BlackRapid has been making unique, useful camera straps for a while, but recently released an updated product line. For this review, I took one of their more popular straps out into the field for a rock climbing photoshoot, as well as used it on a location scout.
The new BlackRapid Breathe line is an update to their popular line of camera support straps. A new material is being used on the shoulder pad that's lighter, breathable, and moisture wicking. Other small changes include spring-locking cams, an updated fastener, and a redesigned carabiner connector.
Before I jump into things, let’s get a quick overview of the Breathe line of straps from BlackRapid. The unifying element of all of their straps is in how they attach to your camera, which is through a threaded fastener that screws into the camera’s tripod mounting point. This fastener is connected to a small carabiner that slides effortlessly along the different straps. This is where the BlackRapid products begin to separate themselves; different strap systems are made for different users.
From simple sling designs that are made to be worn on either shoulder, to double camera harness systems for dual DSLR wielding wedding photographers, BlackRapid offers quite a few options depending on what your style is.
I specifically was interested in the Sport Breathe because I shoot a bit of adventure sport content, and honestly had never tried out any BlackRapid products before, as I was pretty happy with my Tamrac N-25 neoprene strap. While I normally take a small selection of lenses when I go out on an assignment, on more casual shoots I stick to one to stay light and fast, so the Sport Breathe appeared as though it might be ideal for that scenario.
I got to use the Sport Breathe when I met up with rock climbing trainer and book author Eric Hörst, and snapped some images of him and his two sons during a day of climbing. Here are a few images from that day.
First of all, the look of the whole Breathe lineup is similar, with shiny black straps running along your body and a black shoulder pad that is backed by a mesh-like material. If you’re into loud colors and designs, this strap isn’t for you; this has more of a tactical look and feel. There’s noticeable branding on it in white, which I wish was in black, but that’s pretty non-consequential.
Except for the metal carabiner that attaches to the fastener, and the metal removable underarm strap hook, all cam and buckle parts are plastic. With as close as this will be worn to your body, I wouldn't expect anything to break anytime soon, so this should be a non issue.
Here's a video from BlackRapid that shows how the strap is setup and meant to be used.
When it comes to the features, the main attraction is the sliding action this setup provides for quick access. At a moment’s notice, your camera easily slides along the front strap for clicking away, and then settles into place at your side. What’s novel with this design are the two cam locks, placed on either side of where the camera connects to the strap.
These cam locks can be easily placed at any point along the strap, and will restrict the camera form sliding beyond it. This means that it will hold the camera in whatever position along your body that feels the most comfortable for you. It also means you can lock it into a single place, so that if you plan to walk or hike and not shoot for a while, the camera won’t inadvertently swing around. Using these did take a little getting used to, as the action to unlock and slide them requires lifting the tab open, but once I figured it out, I could see why they were designed in this manner– it's very quick and smooth to adjust and set these.
The carabiner and fastener system works as intended, with the fastener screwing into a tripod mounting hole on a camera or telephoto lens. The carabiner clips into the loop on the fastener, which is then twistlocked, and then backed up by a flat cover which effectively keeps the twistlock from accidentally coming unscrewed. The rock climber in me appreciates redundancy, so I dig this method of locking into the fastener.
While I wore the strap and bounded around rocks and along trails, weight distribution felt great, and the resting position on my body was quite comfortable – much more so than that of my usual shoulder strap. I found that the camera body would take a position very nicely at the side of my hip, and my hand easily rested on it as well.
On a different day, I walked around downtown Lexington doing location scouting with my DSLR. For about two hours I made my way around town, with warm temps and high humidity. The shoulder pad didn't leave a large sweat mark and was comfortable the entire time.
What I Liked
- When not in use, camera settled in a very comfortable position on my body
- Shoulder pad fits great and doesn't leave a big sweaty spot
- Underarm strap is removable
What I Didn't Like
- I wish the branding was more subtle, but that's getting really nitpicky
- I can't think of anything else that I didn't like!
The Sport Breathe sells for about $82, so it’s not exactly cheap for a strap. If you shoot several times a week though, I could imagine that you'd use it enough to justify the cost. Also, if you’ve ever had a sore neck or shoulder from wearing a camera all day, then I might ask how much it’s worth it to you to be rid of that pain? And if you’re left-handed, they’ve got you covered with a left-handed option (For those who are interested, I hear BlackRapid is offering a trade-in option for owners of a previous strap, with a 40% discount on a new one).
Whenever I’m planning to go out and shoot with just a lens or two and want my camera by my side for most of the day, the choice is clear. I hadn't used BlackRapid products before but the Sport Breathe is going to be replacing my old shoulder strap on many of my shoots in the future.
Thanks to Seth McCubbin for the BTS photos!