collar for each of his lenses, I think he would be a lot better off figuring out how to attach the vertical battery grip to his tripod at the proper point. Once that is done, he can mount any lens he wants on his camera body, and it won’t change the link between the grip and the tripod. And he won’t need ANY tripod collars at all. Well, it would still be good to use a collar on the largish 100-​300​mm lens. But I don’t think any other Micro Four Thirds lens needs a collar.

In the end, it’s not the vertical battery grip nor the lens collars which are the real issues, but rather the tripod head and mounting-plate system. From looking at the photos accompanying Mr. Ferrone’s article, you can see that he’s using a Manfrotto 701HDV head. Unfortunately, this type of head does not allow the mounting plate to slide left and right in the head, making it impossible to position the lens axis over the exact center of the tripod head.

As I recounted in my article Really Right Goodies, last year I bought some tripod accessories from American manufacturer Really Right Stuff (RRS). Some of the parts I used to convert my Manfrotto tripod head to an Arca-style clamp. One of the features of this type of clamp is that the camera plate doesn’t fit in just one position, but you can slide the plate from side to side in the clamp.

In the photo to the right, you can see one of the goodies I bought last year — an RRS B9 multi-use bidirectional plate — attached to the bottom of my vertical battery grip. You will notice that the tripod socket in the grip is way to the left edge of the lens. But because the mounting plate extends to the right, we’re headed back in the right direction!

It would be even better if the mounting plate was wider. At only 1.5 inches (38mm), I think the B9 is kind of on the small side. Therefore I've ordered RRS’s larger and more versatile BP-CS multi-camera conventional plate, which is almost twice as wide at 2.7 inches (69mm). One of my most favorite people in the world, the UPS delivery person, will be bringing it to my front door tomorrow!

Click on the above image to change the camera
position to the other end of the clamp!
As I explained in a previous article, I've mounted an arca-style Really Right Stuff B2-LR-II lever-release clamp on my beloved Manfrotto 322RC2 Horizontal Grip Action “Joystick” head.

Even though this RRS clamp is not wide (2.4 inches / 60mm), I am able to slide the camera about 48mm (1.9 inches) from side to side, with the clamp still keeping a good grip on the small B9 plate. This gives me enough leeway to position the camera so that the lens axis is aligned with the tripod head axis. Click on the image to the right to change the camera position to the other end of the clamp!

This method of aligning the lens with the tripod head is much better than Mr. Ferrone’s method of relying on lens tripod collars. All I have to do is position the camera properly in the clamp, and then I can easily change lenses all I want without having to adjust anything. In addition, the problem Mr. Ferrone was having of the lens collar colliding with the vertical battery grip totally disappears.

In closing, to answer Hector’s original question — can the tripod collar on the Panasonic 100-​300​mm lens and the vertical battery grip on the GH3/GH4 body be used at the same time? As I said before, I don’t have an answer for those bodies, but for the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the answer is a definite YES, you can use them together.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 314
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