Strapping Up: A Look at Camera Straps
Ever stop to think about what is holding your camera when your hands aren't? Lots of photography tutorials focus on cameras, lenses, and lighting. Even bags and filters get a lot of press. However, there is one important piece of equipment that gets neglected and choosing the wrong one can be a literal pain in the neck. So, we're going to take a look at various camera straps and how they indirectly impact your photography.
The Importance of Camera Straps
A camera strap is an important piece of equipment that a lot of people pay little attention to. We subconciously rely on it to hold our camera securely whenever we're hands-off. It dangles precariously from our shoulder or it's yolked around our neck. A camera strap is a lot like a car's seatbelt, many times it's the only thing that saves you from a crash.
For many people the strap that comes with the camera is sufficient for supporting your camera. However, they tend to lack some features that professionals enjoy. Some of these shortcomings are cosmetic while others are functional.
The first thing I don't like about the stock strap is that it is usually emblazioned with the manufacturer's logo and camera model in attention-grabbing colors. My DSLR is conspicuous enough, I don't need to be a walking advertisement for a camera company.
Secondly, the strap doesn't grip onto the shoulder very well, gradually slipping off especially when wearing artificial fibers or a coat. This becomes a huge problem when using multiple bodies with heavy lenses attached. It's also a distraction during a shoot if you're frequently needing to re-adjust your cameras on your shoulder.
Finally, the leather or faux leather, that is stitched into one side of the neck strap is usually pretty thin and cheap-feeling. It doesn't absorb sweat very well and does little to prevent slippage. Even the "pro line" leather of these stock straps are only marginally better than their prosumer counterparts.
Stock straps work just fine, but their gaudy colors feel more like an advertisment than a professional accessory.
Despite its shortcomings, the supplied strap works sufficiently for its purpose. So, if you're unwilling or unable to spend a little more on something better or better suited to your needs/style, keep the stock strap.
Neoprene straps are marketed as straps that provide additional comfort by being soft and a bit stretchy. They're thicker than the stock strap and by comparison, much more comfortable. The added comfort however is not without shortcomings for the working professional.
Neoprene straps are a step up from the standard strap. The cushioning provides additional comfort, particularly around the neck. (Photo by: Ev0luti0nary)
For me, the stretchiness of most neoprene straps is a lot like having a ball attached to a rubber band. Casual walking around isn't bothersome, but pick up the pace and your transferred momentum is multiplied by the neoprene's elasticity actually exterting more force on your shoulder and neck than a stock strap. So, the comfort level actually drops the more you move around.
What is good about these straps, particularly Tamrac's Boomerang Strap (N-27), is that they're curved to provide better ergonomics for the neck. Their curved shape claims its better for the shoulder too, but in practice I don't find it any better than the straight neoprene straps.
Neoprene straps are great for casual use especially with heavier DSLRs dangling around the neck. Their grip is a little better than the stock strap, but the bouncing from the stretch can hop that camera right off your shoulder too.
Sling/Speed straps help address two problems at once: slippage and getting the camera up to the eye quickly. There are quite a few quality brands that do this well. Most manufacturers have sling straps that accomodate varying camera sizes. I feel these kind of straps work better for the professional, but may be unnecessary in the end especially at the price-point of some.
One great benefit of using a sling strap is that the danger of the camera slipping off your shoulder is eliminated. This is because the camera isn't slung over your head and shoulder and any swaying or tension actually provides additional security.
The C-Loop system is an example of a bottom mounting system, but does not offer the slip through option other straps in this class do. (Photo by: C-Loop)
Another benefit is the added comfort by slinging the camera over the shoulder and across the body. More of the weight is distributed over better load-bearing points on the body, mostly the shoulder and a little of the hips. This is a much better alternative than carrying a DSLR with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens around the neck.
Of course, you can wear any camera strap like this, but these straps have a pass through attachment on the camera itself. Conventional straps with any grip will catch and pull your clothing if you pull the camera from your hip to your eye. This eliminates that problem because the strap never moves. The camera slides up and down the strap.
One of the other selling points of these sling straps is their speed. While you can get the camera up to your faster, the difference isn't really all that much. I've found that a decent strap at the right length does very well indeed. They are a little faster and a little more secure than the over-the-shoulder method, but it's not worlds apart.
The final shortcoming of sling-style or "speed" straps is that they usually use the camera's tripod mount as the attachment point, requiring it's removal whenever you wish to use a tripod. It's not a huge deal to move to a tripod, but critics of these systems have said the tripod mounts aren't designed bear loads that pull at them. Either way, I'd rather keep a normal strap, and be able to leave the tripod plate attached instead.
If a sling-strap is your style, then I suggest getting the Black Rapid RS series ($54 to $70 range). They're well made and the attachment points are metal and don't feel cheap. They also have a bunch of videos on their site that will give you a good idea of how these straps work. They are expensive for sling straps and if you're into saving a little, just get a regular strap and sling it diagonally across your body.
Because I usually use two professional DSLRs with professional f/2.8 lenses — quite a heavy setup — a strap with a great ability to grip onto the shoulder securely is important. During a wedding or photojournalism assignment, I don't have time to worry if $6000 worth of equipment is about to slip onto the floor — and that's just one shoulder.
Domke Gripper straps have non-slip tracks on one side. They're great if you mostly hang your camera from the shoulder.
Grippy straps are like stock straps except they have a non-slip lining on one side. They're usually about the same width and have similar weight distribution properties as their stock counterparts. Their selling point is that your camera will stay in place when on the shoulder.
When looking for a grippy strap, it is important to test which fabrics it holds onto. The test is not just for grip strength but also grip consistency. The strap should hold very well and do so with a variety of fabrics, including artificial fibers found in many raincoats and wintercoats. No use owning something that isn't going to work all the time.
One of the brands I've trusted to hold my cameras onto to me is the Domke Gripper ($22). I always got the swiveling version because it mitigated any twisting that would prevent the grippy side from facing my shoulder. While the connection points aren't a premium as Black Rapid's, they're well-made too.
The downside to these straps, Domke's specifically, is that over time (5-10 years) the rubber in the straps can break down. I've seen more than one old Domke straps that has gooey rubber that can leave a residue on your hands and clothes.
Pick one that reflects your style, but above all make sure it's well-made. (Photo by: lovelihood)
If you want your camera strap to make a statement, then go with a company that makes fashionable or trendy camera straps. There isn't any reason for your sense of style not to extend to your camera strap. Unlike the other straps mentioned in this article, most are not made by a photography or camera-related company. Also, I don't have personal experience to speak ill or well about their reliability, durability, or features aside from the fact that they're fashionable.
I would assume that these are somewhat of a cosmetic upgrade to the stock strap, but not much more. I haven't seen any serious, professional, or world-class photographer trusting their equipment to such things. Like many things that are chic, I suspect that some won't hold up well to years of photographic torment. It all probably depends on the materials and manufacturing on the person or company making it.
However, these straps look to be more than fine for casual use and a better alternative (appearance-wise) than what comes in the box with your camera. You're sure to find something that fits your style and personality on Etsy ($15 - $175).
If you want a reliable, old-school feel that will last for years, then leather camera straps are the way to go. Leather is one of the most durable and reliable materials known to man. In many ways, leather is a cornerstone material of human civilization. Because of its history of dependability, leather camera straps have longevity on their side and in many cases comfort, too.
Unlike the neoprene, sling, grippy, and fashion straps, not many companies manufacture leather straps. So, in my experience, I've had to turn to smaller companies that provide professional, handmade leather camera straps. In many ways these professional handmade straps are wonderful best-kept secrets. Although they tend to be more expensive than your usual strap, the extra cost is well worth it.
Wapiti straps use elk leather for the shoulder pad and wide, strong nylon webbing throughout.
One company is Wapiti Straps and it's what I've been trusting to keep my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV hanging on to me. Though not as wide as standard straps, the leather and build quality make it just as comfortable. The nylon webbing stays wide until it nears the camera connection point, increasing strength and reducing twisting. And it out-performs the Domke Gripper in keeping the camera on the shoulder, albeit only slightly.
Like Domke, Wapiti makes straps for the working professional photographer and is a favorite amongst photojournalists who are known to put photography gear through unimaginable situations. And through those situations only quality materials and equipment are going to perform and come out the other side ready for the next job. Good leather goes a long way.
Since many quality leather straps are handmade, there's no reason not to include the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) camera strap category for the ultimate in quality control, expression, and features. With DIY straps, you're in control of the materials and build quality, which is a sacrifice one makes when buying from a third party. Creativity in this area allows for some interesting materials and unique straps to be made.
I have seen some great straps made from chainmail, interwoven rubber bands, a car's seatbelt, and usb cables. The connection points can be just a unique as well as durable: key ring, carabiner, or metal snaps. Another customizable aspect of DIY straps is the length adjustment mechanism. You can use a belt buckle, D-ring, or strong velcro.
A DIY sling/speed strap using a nylon ratchet strap and carabiner. (Photo by: William Brawley)
There is a caution when using a DIY camera strap. Since you're in control of the materials, build quality, and features, the strap will only be as good as the materials and craftsmanship. So, a crappy job or flimsy materials will place your precious camera equipment at risk. Also, using hard materials, like chainmail, without some sort for cushioning can be very uncomfortable.
Even, Petapixel recently had an article about weaving your own camera strap out of paracord. You can check it out here.
If you're crafty and wish to make your own, unique strap DIY is the way to go. With some time and good materials you may as well make the best strap you've ever owned.
At first glance your camera's strap looks to be insignificant to your photography. And in many ways it is. A camera strap, like any piece of equipment or accessory, isn't going to improve your photographs. However, a good strap can make your shooting experience much more pleasant and less stressful. Knowing your camera isn't going to suddenly slip off your shoulder or that your neck isn't going to be sore after an hour or so is one less thing hampering your focus: capturing the decisive moment.