Olympus HLD-4 Battery Grip for the Olympus E-3

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's tough being the E-1's younger brother.

The Long Version: I've had a hard time getting a grip. I really like the HLD-2 grip on my E-1, and rarely use that camera without it, but I've also really liked the feel and smaller size of the al fresco E-3. So there's been a long should-I-or-shouldn't-I process, but I finally decided to get the HLD-4 for my E-3 after I noticed how many of my favourite photos were taken with the camera sideways.

"Green and Fence," Olympus E-3, 35-100mm f/2

Like the E-3 itself, the HLD-4 grip suffers a bit from the incredible toughness of the E-1. It's just not as well built or designed as its predecessor, but it's also worth noting that the HLD-2 grip for the E-1 was priced at an absolutely ridiculous amount, easily twice what the HLD-4 costs. Almost nobody actually bought the grip for the E-1 until it was cleared out by an American stores' eBay auction site. I would say that the E-3's grip is below par compared to the grips that Canon makes for the x0D and 5D cameras, except that the Olympus version is weather-sealed to match the E-3. It flexes a little and creaks, similar to the original Canon Rebel. I've come to expect more from Olympus.

Side View: Olympus E-1 with HLD-2 Grip

Side View: Olympus E-3 with HLD-4 Grip

Not to dwell on this or anything, but look at how the grip wraps around the corner of the E-1 (top photo, above). That's a work of art. The corners on the HLD-4 match the E-3 like an APS-C digital sensor behind a legacy film lens. It's feels like a manufacturing and cost-cutting compromise instead of being part of an integrated system. Hopefully this means that it will be the first Olympus grip to be compatible with more than one camera. Time will tell. (Updated 1 Jan 09: the HLD-4 grip is also a mate for the recently-announced midrange Olympus E-30.)

Rear View: Olympus E-1 with HLD-2 Grip

Rear View: Olympus E-3 with HLD-4 Grip

In the view from behind, the HLD-4 shows another couple of differences. For one thing, the battery compartment now opens at the back, removing the need for a new battery a la HLD-2. I suspect that this big opening is the source for a lot of the flex in the Oly grip. Not that there's a lot of flex, but that this is where a lot of it comes from. When handling the E-3/HLD4+35-100/2 combination, the flex can be noticeable, especially with the other main difference between the old and new style.

The HLD-2 has a grippy rubber thumb cut-out and a more rounded bottom-rear corner, while the HLD-4's thumb rest is smooth plastic and has a sharper corner at the bottom. This makes the E-1 easy to hold with a thumb and middle-finger, which is a nice and light grip that doesn't lead to fatigue, but does make it harder to hold the camera securely while using the rear control wheel or buttons. The HLD-4 is easiest to hold between the fingers and heel of the hand, which is a stronger but more fatiguing grip that leaves ones' thumb free to do whatever it needs to. There's still a decent ridge for the thumb-and-finger hold, but it's too slippery for me to really be comfortable with that as my only hold on the camera.

But in real-world use I've found the grip to feel quite natural, and I smiled the first time I handled it. Pulling the E-3/HLD-4+35-100 out of the Glass Taxi - with the hood already extended, naturally - would be accompanied by heroic music if life was an action movie. It's not perfect, it's not even exceptional, but it is a good addition to the E-3 that tries to live up to some of the best cameras Olympus has ever made. I don't think I'll take it off very often.

In an unprecedented move, here are the other photos that I shot but didn't get around to using.

Olympus HLD-4: 

Olympus E-1 with HLD-2:


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