Just the Facts:
- Price: $340 – $460 depending on where. Used (bargain) for about $175
- Weight: about 280g without batteries
- Dimensions: 154mm x 73mm x 88mm (6.1″ x 2.9″ x 3.5″)
- FPS speed increase: from original 5fps to 8fps in CH mode
- Rewind speed increase: Un-measured, but slightly faster
- Battery options: AA batteries (Alkaline, Ni-MH, lithium) or EN-EL4a (with optional BL-3 adaptor)
- Roll capacity increase: from approx. 10 rolls with standard CR123’s to approximately 45 rolls with lithium AA’s.
(A big thanks to my wonderful friends on the F6 facebook group for reviewing and making suggestions. You guys & gals are awesome!)
One of the great design features of the F6 is its convertible option; the ability to use the camera in its original, smaller configuration – or to mount the optional MB-40 grip, opening up new options and considerations – if you’re comfortable with the modest increase in size and weight. Is it worth it? Here’s hoping there’s enough information here to make your own good decision.
Considering the F6 in context of the F5 – one issue raised with the F5 is its larger size. I’ve thoroughly explored this issue in the past, but suffice it to say size is either the love or hate separating factor. Some find it appealing, others not so much. The good news about the F6: you don’t need to go big or go home – you have a choice.
The MB-40 is the separate battery grip specifically designed to attach to the F6. This article explores some of the details people may not realize surrounding the decision to either use or not use the grip. Not to show favoritism to either configuration, I’ll present both scenarios objectively with what I feel are the benefits and costs for you to decide.
Size & Weight:
The MB-40 significantly increases the size of the camera, elevating it slightly above even the already large form factor of the F5. This has several aspects beyond simply the weight, which is where many people stop: anything making the camera heavier, they’re simply not interested. From a practical consideration I understand this. Fatigue caused by unnecessary weight can shorten the day. For others it’s a non-issue.
To state the obvious, a larger camera fatigues the hand and arm more during a full day of shooting, wearing it around your neck, etc. The smaller configuration is just lighter, easier on the hand and neck. When I want to go super light I’ll remove the grip, mount a 50mm lens and have a ball with a small, light, ergonomic dream machine.
There are times I enjoy having the F6 lighter and smaller for convenience reasons; casual travel being one. If flight traveling to populated areas, stowing the smaller camera in a carry on is easy and convenient. If you somehow exhaust batteries during your stay and didn’t bring spares, obtaining replacements at a store is a reasonable option.
The designers of the F6 spent an extraordinary amount of time optimizing the “feel” of the camera. One of my favorite adverts contained copy saying, “Designed to stimulate the five senses, by engineers who possess a sixth.” It’s true. The nuance of the camera is amazing. The smaller version, sans grip, might represent the most pure expression of that design. More copy from the ad: “No existing F-SLR can hope to challenge the level of refinement of the F6: ergonomically, electronically, mechanically, and in system compatibility. Every attribute of the camera has been examined, evaluated and optimized – the mechanics, the grip contours and operational sounds, just to name a few – to attain a degree of precision so extreme as to be beyond the perceptibility of even the most seasoned photographers.” Special materials were selected to produce certain sounds, certain tactile experience, weight, exact placement and depression tension of buttons, etc. So carrying simply the camera really does dial one in to the true essence of what it was designed for: ergonomic bliss.
For the person with ‘average’ sized hands (whatever that means) the F6 will fit wonderfully in the hand. There is no strain reaching the thumb for either the AE/AF-L button, the AF-ON button or the main command dial. Likewise when controlling the focus mode switch, or focus point thumb pad dial on the camera’s back.
With the MB-40 mounted, the feel of the camera changes – but not in a negative way.
The MB-40 has a few features that make it highly usable in certain circumstances. First and foremost are additional battery options. Using the MS-40 Adaptor you’re able to use 8 AA batteries to power the camera. Using the BL-3 (additional $35) you’re able to use the digitally common EN-EL4a battery. The stock MS-41 battery caddy slips out of the camera to accommodate the MB-40’s protruding contact, stashing easily in a gadget bag in case you want to remove the grip and shoot small again. So with the MB-40 you effectively have three different ways to power the camera should you desire.
Another functionality improvement is the vertical shutter release. If you do much vertical shooting (think portraits) the vertical release comes in handy. As with other vertical releases you can easily lock or unlock the release to avoid accidental tripping of the shutter (which I’ve done). And if you’re shooting vertical there are three additional features you’ll like.
- additional ‘AF-On’ activation button immediately beneath where the right thumb falls when grabbing the gripped camera.
- additional Main/Sub Command dials for easy shutter speed/aperture operation in vertical configuration, and last but not least
- additional thumb pad focus point selector, making 2 thumb dials with the MD-40 attached. These features combine to significantly improve the vertical shooting operation of the camera.
The big advantage I see is improved ability to hold and use the camera in something other than the standard, horizontal pose. I’ve heard others say something like, “I don’t shoot vertical much so for the few times I do, the normal config is just fine.” Maybe so. But I wonder if they don’t shoot vertical much because it’s a bit cumbersome and uncomfortable, and if they had a camera designed for it, might it open new doors to their shooting?
The balance of the camera obviously changes with the MB-40. With larger lenses (think the 24-70, the 28-70, 70-200, etc.) having more body to balance out the mass of the lens introduces a more stable platform to hold while shooting. Functionally this can produce sharper photographs. If something is light and easily moved, it’ll move. If something is heavier and requires more effort to move…
When my ‘average’ sized hand grips the camera with the MB-40 mounted, the heal of my palm rests comfortably on the bottom corner of the grip. Without the MB-40 my hand adjusts – but my fingers are doing more work holding onto the camera, rather than the palm of my hand. It’s subtle but it’s there.
Another thing noticed during this review was the proximity of the the Rewind tab 1. Positioned in the bottom right rear corner of the camera, this small, spring-loaded tab is folded forward to access one of two buttons required to automatically rewind the roll of film. With the MB-40 grip off, this tab is a bit closer to the edge of the camera and in theory a bit more prone to catch on something and become dislodged or damaged. It hasn’t happened to me, but I have seen used F6’s with this tab damaged.
Lastly, as is the case with the camera itself, the bottom of the grip is covered in rubber, providing a more secure and comfortable contact patch with your hand.
Design and Construction
The overall design of the MB-40 is top notch. A mixture of metal and plastic, the construction is solid and inspires confidence. Prior to the MB-40 I used other grips on digital cameras that fell short of the ‘feel’ of the MB-40. The one and only opening is on the left-side.
The MB-40 is expensive. I found it on-line ranging from $340 up to $460, used (bargain) for about $175. Nikon has it listed on their site retail for $445. I paid $320 in 2008. The good news is, for a camera like the F6 you’ve already paid a lot for – and has an extremely long life span – this is a valuable addition you’ll only need to buy once. And they’re not getting any cheaper.
I’ve been shooting my older Nikons more lately and one of the things I enjoy is the smaller form factor of the cameras themselves. There’s ergonomic continuity moving from the F, F2 or F3 to the F6. For comparison, take a look at the behemoth that is the F2 + Battery Pack MB-1 and Motor Drive MD-2. It’s nothing short of magnificent(ly heavy!). But oh, what a wonderful contraption it is.
So it’s really all relative. I enjoy shooting the F6 in each configuration based on what I’m doing – which is the main take away for me; having the ability to do that is something I highly value. Having no option when using a larger camera like the F5 or the D3, D4 or D5 – well, you’re a little conspicuous when you walk into the room. Sometimes it’s either necessary or just plain fun to go svelt. The either or approach of the F6 and MB-40 combo is a real advantage.