Camera straps are about as ubiquitous as cameras themselves. If it weren't for the dreadfully uncomfortable ones that come with most cameras, you'd think they're pretty hard to get wrong. Most third party ones are at least adequate, or better, so what can someone do to stand out? We've spent the past month with four custom hand-made-to-order leather straps, in the form of a wrist strap, two neck straps, and even a unique TLR strap from the Deadcameras lineup. Do they have what it takes to stand out in an endless sea of straps? Let's find out.
Deadcameras was originally a blog created by Ricardo Silva with the sole purpose of reviewing film cameras. The name Deadcameras came from Silva thinking about his collection of analog cameras and how so many people were proclaiming film to be "dead." Simple and clever; I like it. While running the blog, Silva was designing and building camera straps for his own personal use, but after receiving feedback from famed photographers from his home of Portugal, like Alfredo Cunha and Antònio Homem Cardoso, he had created products worthy of sale to the public.
First thing's first: All their straps have a number of things in common:
- Every strap is made with top grain leather, which is the most natural and durable leather available. Of course this means that there can be small visual variances like wrinkles, scars, and skin marks. This also means they smell incredible. Even though I happily welcome the natural relief of quality leather products, the straps I received were all remarkably clean and uniform.
- All edges are hand-burnished for an impeccable finished feel. All stitching is done by hand with wax-coated polyester thread, and my goodness is the stitching just beautiful. It's pretty perfect. Each strap arrives in its own fabric bag to prevent any damage during transit. Of course, like any quality leather product, with proper care they will outlast their owner, so this sort of protection is more for show than necessary protection.
- All straps that are designed to attach to camera lugs with metal split-rings also come with circles of leather designed to go between the camera and strap to prevent any contact of metal against the camera. I personally found them a bit tricky to get installed since the hole cutout was small. It made it difficult to push them flush with the body to access the lug to attach the split-ring. They are leather, though, so over time that little hole will open up a little bit making future installations easier. Another nice bonus is that each strap comes with two sets of these leather pads.
- Deadcameras is a small family-owned operation and all straps are made-to-order and are crafted in Santa Maria de Feira, Portugal; right near the heart of one of the most important European shoe and leather regions.
- While every strap has a standard set of features to choose from such as length and colors, you can make special requests regarding these attributes to get a truly custom one-off result.
- All prices include free international shipping.
- All straps include a 15-day return guarantee and a lifetime warranty from defects.
The Limited Edition Strap for the Rolleiflex TLR
As the majority of Silva's favorite cameras are quite a bit smaller than your average pro-sized DSLR, most of the product line is focused around rangefinders, mirrorless, and smaller 35mm film cameras. But one of his personal favorite cameras is his Rolleiflex, so he also has a very special strap made just for Twin Lens Reflex cameras. In fact, this TLR hand strap is the reason I ever heard about Deadcameras in the first place. Many years ago I had "accidentally" created a hand strap for my Rolleiflex by detaching the cheap neck strap portion of my strap and clipping to the two short lug attachments together. It was a revelation and I never used the neck portion ever again. Selling that Rollei was a mistake that haunted me for years as it was my favorite film camera I had ever owned. So when I finally bought a new one, the first task was to get a hand strap like I had before. A lengthy Google search led me to the amazing conclusion that the concept was pretty rare. It's crazy because, honestly, once you realize how natural it is to hold a TLR by a handle, you can't go back to a traditional neck strap. Fortunately I found what I was looking for from Deadcameras.
This Limited Edition TLR strap comes in three (technically four) parts. You get two clips that attach to the camera lugs, the wrist strap, and also a neck strap. Originally the straps came with the option of either the proprietary Rolli scissor lug clips or a nylon loop, but the scissor clips have been prohibitively difficult to come by so now they only come with the Nylon loops. While it's a shame Rollei users can't utilize the lugs as designed anymore, the upside is that the nylon loops are universal and fit all TLRs including Yashika-Mats, Seagulls, and Autocords. The quick-release buckles are solid metal with a polished finish. They require conscious effort to release, so I am not concerned in the slightest they could accidentally come apart. The buckle is also sandwiched between a shell of leather that prevents the buckle from knocking against the camera and creating scratches, and in my experience it certainly does its job. Not only does it prevent camera damage, but it also keeps things nice and quiet when you set the camera down and the strap rests against the body.
The two different strap attachments are essentially the same, just different measurements in different places. The hand strap's pad is 10cm (3.9") long with a 16cm (6.3") total length when you factor in the actual core and buckles. The neck strap's pad is 35cm (13.8") long so it fits on the shoulder. Its total length comes in standard lengths of 85cm (33.5"), 105cm (41.3"), 115cm (45.3"), or 125cm (49.2") depending on personal preferences. Many TLR users prefer shorter neck straps so that they can press down on the camera using their neck to stabilize the shot. A mid-length would be good for slinging over the shoulder, and a long-length would be best for slinging the strap across your body. Standard stitching color choices are red, green, and black.
A hand strap is also going to have slightly different requirements than a shoulder strap. A hand strap needs to feel nice in the hand. While the shoulder strap's pad is 1.3cm (0.51") in diameter, the hand strap's is 1.7cm (0.67"). While subtle, it's nice to see the attention to detail in providing extra girth to feel more comfortable and satisfying in the hand.
If you're a TLR user, I can't encourage you enough to try a hand strap. It just feels so natural for the type of camera, in the same sort of sense that a wrist strap just feels right for a mirrorless camera. When you pop up the viewfinder hood, the strap rests against the back of the camera. It's entirely out of the way when the camera is in use, leaving nothing between you and taking the shot. At €128 (~$145) the TLR strap clocks in as their most expensive strap by quite a margin. It's double the price, but then again it is two complete straps, which with their own buckles and hand-stitched leather pads. I would like to see the neck and hand straps sold separately as an option, but I understand the desire to sell it as a set. It's a specialty, limited edition package. In fact, it's probably the most specialty camera strap I've ever seen and it is definitely an upscale, luxury move to say "all or none".
- No one makes anything like it
- Extremely ergonomic and convenient way to carry a TLR
- Faultless craftsmanship and attention to detail
- Comfortable in the hand
- Looks great and oozes quality
- Fits all TLRs
- No more option to order with Rollei's scissor clip attachment
- The hand and neck straps must be purchased together
Order yours from Deadcameras in black. I've been told that a brown version is coming soon if you want one to match your traditional Rollei accessories.
The Slim Strap
Deadcameras has created a minimalist marvel with this one. The Slim Strap is absolutely remarkable in its simplicity, beauty, comfort, and quality. The strap portion itself comes in standard length options of 95cm (37.4") to 135mm (53.1") in 10cm (3.9") increments. While you're forced to make a length choice before purchase without any ability to adjust length, the tradeoffs are worth it with a reduction in weight and bulk, as well as an increase in strength. You'll definitely want to decide how you plan to use the strap beforehand, though. We received a brown version at 125cm (49.2") in length, designed to be worn across the chest. Silva says he's done custom versions as long as 150cm (59.1") for especially tall photographers who prefer this carry method. I'm pretty average height at 1.7m (5' 7") When slung cross-body, my Leica M3 rests perfectly on my hip. I actually didn't find even 125mm (49.2") unreasonable hanging from an outside shoulder at about 10cm (3.9") lower.
What separates The Slim Strap from other not-so-slim straps is really the pad. It's basically just a tube of their super soft top-grain leather over the strap's core, as opposed to the flat, wide pad of a normal strap. To be clear, this strap is not designed for big, bulky cameras like DSLRs with large lenses attached, but with any mirrorless-type cameras it's an absolute joy. Even with the remarkably small pad it's immensely comfortable. It's genuinely easy to forget you're wearing a camera after several minutes. In order to offset the reduced footprint of the pad and increase weight distribution, Deadcameras has extended the pad's length over the regular wide version by 9cm (3.5"). It's yet another small attention to detail that just flat-out makes a difference.
On the camera side of things you have 16mm split-rings and those leather protection disks. The disks are not integrated like they are on Barton 1972's straps and thus are optional, but I highly encourage you to take advantage of the protection disks. It really doesn't take long for split-rings to scratch up a metal camera body. If you find the holes of them too small as I did, you can either just spend some time working at it to loosen them up, or you can make little cuts if you're impatient. I know it's a nitpick, but the split-rings are just basic everyday rings. The leather on these things is just so absolutely top-notch, I feel like the basic rings don't really do them justice. I'd like to have seen maybe some sort of nice clip (even optionally) or at least a slightly heavier gauge split-ring, even if the trade-off is more difficulty in opening it. I'm not afraid of the included split-ring breaking or anything, it's standard quality fare, I just want to see something that matches the luxury and attention to detail of the rest of the strap. Where the core loops around the split-ring is wrapped and sewn just like the the pad, but it is finished off with a decorative plastic dot. This dot also happens to be virtually identical to the ones on many rangefinder and vintage lenses. So you can choose a color to match the lens brand you use most! There's red for Leica, blue for Zeiss, yellow for Pentax, along with orange, white, black, and green. Our brown slim strap has the black dots which looks at home with any color scheme.
The strap is an appropriately priced €59.80 (~$67) with free international shipping.
- Exemplary craftsmanship and attention to detail
- Remarkably light, small, and comfortable
- Looks great and oozes quality
- Made from scratch to-order and can be customized in many ways
- Length is not adjustable so plan accordingly
- Protection disks are not integrated with strap and could be easily lost if you switch straps frequently
The Wrist Strap
Wrist straps are so hot right now! This is thanks in part to the current mirrorless revolution since these smaller cameras demand an overall more-portable support arrangement. While we've had compact cameras for a long time, most people just used them with the cheap nylon wrist cord they came with. DSLRs have always a bit too heavy and bulky to lend themselves to the style, and it doesn't help that most DSLR users use the junk straps that come with the camera anyway.
The wrist strap is pretty simple. It's just a 21cm (8.3") long loop of heavy leather with a 16mm split-ring on one side. To keep the split ring in place, the loop is wrapped with a short bit just like The Slim Strap, with the same option for a decorative dot. Our copy received the red dot treatment since it would primarily be used on our Leica M9, and boy is it a match made in heaven! The strap's dot matches the one on our Summicron 35mm almost exactly. It looks like it was designed by Leica for the camera.
The leather loop's edges are hand-burnished for a smooth, finished feel. There's also a rubber o-ring that can be adjusted up or down the strap to make the loop for your wrist larger or smaller. The grip of the o-ring is firm and will not move accidentally. While early models were said to have some issues with the rubber ring leaving marks in the leather, a redesign alleviated the concerns, and we have not noticed any sign of wear and tear from the o-ring aside from a slight soft indentation if the o-ring stays in one place for several weeks at a time. This indentation appears to be temporary and disappears after a rub and some time. I will say, though, despite the o-ring, I should have custom-ordered the strap to be about 1-inch shorter because I have exceptionally small hands. The o-ring certainly allows one to make the hole as small or as large as they like, but my short fingers put my wrist close to the camera and the strap just feels as though it has a bit too much leather to wrangle that just doesn't need to be there. The average person will probably find the default length perfectly adequate though. Just keep this in mind if you do genuinely have very small hands.
The loop uses the same thick leather as all Deadcameras straps, but what makes this one unique is that it doesn't have a soft pad like the others. Because of this, the strap feels quite stiff and a bit hard initially. Silva specifically mentions in the product page that this is normal, and indeed, after a couple weeks of use it has really begun to soften up nicely and will continue to do so. Definitely give this one some break-in time, but it certainly has the quality and looks to put it in the top of its class. I do, however wish there was a way to have the strap mount on a 360-degree spinning hinge while keeping the hardware profile down. If you've ever used the proprietary spinning lugs on a Leica T you know how nice it is to have your wrist strap rotate freely. I'm not sure what options are out there, but I'd love to see that possibility explored. Regardless, at €29.80 (~$33) including free international shipping, you cannot go wrong at all as it is.
- Breathtaking craftsmanship and attention to detail
- Adjustable o-ring allows for size flexibility
- Looks great and oozes quality
- Made from scratch to-order and can be customized in several ways
- A bit too long for those with very small hands
- Leather's a bit stiff when first put in use
The XL Strap
While the minimalist straps for cutesy little cameras may be the talk of the town, Deadcameras has really taken their strap for heavy DLSRs and medium format cameras quite seriously. The ends are adjustable nylon (available in several colors) so one strap fits everyone. The default camera connection option is the tried-and-true 16mm split-rings, but you can also get it with type A and type B peg connectors to fit a number of medium format cameras from Hasselblad, Kiev, Pentax (645/67), and Mamiya (RB67).
They aren't joking when they say it's their most comfortable strap. It's super comfy, indeed. They achieve this in a number of innovative ways, the first being that two beams, not one, of the thick cow hide leather used in their other straps are used for proper weight distribution. Then they wrap the straps in ultra-soft calfskin leather. To ensure that only the calfskin touches your skin, they put the sewing in the recessed area between the cow hide straps. Every strap in the Deadcameras lineup is lightweight, but that can primarily be attributed to the minimal use of materials. The XL Strap is unique in the sense that it provides the same heft and support as any traditional large strap, but does so in a total package that weighs only 80g (2.8oz). The nylon and calfskin are extremely light on their own. The use of two smaller supporting pieces of leather instead of a single large wide swath of it reduces the weight of the heaviest material substantially. When you're trekking with a 5-pound monster like the Pentax 67ii, you'll appreciate every ounce of weight saved. What's remarkable is that being 2.8 ounces makes it 0.4 ounces lighter than OP/TECH's Pro Strap and only 0.4 ounces heavier than their ultra-minimalist Super Classic Strap, all while being primarily leather high-grade leather instead of industrial Neoprene.
For a really in-depth explanation about the padding features and the history of development, including how a Volvo 122 inspired them, you can read a blog post about it on their website.
In use it's hard to get past the combination of good looks, and comfort. It's not sexy and flashy like a Holdfast MoneyMaker, but it's simple and simply practical. There's no logo of any kind of this strap or any others in the lineup. And it just plain feels great. Everything you touch is soft and rounded. The padded section is also slightly ribbed providing a light sense of additional grip. The nylon adjustment is the standard buckle-style adjustment and because of this you can always change out lug adapters later if desired. You're not stuck with Pentax connectors if later you need split-rings. If you're looking for a traditional neck/shoulder strap, especially one for a medium format camera, The XL Strap should be on your short list. The price of €69.80 (~$78) is pretty average for a leather strap, and certainly on the low-end for a custom hand-made-to-order one.
- Flawless craftsmanship and attention to detail
- Remarkably light and comfortable
- Clever design to reduce weight and increase comfort
- Looks great and oozes quality
- One size fits all
- Can be shipped with clips to fit certain specialty camera lugs
- Multiple nylon colors available
- No all-leather version, but one is on the way
- Medium format strap connectors are €20 (~$22.50) extra
Order yours from Deadcameras.