Canon’s had a long history of releasing matched battery grips for their Non EOS-1 cameras. For many photographers, myself included, the battery grip adds stability and comfort to the camera, as well as extended run time from being able to use 2 standard batteries as well as alkaline and rechargeable AA batteries. Canon’s BG-E11 is the matched grip for the EOS 5D Mark 3, and includes a number of firsts for Canon battery grips.
There are a number of outstanding good points that the BG-E11. To start with, the battery grip itself is built like a tank. Weighing in at 11 oz. (312g) it pushes the combined battery-free weight of the 5D-3 up to just shy of the weight of a 1DX.
The BG-E11 also adopts a side load batteries on a tray style of operation similar to the way the 1D bodies work. This has a side effect of allowing Canon to “slim” down the profile of the battery grip. Because of that, the grip feels more like the integrated vertical grip on an EOS-1 body, or even the normal grip on the 5D Mark III. Suffice to say, this is the most comfortable to hold vertical grip I’ve used on a mid-tier Canon SLR.
Finally, Canon has finally come to their senses and included a thumb-stick for AF point selection. This is the first Canon battery grip to include an AF point selector, and it’s a feature that’s becoming increasingly necessary given the trend towards high-point-count AF systems. Moreover, Canon has insured that the grip’s multi-controller (thumb stick) is virtually identical in terms of physical (shape and texture) and operational (force needed to make an input) feel.
The BG-E11 is the first non-rebel Canon battery grip that uses a side load try instead of rear loading the individual batteries. At first glance, this should have opened up the possibility for using the LP-E4 batteries of the 1D series in a gripped 5D3.
I’ve griped about battery cross compatibility in the past. With increasing airline imposed weight restrictions and rising camera prices, there are a number of photographers—like myself—who own an use a single 1D series body and have a 5D or 7D body as a backup. With grip based battery compatibility the number of types of batteries and the number of chargers and other accessories can be reduced thus saving weight, space, and the potential to lose things in the field.
Nikon took steps towards this kind of utopia when they released the D300 and in subsequent D700, and D800 grips. However, their system also requires the smaller battery to be in the camera as well, this isn’t ideal.
In the case of the BG-E11, Canon had the perfect opportunity to step things up in this area. The side load system is a nearly perfect fit for Canon’s LP-E4 battery. In fact, the only external change needed would be to square off the very end of the rear of the grip, which wouldn’t have affected the functionality or comfort at all. Internally, the grip would have needed to use the same connector as the LP-E4, though that doesn’t seem to be much of a significant issue in terms of clearances.
In the end, Canon elected to use a completely incompatible battery carrier with no provision for using LP-E4 batteries, and this is something I think is grossly unfortunate. Moreover, they don’t offer a first party mult-battery charger for the LP-E6 batteries, which means carrying multiple chargers and a power strip or time consuming sequential charging your batteries in the field.
The Whistling Sound of a Point being Missed
Many photographers upgrading to new generation cameras may have probably noticed that their old batteries are no longer compatible with their new cameras. For example, Canon’s old standby the BP-511 has been replaced by the new LP-E6. The change is largely due to increasing safety regulation concerning exposed electrical contacts and the possibility that shorting those contacts may eventually cause the battery to catch fire.
Which brings me to the design of the BGM-E11L/A carriers (In case you’re wondering, the parts are BGM-E11L for the LP-E6 carrier and BGM-E11A for the alkaline carrier). Though I’m sure the Canon intended the carriers to be kept only in the camera and not used as interchangeable battery magazines, the contacts are designed using open, easily shortable, contacts instead of protected ones used on batteries.
I can’t say that this is a good or bad point, just something to be aware of if you’re going to source some extra battery magazines and store batteries in them for quick changes. Of course, had Canon adopted LP-E4 compatibility, the battery magazines could have used the same connector and there wouldn’t be a “issue” at all.
Personally, I find a battery/vertical grip to be an indispensable part of my cameras. Every single SLR I’ve own has either had one integrated into the body or added on as a battery grip. That’s not to say that everybody should work this way; and in some ways, I find a removable grip better than a fixed one simply as it’s more flexible when you need/want a smaller camera package.
That said, in terms of comfort and usability I find the BG-E11 is one of the best battery grips Canon has put out. It’s also solidly built and doesn’t have any obviously finicky bits (like the rear entry door latch system) that may wear and fail as the grip is used.