(UPDATE: While I will test this myself, Kachi in the comments may have solved these companies' problems. When I was thinking to myself how I would design a grip for the A7/A9, it looked exactly like this.)
There is no need to mince words about this review: This is a picture of three deeply flawed products. But I’m keeping 1.5 out of the three.
The original sin here lies with Sony, and the camera design that they have decided was so perfect that they’ve left it largely unchanged since the launch of the A7 in 2013. At the time, the mirrorless world meant cameras with terrible battery life and sub-par autofocus, so they had to highlight the advantages, and the most obvious one to sell was “Look at how small the cameras can be!”
Now the battery life is fine, the autofocus is amazing, and these cameras are ready for any sort of professional use … but they’re too darned small, right where it counts. The hand grip.
Along the way of the FE system’s evolution, Sony showed that there was also a market for professional lenses that were just as large as their DSLR counterparts, because mirrorless has a lot of advantages other than size. But when you combine these larger lenses and particularly flashes with the tiny hand grip that can’t fit an entire adult-sized hand, you have an ergonomic nightmare. While I have larger-than-average hands, I have never heard any adult of any size say “Thank God there isn’t a bigger handgrip on this camera!”
The best solution, probably, is to put a battery grip on the camera, giving you all the space your hand needs. (The one upside to the minimal design changes is that all of these grips fit the A7III, A7RIII and A9). But a lot of time that feels like overkill. Can I just have my darned pinky finger back, please?
Sony clearly knew they were making problems for professionals, so they released the GP-X1EM grip extension along with the A9 — sleek and minimal and with a bit of grittiness, it tells photographers “Sorry about that! Here is your pinky back!”
It is hard to overstate how much better it makes the camera feel. But it also makes it a significantly less functional camera by covering two crucially important parts:
1. The battery compartment, and
2. The tripod socket.
I actually bought a GP-X1EM when I got my first A9 in May 2017. I put it on my camera, saw that it covered up these two things, and immediately boxed it back up to return it.
Covering the battery compartment is bad enough. It means I have to pay a lot more attention to when the battery runs down since changing it will now take two minutes instead of twenty seconds. But the tripod screw? That makes it actually useless to me. Not only do I like to use tripods and monopods from time to time, but when I am shooting with two cameras I use a HoldFast MoneyMaker, which needs to screw into the tripod socket.
I hadn’t given it more than an occasional rueful thought until I saw the Meike replacement recently. Not only is it significantly cheaper, it has its own tripod socket! ::Trumpets blaze:: I immediately ordered two.
You may notice a pattern here, where I am not thoroughly researching these grips before buying them. Well I sure noticed it when I unpacked the Meike grip, rejoiced at the tripod socket, and then was struck by a staggeringly awful design decision: The screw connector to the camera cannot be fastened or unfastened by hand! It needs a hex key or coin!
Imagine needing a hex key to change the batteries in your camera. Well, I don’t have to imagine, because I just tried the MK-X1EM on my cameras during 30 hours of shooting this week, changing batteries once per day.
It sometimes wasn’t too large a problem: As long as I remembered to start paying attention when the batteries got below 20 percent, I could usually find a small break to change them. But whaddaya know … the first time it happened, I didn’t have a coin on me. Thus began the dance of “How do I change my camera’s batteries?” Eventually I used a table knife.
These are not the things I want to think of during a professional shoot. I have enough problems.
Neither of these solutions are workable for me when doing a two-camera shoot. Luckily I have found that the downward pull of the MoneyMaker helps solve the ergonomic issues of larger lenses and flashes … somewhat.
I am returning the Meike handgrips, and will likely buy just one GP-X1EM for times when I know I will be dedicatedly shooting with just one camera — generally personal work and portrait shoots.
But for pete’s sake, Sony, you could have just built your grip right in the first place.