Aftermarket camera straps have been available for a long time, however, poor quality and unnecessary features have made market options difficult for users looking to purchase a strap. Beyond your stock camera strap, the choices available were limited to leather, neoprene and canvas “fashion” straps. None of these options did much to help distribute the weight of a larger camera body and a 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens hanging around your neck. Modern options have changed things up, and the results are great!
How the times have changed. Aftermarket straps, which combine functionality with extreme comfort and weight distribution, help many professional photographers get through their day. A full-frame body with a 70-200 mm f/2.8 isn't necessarily heavy, but it sure feels like it after shooting a wedding for ten hours with a poorly functioning strap. You'll get introduced to four different systems today, each have products that can fit a variety of needs.
The Sling by Op/Tech USA Utility Strap
This lightweight strap is a great piece of introductory gear for those new to aftermarket straps. The Sling is built to hold your cameras, as well as other little bits and bobs like memory cards or your ID with the extra clips. The curved neoprene padding along the shoulder strap prevents slipping and evenly distributes weight.
This is a great product for photographers shooting while outdoors or for those looking for quick access to your camera as you can still use your equipment while it's hooked up to the strap. At around $25, this strap offers you the bang for your buck in terms of functionality, design and convenience.
I've tested out this strap a few times and the camera stays put and sits well while I'm on the move. It also make normally burdensome gear feel incredibly light.
Black Rapid is one of the ubiquitous brands of aftermarket camera straps. They can be found in virtually any well stocked camera store across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. There'll be a Black Rapid dealer within mail order distance of you regardless of where you live.
Their products cover everything from simple slim travel straps, to their classic heavy-duty straps designed for professional DSLRs and heavy lenses. They even have a double-camera body holster that's just two ammo pouches short of being a tactical vest. A subtle, but amazing feature of these straps is the way they attach to your camera. They utilize the tripod mount for attachment. Gone are the days of fiddling with getting your strap to properly jiggle into the strap mount on your body.
Aside from their innovative mounting feature, the Black Rapid straps also work with a sling, rather than around your neck. This provides a much more comfortable design, resting on your neck and colloure bone, rather than the back of your neck. This innovative feature of the Black Rapid straps has prompted numerous competitors to release similar designs, perhaps the most notable being the 'C-Loop', an accessory that allows your existing stock or aftermarket strap to connect through the tripod plate.
The RS-4 Classic is my personal favorite out of the Black Rapid range. It's more than strong enough to carry a heavy setup, and there's also a little pouch on the strap to hold batteries, memory cards, or some cash. With the added foam built into the strap, the Black Rapid options are far more comfortable than your traditional "stock" strap.
Another innovator in the camera strap arena, Spider holster targeted a different market than Black Rapid: those who want a hip-strapped camera. They have both single and dual camera systems, as well as a lightweight version for those with smaller DSLRs or micro 4/3rd cameras.
The holsters are quite well designed and sturdy, with "quick-draw" access and a very simple to use lock. This locking system will insure than your camera will not leave your hip unexpectedly, and can work as a tripod mount for most tripod brands.
The SpiderPro Holster has received universal acclaim from bloggers, professionals, and hobbyists. It's also won 'product of the year' awards from multiple magazines. To put it simply, if you want to mount a camera on your hip, this is likely your best bet. While this brand is a bit less widespread than Black Rapid outside the USA, you should have no problems finding a dealer.
Holdfast is a bit newer to the market than some of the other system I've mentioned, but you can't help but love the attitude and style. Holdfast goes a lot further on aesthetics than other strap makers. They craft some very rugged and hip looking leather gear, with their most notable product being the Money Maker, a multi-camera harness strap that'll make you look like the coolest camera slinging photographer on the block.
Most of their ware comes in your choice of various fine leathers, and the Money Maker can even be ordered in genuine python skin. Hold Fast is definitely more of a luxury brand, with some straps running into the $250-$300 range. I think a price jump from the other brands is to be expected, considering the expensive leather. With that said, that's not a very big investment to make if you're a working professional. After all, you're going to be using your strap on a regular basis, so why not have one that feels and looks nice. When putting it into perspective, it's less than a dollar per day for a year, and likely less than one client invoice in value.
There are plenty of photographers that are huge advocates of this brand, and it's easy to see why. The availability of this brand is a little less widespread than the previous two, but still surprisingly easy to find given that they're catering to a more narrow niché. Large retailers like B&H and Adorama do carry them.
Try a New Strap for Yourself
These companies are the tip of the iceberg in the ever-growing industry of aftermarket camera straps. New ideas are coming out all the time, and thanks to crowdfunding site like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it's easier than ever to get a great design out into the public eye.
Do you use an "alternative" or non-traditional camera strap? Let us know about it in the comments!