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?
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.
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 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.
Behind that little “PiXeL” tab, there’s a mini USB port!
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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 🙂