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Vertical power grips are common accessories for DSLRs these days. Heck, even your local department store carries some designed to fit many popular cameras. It's not surprising either. These accessories offer several big advantages for the photographer. They tend to improve the ergonomics of the camera for many shooters, plus make it easier to shoot off frames with the camera oriented vertically. They also provide an extra battery to power the camera, meaning fewer stops to change batteries. Some vertical grips even come with accessory adapters to accept AA batteries in an emergency.
Generally, camera enthusiasts have a choice between the camera maker's offering and three or four different generic models. The general consensus is that the camera maker's version offers better manufacturing quality and will work better with the camera it's designed for than the generics, but of course, costs a bit more. Other than that, there's usually not a big difference since even the generics usually provide a vertical shutter and the same control buttons the camera maker's grip provides.
One company, Satechi, does offer a battery grip that provides more options than other vertical grips. The company's LCD Timer Vertical Battery Grip includes an LCD display (which can light up) interval function, date and time display, stopwatch, multiple frame function and single frame long exposure function. It's also priced competitively at $119.95.
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The Satechi power grip is decently made and seems pretty solid. The grip mates to the camera I tested it with well (a Canon 40D). It includes a holder for the camera's battery door and comes with an accessory AA battery adapter. One difference between it and Canon's vertical grip is that the Satechi grip has a slide out battery tray for the BP-511 batteries the Canon X0D series cameras use. The user slides the tray out, inserts a couple of batteries into it and then returns the tray to the power grip. It's a little more complicated than Canon's grip, but not a problem. It does add another part that can get lost or break though.
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Performance and ease of useRating
The Satechi power grip is a bit more complicated to use than other grips, but that's because it offers more functionality than other grips. The problem is figuring out how to use all that extra functionality, particularly since the manual isn't especially helpful. Basic functions such as turning on the LCD light (a pale blue light) and turning on the vertical shutter aren't particularly hard. Using the interval function and multiple shot option are another story. It appears the only way to get the grip to take an exposure other than what the camera body is set to is by setting its shutter speed to the bulb setting. Otherwise the camera will take a series of images at whatever shutter speed it was already set to. While this isn't bad for an intervalometer using autoexposure, it's not very elegant for a long exposure function.
The vertical shutter on the unit I received only operated sporadically. This is a bit of a problem when you're working with a vertical grip and as a result, I frequently gave up on using it, preferring to work with the camera's shutter release instead. As far as I'm concerned, an unreliable vertical shutter release is a serious failing in this sort of device.
In addition to the vertical shutter button and quick control dial built into the power grip, there are also FEL and autofocus sensor control buttons, which can also be used to zoom in and out on images when the camera is in picture view mode.
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Price to valueRating
The Satechi LCD Timer Vertical Battery Grip represents a fair price to value at best. If it worked as advertised and came with a better manual, its value would increase significantly. A vertical grip that also provides a built in intervalometer can be a handy thing, but the reality is most of us seldom use such a tool, and if we do, don't use it very often. The vertical shutter button on the other hand is a different story. This is a critical function of the grip and poor reliability from this tool is enough to ruin the value of the accessory.
It's strongest point is that it offers a lot of functionality for a price that's significantly lower than the camera maker's option. If you really need an intervalometer and a vertical power grip and need to do it cheaply, then maybe this is a good option.
Satechi provided the author with an evaluation unit for David Busch's Quick Snap Guide to Photo Gear.