Hand strap, cross-body strap or harness? Here’s what you need to know before choosing a camera strap!
I never really gave much thought to my camera strap. I left the default yellow and black strap on my Nikon for years. But after really getting bit by the photography bug, I decided a padded strap was in order. Then after shooting professionally for a while and a few trips to the chiropractor for a sore neck, I realized there had to be a better solution. So what’s the best camera strap? What’s involved in choosing a camera strap? Follow along as I discuss the types of and merits of different camera strap styles.
Do you need a new camera strap?
You don’t NEED a new camera strap to be a great photographer. The one that came with your camera is perfectly serviceable. But a different style of strap can make shooting more comfortable, fit your shooting need better or simply make a fashion statement. The top reason to get a new camera strap is to make long periods of carrying your camera more comfortable and easier on your body. Some styles can also accommodate multiple camera bodies, add some color to your on-the-job look or let you store memory cards in a pocket. So you might not need a new camera strap, but it’s definitely okay to just want one!
But don’t feel pressured into spending $150 on a camera strap or harness system just because everyone in your photography world says so. You need to find a strap that will fit your style, body and budget.
What materials are camera straps made of?
One decision you’ll need to make when choosing a camera strap is material. Camera straps come in:
Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages. Generally, nylon, webbing and paracord camera straps are the cheapest and most widely available. They are also waterproof and fairly durable. Neoprene is also waterproof and can provide some extra padding at contact points but can be hotter. Leather looks classy and can be super comfortable, but certain colors and weights might not stand up to the elements as well.
What styles of camera straps are available?
The next decision you need to make when choosing a camera strap is style. Do you want one that goes around your neck? Enables you to go hands free? Or keeps your camera close at hand?
Neck-straps are your basic camera strap. They attach to eyelets on either/both sides of your camera body. The strap goes around your neck or over a shoulder for carrying. Some have quick release connectors so you can take off the main strap without unhooking the tethers from the eyelets.
Neck-straps can be any material. They are easy to find, can be adjusted to your desired length and are usually easy to attach. One of the major drawbacks of neck-straps, though, is that they put the full weight of your camera on your neck, which can cause physical pain. Look for a wider strap to help distribute the weight.
Examples of traditional neck straps:
Wrist straps connect your camera to your wrist by a cord. Most wrist straps connect at a single point on your camera. These work best on smaller, lighter cameras like point-and-shoot cameras or smaller profile mirrorless cameras with a small lens. They come in many different materials and colors.
The two major disadvantages of wrist straps are that they don’t work for larger DSLR cameras and they offer just a single tether point. That means if your clip or ring breaks, your camera is hitting the dirt.
Examples of wrist straps:
Hand straps are usually made of leather or nylon. These straps connect to your camera at two points, via an eyelet and the tripod mount. They are a great option if you want to avoid neck and shoulder pain. But they do have a few disadvantages, including not allowing you to use both hands and interfering with your tripod mount. Hand straps can also be awkward when using a battery grip in portrait mode. If you use a tripod, look for a hand strap that works in conjunction with your tripod plate for easier use.
Examples of hand straps:
Cross-body straps are like a neck strap hybrid. They hang on one shoulder with the strap running across your body and connecting to your camera on the opposite hip. The camera is hooked to the strap by a snap or screw that attaches to the tripod mount and slides on the strap. Choose a padded shoulder area for greater comfort.
Cross-body straps distribute the weight of your camera more evenly across your body. You can adjust the length so the camera swings lower or higher on your body depending on your height. They are a great option if traditional neck straps are painful to use for long periods of time. Some cross body straps have a second strap that connects the strap from front to back via a second strap that snugs under your armpit for more support and stability. Cross-body camera straps also give you the benefit of working hands free if needed.
Examples of cross-body straps:
Shoulder Camera Harness
Instead of working around your neck, a camera harness uses your shoulders and back for support. These slide on like a coat or jacket, a loop over each arm. The camera hangs at your hip and slides back and forth on a strap.
Most harnesses are equipped to tether two cameras, making them invaluable for events and weddings when you want to shoot or wear two cameras. These rigs are usually made of nylon or leather. Because of the construction, you’ll feel no pull on your neck. Instead the weight is distributed across your shoulders and back. Some harnesses come with a chest strap to provide additional stability and to keep the shoulder straps from slipping down either side.
Camera harnesses are more expensive than traditional straps. Another disadvantage is that if you are shooting just a single camera, your harness might ride to one side instead of hanging straight down. And the tether point might interfere with your tripod mounting plate or rub on your hand when shooting in portrait mode. They can be too bulky to fit in your camera bag and getting them on and off quickly is a bit of a hassle.
Examples of camera harnesses:
- HoldFast Gear MoneyMaker Two Camera Harness
- USA Gear DSLR Camera Strap Chest Harness
- Black Rapid Breathe Double Camera Harness
Chest Carrier Systems
Next up, camera carrier systems. These chest harness-based systems look a little like a baby carrier. The camera rides at the front of your chest like a baby might. Unlike a harness, the camera connects to the harness through interlocking connecting plates instead of a strap. A plate screws into your camera via your tripod attachment point. That plate locks into a second plate on the system at your chest. When you are ready to shoot, you simply unlock the camera from the plate and start shooting. The carrier usually includes a few pockets for memory cards, cleaning cloths or even a rain cover.
These systems can be equipped to carry a second camera via a separate holster worn on your side.
Advantages and disadvantages
Carriers offer a few advantages over other types of camera straps. First, the camera snugs close to your body, keeping it from swinging around as you move. They are great for photographers on the go, such as wildlife, nature, and sports photographers or photographers getting around on a horse or bike. Second, because the camera rides at your chest, your hands are free to work or hold things like hiking poles or fishing poles. And third, because the carrier is much larger and wider than a single strap, the weight of your camera is more evenly distributed over your whole body.
Some of the disadvantages of a carrier system are the cost. Most run upward of $150 depending on the manufacturer. They are also much more noticeable and bulky…there’s no going incognitio with one of these things! Some photographers report the camera riding awkwardly when using a batter grip. And, they’re hot. Wearing one of these when I’m shooting a wedding and moving and sweating anyway just exacerbates the problem. Like the shoulder harness, these are bulky strap solutions that don’t fit easily in a camera bag and take some time to get off and on.
Look for a sturdy carrier made of tough, thick material with sturdy plastic hubs.
Example of a carrier system:
If you’re unsure of how much you’d truly enjoy one of the more complicated systems, visit your local camera store and see them in person or order from an online vendor with free returns. Wear them around your house shooting for a while before taking them out in the field. You’ll notice pressure points sooner and avoid damaging the camera strap should you need to return it.
Finally, we come to our final option when choosing a camera strap…camera holsters. Instead of fastening around your chest, holsters ride on your hips. Like a carrier, the camera connects to the holster via interlocking plates. They look like a utility belt a carpenter, construction worker or police officer might wear. You can customize a holster to hold multiple cameras or a camera and additional lenses.
Holsters completely eliminate pulling on your neck, but place the weight of your camera on your hips and lower back. You can go hands by simply locking the camera into the holster.
These systems are also more expensive than traditional camera straps. It takes practice to get the camera snapped in and out of the holster quickly. And if you use hiking poles when out on the trail, the holster may interfere with your gait. A final disadvantage is the harness adds width to your profile. Be careful maneuvering in crowded areas lest ding your gear in a doorway or take someone out with your Canon!
If you don’t see exactly what you are looking for in premade camera straps, consider having a custom strap made for you. Many leathercrafters can customize a strap or harness to fit your style. You can choose the pattern or have your logo, name or initials stamped or lasered onto the strap.
The additional benefit of a custom camera strap is that you can inspect the materials beforehand to know exactly the quality and feel of them before purchase.
What to look for in any camera strap
Here are a few things to inspect when choosing a camera strap in any style. Remember, you’re trusting this trap to hold several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment. The most expensive straps aren’t necessarily the best. But make sure the bargain strap isn’t going to cost you hundreds of dollars in repairs in the long run because it’s made from inferior materials and breaks after a few weeks use.
- Check the weight limits of any strap/system you purchase. Make sure it’s rated for your gear.
- Choose wide straps. The wider the strap, the more evenly the weight from the camera gets distributed. So a 1 1/2” or 2” strap will generally feel more comfortable than a narrower one.
- Do you prefer plastic snaps or buckles? Which are easier for you to work?
- Inspect the stitching. Make sure there aren’t any loose threads or places on the camera strap where the stitching is pulling apart.
- Ensure your camera strap has quality metal snaps, buckles and rivets. Don’t trust your livelihood to wimpy clasps or rings. Look for tight rivets and closed loops. The metal should retain its shape when you place stress on it.
- If you’re choosing a leather strap or harness, look for thick, sturdy leather that doesn’t easily roll up at the edges. It should be flexible but not flimsy.
- Inspect how the camera strap connects to your camera. Does it cover up your batter y panel making it difficult to change batteries quickly? Does it interfere with your tripod mount? Know your style of shooting and make sure the strap will help, not hinder.
Be secure about your strap
There is no single best camera strap out there, despite what the manufacturer’s claim. You need to take into account use, budget and shooting style when choosing a camera strap. The best system for me (dual shoulder camera harness) might not be the best system for you (hand strap).
But what is true is that you don’t have to settle for the cheap strap that came with your camera. Find a strap that fits you body, your sense of flair or your shooting style.