The Canon BG-E6 battery grip serves a couple of different purposes for the 5D Mark II. As the name implies, it holds batteries – either two LP-E6 lithium-ion batteries or 6 AA batteries in the included battery holder. Likewise, the BG-E6 serves as a grip for handling the camera in portrait orientation, featuring controls for the shutter release, scroll wheel, and focus point adjustments, among others.
The BG-E6 is a nice accessory to have; however, it runs $250. For some, that’s a little steep for a battery grip. Third party grips are much more affordable at less than $100, but are they worth the compromise? This question comes up on forums quite a bit and finds its way in my inbox now and then.
[UPDATE: I've supplemented this review with a review of the Vello BG-C2 and BG-C4 grips for the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D.]
The Canon BG-E6 appears to be constructed out of more durable materials than what you find in the Vivitar and Zeikos grips. The plastic shell to the Canon grip seems like it is thicker than the third party grips. Likewise, the rubber coating on the Canon grip is more like the coating on the 5D Mark II body, so it feels a little more “factory” than the Vivitar and Zeikos grips.
Examining the Vivitar and Zeikos grips closely, they look like they came off the same assembly line in China. Every plate, button, seal, switch and marking is in exactly the same place. The only way to tell them apart are the stickers on the bottom.
Still yet, the Vivitar and Zeikos grips are not all that bad with respect to their build. For the most part, they are fairly accurate reproductions of the BG-E6. While the Vivitar and Zeikos grips have seals on the battery door, these seals are not as significant as found in the genuine BG-E6 grip (as seen above). Additionally, the battery door on the Vivitar and Zeikos grips doesn’t have the same rubberized coating found on the BG-E6.
Handling and Performance
Again, the Canon BG-E6 feels more “factory” than the Vivitar and Zeikos knockoffs. Everything works fine on the third-party grips though. All the controls are in the same place and function just as well as the official Canon grip.
The battery door opens and closes without issue. Batteries can be inserted and removed without issue. However, if you lose or break the AA holder on the Zeikos or Vivitar grip, the standard Canon BG-EM6 replacement will not fit into the third-party grips.
if you were handed a 5D Mark II with any one of these three grips attached, it would function just as well as any of the other grips. You might even had a hard time deciding which is which if not for the brand labels. (Yeah, you’d figure it out, but it might take a minute.)
Don’t get me wrong though, the BG-E6 has a smoother shutter release like is found on the 5D Mark II body. The third-party grips have a little bit “clickier” of a shutter release. I didn’t encounter any difficulties with the shutter releases – just a little “clickier.” The rest of the controls feel pretty much the same on all three models, with the Canon getting a slight edge of smooth.
Likewise, the Canon grip edges out the other two in terms of ergonomics. I think this is mostly attributable to the more “factory” feel and additional rubberized coating. The form-factor and grip style is almost identical, so holding the camera in your hand feels about the same.
UPDATE: Mike Spivey asked a question in the comments about an important feature that I overlooked in this comparison. What about the Battery Info dialogue on the 5D Mark II?
Since the LP-E6 batteries are so expensive, missing out on this feature may not be justifiable for some.
The good news is that both the Vivitar and Zeikos grips appear to fully support the Battery Info dialogue, which provides you with info concerning the number of shutter actuations for each battery, which side the battery is located inside the grip and the remaining percentage of charge remaining for each battery. The above screenshots were taken with the Zeikos grip attached. Additionally, you can check registration information for registered batteries and proceed with registration of additional batteries while they are inside the Vivitar or Zeikos grips. Everything appears to work in the same manner as with the Canon BG-E6 attached.
Okay, so is the Canon BG-E6 worth the $250? Well, the 5D Mark II is a $2700 DSLR, so dropping a couple of hundred bucks or so on a grip is not off the wall. But, just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. The Zeikos grip runs $79 right now, while the Vivitar grip is $100.
If you’re relying on your 5D Mark II as a professional tool that brings home the bacon, then it probably makes sense not to compromise on your gear. Likewise, if you are particular about the quality of your gear, then you probably won’t be all that interested in any other grip than the Canon BG-E6. Finally, if you shoot in demanding conditions, or you expect that your 5D Mark II with the grip will take some physical abuse, then you should be leaning toward the Canon grip.
If you’ve stretched a bit to get a 5D Mark II and don’t really want to shell out $250 for a battery grip, then it may make sense to pick up a much cheaper battery grip. If you don’t mind the slight build differences with the third-party grips, then you will probably be happy with the these. Given the apparent fact that the Zeikos and Vivitar are the same grips under different labels, it makes sense to go for the $80 Zeikos if you’re going the third-party route.
The bottom line is that you need to weigh your shooting needs against your budget and see where you come down. I do not think that either of the third-party grips would be a bad choice, and would lean hard toward picking up the Zeikos grip if shopping for myself based on the environments that I shoot in.
You can find each of these grips at B&H Photo: