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May 22

Review: HLD-6 – OM-D Battery Grip

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with HLD-6

Today I’m going to take an in-depth look at a camera accessory.  Most of the time, these sorts of things are evaluated with a quick blurb and then consumers are left to sift through forums or Amazon reviews to get an idea of the worth of a product.  I think for the accessories that really affect the function of a camera, it’s worth taking a closer look.

I recently received my Olympus HLD-6.  Olympus dubs it a “Power Battery Holder,” which I think is the worst possible description for the product.  In reality, it’s a somewhat innovative take on the classic portrait grip accessory that is available for most consumer and prosumer level DSLRs.  It adds a vertical grip to the base of the camera, with shutter button and duplicated controls to allow for shooting in the vertical (portrait) orientation while keeping the same grip as when shooting in landscape orientation.  It also adds space for an additional battery so that you can go longer without running out of juice or swapping batteries.

Construction

Olympus has taken a unique approach by making their accessory grip a two piece set.  I love that Olympus has done this, as it allows you to customize the grip to your specific handling needs.  By its nature, the OM-D E-M5 is a slim profile camera, with a contoured grip that is reminiscent of those found on 80s-era SLRs (though with a subtle curve to give the fingers something to latch on to).  It works, but many people want a bit more to hold on to.

The two pieces of the HLD-6 battery grip

For this application, a horizontal grip section can be attached to the camera, which provides a deep hand hold and a duplicate shutter button and front wheel.  This part of the grip makes the camera a little bit taller, but gives a solid grip that my entire hand can fit on.  It makes the camera handle much like the Panasonic GH2, though with a longer grip to allow the pinky to be used as well.  The second part of the grip attaches to the first and provides the portrait grip and control wheels, plus two additional programmable buttons and the extra battery compartment.

The first piece, which I call the horizontal grip, is made of metal, and is flocked with a soft suede-like fabric on the part between the camera and the grip.  To attach the horizontal grip, you need to remove the small foam cover on the bottom of the camera to reveal the power and communications contacts.  There is a space on the inside of the grip to seat this cover so that you don’t lose it.  You then just line up the tripod socket with the screw on the grip and turn the locking wheel to secure the grip to the camera.  The power and communications contacts will seat into the camera, and a small pin fits into a hole on the bottom of the camera to keep everything aligned and rigid.  Despite the single screw attachment, the grip is very solid when affixed to the camera.  There is no flex between the grip and the body, and it truly makes it feel like a native part of the camera.  The finish of the surfaces exactly match that of the black camera body and so it meshes perfectly with the design of the camera.  From the front, the grip looks like it’s a permanent part of the body.   The shutter button and wheel are well constructed and feel extremely similar to the shutter and dial on the camera body.

 

The second piece, the vertical grip, is plastic, but well constructed.  To attach the vertical grip, you remove the foam cover from the bottom of the horizontal grip (and store it in a recess in the vertical grip) and screw it into the bottom of the horizontal grip in the same manner you attached the first piece to the camera.  One would think that a two-piece construction like this would feel less than secure, but Olympus did a great job with the design of these pieces, and the whole assembly is rock solid, with no flex at all between any piece of the grip and camera.

The vertical grip includes a shutter button, which has a lower profile than the horizontal shutter, in order to lessen the chance of accidental pressing while holding the camera in landscape orientation.  It also includes a second rear dial to use with your thumb, and two additional programmable buttons (BFn-1 and BFn-2).  I have set these to mimick my settings for Fn1 and Fn2 to allow for the same operation in either orientation, but you don’t have to do this.  Both of these buttons can be programmed to do any of the functions the Fn-2 button can be assigned to on the main camera body.  There is a nice rubber thumb rest and a locking switch which will turn off the vertical grip controls if you find yourself accidentally activating any of them while using the camera in the horizontal orientation.

On the left side (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) of the vertical grip lies the door for the second battery, as well as a 9V plug for the optional AC adapter, which you can then use to power your camera from the wall.

The grip screws into the bottom of the camera. Electronic contacts relay power and data to the camera.

Both sections of the grip are weathersealed, and the whole assembly retains the weathersealing of the camera.  It’s a very well constructed and well thought out accessory.  Olympus has taken great care with the HLD-6, down to small details like the gentle slope of the outside of the grip as it nears the bottom of the horizontal grip and into the vertical grip.  This small cutout conforms perfectly to the heel of your hand, making it much more comfortable to hold than if they had kept the grip straight throughout.  This attention to detail is seen throughout the product.

Operation

I have taken to using the horizontal grip by itself as my preferred use for the HLD-6.  It adds a small amount of height, and a small, but noticeable amount of weight, but also makes the camera handle really, really well.  The grip is more sure, the camera balances better with larger lenses and shooting is easier and more comfortable.  The shutter and dial feel just as good as the main ones on the camera.

On the down side, use of the horizontal grip by itself blocks the battery door, and so you must remove the grip any time you need to charge the battery.  This is a minor inconvenience, but it does preclude changing batteries rapidly.  If you are in a situation where battery power is critical…I think it makes more sense to shoot with the whole grip assembly installed and add a second battery to the vertical grip.

HLD-6 from the back - The vertical grip contains two programmable function buttons in addition to the two dials and shutter button.

The vertical grip adds a minute amount of weight to the rest of the camera when used without an extra battery.  Still, the controls are comfortable, and the rear dial is actually better positioned on the vertical grip than it is on the main camera.  The two function buttons are easily accessed.  In a very well-thought out move by Olympus, the vertical grip control locking switch is in the perfect position to be switched by your thumb when holding the camera by the vertical grip.  This really makes the use of the lock switch viable, as you can shoot normally with those controls disabled, but simply flick your thumb when you switch to vertical to make them active again.

When using a second battery, there is a menu option to determine which of the two batteries gets drained first…the one in the camera, or the one in the vertical grip.  I’m not sure why you’d want the one in the camera to drain first, but you have the option.

With both grips attached, the camera is, of course, noticeably larger than without the grips.  It looks and feels a lot more like a small DLSR than without.  That said, the package is still very lightweight, and very thin.  You’re not going to really fatigue faster when using this grip.  You can see how the OM-D E-M5 with grips compares to a full frame DSLR with integrated vertical grips below.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with HLD-6 grip and the Canon 1Ds Mark II

Conclusion

At $299, the HLD-6 isn’t the cheapest accessory on the market.  You will certainly need to weigh its advantages against the larger size and cost of the grip.  However, if you want a more comfortable and secure grip, longer battery life and the ability to shoot verticals in a more natural position, the HLD-6 is a very well made product, with a wonderful two piece construction that allows you to choose how you want the camera to handle.  The well thought out control placement and solid build make it worth the price in my opinion.  While it’s a shame the horizontal grip blocks the battery door, it’s a tradeoff I’m glad to make for the two piece construction.  The HLD-6 is the first OEM accessory grip for a Micro 4/3 camera, and Olympus did a wonderful job with the design and execution.  Well done!

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

33 comments

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  1. David Stevenson

    Thanks for this. Very informative; I placed an order for the grip this morning and your review makes me feel michh better about it.

  2. Zack Jones

    One thing that kind of surprised me is the weight of the grip. Each piece adds over 100 grams of weight. Yeah I know that’s not a lot but it just is heavier than I thought it would be. I really like shooting with the grip on. The camera feels more natural to me (coming from a Canon 7D and T2i). It would have been cool if they could have aligned things so that you could just install the portrait portion of the grip without having to install the horizontal grip. Love the image showing the size difference between the E-M5 and 1DS.

  3. Denis Friar

    Hi Jordan,
    Thank you for a thorough review. I also have ordered the HLD-6. I used to have a Olympus E620, which also is quite small and I found it ill balanced when using it with the Oly 50-200mm, which I still own.

  4. Jan Kihle

    Well written. Just a minor note; I run my OM-D with HLD-6 with one single battery in the HLD-6 part only. Less weight (extra batteries in my vest pocket). Also, the OM-D/HLD-6 combo may run on the AC-1 power adapter made for the E-1, E-3 and E-5. So those Olympus owners already using an AC-1 do not need to invest in a new AC-3 power adapter.
    Regards,
    Jan

    1. jareso

      Yes, same here. I also put BLN-1 battery only to grip and not to the OM-D body keeping spare battery in my photo bag instead. I must say that Olympus HLD-6 battery grip is really great accessory for OM-D and I highly recommend it to anyone who already has OM-D or who is thinking about buying one!

  5. Nic

    What I find extraordinary about the design is the way they have replicated the original OM “Motor Drive” 1 and 2.

    http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/olympusom1n2/shared/mdwinder/motordrive2/index.htm

    Removing it to change batteries is indeed an impediment (pain) but I am almost happy to pay $300, perhaps just for the nostalgia.

    Thanks for the OM-D tips and above.

  6. Eolake

    Jordan,
    Great review.
    I have included a couple bits from it in my own mini-review, I hope that’s OK?

    http://ereaderjoy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/om-d-grip.html

  7. Eolake

    Sorry, I’d posted it on the wrong blog, I’ve moved it to here:

    http://eolake.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/om-d-grip.html

    (I gotta learn to pay attention! You’d think I was 9, not 49.)

    1. Jordan Steele

      Looking at the way you’ve referenced the site, I have no problem with it at all. Thanks for the link!

  8. Eolake

    On the bottom of the vertical grip, there’s a square hole with a pin inside it. Do you know what this is for? (The dinky “instruction” paper does not mention it.)

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’ve had that on many vertical grips on other cameras. Usually it is for attaching a hand strap to the bottom of the grip. I don’t think Olympus has an official hand strap for the camera, but perhaps they are planning on releasing one soon.

  9. Lonepeace

    Jordan is correct, not sure when this was released but Olympus GS-4 Grip Strap is to be use as the official grip strap on E-m5 with the HLD-6. :) I got mine off e-bay.

    It’s listed on their site~
    http://olympusomd.com/en-AU/omd/e-m5/accessory/

  10. rodie

    On the base grip or base there is a switch lock just below the fn1 & fn2 button. What this thing for, any info.
    Thanks.

    Rodie

    1. Jordan Steele

      This is the portrait grip control lock. Switch to Lock and none of the portrait controls will work. Flip it off and all the portrait controls work. The lock is there so you can turn it on if you find yourself accidentally making control changes from the portrait grip rubbing on clothing or such.

  11. Spencer

    One additional feature of this grip that I didn’t see mentioned is the auxiliary power connector – though this might not seem so much like a feature as a sorely missing item from the camera itself. The AC adapter for the camera plugs into the grip only – it cannot be plugged directly into the camera itself.

    1. Spencer

      I see it’s actually mentioned as a feature, I missed it the first time, but it’s worth noting that the only way to run the camera off auxiliary power is with the grip. I think this might have helped put the ‘Power’ in the name, and it certainly adds some value.

  12. Mark S

    Thanks for the super cool writeup about the battery grip. I’ve been sitting on the fence with this one because everyone says it feels so awesome, but after paying for the OM-D and a Prime lens, it’s so much to fork out again for this accessory – this review pushed me over the edge into buying *evil eyes*.

    Has anyone of you managed to buy backup batteries from Olympus yet? I looked all over the place but there’s no stock and I’d love to have a second battery installed on this grip.

  13. Richard V

    So this will still work with just one battery? Still can’t find available batteries locally. If it works, where do I place the battery, the camera or the vertical grip? Thanks!

    1. Jordan Steele

      Yes, it will work with just one battery. You can place the battery in either location and it will work fine. If you use two batteries, you can choose (via menu option) which battery will drain first. Default is to have the one in the grip used first.

      1. Richard V

        Thanks a lot, original Olympus batteries are still hard to find here. And won’t risk to use those China batteries.

      2. Bob Israel

        So this alleviates having to detach the grip to replace the battery then? In other words, if one battery was placed in the grip, then changing the battery is not a big deal?

        1. Joseph

          Absotively. A piece of cake!

  14. Mike Ronalds

    The HLD-6 is a great addition to an allready fantastic camera. Yes it increases the size and weight of the camera somewhat, but the grip is much better, especially when photographing in portrait mode. And you get to use an extra battery of course. If you need a small package, just remove the grip or just the battery part of it. That’s one of the great things about this camera, you can configure it to your needs. Try that with a camera like a Nikon D3s or Canon 1Ds. I am currently shooting with two EM-5 bodies and I use the first part of the grip all the time. It makes the camera so much easier to hold. So even though it costs a lot, to me this is absolutely a must have for this camera. Just get one, you will not regret it!

  15. Colin Talcroft

    Just want to be sure. Has anyone confirmed officially that the AC-1 ac adapter is safe to use with the OM-D EM5? IT fits and the voltage appears to be the same, but I’d hate to damage my new camera….. At the same time, I don’t want to buy an adapter if the one I use with me E-3 will work just fine. Thanks

  16. Colin Talcroft

    I called Olympus. The AC-1 adapter will work fine with the Battery Power Grip for the OM-D EM5.

  17. Joseph

    Good review.
    Well done!

  18. Marc Weisberg

    Hands down the best written review for the Olympus HLD-6 grip that I’ve read on the web and I’ve read allot. Fantastic visuals too! Great comments above too. Thanks for the excellent write up. I’ve also been on the fence and am completely sold now. Happy New Year!
    Warmly,
    Marc-

  19. Richard T Lennox

    Wow, very thorough review… I am already glad that I purchased it when I picked up the camera (there was a $ 50 off coupon on Olympus’ site) The side grip makes holding the small camera delightful, for while it has a thumb rest and a little raised area on the right front, it just feels more natural (and Solid) to curl my fingers around it. Not to mention the buttons which it adds. Yeah it was a bit expensive, but it really adds to the firmness of the OMD feel! ( Just don’t lose the little rubberized bay door covers)

    1. Marc Weisberg

      Richard there are some indentations on then inside of each grip to store the rubberized bay door covers.
      cheers,
      Marc-

  20. Marc Weisberg

    Hi All, Just got my HLD-6 – OM-D Battery Grip, finally. Hope someone is still looking at this thread. I’d much appreciate it if anyone / someone could email me and let me know how to program the function buttons on the Battery Grip. Thank you, Marc-

  21. Keith Taylor

    Really good review and I ordered my grip after a lot of huffing and puffing and reading this review a few days ago swung it for me, it is due to arrive today as I am typing this, so can’t wait to give it a go.
    It seems that everyone who has purchased this grip are really pleased with it, I have to say that so far, after owning my OM-D for just 5 weeks I think it is a great little camera and has now become my go to camera for most things apart from bird and action photography which I use a Nikon D300s for.
    Hopefully the HLD-6 will make the OM-D ‘complete’.

  22. Joost Smulders

    Thanks for the good review.

    You have provided a lot of detailed information. But still I have a question.
    Can you use the original Olympus Full cover case CS 36 FBC when you are using the battery grip?

    I hope someone can answer this question.

    Thanks, Joost (Netherlands)

  23. François

    Hi Jordan, thanks for a great review of the “grip”. I have purchased the HLD-6 (OMD-M5 with the HLD-6 grip – seriously? I call mine M5 with Vertical grip – Hey Olympus, what’s wrong with simple and memorable?)
    So I have one question I haven’t been able to find an answer for: when charging with the grip socket and Olympus’ AC charger (which doesn’t come cheap either), how in Heaven do you know the charge level, or when full charge cycle is done? I can’t find any led indicator anywhere on the camera, vertical grip or charger. Am I supposed to consult a Clairvoyant? Tried looking at the camera Menu, but it only lets me set the charge order. Nowhere can one see a charge level indicator. Am I missing something?

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