Olympus HLD-6 battery grip for E-M5
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a small camera. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why I chose it. However, it does not fill my right hand, and holding it for an extended time to my eye makes my right hand strain. Other mirrorless cameras, like the Panasonic GH2 and GH3, have a better built-in DSLR-style grip, and so does the new Olympus OM-D E-M1. For my use, it quickly became apparent that I needed an additional grip for the E-M5.
Olympus makes the HLD-6 battery grip for the E-M5, which takes an extra battery, provides a solid grip for the right hand, and carries duplicate sets of shutter release button, front dial and two additional buttons available for shooting in both landscape and portrait orientation. The E-M5 battery remains in the camera, unlike other types of battery grips that force the camera battery to be removed. All in all, impressive specifications and, in addition, a very flexible two-piece design that lets you choose whether you only want a grip to use in landscape orientation, or an additional grip for portrait orientation and extra battery.
If you need only a grip to wrap your right hand around, there are other, cheaper solutions. For instance, Really Right Stuff makes an Arca-compatible plate and grip combination that can be supplemented with an additional left-side plate for mounting the camera in portrait orientation on a tripod head. At least three small companies make comparable, but less flexible (without Arca-compatible plate), grips for this camera. My choice went to the HLD-6 because none of these third-party grips has a shutter release button, and the one on the camera is awkward to reach when using one of these buttonless grips.
The upper portion of the HLD-6 includes the hand grip and attaches to the tripod socket at the bottom of the M-D5 body. A rubber cover must be removed first from the numerous electrical contacts at the bottom of the E-M5 and stored in a cavity of the HLD-6 that faces against the front of the camera body, where it remains protected and cannot be lost. The battery (lower) part of the HLD-6 attaches in a similar way to the upper part, and an identical rubber cover is removed from the bottom of the upper grip part and stored sandwiched between the two grip parts. The remaining two connectors of the HLD-6 are protected by white plastic caps when the grip is packaged, but these caps are somewhat difficult to remove and replace, cannot be stored anywhere in the grip, and are apparently not meant to be used in the field.
The extra battery mounted in the HLD-6 is easy to change. Access to the camera battery, instead, requires the grip to be detached from the camera. It is possible to do so in the field, but not comfortable. Generally, I start the day with fully charged batteries in both camera and grip, and change only the grip battery whenever necessary. In my typical camera use during a field trip, this only happens some time in the afternoon or evening, if at all.
The E-M5 with HLD-6 is still somewhat smaller, slimmer and lighter than an ordinary DSLR. However, it becomes significantly bigger than the camera without grip, and requires a correspondingly larger compartment in a camera bag. If your camera bag/backpack is small and already crowded, you may be out of luck. I started using only the upper part of the HLD-6, but eventually ended adding the lower part, because of the convenience of the extra battery. The portrait orientation grip provided by the lower part is an added plus, but not essential to me.
I had previously used the E-M5 with an ordinary camera strap from OP/TECH (the original Olympus strap is too flimsy for my tastes). The HLD-6, however, prompted me to re-think the way I carry the E-M5. With an ordinary camera strap attached to the two eyelets at either side of the camera, one side of the strap always gets in the way of the lens or viewfinder when rotating the camera to portrait orientation. I decided to address this problem first, and solved it by attaching both ends of a PacSafe slash-proof strap to the left eyelet (as seen from behind) of the camera. This hangs the camera at an oblique, 45 degrees angle on my breast when supported by the strap. It also requires a strap slightly shorter than normal to reduce the side-to-side swinging of the camera while walking. These adjustments did not prove to be a problem. With the camera turned counterclockwise to portrait orientation, the camera strap hangs from the lowermost part of the camera, and stays out of the way. In landscape orientation, it hangs from the left side of the camera and it is also out of the way when shooting. The PacSafe strap is stiff and springy because it contains two multi-strand stainless steel cables, and this helps to keep it out of the way.
I subsequently concentrated on the right side of the camera. I mounted a third-party leather hand strap (not a wrist strap, which is a different thing) on this side. The top of the hand strap is attached to the right camera eyelet, and the bottom to a fastening located under the HLD-6 battery compartment (or alternatively, to the side of an Arca-compatible plate attached at the bottom of the battery compartment). To grab the camera in landscape orientation, which is the way I shoot the large majority of my photographs, I slide my right hand between the hand strap and the hand grip of the HLD-6. The camera, grip and hand strap fit snugly around my right hand, even if I relax my grip. To use the camera in portrait orientation, I first slide my hand out, then grab the portrait grip at the bottom of the extra battery compartment.
Olympus markets the larger and more expensive GS-4 hand strap, which I did not try because the above, third-party hand grip works just fine for me. In addition, the GS-4 does not allow the palm of the hand to rest directly against the camera body and grip (unlike the earlier GS-3 strap) and, judging from pictures, might even get in the way of the portrait shutter release button.
I have a habit of pointing the camera lens obliquely downward when carrying the camera with the neck strap around my neck and my right hand inserted into the hand strap. This lessens the chance of the lens getting dirty or bumping into other people in a crowd, and avoids the rear LCD screen of the camera from brushing back and forth on my clothes while walking, which in the long run may scratch the screen cover. Because of the asymmetric attachment of the strap, the right side of the camera naturally tends to hang diagonally downward, which makes it easier to keep my hand within the hand strap. Unfortunately, in this orientation, it is easy to accidentally press the release button or rotate the dial at the bottom of the HLD-6. It also happened to me more than once to accidentally press the bottom shutter release button with the palm of my right hand while holding up the camera. The HLD-6 provides a locking button to prevent accidentally tripping this button (the top button remains active at all times). Turning on this switch is one more thing to do when switching to portrait orientation, but this capability is nonetheless very useful. A recessed shutter button might be a more ergonomic solution, though.
I always keep a bidirectional Arca-compatible plate attached at the bottom of the HLD-6. It is only of minimal inconvenience when shooting in portrait orientation, and fits Arca-compatible plates with orientations either parallel or perpendicular to the width of the camera.
The two extra buttons on the battery compartment, meant to be used in portrait orientation, are programmable, and their function is programmable separately from the two corresponding buttons of the camera body used in landscape orientation. These two extra buttons can be operated with the left hand in either camera orientation, and therefore can be programmed for additional functions unrelated to shooting in portrait orientation. Control freaks may wish to use this capability to effectively increase the number of buttons available on the E-M5 body.
I found only one problem with the HLD-6, which occurs when using the Rösch Feinmechanik tripod shoe on the Panasonic 100-300 mm f/4-5.6. The space for one's fingers between the hand grip and the lens collar is a bit too narrow, and causes cramped fingers and abraded fingernails against the edge of the lens collar during extended handling of this lens. Covering the right side of the tripod collar with a thin rubber tape solves the latter of these problems. Even in view of this, the Rösch Feinmechanik tripod shoe remains very useful with the Panasonic 100-300. The hand grip built into the newly released Olympus OM-D E-M1 seems to provide more space between lens and hand grip, and perhaps allows the use of this tripod shoe without the mentioned problem.
Conclusions: The HLD-5 battery grip is a versatile, useful accessory that makes the E-M5 much easier to handle. I find it especially comfortable to use together with an unconventional combination of neck strap and hand strap.
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