Integrated vertical grip?  Add-on vertical grip?  Or no vertical grip at all?  Which is it?  Herein we come to "grips" with yet another burning internet photography forum question.  (Yes, I know there are better uses of one's time than to read about some Internet troll who is trying to convince everyone else -- persistently and vehemently -- that one's own preferences are in fact a) universal requirements instead of preferences, b) that camera companies that do not conform to said preferences are cheating the photography world with their callous disregard for the evident true path to enlightenment, and that c) everyone else on Internet who does not agree is an ignorant nincompoop.  But, it is certainly entertaining -- if not exactly enlightening.)

The Options

Opening levity aside, the question of grip choice is important, and every user will have their own preference for their own very personal and completely sensible reasons.  And, there are valid reasons for each choice.  The question isn't whether a particular choice is wrong; it isn't -- for the individual making it.  Rather, it is a matter of a few people insisting, in true Internet fashion, that their choice is the only proper one.  And, that manufacturers that don't provide their choice are somehow vile and contemptible.

First up, a bit of disclosure.  Once I moved to a system that offered grips, I have never owned a camera that did not have either an integrated vertical grip or an add-on grip.  That encompasses well over a dozen camera bodies since 1999.  My preferences, in order, are:

  1. Integral vertical grip.  Canon and Nikon bodies in this configuration are generally considered "pro" or "flagship" models, containing the most robust build quality the maker has to offer.  Recent examples include Canon's 1DX MkIII and Nikon's D6.  In the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera line (MILC), the development announced and high-end Nikon Z9 and Canon R3 will both have integral vertical grips.

  2. Add-on vertical grip.  If the grip isn't integral, most makers offer an add-on grip to fit their better quality bodies.  I opted into the Canon line with the EOS 3 film camera.  Both of my 3s sported add-on grips -- for the obvious reasons, i.e. longer battery life and higher frame rates.  Simply put, the greater battery capacity could advance film faster than was possible without the add-on grip.  Moving on from film to digital, every camera up to the 5D MkIV had an integrated grip.  My 5D4s have add-on grips.  Same is true with the R5.

  3. No vertical grip.  Easy to dispose of -- not my cup of tea.  Well wishes to those who prefer this solution.

As might be expected, this article was prompted by ongoing Internet debates over the fact that both Canon and Nikon make only integral gripped top of the line bodies possessing the highest level of robustness and weather resistance while simultaneously providing a very high level of performance.  Until the maturation of mirrorless that meant maximum frame rate but less than very high resolution.  However, Canon's prosumer R5 changed all that, coming in at 45MP and up to 20fps with electronic shutter, albeit dropping back to 12-bits/pixel image files in ES mode.  Sony's more recent high end A1 completed the camera journey to unicorn land, at 50MP and 30fps in ES mode.

With those disclaimers aside, let's look at what each choices brings to the table, pros and cons.

Pros and Cons

What, then, are the advantages and disadvantages of each configuration?  And why might Canon and Nikon not offer users the same flexibility as Sony, which only makes camera bodies without integral vertical grips, albeit with the availability of add-on vertical grips?

No vertical grip.  The advantages of leaving the choice of vertical grip approach to the purchaser are obvious.  All things being equal, it is the lightest and lowest cost option.  For any use that involves carrying gear for a significant distance or time, this could well be a determiner.  And, for all but the least expensive bodies there is always the option of bolting on a separate add-on vertical grip.  These accessories usually provide additional battery capacity, in the form of a second small battery identical to the one that came with the camera.

But, the above advantages carry their own cons as well.  With only one small(er) battery, battery life is at its minimum.  This may or may not be a problem for a particular use case.  Further, although the add-on provides (usually) a second battery, the tray that holds these smaller batteries takes up space that could be used for additional battery capacity, unlike batteries for integral grips, which generally form fit into the grip's battery compartment with relatively little to no wasted space.  Also, the weather sealing with an add-on grip can never be as good as an integral vertical grip. In terms of ergonomics, some prefer the usability of a vertical grip as opposed to twisting one's gripping hand so that it holds the camera from above.  Finally, some supertelephoto users feel that a gripless camera balances poorly on such lenses, placing the balance point out farther on the lens than they would prefer.

Add-on vertical grip.  The case for add-ons was really made in the above discussion.  Perhaps a point that should be emphasized is that an add-on can be removed when there is a desire to do so, whereas an integral grip cannot.  Repeating the point made at the beginning, I have always added grips to cameras that did not have them.  And, while the feel and additional battery capacity is appreciated, there's no denying that walking around for hours carrying two vertical gripped bodies with heavy high end lenses can become very tiring after a while.  For tripod use, of course, weight doesn't matter, and the convenience factor is undeniable.

Integral vertical grip.  Both Canon and Nikon build their most expensive and highest performance bodies, both DSLR and MILC, with integral vertical grips.  Sony does not make a camera with an integrated vertical grip.  All three brands sell well, so there is a market for each approach.  What, then, are the perceived advantages of the integral grip approach.  Well, that too was hinted at earlier:  greater battery capacity, better weather resistance (vs use with an add-on grip), and, some say, better balance when handholding long telephotos.  Whether cost is a factor, assuming one intends to also purchase an add-on grip, is a question that only an accountant familiar with the factors involved could say with confidence.

Why Not Both?

The real and persistent Internet complaint is that the favored brand of the complainant does not offer the option they prefer.  It's either Sony without or Canon and Nikon with.  Most often, wanting their cake and eating it too, photographers who prefer Canon or Nikon complain, bitterly and persistently, that their favored maker should either adopt Sony's configuration or make two bodies, one in each style, so that users have a choice.  While admittedly this latter approach would be ideal from the consumer point of view, the fact that this hasn't happened must surely suggest that there are sound business reasons for not doing so, perhaps owing to the additional design, tooling, manufacturing and supply distribution complications that this option would entail.

There is the belief that the existence of integral gripped camera bodies is rooted in prior art, and that it is time to move on to all add-ons for those top of the line offerings.  This may or not be the case, but the benefits of the integral grip approach are undeniable -- as are the negatives -- so it seems unlikely that the market will change any time soon.  Despite the complaints of a few, surely each manufacturer wishes to decide for themselves how they will attempt to place their products in what they consider to be the best competitive position possible.  In the meantime, each customer must make a choice among alternatives that for the most part do the job at hand exceedingly well but that are different in detail..

Thus was it ever so -- and is likely to continue to be.

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