The Sad Case of the MB-N10

It only took a year or so—who's counting?—but Nikon eventually got around to shipping the MB-N10 Battery Pack for the Z6 and Z7. Maybe they should have waited another year.

bythom nikon mb-n10

Mirrorless cameras can suck down power in some uses, particularly if you're using them for video, so having a way to provide extra power to the camera for a longer period of time is definitely useful. Unfortunately, Nikon doesn't allow you to do that via USB-C (you can charge an internal battery or a battery in the MB-N10 that way, but you can't have USB power running the camera during use). Mistake #1.

A lot has already been said of fact that the MB-N10 was not designed as a vertical grip; it's just a dual battery holder. That, of course, is Mistake #2. But Nikon carried that mistake all the way through in execution: they discourage you from holding the camera vertically by the battery pack by making the area where you'd grip with your fingers not only smooth, slippery plastic, but by rounding the edge to the point where you'd slip off it even if it were rubbery. Mistake #3.

EN-EL15 batteries have a flat side and a curved side, a detail that unfortunately leads to the next problem: putting a battery into the left side goes rounded side up, on the right side it goes rounded side down. It's good that you can replace one battery at a time while the camera is still running, but that up/down thing is annoying. Mistake #4.

The Z6 and Z7 both have a Battery Info menu item. On the DSLRs with a battery pack installed, the status of both batteries is shown in Battery Info. With the MB-N10 on a Z? Nope, only the primary, in use battery is shown (and you're not told which one that is). Mistake #5 and #6. To account for that problem, Nikon added a Check Batteries button on the MB-N10, which will light three LEDs to tell you the status. Let's see, camera uses five bars, battery pack uses three lights. How do those correspond? Mistake #7. 

As I noted, you can charge a battery (one at a time) in the MB-N10 via USB-C. The MB-N10 has its own separate USB-C connector to charge from, because you can't charge using the camera one when the MB-N10 is mounted. Mistake #8. When a battery is charging in the MB-N10 via USB-C, the LEDs for it blink slowly (the main battery's indicator blinks frantically for a moment, I guess to tell you which one it is), but turn on the camera to shoot and the indicators go off. Oh right, you can't charge while you're shooting. Mistake #9. The USB-C connector to the MB-N10 is not in a great position if you are shooting, so there's that ;~).

You'll need the optional EH-7P Charging AC Adapter to do USB-C charging, by the way. While I've found a couple of other USB wall warts that appear to charge the batteries via USB-C, most I've tried don't. High amperage solutions, ala the 15v ones, are out. Probably a mistake, but I won't count it. Everyone's having issues with cheap Chinese knockoff adapters.

Oh, did I mention that the battery compartment doors come off? Good point #1: Nikon provides a holder on the MB-N10 to retain your main camera battery door so you don't lose it. But the MB-N10 doors? They also can come off and they're a bear to get back on when you do. People are going to lose one or both of those doors. They're going to struggle to get the door back on without breaking it. Mistake #10.

I didn't mention mounting the MB-N10. Unlike the DSLR grips, the knurled ring you turn to lock the Battery Pack onto the camera body doesn't extend through the grip. Instead, it offsets to a second connected ring in a different location. This makes it more of a two-handed job to get the finger traction necessary for that last little twist to lock it down tight. Mistake #11. On the good news front, the Battery Pack does have a long lip to seal against the camera body plus stabilizing pins, so once in place, it's reasonably secure. The MB-N10 is also solidly made and is weather-sealed (Good Point #2).

Then there's this: "may increase the length of shooting time up to 1.8x." Hmm. Shouldn't that be 2x? Where does the other .2x go? Moreover, here's another little gotcha: "power is first drawn from the battery in Chamber A until it is depleted, and then the unit draws power from the battery in Chamber B." Yes, indeed, it does just that. I depleted the battery in A and started using the battery in B. Then I stopped for a moment, started charging via USB-C, but quickly needed to shoot again, and yep, the camera is now using the almost dead battery in A again because I gave it a bit of a charge. I'm not sure if this is a mistake or not, but it makes me wonder what the reliability of the battery changeover is.

Worse still, once the battery fully charged in A, did the MB-N10 roll over and start topping off the charge to the battery in B? No. Mistake #12. Oh, by the way, when the MB-N10 quick flashes the LEDs to tell you which battery is primary, it flashes all three LEDs, even if the battery is low and should only be flashing one or two. Poor choice. Call it Mistake #13 if you wish (I ran out of fingers several mistakes ago, so can't vouch for the count...).

I've previously described the MB-N10 as a project that seemed to have been designed by a summer intern whose time ran out before they finished. Now having used the Battery Pack, I think my previous words were being kind: the intern would have designed something better, I think. 

Nikon started with some bad camera design choices (no charging while in use, no vertical grip electronics) and made things worse from there with the final MB-N10 design. It really is a marvel of poor engineering choices, but the MB-N10 is also a marvel of how a very simple accessory took Nikon so long to deliver. 

If you're shooting long video takes, you probably need the MB-N10 (but carry an external way to charge batteries that you swap out of the Battery Pack). I'm not sure that anyone else should spend the US$200 to get it, though.

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