Black Rapid / Arca-Swiss Solution: Mr. Blurrycam Edition

I get enough questions about my setup that I thought a video might help:

Black Rapid and Arca Solution – Enthusiast Photographer from Lee @ Enthusiast Photographer on Vimeo.

The full write-up can be found here.  I’ve carried this setup literally all over the world, and it has performed flawlessly.  If you’ve got a Black Rapid Strap and an Arca-Swiss-based tripod head/plate system, I think you’ll like this rig a LOT.  I think it even acts as a quick-release system for Black Rapid users who don’t have Arca-Swiss, too…

Apologies for the poor camera-work – I’ll try to improve on that in the future!

Here are some updated photos (though still camera-phone pix):
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Photos from China and Japan

Apologies for the long gap between posts!  I just got back from a business trip that took me to China and Japan, and luckily afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a photographer buddy taking pictures.  I tend to focus too much on hardware sometimes on Enthusiast Photographer – I hope you enjoy them!  Some of them are kind of touristy, which is fine – I was a tourist!  🙂  I did try to be a little creative, but my main focus was having full command of my camera and having fun.  A D300s looms in my immediate future, and I wanted to be fully comfortable without the nanny “Auto” mode.

So here are a few from my travels.  Comments and feedback are welcome!

Dinner in Beijing

Lights

A Manhattan in Beijing

Woman watches a Fountain Art installation in Beijing

Pipes in the 798 District of Beijing

Impromptu parking garage…

Biker takes a break from the mid-day sun in Beijing

View from the top of the Mori tower in Tokyo

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.  This one is an example of where composition and zoom can actually reduce the scale of the subject.  The tourists in the foreground make the Buddha seem much smaller than it is…

A better composition of the world’s largest Buddha.

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan

A monument near the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.

It was a really enjoyable trip, even if it was work!  Even better, my wife and I are heading to Europe for two weeks early next week, so I’ll be a traveling Enthusiast Photographer once again!

By then, all the D600 rumors will probably be sorted out… 😉

As a quick equipment note, this was my first big trip with the all my gear, plus a couple other items – my Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the Snoop insert performed well – if anything, it holds too much!  The Gitzo 2531/Sunwayfoto XB-44 performed well, but the setup is really too large to fly with.  I took my new Sirui monopod and the monopod head/clamp setup provided by Sunwayfoto, and these were a great solution.  The head and clamp gave me excellent flexibility with the monopod, and allowed me to shoot in some pretty low light.  Unfortunately, even monopods weren’t allowed on the top from the Mori Tower, so that shot was hand-held.  I’m debating whether I can/should take the tripod to Europe.  I want to find a way to take it, but I’m thinking it is going to be hard to get on the plane, and I’m not taking a suitcase big enough to put it in.  More on that later…

Don’t fear the FUD

One of the most-viewed posts on Enthusiast Photographer is about my solution to the dilemma of using the Black Rapid Strap with the Arca-Swiss plate system, in my case my RRS-L-bracket on my Nikon D90.

For those of you who haven’t seen what I’m using, here it is:

A phone-cam picture of Black-Rapid/Arca-Swiss bliss…
Note that I’ve added a safety strap in case of some kind of strap/clamp failure (somewhat unlikely) or in the event I’m a forgetful doofus (somewhat likely).

Note I’ve attached my “safety strap” to the D-ring. That is the most likely of the very unlikely failure points on the strap.

On the various forums I frequent, there is invariably a mention of a series of e-mails Bosstail (a Black Rapid competitor) has on their website from Nikon and Canon support regarding the use of the tripod mount for attaching the strap. Predictably enough, they are negative on the idea.

Personally, I think that information from Bosstrap is disingenuous – Given the popularity of these types of straps, you’d think there would be an official word from Nikon/Canon, etc. on this matter, especially if there was risk to the equipment. As best I can tell, there is no official word or warning from Nikon or Canon on their website or in their user manuals referring to the use of straps in the tripod mount.

No – I’m not an engineer, but I don’t think the forces applied to the mount are significant compared to use with a tripod plate/clamp/head setup. It seems to me that a 70-300 lens (with no foot) mounted on a tripod would put significantly more stress on the mount than the lens hanging down on a Black Rapid or similar strap. I don’t think that is the common use case anyway – the biggest lens I’m using when mount to the BR strap to the tripod mount is my 18-200. When I’m running around with my 80-200, I’m using the mount on the foot for the strap, which I’d think would have the same benefit on the strap as it does on the tripod – more balance and less stress.

 

The massive 80-200 set and ready to go. I put the knob on the right side of the lens to keep it out of the way.

Unless I see an official warning from the camera OEM’s, I’m not going to worry about it. A copy/paste of e-mails (that might be legit, but sound more like CYA than policy) and 2nd-hand statements from “Nikon staff” aren’t very compelling arguments. Additionally, it seems like Black Rapid and similar guys would be opening themselves up to lawsuits if their design inflicted damage on the camera.

Lastly, on FredMiranda and Photograhy-on-the-Net (POTN) (and others) I’ve seen many, many comments from working pros who have been using these straps with big lenses and flashes for multiple years and reported no issues with damage to the camera base.

Net: I think Bosstrap is being a little shady and using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to drive sales. Show documented, engineering-based proof or publicly official statements from the camera manufacturers, not anonymous e-mails from some pimply-faced Nikon support tech trying to keep his job and nebulous “Nikon staff”. If you can’t do that, innovate, engineer, market and compete fairly. FUD is a sign of the weak who can’t compete with a better solution.

I’d really like to see something official from Nikon/Canon on their site and in their user guides. I think my use of the Arca-clamp on the L-bracket further mitigates any concerns by spreading the weight and stress beyond just the screw-point of the tripod mount, but I doubt it makes any real-world difference. I strongly doubt there is an issue for anyone using the Black Rapid FastnR in their tripod mount (the standard way if your tripod mount doesn’t live on your camera).

I do wish Nikon and Canon would declare one way or the other. In the meantime, I love my Black Rapid RS-7!

(I did a quick check on Black-Rapid’s site – no mention of the Arca-Swiss-compatible solution they alluded to at CES…)

Off to the Farmer’s Market

Things have been a little hectic on all fronts around our household, so last Saturday we decided to change things up a little and head to our local Farmer’s Market.  Since I hadn’t done a lot of shooting lately, I grabbed my camera.  My wife asked me what I was going to take pictures of, and I aid “I don’t know.”  Sometimes I think I spend too much time thinking about what I’m going to shoot, what time of day, what the weather will be like, etc.

Ultimately, what is important to do is just shoot, and let the rest just come to you.  So I did, and it was great fun.  Here are a few samples from the day:

Loose Candy
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Dried
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Farmer’s Market Jars
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Old Door at the NC Farmer’s Market
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Horrified Birdhouses

Contrast at the Statuary
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Self Portrait at the Statuary
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Grumpy Cupid
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It was nice to do some easy shooting, without any real pressure of losing the light or any hard-core theme – it was fun to just shoot!  Most of the time when I do this I’m drawn by color, texture or a story and there is a little bit of all of those here for me – hope you enjoyed them!

As a note, it was my first real day out with my bargain-priced Snoop bag and I had the camera on my Black Rapid Arca rig all day, and both performed flawlessly.

Enthusiast Photographer Hits CES – First stop: Black Rapid

BlackRapid at CES

I walked into the CES convention area located in the Venetian, which had quite a focus on the smaller photography vendors.  Among the first things I saw was the Black Rapid booth.

There weren’t any official announcements, but I mentioned to them my Arca dilemma and my eventual solution.  They were nodding from the start, and mentioned they had a solution that was just about ready to exit the development phase.  Expect to see something from them before the Fall.  My guess is that it will be significantly less than the setup I wound up with – I hope to get a chance to play with it!

Black Rapid + Arca Solution

Thanks for visiting Enthusiast Photographer! This is the most popular post on the blog, but feel free to check out other posts, follow the blog, “Like” Enthusiast Photographer on Facebook or follow on Twitter if you’d like to join me on my photography journey or just want to read something different once in a while.

If you’re here, you’re looking to solve a problem, so on to the information!

A phone-cam picture of Arca bliss…

Here is a quick look at a really convenient solution to using a Black Rapid with an Arca-based tripod plate system without having to constantly un-screw the plates and the strap fastener.  It think it is also a good solution as a “quick-release” for the Black Rapid system even if you don’t use tripods!  I’m a huge fan of my tripod, my Arca-Swiss system ball head and my Really Right Stuff L-bracket.  If you read my post “When Gadgets Collide”, I felt like my two favorite photography accessories were fighting each other – my tripod and my strap.  I’ve put a video walk-through on my Vimeo Channel, but have a quick read of this article too.  The video link is at the bottom of this page.

I saw a couple ideas on photography forums that I merged into this solution. The components are simple: the Black Rapid “FastenR” nub is attached to a Kirk QRC-1 1″ screw-type quick release clamp with the Op/Tech Uni-Loop (Op/Tech part number 1301062 – B&H part number OPSCUNL) as a safety tether.  I also got a small tube of Loctite Blue from the hardware store.

Setup is easy.  I put a little Loctite on the threads of the FastenR (which makes it very unlikely it will ever un-screw by accident), slightly moistened the rubber gasket and screwed it directly into the Kirk clamp.  The Optech strap loops to the strap hole in the L-bracket on one end and the D-ring of the Black Rapid strap.

The Kirk clamp mounts to my RRS L-bracket (or foot plate on my 80-200 f/2.8) with a few quick twists, so it is quick to put on or take off. It feels very tight and very secure – I don’t see this thing backing out.

Just in case it does (or, more likely, I do something stupid), the Op/Tech strap is a safety tether. This makes it very secure, and proof against one of the more likely failure scenarios of the strap:  the swiveling hook/carbiner wearing/coming loose or failing to tighen the carbiner nut enough resulting in a fall. Unlikely, but I tend to live in a world of realized implausible disasters ;).

Mounting and un-mounting is easily faster than if I was screwing in the Black Rapid fastener nub (FastenR) – I’d estimate three seconds or less for the tether and the clamp, The safety tether is very inconspicuous on the L-bracket even when I’m not using my RS-7.

I also like the idea of always attaching the safety tether first.  It is a good defense against me dropping the camera while attaching the strap – something I worried about a bit with the original setup. Here’s a view detached:

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Now I’m excited that my two favorite photo gadgets are working together (my Arca plate and my BR strap). The setup even works fine when I’m using the massive 80-200 and connecting the strap to the foot-plate.  All told it cost a little less than $50, but that seems a reasonable price for harmony while improving usability and safety!

I did a video walk-through that can be found here.

**UPDATE**  I’ve wrapped a bit of gaffers tape around the carbiner since I never need to remove it from the “rig” and I’ve heard stories of the carbiner opening and dropping cameras.  I have a safety tether, and I think most of those stories are the fault of the user, not the hardware, but why not take that risk out of the equation?

After spending four hard weeks traveling recently, most with this strap seeing action all day every day, I’m very pleased with all aspects of this setup.  The clamp has shown absolutely no signs of loosening during use, the safety tether has never gotten in my way and the Loctite has the FastenR securely fixed.  It carries well and is super-convenient – I love it!
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(You also might want to read my more recent post “Don’t Fear the FUD” regarding Black Rapid Straps and the concerns on the tripod mount.  If you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow this blog, “like” Enthusiast Photographer on Facebook, or follow Enthus_Photo on Twitter – I’d be thrilled :))
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Other Notes
As an aside, I’d note that there are certainly less expensive clamps on places like eBay, but I felt like the clamp was a poor place to economize.  The Kirk clamp is very solidly built and shows no signs of backing out, etc.  I’ve got a couple of Sunwayfoto clamps and they are very nice – I wouldn’t have any reservations about them either. I’d get the smallest screw-type clamp you can get from a reputable company – go a little larger if you carry bigger camera/lens combinations.

Recently I noticed RRS released a “nubless” version of their clamp, which I’m sure is awesome (though their photo of the setup has the knob pointed where your chin would be… :)).  RRS makes great stuff (I own several of their products, including my L-bracket in this rig) –  You can save at least $20 with Kirk or Sunwayfoto clamps, though my buddy loves his version of this rig using the RRS clamp.

Readers: What do you think?  Does this make you more comfortable with a Black Rapid strap?

Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger Review – Part 1 (Snoop)

I’ve been waiting…patiently this time…for my custom-made bag to arrive.  After trying the Ona Union Street Bag and finding it terrific but with a single, fatal flaw (that wouldn’t bother most people, but I’m a little whack about certain things), I went in search of another messenger-style bag that would fulfill my needs.

This review is going to be long enough that I’m breaking it up into 2 parts, so let’s get an overall summary out of the way for the short-attention-span crowd who are already dying to be done:  I got the large Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the medium Snoop insert.  The bag is very roomy with lots of pockets, and holds literally everything I own from a photography and mobile technology standpoint.  The Snoop insert is well-padded and fairly flexible.  The bag carries well and looks terrific, especially if you get a custom-built bag like I did.  The quality appears to be fantastic.  I have a few minor quibbles – It isn’t perfect, but it is highly recommended.

Now that those folks are playing on their xBox again, let’s get to some details on the Snoop, and I’ll do a bag writeup in the next day or so.  You might want to read the Ona review, but here’s my recent list of what I’m looking for in a bag:

  • Versatile – lots of easily accessible pockets and places to put stuff.  Travel well.
  • Spacious – hold my body and 4-5 lenses.   One lens would be replaced by a flash (when I own one and decide to carry it…).  It needs to hold my laptop and various cables, notebook, pens, etc. so I can have a single bag when I travel.
  • Protective – don’t let me break my stuff.  Please.
  • Comfortable – my equipment felt more comfortable to carry in the Ona bag vs. my current LowePro 202 AW, and actually felt lighter.  Also, don’t have fiddly designs – be simple and easy.
  • Attractive – as I mentioned in my other article, I travel in the corporate world, and I want something that has some style and design.  The very serious and pro photographers roll their eyes at this, but I’ll steal my own quote: I don’t want a bag that looks like it belongs on “That 70′s Show or “Star Trek” – I want something that looks good.  Attractive design and high function aren’t mutually exclusive. They just seem to be in the world of camera bags…

After scouting around, I came upon Timbuk2.  They are famous for their messenger bags.  As it turns out, a buddy of mine has their “Commute” bag for his laptop and is a big fan.  They have just recently announced a “camera bag.”  I put that in quotes because they didn’t announce a bag so much as they announced a variant of their current messenger bag with straps for a tripod (on the bottom) and an insert for camera equipment that slips into the bag.  They call it the “Snoop” and there are two sizes: small and medium. These correspond to the same sizes of their bag or +1 size (small Snoop in medium bag, medium Snoop in large bag) if you are customizing want some extra room.  I’d recommend the +1 strategy.  You’ll see what I mean later.  Since I was looking for a laptop case and a camera case, I went with the Laptop Messenger and added the Snoop insert instead of the standard, dedicated Snoop Camera Messenger.

While I was considering my order, I e-mailed and called Timbuk2 more than once.  The people were friendly and helpful.  Their website is excellent, and the customization process is almost too fun.  If I have a criticism, it is that the build-your-own experience has taken over their website a bit, but whatever – it is a very nice website with a lot of cool products as well as a fair number of videos about the products.

I decided to go with a custom bag and stick with the waxed canvas theme I liked so much with the Ona bag.  I chose black with an olive center panel, black trim and logo and a light blue interior.  Yes, you can choose a different color for all of those things.  There are a lot of colors and fabrics, so you can end up with something uniquely yours.  There are, of course, pre-made bags in a variety of colors.  I configured away and had a merry time, also adding Compression Straps so I could cinch the bottom when I wasn’t using it as a camera bag.  They also provide a handy place to tuck my tripod in a pinch, too. Ultimately, I stuck with a conservative look, but you have lots of options to add color and texture to the bag.  The Snoop itself does not customize.

I’m not sure how their process works, but build/ship took a little longer than I expected.  I think expedited shipping might get expedited build as well.  I ordered on Dec. 5th, it shipped on Dec. 9th and the bag itself arrived on Dec. 19th (original arrival estimate from UPS was 12/16).  Poor performance on the part of UPS, holidays notwithstanding.  Especially if you live much farther east than the Rockies, upgrade the shipping.  The Snoop arrived several days earlier, so I’l make that the focus of Part 1 of this review:

Cool bag - it is a map of San Francisco, and it encourages you to cut it out and keep it.

All four lenses, my D90, my FlipCam and various other stuff in the bag. Not sweating space at all...

There is a carry/pull handle on the top of the Snoop that allows you to pull it out of the Laptop Messenger or light portability.  It is for moving it from storage to the bag and back, not for transportation.

The Snoop is gray nylon canvas on the outside.  They call the color Gunmetal, and it looks great – if I ever build a laptop-only case and go custom again, it is high on my list.  The interior is blue soft terry lining with minimal padding on the outside and nicely padded dividers.  Since the insert is inside a bigger bag and has multiple layers of protection, I’m not worried about the side padding.  Interior room is excellent.

I got the Medium Snoop, and it carries my D90, four lenses (a large one, two med/lg. and a little prime), my filter case, Black Rapid strap, FlipCam and other various stuff with room to spare.  In an insert this size, a few extra dividers would be a good thing, but you can get extras from them separately.  The top of the Snoop zips shut to make it a self-contained unit, which works great for me.  When I’m not using this as a camera bag, I can store the Snoop an make the bag my daily laptop case.

Other than additional dividers, my only criticism of the Snoop is that it has no pockets or accessory storage at all.  They could make use of the top flap for a couple memory card slots and a small pocket for a cable release, etc.  Some slide-in pockets on the side wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.  Yes, there are plenty of pockets on the bag itself, but if the idea is to make this a modular piece of a carry-system, I’d like to see the Snoop be a little more self-contained for my photography equipment.  A minor point, though I’d love to see them update the design.

Outside of that, I can’t find much to fault with the Snoop, especially as part of the overall system in the bag.  I’ll be carrying the bag in three modes: Laptop, Camera and Laptop+Camera (travel only).  I’ll cover it more in Part II, but I think the fact that the Snoop is removable will make this bag much more flexible than anything else I’m aware of, which is fairly cool.  It isn’t without drawbacks – I’ll cover more in Part II, but I’m very happy, which is a good thing:  Custom bags can’t be returned…

I’ll get the second half of the review up as soon as I can, holiday duties and preparation call, and I’m going to try to get out and take some photos, too!

When Gadgets Collide…

It all looks so innocent, doesn't it?

If you’re following the blog, you’ve heard me talk about two things recently:  my new tripod and head setup and the Black Rapid Strap.  I’m loving both of them:  The Arca-Swiss platform and L-bracket are just plain functional with a healthy dose of awesome, and the Black Rapid strap makes carrying your camera more comfortable and available.

One problem.  They don’t work together.

It isn’t so much that they can’t work together as they step on each other if I try to use them as they sit.  Here’s the issue:  If you look at the picture, you can see the fastener for the Black Rapid on the bottom of the camera (they cleverly call this the “FastenR-3” – sometimes marketing guys should restrain themselves…),  There is a handy hole in the bottom of the Really Right Stuff L-bracket for exactly that kind of thing.

Here’s the issue:  With the FastenR screwed into the L-bracket, I can’t mount the camera to my tripod unless I take the FastenR off.  That means I’m having to choose between quick and easy use of my tripod (which I love) and the easy-carrying strap unless I’m willing to unscrew the thing every time I want to put it on a tripod.

I don’t like that because:

  • (A) it is very inconvenient,
  • (B) it causes handling that puts me at higher risk of dropping my camera,and
  • (C) I’m worried that after a certain number of times through this cycle the threaded hole won’t hold as well as it should, and back out, dropping my equipment.  That may not be reality, but I don’t want to worry about it.  Half the point of the strap is to make the camera “disappear” when aren’t using it.

I have some ideas to fix it, and set the pieces in motion today (literally), so look for an update early next week.

In the meantime, have you had any gadgets fight each other?  Let’s hear some stories (and solutions)!

New Gadget: Back Rapid RS-7 Curve

The Black Rapid in action. Of course, that is a model from their website, not me 🙂

If there is an industry full of gadgets useful and not-so-useful (witness the $300 gloves recently annouced by Manfrotto), photography ranks near the top.  Being and Enthusiast Photographer means almost by definition that you’re on a budget.  Balancing what looks cool and useful against what you need to successfully improve your images can be a mysterious process at times.

I’ve made several purchases recently, but the first I’ll write about is the Black Rapid RS-7 Curve.  This is one of those things that makes you wonder why someone didn’t invent  it long ago.

Is the standard camera strap something you find a useful part of your kit?  Do you actually hang it around your neck like the classic tourist in the movies?  Do you hang the camera from your shoulder and find it secure and comfortable?

I’m guessing the answer to all of those questions is “No.”

Enter Black Rapid.  It is a sling that goes over your shoulder bandolier-style, with your camera hanging at the bottom.  It is secured by a screw mounted in the tripod mount of your camera (or lens if you have big glass with a built-in foot).  The screw has a rubber gasket that prevents damage as well as the screw coming loose.  A couple clips limit the range of swing by the camera.

The result is that the camera hangs perfectly and very comfortably on your hip, and is very naturally ready for action when it is time to take a picture.  Your hands quickly find the grip and you swing smoothly up to a shooting position.  The strap also gives you a little tension to use to steady your hands for a sharp shot.

They have several versions.  The higher-end models have modules you can add for storage, etc.  I can’t speak to any of the accessories, but the strap itself is just plain terrific, and they start a little over $50.  The camera is inconspicuous, comfortable and ready.  Highly recommended.  You can buy it at B&H or Amazon.  I’ll add a few pictures of the Black Rapid on my camera in the next few days – I’ll spare you the pictures of me ;).

Upcoming are blogs on the Ona Union Street bag and the new (used) tripod and head that is on the way to me (that will be a big one, or maybe several).

What gear are you thinking about?  You know, Santa is coming to town…