Eight Ways to Carry Your Camera That Are Not Shoulder Straps

Eight Ways to Carry Your Camera That Are Not Shoulder Straps

Camera shoulder straps are a popular way to carry your camera close to your body. But what other quick-access options do you have to keep your camera safe?

The Best Camera?

Whoever has been searching for photography news and tutorials probably came across the following saying: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” When I type “the best camera” into Google, this almost doctrinal statement is the third suggestion after “the best camera phone” and “the best camera phone 2020.” It’s an often-repeated saying in the comments section of YouTube channels and even here on Fstoppers. My problem: It’s wrong.

The best camera is the one that’s in reach.

I prefer to shoot travel, documentary, and landscape photographs. Except for the last category, the most important virtue of my camera is accessibility and quick controls. My camera must be ready and in reach. Because often, things happen without warning. This is why my phone won’t do the job. I can’t touch, click, wait, and change the settings step by step. Yanking my camera out of the bag, pocket, or wherever it’s hidden, I can turn my dials, set the focus, and change the exposure.

In travel and documentary photography, you always need your camera to be ready and safe!

Camera Shoulder Straps

My photography mostly depends on being quick and having my camera ready. A camera bag is the worst thing for me. I use it for hiking up to a vantage point for landscape photography, but that’s it. I never felt that walking around with a bag through an interesting area helped me shoot good images. If it’s too hot, rainy, or busy, I find it too stressful to unpack and re-pack for every single photograph. On the other hand, holding my camera tightly in my hand also gets on my nerves.

I guess that’s why camera manufacturers tend to gift us a camera shoulder strap when we buy one of their camera bodies. Branded with the manufacturer’s name, tourists walk around the cities as a human billboard. We enjoy showing off on which side of the camera game we play, and our brand enjoys the free publicity. Not with me, though, because the strap is the first part of my camera I usually try to sell. You get good prices online for an original Nikon strap, by the way.

Sold for a good price on eBay. Thanks, Nikon!

But it’s not because of the branding, it’s its feeling that I don’t get along with. I always feel that a conventional shoulder strap limits me in my movements, and I also tend to crash my camera against every wall I find. When I wore the strap along with a backpack, I used to get trapped in it and even involuntarily strangled myself a few times in the past.

Alternatives to the Camera Shoulder-Strap

Here are some options if you want to have quick access to your camera without using the shoulder strap.

The Top Loader

Top loaders are quite conventional camera bags that you can get from a broad range of manufacturers, be it the big brands like Lowepro and Manfrotto or smaller, independent models and budget solutions. The advantage of top loaders is their easy accessibility and space. You can carry extra batteries, SD cards, a small cleaning kit, and so on. Good top loaders are also weather-sealed and keep your camera safe. The disadvantage: the better the bag, the broader your hip. If you don’t use them with a shoulder strap, top loaders are usually fixed on your belt. It also takes some time to open the zip and get the camera out. Better than a backpack, though.

Fanny Pack

Only meant for small cameras.

Germans love to wear fanny packs on their belt or around their shoulder. Not only while they are traveling but also at parties, festivals, and in everyday situations. I found that a fanny pack suits me even better than a top loader – given that I’m walking around with my small Olympus EM-10. The pack can even fit a second battery and an extra lens (a small one). My Nikon D750 would never fit, though. The fanny pack doesn’t scream “expensive photography gear!” and still protects my camera from theft or small environmental damage.

Camera Harness

How cool is that? A harness for photography. I love these, but never bought myself any. I simply can’t afford to look like Rambo on a photography trip. Using an easy and safe click system, most camera harnesses let you fix your camera in front of your body as well as other gear. It’s easy to reach, relatively safe, and always in sight. If that’s not enough: many harnesses offer enough space for two camera bodies. That makes it easy to switch cameras when you are frequently in situations where changing your lens would take too much time.

If I was a wedding photographer or war photographer, I’d definitely check this thing out.

Camera Holster

Most of the camera holsters are quite similar to the idea of the harness, except for fixing the camera on your hip. Quick access guaranteed. A big disadvantage of wearing an unprotected camera around your hip is that you’ll see some small damage on your device after a while. You can’t avoid hitting it every now and then. In my opinion, a camera is made to be used and not pampered. And a few scratches look sexy, anyway.

My only problem with this solution is its price tag. Whenever I become less stingy or feel that I don’t have to save money for a new lens, this would be the next thing I'd buy. It’s definitely on my list. But as long as I am tightfisted, I am going to use...

The Snap Hook

My solution to every situation is makeshift. On one of my quick-release plates, there is a little hook. On this hook, I fixed a small but stable yarn on which I fixed a snap hook. What sounds a little complicated at first, it really provided a lot of freedom during my journeys. I could access my camera blindly, only paid about $1, and I could fix my camera wherever I wanted — most of the time on my belt.

Sometimes, the easiest solution might be a good one. If you’re on a low budget, it’s the way to go.

Camera Hand Strap

I loved my camera hand strap. Basically, it’s not permanent storage, but I often walked around an area by just letting my camera dangle on my wrist. A good hand strap holds your camera tight to your hand without the need to grab it. It also looks cool and a little bit wild. The reasons why this handy holder finally ended up in the bin were its quality and the bulkiness. My hand strap was fixed below the tripod plate and way too thick. It also left my camera unbalanced whenever I put it on an even surface.

You can see that my camera spends a lot of time outdoors.

Researching products for this article, I found that there are better options on the market, though. Some hand straps are even integrated into a quick-release system.

Camera Wrist Strap

I exchanged my hand strap for another makeshift solution: the wrist strap. There is not much to write about it. It’s a small ribbon that allows you to loosely hang your camera on your wrist. It’s not super safe, because the little loop can easily slip off your wrist, but at least it’s an extra barrier for my camera.

A simple as it can be: a self-made wrist strap

What’s Your Solution?

Apart from the holders that I haven’t tried yet, it seems that my makeshift solutions were the handiest ones for me. A self-made wrist strap along with the snap hook gives me the necessary flexibility to quickly access my camera without the fear of losing it.

Yet, it still feels like it is the choice of the least evil. How do you carry your camera around and what’s your experience with different sorts of camera holders?

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17 Comments

Joe Petolino's picture

When hiking with a backpack, I put the camera strap around my neck and carry the camera tucked under the backpack's sternum strap, lens pointing down. For a small camera like an OM-D, this is comfortable and reasonably stable, and if the camera does manage to work its way out of position, the strap around your neck will catch it.

Guillermo Alessandri's picture

For travel, a small Fuji or Sony a6xxx on a Peak Design Capture Clip on my bagpack strap or a regular shoulder strap if I'm walking around without a bagpack. To be honest, if I don't have anything in particular I want to shoot, my smartphone in my pocket it's fine to capture memories.

William Connor's picture

I am a bit of a camera strap hoarder. I currently prefer the Peak Designs system. I use several of their straps depending on the camera and I also have their Clip. I can carry my camera any way that I want and it can be as easy to get to or as secure as I need it to be.

Rick Rizza's picture

As a still and video guy, strap is a big disaster, especially when you put the camera on a stabilizer from time to time. I haven't found a good solution except holding it on my hand without any type of strap. Perhaps the harness is a good thing but will it block the tripod thread?

Mark Harris's picture

I'm a huge fan of OP-Tech elastic neck straps. Standing still they are little more comfortable than static straps, but as soon as you start walking they absorb most of the bounce, and their claim that the camera feels 50% lighter is believable (or rather, the camera feels 50% heavier if you walk with a static strap). I'd forgotten how good they are until I recently bought a used camera with static strap attached and went out with a big lens on, and had a horrible day with the strap tugging on my neck every step.

Jan Holler's picture

After trying out toploaders (too bulky), funny backpacks (often too small), a camera holster (is often in the way, bulky), a kind of harness (doesn't look like Rambo, but too much weight in front of you and somehow dangerous if you stumble), hand straps (blocks the right hand, makes the grip sweat after a while -> Nikon grip rubbers come loose and the camera can't be mounted on a tripod any more) I returned to the shoulder straps. This is the only product of Peak Design I still use, although its black rubber became soft and came off and spoiled some shirts. I dropped all the (expensive) rest because it is more or less useless for me. I still regret the waste of money.

Even with two cameras on me I use shoulder straps. One runs diagonally from the neck to one side of the body, the other straight down from the shoulder. That way the cameras don't normally come into contact with each other.
The disadvantage of shoulder straps is that the camera is not fixed in one place when not in use. This can be avoided by using a snap hook and attaching the camera to the belt on the back. (I use this when I ride my bike).

Alex Reiff's picture

I still use the stock strap. I've looked at some different products, and nothing I've seen really looks like it will make holding a camera any more comfortable. The only thing I have done is add some Peak Design anchors. I'll put my arm through the strap and carry it on my side if I don't anticipate shooting soon, or on my back if I'm on precarious terrain, and the anchors allow me to get that arm in and out faster and without contorting it through the strap. Plus they allow me to easily remove the strap for tripod shooting so it doesn't act like a sail.

James Evidon's picture

The author missed the obvious and safest solution. Adjust your shoulder strap to be long enough to wear the strap across the chest. The camera stays against your hip and protected most of the time by your arm. When you need to shoot, just grab the camera and slide it up into position. I have been doing this for years and all of my cameras look new except where hand handling naturally wears away the paint or coating. My cameras have no nicks or scrapes from banging around. Try carrying your camera with the shoulder strap across your chest. You won't regret it.

Gary Peak's picture

I use a Black Rapid strap if I'm carrying the camera around for a long time. The camera rests on my hip so can be easily stabilised by my right arm while walking and doesn't make my neck ache like the maufacturer's strap. It can also allow me to get the camera up to my eye quickly if I need to. For shorter sessions, I use a JJC neoprene wrist strap which is comfortable but secure enough that if I lose my grip on the camera it won't drop to the ground

Jeremy Strange's picture

Love my Black Rapid.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I wouldn't be caught dead with a fanny pack.

Greg Edwards's picture

I dislike branded camera straps for the same reason I dislike branded or obvious camera bags. They basically say “look what I’ve got, come and mug me”.

FWIW, I have a cheap, basic, unobtrusive canvas “man bag” to keep the bits I need for the day in and I use a peak design neck strap or wrist strap. Both sleek and secure.

Trey Mortensen's picture

I just use a loop of paracord tied in a climbing knot (then melted together) and a carabiner I have laying around. It swings a little, but it's super cheap and I can clip onto my belt or onto my backpack strap really easily. I call it the poor man's Peak Design clip :D

William Salopek's picture

"Can't afford to look like Rambo"? Odd way to put it...what would the "cost" be? :)

Loren Pechtel's picture

This list really should include the Peak Design capture clip. I used to love mine but after losing a bit of weight I find it uncomfortable on my shoulder after an extended hike. I really wish they made something like the harness in the article.

Alejandro Ravera's picture

I weave the original strap the camera came with to my forearm. It remains fixed there.

Lemmy Caution's picture

When I use my Canon D6, it's usually a studio or location shoot, so I work from a Pelican case on a table or tailgate. The Canon has a hand strap. Street/events/documentary I typically use a Leica with a wriststrap from DSPTCH.com https://www.dsptch.com/collections/wrist-1/products/camera-wrist-strap - the woven loop takes some work to get over my hand, so there's no danger of the camera falling. Neck-straps are inconvenient and no help when running or shooting from the hip.