A better camera strap
I have always disliked the neck strap that comes with a DSLR body. They are usually too short, put the full weight of the camera and lens on your neck, and makes you into a walking billboard for the camera manufacturer. What are the alternatives?
In 2006, Ron Henry, a working Seattle photographer, saw a need for a better camera strap. He wanted something that put less strain on his neck, and also allowed for quicker action. This lead to the founding of BlackRapid and the development of the sliding harness R-strap. As shown in the illustration on the right, the R-strap is worn diagonally over the torso, distributing the weight better, and it allows you to pick up the camera and rapidly slide it along the strap to shooting position.
The concept of the R-strap is simple and elegant. Cudos to Ron Henry for coming up with this brilliant idea.
While traditional straps put the weight of camera and lens on your neck, the R-Strap is designed to be worn diagonally across the torso from shoulder to hip. It also has a large shoulder padding to distribute the weight of the camera and lens over a greater area. However, the greatest innovation introduced by the BlackRapid R-strap was the assembly to attach the strap to the camera or lens. (See photo on the left.) Instead of using the two lugs at the top of the camera body, the R-strap attaches to the tripod socket of the camera or the tripod collar on the lens. A D-ring on the fastener attaches it to a carabiner hook, and the carabiner hook has a bolt on top that goes through a hole in a rectangular metal frame. This allows the assembly to rotate freely. The strap then goes through this metal frame. This makes the whole assembly slide freely up and down the strap. With this type of strap, camera hangs upside down, with the lens pointing behind you, resting securely on your hip or in the small of your back. Not only does this type of strap put less weight on your neck, it also allows you grab your camera with a single hand and move it fast into shooting position.
A few years later the German company Sun Sniper started selling a similar strap. Like the R-strap, the weight of camera and lens is carried by the shoulder, and the camera and lens assembly slide freely up and down the strap. The main difference is that the latest version of the Sun-sniper strap design has eliminated the D-ring and carabiner hook. Instead the fastener is made to rotate, and attaches directly to the strap via a rectangular metal frame. The Sun-sniper also has a model with a stainless steel wire embedded in the strap, as an anti-theft device.
The basic model of the R-strap, the RS-4, costs USD 54. The basic model of the Sun-sniper, The One, costs EURO 49 (about USD 70). Now there are cheaper alternatives available built around the same concept. These are sold under various brands, but the most widely available is called the Q-strap (or Quick Strap). The Q-strap is made in China, and selling on eBay for as little as USD 19.
The BlackRapid website says that there is a “patent pending” for the R-strap. I think Ron Henry deserves his patent, but until the patent is awarded, it is legal to sell similar products. It is up to you to decide to buy the original, or one of the derivative models.
Search eBay for this type of camera strap:
The Q-strap is obviously a copy of BlackRapid's pioneering R-strap. Even the Q-strap logo is designed to resemble the R-strap logo. Both logos feature a single orange letter “breaking out” of a grey frame. However, the letter “R” is replaced by the letter “Q” in the Q-strap logo, so there is no problem telling the products apart.
The standard configuration of the Q-strap differs from the R-strap in one detail. While the R-strap is attached to the tripod socket with a circular stainless steel fastener, the Q-strap attaches to the tripod socket with a flat metal plate fastener that is about 4 mm thick (shown to the right). I believe it is aluminium and that it is just painted black. The black finish is not very durable and mine is already coming off. The plate has a rubber top to make it slip resistant. I think the plate fastener is an improvement, making less likely that the assembly unscrews itself during use. The rest of the assembly is identical to the R-strap, and consists of a carabiner hook that is attached to a rectangular metal frame with a bolt going through a hole to allows it to rotate freely.
If you do not want the bulk of the fastening plate, the manufacturer of Q-strap sells an alternative circular fastener with a D-ring that resembles the R-strap fastener. This item is USD 9. For USD 14, you can even buy the original fastener (FastenR-3) or one specially made for the Manfrotto Quick release plate (FastenR-T1) from BlackRapid (Search ebay for fastenR.) Since the rest of the assembly is identical, both should fit the Q-strap kit.
Trying out the Q-strap
I've read great reviews of both the R-strap and Sun-sniper strap. These are fine products and some may argue that when it comes to the component that is going to hold several thousands of dollars worth of camera and lens, you should compromise the safety of your kit to save a few dollars.
However, being a cheap-skate, I nevertheless opted for the Q-strap in its standard configuration (i.e. with the rectangular plate fastener). The one I bought was advertised as «third edition». I paid USD 19 on eBay, including shipping from Hong Kong.
Being third edition the following improvements have been made since the debut of the original Q-strap:
- Lock on the carabiner hook is a metal and secured with a twist (original design featured a sliding plastic lock).
- The nylon weave is smoother and with less friction than earlier editions.
- The contour of the shoulder padding is curved for a more comfortable fit.
Like the BlackRapid RS-4, it has a tiny pocket with a zipper with enough room for two memory cards. However, the padding is not thick enough for you not to notice the cards being there.
My strap came unassembled and without any instructions. It took some experimentation to figure out how to put it together and adjust the length to suit me. One problem was that the shoulder padding did not stay locked relative to the strap. When the strap moved relative to the padding, the camera movement along the strap became restrained by the strap buckles. I finally figured out were to position the buckles to keep the shoulder padding locked in one place.
I also experimented with alternative ways of fastening the strap to the camera. For instance I tried to use a key-ring to attach the carabiner hook to one of the lugs provided by Nikon for attaching a strap. This, however, did not work out well. This solution balanced poorly, and was not suitable for quick action.
The assembly, strap and padding appear to be solid and well made. The large fastening plate works fits well under my Nikon D700 as long as I do not fit a battery grip, L-plate, or quick-release plate under the body. I do not think the Q-strap will be safe with a battery grip fitted, as it will put too much of a strain on the connection between grip and body. The large fastening plate will probably not fit under an L-plate or a quick-release plate.
One disadvantage that the Q-strap shares with the R-strap and the Sun-sniper is that you need to remove the strap to mount your camera on a tripod or mono-pod. I think the main benefit of this type of strap is to photojournalists and street photographers. Portrait and landscape photographers may find it to be a nuisance because the fastening plate must be removed before you can mount the camera on a tripod.
I've used the Q-strap for some months now. It seems solid enough and I've even used it with a a Nikkor 80-200 mm f/2.8 (1.5 kg) attached to the D700, and it balances nicely when I attach it to the tripod collar on the lens.
It works as advertised. There is noticeable less strain on my body when I carry the camera and lens around for a long time. The Q-strap also let me use a single hand to slide the camera from its resting position on the hip to shooting position in front of the face. After a short while, this quick movement felt both natural and intuitive.
The Q-strap is more bulky than the standard Nikon strap, and takes up the same space as one mid-sized lens in the camera bag.
Whether you like this strap or not depends very much on whether you think it is a good idea to use the tripod mount to attach the strap to the camera. If you don't, then this strap is not for you.
Overall, I am so far happy with the Q-strap. However, I am a bit concerned about the single bolt that attaches the carabiner hook to the metal frame. The whole assembly rotates around that bolt, and probably puts some strain on it, in particular when a heavy lens is attached to the body. If that bolt breaks, camera and lens will crash to the ground. I've so far no grounds to think that this bolt is not solid enough. But just to make sure, I've fitted a separate piece of steel wire that attaches the metal frame above the bolt to one of the lugs on the camera body that are left over from the old strap. That wire should save the day if the bolt one day breaks.
While I ended up purchasing the Q-strap, I must admit that I am attracted to the Sun-sniper design.
The Sun-sniper has eliminated both the carabiner hook and the bolt. Instead of these potential points of failure Sun-sniper uses a stainless steel rotating fastener. I think this solution is both safer and less bulky than the assemblies of the R-strap and Q-strap. Sun-sniper sells a premium rotating fastener with ball bearings for EURO 25 (USD 35). This alternative fastener (picture below) should fit both the R-strap and the Q-strap..
Therefore, I am thinking about buying the Sun-sniper premium ball-bearing fastener to replace the original assembly on my Q-strap. The Sun-sniper ball-bearing is expensive, but adding it to the Q-strap still works out cheaper than buying the complete the Sun-sniper kit.