Thursday, December 17, 2009

Carrying Precious Cargo – The Camera Strap

So BlackRapid touts their camera strap as the “World’s Fastest” camera strap. Although I have tried a ton of straps in my lifetime and until very recently I have used the award winning and nearly impossible to break UpStrap. I’m not sure about the speed claim.

The UpStrap strap portion is made of a very thin yet super strong Kevlar webbing. Yes that Bullet Proof material. The neck pad on the UpStrap is a great quality rubber material with tons of little knobs that help the strap from slipping and sliding around your neck. It stays in place. The UpStarp has no plastic parts.

Having said that about the neck portion it can be somewhat un-comfortable on a bare neck when wearing a thin T-Shirt. Those little rubber knobs can dig in. Also, that neck pad is not substantial in size and so ALL of the camera and lens weight pulls down on that small pad at the back of the neck. Not ideal specially when you are carrying a heavy camera and lens combo.

I have recently and in the past tried other straps including various Op/Tech straps. The Op/Tech EZ Comfort strap is very comfortable but more on this type of strap a little later. I have also tried a good and well made LowePro camera strap. I’m a big fan of LowePro products but more on this strap in a bit. I have tried or looked at several other straps or other camera carying systems also.

The issue I have with most of these straps is either the Quick Release Buckle or the D-Rings or some of the other hardware they use. They are plastic. My experience with plastic is not very good.

When I worked as a pro I had spent several days hiking into Carmanah Valley on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. As I was walking along the Carmanah Creek high up nearing the Carmanah Giant a similar plastic quick release buckle broke and luckily the strap caught in my 72 pound back pack! My camera and lens could have gone down a steep embankment into the creek never to be seen again. Not only would this have been costly, it would have ended my trip forcing me out of the valley to get another camera! This would have been a minimum 3 lost days!

After inspecting the strap, a small plastic tab that bends just slightly and then clicks into place just decided to break. Plastic is a bad idea at best of times but when you use it as a repetitive bending part under heavy professional use its a very bad idea. That day I swore never to use a plastic part in a strap again.

Yes, plastic has come a long way since those days. But, I still would not trust my multi thousand dollar camera setup to a ten cent plastic component. Another issue with a few of the straps is the thin nylon material that attaches or loops around the camera strap post. Some of these are very thin and after only a few short months a closer inspection shows that the thin material has already started to fray. Not much comfort there. How long will that last?

Since then I had a photographer friend that had an issue with with a Canon strap that came off because off a poor strap attachment design with at that time rather poor instructions. That mishap cost this photographer a camera. Canon would not repair it for free but since then they have include better instructions.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2008 Optech game me an EZ Comfort strap for my camera and using it on a body with a small zoom lens attached it was great and very comfortable. They also gave me a replacement EZ Comfort strap for my shoulder bag that I use for carrying all my Schwag. Wow, what a great and comfortable strap that was. My colleagues were very envious.

Again though, both of these straps had some plastic hardware. I did use the Op/Tech camera strap for a short bit but after some time I kept thinking about that Carmanah incident and decided to stop using it. I do still use the shoulder bag strap!!

That’s what drew me to the UpStrap. Kevlar, Quality Rubber, Metal Clips and NO Plastic. I have had that strap for several years now and love it. Until recently that is. . .

All of a sudden I had a Canon 5D Mark II with the Battery Pack and a Really Right Stuff (great products) L Bracket with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Lens attached and a Really Right Stuff (Did I mention they make great products) Wedding Flash bracket and a Canon 580EX II attached. With the UpStrap I had no thoughts that it would not hold. Actually I KNEW it was going to hold without any problems, a great strap, but boy was this now very uncomfortable. It needs to be held around the neck or over the shoulder. Either way, because of the way in which it attaches to the camera strap loops on the camera, it was very un-comfortable. Two problems. One was the weight all distributed on the small neck pad and the second was how the camera now front and top heavy heaved over and sat at my chest or my side at an odd angle. Not comfortable or easy to deal with specially while working outdoors in the snow trying to do other things.

After checking out some of the cool new products out there for holding cameras from belts to clips to multi camera systems and then doing a ton of Internet research on them, I decided to get the BlackRapid strap. What helped decide was also the fact that I had seen this strap being used at the recent Seattle Pocket Wizard trip (previous post) which was the third time I had seen the strap but this time I had a chance to ask the photographer about how he like it. With my research in hand and his recommendation, I choose to buy the BlackRapid RS-7 Strap along with the Joey 2 pouch and 2 spare FastenR-2 fasteners to attach to other lenses.

The on-line purchase was quick and easy and the Pay with PayPal option was as usual very welcomed. Shipping was quick.

Within minutes of receiving my package and getting home I had the strap out and attached it to my camera and my 400mm lens. Wow! what a great strap. No I must say it is a little odd or rather un-conventional. It sits slung over one shoulder across your body and it holds your camera upside down at your waist level. This at first seemed odd, but as I walked around and then tried grabbing the camera pretending to try to take a shot with it, I saw the wisdom in this setup! The camera was ready with grip facing forward right where my hand was, at the ready. Simple and very elegant design indeed.

rs7-04

So I took the lens off, added the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and the flash bracket and flash and attached the FastenR-2 to the bottom of the Lens Plate and set it down. Again, wow, the camera and all the gear sat comfortably upside down at my side. Then it dawned on me, that the first time I tried it with the 400mm lens that I did not even notice the weight. Even with this large heavy camera/flash setup it was very comfortable on the shoulder. The weight was evenly distributed on the well designed and fully articulated shoulder pad.

I instantly fell in love with this strap. Since receiving it had a chance to shoot in the snow with it and even handling several portable light stands and doing several other tasks was very simple. The strap help the camera at my side away from the front of my body and out of harms way. The strap was still very comfortable after the shoot.

I have since then also showed this to two professional photographers that now both want to get this strap. This strap is very well designed and very well made. The strap and pad materials are well made and the stitching looks very well done. And, big AND, no plastic parts! The fasteners are all made of metal. The FastenR-2 that screws into your camera’s or len’s tripod socket. The FastenR-2 is machined from a solid stock of 304 stainless steel, and has an integral D-Ring for coupling to the R-Strap’s ConnectR which is also metal.

Everything I was looking for in a strap! Comfort and no plastic parts. I did gain the new hold the camera upside down at the waist design that appears to be superior than the traditional standard over the neck design. Oh, and after testing it out, it may just be the fastest camera strap in the world!

BlackRapid has three straps they offer but only the RS-7 is fully articulated which means the shoulder pad will sit properly on your curved shoulder and will therefore be much more comfortable. Having said that, I am sure the other two straps are still better than any over the neck strap.

If you are unsure of all this, please check out their site and watch their videos.

While there make sure to check out all the BR Buzz:

http://www.blackrapid.com/

You can purchase the strap directly from BlackRapid using PaylPal or you can use Amazon.com. The link to the strap at Amazon is here:

Black Rapid Strap RS7 Black Fabric, Curved Ergonomic, with ConnectR-2 and FastenR-2

If any manufactures would like me to test out their newer better straps or camera carrying systems, please pass them along. I would love to review them.


© 2009 François Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - December 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux