A few weeks back, Michael Blum posted a comment link to a Taiwan outfit called Ownuser. Sort of a strange name, but they have an extensive online catalog of custom made photo equipment, including a vertical battery grip for the Minolta 5D and the Sony A100.
This appears to be a completely different manufacturer than the Korean DiCain aftermarket grip that I wrote about a few month back. The specs for the new grip look excellent. The wiring harness is external, because there are no grip connectors on the Alpha or the 5D. But I can live with that.
There is just one problem. There is no US distributor as yet. In fact, there seems to be only a smattering of users who actually have got their hands on the grip anywhere in the world.
Is it a real product … or just a fantasy?
Of course, most photographers understand that specialty items from a small company might take a while to produce. To design, test and mass-produce a product such as this is no small feat. The Alpha 100 was only officially announced in June. It didn’t start shipping in any quantity until August.
So it is understandable that Ownuser might need more time to bring the grip to market.
Unfortunately, the Ownuser story predates the Alpha 100 introduction by a very long time. Long before the Alpha started shipping. Ownuser was promising a vertical grip for the Minolta 5D, as well as various Nikon and Pentax dSLRs. These products, as far as I can tell, are scarce to non-existent in the Orient and completely unavailable in North America. Some US users apparently have been quoted a price of $100 for the grip — a bargain it it is well made and works as advertised. However, I haven’t heard of any North American photographer who actually ordered one or who even was able to learn what the shipping would be.
Obviously, Ownuser has not yet ramped up for major production. It is the old chicken and the egg syndrome — the company needs orders to produce in quantity, but few people will order the unit until it becomes widely available.
Will the Ownuser grip ever be available in the US?
This isn’t the first company to offer a product that they haven’t yet produced. The software industry is famous for promoting “vaporware”, which is software that is promised but never actually gets produced. The photographic industry isn’t immune to this either — anyone still waiting for the widely promoted Silicon Film digital adapter for 35mm cameras? Their website first appeared in the late ’90s. Last year I ran across their website — still promising they would be shipping product soon.
Still, there is reason to hope. An aftermarket vertical grip is, after all, a reasonable product. Silicon Film was attempting to produce something that had never been made before. There ware all manner of technical hurdles to overcome. In the end, the company couldn’t overcome those hurdles and produce a product for an affordable price.
But a vertical grip is a different animal. While there are undoubtedly some engineering challenges that must be overcome to make a grip that will fit a particular camera, it isn’t exactly rocket science. There are numerous vertical grips in existence for Nikon and Canon. Even the Minolta 7D has an excellent, but expensive grip available. How hard could it be to study the available grips and then create an aftermarket grip to fit the Alpha 100 or the Minolta 5D? I’m not saying there wouldn’t be snags, but with existing grips to model your product after it doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult.
Grips appearing Asian markets?
There may yet be hope for an afteramarket grip for the A100. While Ownuser products continue to be unavailable in the US, there are reports of some users acquiring grips in the Pacific Rim. Over on the Steve’s Digicams forums, someone from the Philippines posted several pictures of an Ownuser grip they recently acquired for their 5D.
So if the grip is available in the Philippines, how long before some enterprising importer brings it to the states? The demand is string, so I would guess that the grip would sell very well at a street price of $100. If you absolutely have to have a vertical grip, however, I wouldn’t count on the Ownuser or DiCain grips until you actually see them offered for sale by major photo outlets. I’ll probably order one — as soon as I get my Silicon Film adapter that will allow me to shoot digitally with by old Minolta XK Motor.
Until next time, stay focused!
Update July 2007: I’ve added a new post with a link to a website selling aftermarket grips: Aftermarket battery grips for Sony and Minolta