Whenever I buy (or advise a photographer about) a piece of gear, I always use the same criteria. I simply ask, “Does it solve the problem?” I used to only apply that test to cameras or lenses. Increasingly, I use it when considering other camera related gear such as tripods and flash cards. I have been using it often recently because entrepreneurs are increasingly coming up with novel solutions to problems that I once thought were not “solvable.” A classic example of this is camera straps.
Camera straps solve a problem. They hold the camera in place, ideally so it will not crash to the ground. They do this mostly when I am not using the camera, but they should also work so the camera is accessible when I need it. I know all of that is obvious. I also know that I have rarely been terribly excited about the camera straps I use, since most that I used were compromises at best.
My own experience has been a series of camera straps that never quite worked. Some slipped off my shoulder too easily. Others (most) ended up tangled up in knots, around my neck when I was using multiple cameras. Many failed the important test of quickly unlocking, so I could untangle them and so I could put the strap through something like a railing. This is very important when I am using the camera on a table-top tripod, in some weird position, and I want to strap the camera in place, just in case…
I also hated how most straps looked. They were often loudly selling a product (or the illusion of a lifestyle.) I most strongly hated the old 1960’s-esque straps that had colored fabric on the back and looked more like guitar straps for folk singers than camera straps for photographers.
Straps have been a problem for me for so long that over the last few years I have been using a hybridized strap I made up myself. I liked the pad and strap of the UpStrap, but I put my own miniature clamps on the end of that strap so I could unlock the strap in a hurry. The problem with that was that those same clamps invariably wore out and more than a few times they have failed, sending my camera slipping off my shoulder in a race to the ground. To date, I have been lucky to catch them, but my luck is bound to run out.
Also, with most straps I usually ended up with the wrong camera on the wrong shoulder, which invariably confused me and slowed me down when I was photographing in a hurry. I like to use a certain camera on each shoulder, meaning one camera body with a wide-angle lens is on one side and another camera body with a telephoto lens is on the other side. That makes it very easy to quickly switch lenses (or to get to a body with a new flash card or battery.) Like everything else I do, that system “solves my problem.”
So, I want the camera straps to enable me to wear (and easily access) two cameras at a time. I also need to be able to pull those two cameras together to the center of my chest when I am walking. I similarly need to be able to push them behind me quickly (and quietly) so I can reduce their visibility for a moment.
I recently came across a solution to my camera strap problem that I actually like! I took straps from Black Rapid http://www.blackrapid.com/ and I adapted them to solve my particular set of problems. (Disclosure here: They sent me the straps to try out, which I did. I ended up using them in a way other than they were intended, but they do EXACTLY what I need a strap to do.)
I took the strap that came with the SnapR 20 Bag and put the straps on my cameras. I use the actual bags for storing my cameras when I travel. See the original bag and strap at http://www.blackrapid.com/product/camera-strap/snapr20/
Since I am using smaller Olympus PEN cameras, this set up works PERFECTLY for me. The strap is attached to the camera on one side, using one strap eyelet. This leaves me with one camera, dangling vertically on each side of my body. The cameras are specifically set up to be worn on the right or left, so when I reach for one camera and pull it to my face, it is in the correct orientation for me.
This “strap revolution” is the result of the recent explosion in entrepreneurship around photography gear. Black Rapid is a recent example of this. One of the earliest is the Domke brand of camera bags, started by Jim Domke, a one –time staff photographer at the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. Echoing my point, he writes: “I designed my first Shooter’s Bag to solve a problem…” Back when I was doing daily photojournalistic work, I used Domke bags, wearing holes in their canvas as something of a point of pride.
As my gear and my photography strategies change, so do the bags and straps I use. For me, I can now say that my decades old camera strap “problem” has been “solved.” Is that earth shattering news? Probably not! Has an entrepreneur solved my long-time problem in a new and creative way? Absolutely!