Pixel Vertax D12 Grip for Nikon D800 – Hands on Review

Pixel Vertax D12

The Pixel Vertax MB-12 costs £68 on eBay. The Nikon MB-D12 costs £380. Can this cheaper alternative possibly be any good?

Pixel Vertax D12 on Nikon D800 back view

What is the Pixel Vertax D12?

The Vertax D12 is a 3rd party vertical battery grip for the Nikon D800. Pixel are a Hong Kong based company who manufacture lots of third-party items like flash triggers, wireless shutter triggers and battery grips. All of their accessories are Made In China. But then again, the official £380 Nikon MB-D12 grip is also Made In China.

 

Why would I want to buy a Pixel Vertax D12?

  • Improved handling in standard orientation. The grip adds to the size of the camera, making it more comfortable to hold and more balanced/stable with some lenses.
  • Improved vertical orientation shooting. The grip means that you can hold the camera more normally when shooting portraits.
  • Extra battery capacity. The grip holds an extra Nikon battery, or 8xAA batteries, effectively doubling the total battery life of the camera.
  • Improved frame rate. In DX mode, the d800 is normally limited to 5fps. But with a grip it can do 6fps in DX mode. Note that the maximum in FX mode is 4fps, regardless of a grip.

 

Why didn’t I just buy the “proper” Nikon grip?

I am already unhappy that Nikon announced the UK d800 price at £2399 ($3700) but after weeks of pre-orders had already happened, they increased it further to £2599 ($4050). UK customers are paying USD$1000 more than American customers. The UK does have higher tax, but even after taking it into consideration that there is a hefty premium on the UK price.

I think £380 for a camera grip is absolutely disgraceful pricing. Not to mention another £60 for a spare battery. To put things in comparison, a 5d2 grip costs £210 and a Sony a850 grip costs £199. This is reasonable IMO. A d700 grip is £260, which is still more expensive than it’s peers, but the d800 MB-D12 breaks the record by a long way. At the end of the day, the grip is a box which holds some batteries and has a couple of dials and buttons and a basic circuit board to communicate with the camera. It doesn’t have a sensor, mirror, AF system or anything else expensive like the camera body does. Bear in mind that the fantastic Nikon 85/1.8G lens is cheaper than the camera grip. For a lens with 9 precision glass elements, AF-S focusing etc.

So, partly in protest, I ordered the Pixel Vertax D12 for the highly reasonable price of £68. And I must say that I’m impressed.

 

What is included with the Pixel Vertax D12?

The grip, 8xAA battery holder, Nikon battery holder which holds one battery, Soft black storage bag

 

Pixel Vertax D12 Build Quality

The D800 has excellent build quality, and so of course you want a grip which is just as good. You don’t want a cheap plastic accessory on your fantastically-made camera.

Luckily, the Pixel Vertax D12 build quality is quite good. The official Pixel product information for this product says that it is made of the same materials as the D800 body and has weather sealing. Obviously, I can’t verify this myself without taking it apart or taking it for a shower, but I will say that the build quality is good enough. I wouldn’t “baby” it any more than I would the D800 itself.

Overall Feel. Overall the grip is tough, and if you squeeze it or bend it, it doesn’t flex or compress at all. I could certainly believe that there is metal in there, or high-grade plastic. Inside the battery compartment there is a long strip of metal visible running along the underside, where the tripod mount of the grip is. The grip has a little indent where you can store the rubber cover for the electronic socket where the grip plugs in. The two little “anchors” which go into the underside of the D800 feel strong. One is plastic, and the other is metal. When the grip is attached, I tried twisting it with reasonable force and it doesn’t budge.

 

Pixel Vertax D12 internal view

 

Buttons and Dials. The shutter button is a bit lighter to press and a little more wobbly than the shutter button on the D800 itself. The AF-on button feels identical with a nice feel and soft press. Both control dials offer enough resistance and respond quickly. They don’t feel “quite” as good as the D800 dials, but they’re good enough that I’m not complaining.

Battery compartment. Batteries fit into both holders tightly and securely. The AA battery holder is well labelled so that it’s easy to see which way to inert the battery.  The holder then slides into the side of the grip securely and the little flap at the end locks. The battery door feels very secure and doesn’t wobble around at all. If you grab it and move it around, it has a little bit of play but it certainly feels secure. I don’t think the batteries would ever slide out by themselves.

Weight. I measured these myself on scales accurate to 1g. The grip without holders =  229g. Both holders are identical = 46g each. The grip with Nikon battery installed = 364g. The grip with 8xAA batteries installed = 485g.

 

Pixel Vertax D12 Battery Holders

 

 

Pixel Vertax D12 Function and FAQ

I’ve read a number of questions about the grip on web forums, so I will try to answer them here:

Do the Control Dials work properly? Both control dials scroll in the same direction as the D800. And if you reverse the dial rotation (custom setting f9), the grip reverses too.

Does every button work properly? The grip had no problems activating autofocus on the camera, or activating the shutter. If VR is enabled, the grip AF-on and shutter button both activate it perfectly. The little joystick selects focus points. I initially thought that you can’t press the center of the joystick to select the center AF point, but you can. It’s just quite difficult to accurately press the joystick perfectly straight.

Does the grip work with custom button assignments? Yes. If you set the grip AF-on button to something else (custom setting f13), it does what it is told.

Is the switch on the D12 a power switch? The little switch on next to the shutter release button isn’t a power button. It turns the grip itself on or off. It does not turn the camera on or off. Obviously the grip itself deactivates when you turn the D800 off.

Does the focus point lock dial also lock the grip joystick? Yes. If you lock the focus points by flicking the switch around the d-pad on the camera, the grip joystick also de-activates.

What about batteries? The camera detects the grip with no problems. If you tell the camera to use the grip batteries first, it does.

Does the Pixel Vertax D12 allow 6fps? Yes. The d800 DOES shoot 6fps in DX mode, when powered by 8xAA batteries. You need to tell the camera to use the grip batteries first (custom setting d11 and d12) and have 8xAA batteries in there.

Can the camera be powered by only the grip? Yes. The camera works fine if you only have batteries in the grip and not in the camera. That works with both the Nikon battery and with 8xAA batteries. No problems at all.

Will it take the D4 battery (EN-EL16)? No. The grip comes with holders for the EN-EL15 d800 battery and the 8xAA batteries. There is no mention of an optional EN-EL16 holder anywhere on the Pixel website.

What does the USB port (behind the Pixel logo) do? This isn’t in the user manual but several readers have told me that this is for firmware updates, if needed.

 

Pixel Vertax D12 Pictures

Here are some detailed pictures of the Vertax D12 from many angles, as well as attached to the D800 so you can see how well it fits.
Pixel Vertax D12
Pixel Vertax D12 back viewPixel Vertax D12 botton viewPixel Vertax D12 top viewPixel Vertax D12 front view

Behind that little “PiXeL” tab, there’s a mini USB port!
Pixel Vertax D12 on D800 close upPixel Vertax D12 on D800 fitPixel Vertax D12 on d800 front viewPixel Vertax D12 on d800 close upPixel Vertax D12 on D800

 

Thanks for reading this review. Feel free to check out any of my travel photos such as Peru, Dubai, Scotland, Paris or Taiwan and many more.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider using any of the social media buttons below, or posting this review anywhere you think people might also enjoy it!

I have also reviewed the Fuji X100, and the Nikon D800 and I’ll be writing more reviews very soon. If you have any suggestions, criticisms or comments, please leave them in the comments section below:)

Thanks,

David

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Jack - July 17, 2012 - 8:05 pm

Thank you for this post! I’ve ordered a Pixel from Amazon…

Pixel Vertax D12 Battery Grip Review - July 18, 2012 - 5:54 am

[...] review might be longer if I haven’t seen another review of the same product. It covers a lot more details than I was planning to post here so you should [...]

Noel - July 19, 2012 - 5:15 am

Great write up the the Vertax D12. I just got mine two days ago and as you stated, ‘I can’t complain’. I paid about $105 on eBay and don’t regret it at all. Your points are spot on and there is no way the MBD12 is $400 better than the vertax D12. That’s what this comes down to. Thanks for the review.

David (admin) - July 19, 2012 - 11:14 am

Thanks Noel. The Nikon grip may be better, but I doubt it’s 4-6x better!

Hong Kong Resident - July 20, 2012 - 4:23 am

Thanks.

I’m glad it’s a good alternative to the horribly overpriced Nikon grip and I’m glad I live in Hong Kong and can walk into a “photo” mall and buy one.

:)

darren Smith - July 22, 2012 - 2:49 pm

an excellent review and matches my experience with my pixel grip, one question though, do you know what the USB socket is for on the front of the grip (under the runner pixel logo)?

David (admin) - July 22, 2012 - 4:05 pm

Hi Darren, I think the USB port is for firmware updates. It’s well hidden and isn’t mentioned in the user manual that comes with the grip. I suspect it’s there in case Nikon release some sort of d800 grip which stops 3rd party grips from working. Then Pixel can issue an update themselves and tell people about the USB port.

Jeff Morris - July 24, 2012 - 10:47 am

I would have never purchased a third party grip. Always beating the drum for OEM Nikon accessories, the price of the OEM grip made me think otherwise. I purchase a MB-D 12 grip and returned it because I could not justify the price.

I have learned to go “gripless” and I love it. For three uears my D700 had a MB-D10 attached with a 24-70. Today I travel lite with the 28mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8 and enjoy the mobility. I do not miss the grip at all, I thought I would. But if I need a grip i will more than likely purchase a Pixel! Thanks David, I appreciated your answers to questions found on the web!

David (admin) - July 24, 2012 - 5:58 pm

Thanks Jeff. I was the same, but I figured for the price vs the price of the Nikon grip, why not! The reason I bought the grip is because I found the d800 quite uncomfortable to hold, particularly with big lenses. It’s a bit blocky feeling and I feel like I’m “pinching” onto it, rather than “gripping” it. The grip gives me something a bit more substantial to hold onto.

Sean McNamara - July 26, 2012 - 4:32 pm

Nice review. Picked up this Vertax grip from Amazon (prime) and am very happy with it. Much better than the Meike offering. Vertax did a very good job matching the finish of the d800. The texture in both the molded plastic and rubber is just spot-on. The price tag on the Nikon OEM is just a huge slap in the face. Never even considered buying one at $400.

DCF - July 27, 2012 - 9:46 am

Regarding the use of mini USB port, someone in the Hong Kong forum confirmed with PIXEL, it is for firmware update. It should be more or less the same as your estimation.

Amount the 3 3rd party D12, PIXEL should be the most popular at this moment.

Tim - July 31, 2012 - 6:36 am

“Can the camera be powered by only the grip? Yes. The camera works fine if you only have batteries in the grip and not in the camera. That works with both the Nikon battery and with 8xAA batteries. No problems at all.”

Can it work if you only have batteries in the camera and not in the grip?

David (admin) - July 31, 2012 - 1:58 pm

Hi Tim, Yup it works great! Though you won’t get 6fps in DX mode without batteries in the grip, everything else is normal.

Simanta - August 13, 2012 - 7:36 am

A very well written detailed review of the Pixel Vertax D12. Its simply Nikon’s policy to charge the earth for the MB-D12 battery grip which is also almost equivalent to an entry level DSLR. I’ve heard that many of their accessories are outsourced and branded Nikon and price it according to their own free will making suckers out of us. I’ve just ordered the Pixel Vertax D12 at eBay. It cost me about $123[US] in India. Heaps of thanks to you.

Jerb - August 18, 2012 - 3:08 am

How does the rubber grip feel vs the Nikon?
Are the command dials on the grip rubber or hard plastic?

HK - August 18, 2012 - 11:55 am
David (admin) - August 24, 2012 - 12:12 pm

Sorry I don’t have the Nikon on hand to make a direct comparison. The command dials are hard plastic.

David (admin) - August 24, 2012 - 12:13 pm

I haven’t noticed this issue when using the grip.

Tim - October 11, 2012 - 1:29 am

Can you try this test with your command dials on the D12.

Hold down ISO button. Spin the command dial slowly. Each click should register.

Now spin the command dial quickly. It registered 2 clicks when I did about 5.

Almost like there’s a timer on the dial?

I had an issue batteries in the camera and not in the grip. It works, but put a flash on the D800. Set it to manual zoom but use a zoom lens. Now go shoot. Every now and then you’ll notice the camera has rebooted. Also, the zoom on the SB900 has gone backto auto zoom. There’s a 0.5s delay as the system reboots.

David (admin) - October 14, 2012 - 10:49 am

Hi Tim,

The dials on my grip work perfectly – or at least as well as the ones on the camera. I haven’t noticed them jumping or missing clicks, so it sounds like yours has a problem.

Same for the battery issue – I haven’t noticed any unusual behaviour. I don’t have a flash so I can’t replicate the exact circumstances you mentioned, sorry! It does sound like your grip has a problem – you can probably return it!

Jack (same Jack from July 17th post...) - November 5, 2012 - 2:39 pm

Thanks again David! I really like the Pixil Grip. Your review is right on! My first unit was defective (the AE/AF lock when the shutter is pressed half-way did not work but the AE/AF button did work) and the company replaced it in four days (reordered and defective unit sent back to them). This is worth the “Benjamin!”

Allan - March 3, 2013 - 9:25 pm

Great info & review.
I am also looking for a good grip but can not see going for the Nikon version.
Best detail images I seen…

al

John Richardson - May 21, 2013 - 9:17 am

So after several months of using this grip how is it taking the use?

David (admin) - May 21, 2013 - 10:14 am

Grip seems to be handling use fine. Admittedly I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would, and I mostly use the d800 without a grip at all. The only thing is that I left the grip on a desk which was in direct sunlight for half a day and the rubber has faded to a pale-ish grey. That was a mistake on my part, but I was surprised how much it faded in such a short time. All the buttons and scroll wheels still work absolutely fine.

My verdict would be that it’s fine to use. Build quality is solid enough to last for hobbyists and people who simply want a more comfortable camera. But if you’re a dedicated grip-using shooter, maybe investing in the Nikon one would be better.

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