The Better Case of the MB-N11

With the Z6 II and Z7 II model updates, Nikon got around to "fixing" the lock of a true vertical grip. The Z6 II and Z7 II allow for use of the new MB-N11 Battery Grip. This new grip cannot be used with the original Z6 or Z7 models, nor can it be used with the Z5. That means:

  • Z5 — no grip available
  • Z6 and Z7 — MB-N10 grip with no controls
  • Z6 II and Z7 II — MB-N11 grip with full control set

I'm going to start with cosmetics, as when you pay US$400 for an accessory, you probably have some expectations in this respect ;~). At first, I thought that the non-grip covered portions of the MB-N11 looked out of place; a different material than the body. But that's not quite right. The non-covered portions of the MB-N11 are much like the top plate on the Z6 II and Z7 II cameras, though with just a bit less texture.

Looking at the MB-N11 mounted on a body from the back, you see heavy texture (covered areas), moderate texture (body back), and minimal texture (parts of the grip your hand doesn't rest on. Coupled with the fact that the MB-N11 sticks slightly out the left side of the body (viewed from back), I just don't get a strong feeling of "design integrity." Indeed, the word "LOCK" is in a different font (style and size) than the camera controls. 

So my initial impression wasn't the wholly positive one that Nikon probably would have wanted. (Really, can the accessories teams not get on the same page as the body teams?) 

That's reinforced by another oddity: when powering on the camera with the MB-N11 attached, there's an odd brief delay before the camera is operative. That delay can be as long as a full second (it seems variable, depending upon how long the camera has been powered down, and there's also the intersecting issue of whether you have Save focus position set to On).

At first I thought that the delay might be because the new one-side-only ring to tighten the grip to the camera wasn't causing the grip to make strong contact.  Thing is, I can't find any predictability with this delay: at times the camera powers on with the grip about as fast as "normal", at other times, there's a distinct delay. The only way I can forcibly trigger that delay is by powering the camera on and off in rapid sequence. On, off, on will trigger the delay. But so will something else I haven't determined.

Oh, this isn't going well, is it? 

Okay, fortunately from here it gets better. Mostly. 

First and foremost, you have a full set of controls: AF-ON button, thumb stick, two Command dials, and a programmable (but unmarked) function button just behind the shutter release. And yes, the shutter release has Nikon's usual "lock" position for vertical grips, which is loved by some and hated by others. Unlike some such Nikon vertical grip locks, the one on the MB-N11 shuts down all the controls on the grip. I've already encountered multiple users who think that their grip is defective because the controls don't work only to find that flipping the lock switch off fixes it.

Oddly, the MB-N11 controls are customizable by new Custom Setting #F9 (stills) and #G7 (video) options, not the regular #F2 and #G2 ones. This feels "unintegrated" to me (sensing a theme?). 

The MB-N11 can take one or two EN-EL15 batteries. If those batteries are EN-EL15B, they can be charged in the grip, but only from the MB-N11's USB port (i.e. not the camera's USB port). If those batteries are EN-EL15C, the camera itself can be powered externally. Here's the readings from my Zendure battery for each option:

  • Charging — 9.4 to 9.7 watt draw
  • Powering — 5.3 to 5.7 watt draw

Changing batteries in the MB-N11 is a little different than previous grips. First, the grip battery door pulls and folds out, but stays attached, which I prefer over doors that completely remove. This reveals two "release" controls. The yellow one is for hot-swapping the A battery. The gray one releases the "tray" and gives you access to both batteries (but now the camera is not powered (the camera must have a battery present to use USB power).

I used the grip with both the Nikon official EN-EL15C as well as the BM Premium En-EL15C clone batteries available from Amazon, and both were recognized and usable. Surprised? I was, too. But the BM battery made the delay to turn on more persistent and slightly longer.

Overall, the MB-N11 is much more like what the Nikon faithful expect in terms of a vertical grip with extended battery options. It's what we should have gotten in the first place, and many of you with Z6 II and Z7 II bodies will now find that you have a fully usable and acceptable vertical grip option. 

Personally, I feel the MB-N11 still has a few rough edges that keep it from being a "perfect" vertical grip. But at least now I can recommend it to those of you who need a vertical grip. As long as you also have a Z6 II or Z7 II body ;~).

Note: Really Right Stuff and others make an L-bracket for the camera/grip combination. Personally, I don't recommend that, as I've never found the Nikon grips to be 100% reliable in not transferring vibration or motion.

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