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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?