Monday, January 30, 2012

There’s Always a Better Mousetrap

…isn’t there?

I try really hard not to be a gear nerd.  Doesn’t matter what the pursuit.  I pay attention to new bikes, cameras, lenses, software, computers, etc., but I still tend to make leaps only when it really makes sense, not just because something is new.

But, after 25 years of serious cycling, I still have not found the perfect jacket and the failed versions still populate my closet

And, after more than 35 years of photographing, I still haven’t found the perfect gear bag OR method to secure my camera to me.  And the failed versions still populate my (other) closet.

I’m going to focus on that last part here. 

Neck-straps suck.  Like Hoovers.  It only gets worse when the camera and/or lens gets bigger.  If you need to move quickly with a camera on a strap, you have to give up a hand and an arm to keep the assembly from beating you to a pulp as it slams repeatedly into your torso.  That, or you do what I did for decades and take the damned thing off your neck, wrap it repeatedly around your right forearm and run like hell with the camera in your right hand, ready to shoot if the running back and his tackler(s) didn’t flatten you first.

Well, hell, if you’re going to do that, why not just carry the thing?  As in “hold on tight and go.”  A legitimate question!  Minus something to back up your own grip, though, that’s a little dicey, not to mention fatiguing over the long haul.

What I needed was an actual hand-strap.  Something that dispensed with this “around the horn” nonsense and secured the gear to my actual hand, letting me keep something less than a death grip on the equipage without sacrificing security.

I started with a doodad that Camera Armor provided with their NYC-proof neck strap (that I thought I’d try, but never actually used).  The Kevlar-reinforced strap was stiff as a board and only slightly more form-fitting, but the hand-strap thingy was actually pretty cool! 

I used the Camera Armor handle until the attachment point was frayed to the point that I lost confidence in it.  It took a while, and it was a good and comfortable tool while it lasted, but I didn’t find a way to replace it without buying something else of dubious utility and extra cost.

When I ran across a Hanuba hand strap, I thought I’d found the answer.  With a single exception, everything about it was well-made and comfortable.  The strap was readily adjustable and made of soft but durable leather.  This thing was really comfortable!  The mount was good and firm, as long as you didn’t need or want to use a tripod/monopod.  Everything went to hell at that point.  Security turned to temerity, even when set up for horizontal shots.  Don’t even think about verticals.  The plastic base just was not up to the task of keeping even a light DSLR in place.

Other than watching a well-meaning relative nearly drop your newborn, few things can make an adult gasp as readily as having your camera and favorite lens suddenly point earthward when you thought they were securely fixed to the tripod’s head.

I learned (quickly) to detach the base of the strap completely before mounting the camera to either the tripod or monopod, regardless of the orientation.

That’s just not a complete solution!

Enter the Matin strap.

I’d never heard of it, never seen it advertised.  I just stumbled over it while browsing at Pro Photo Supply in Portland.  And I bought one.  Actually, I bought two… the last one as a “present” for the A-77 that hadn’t yet arrived.  The photo below shows the simplicity of the solution after I mounted it to the new camera.  Hand goes under the strap, fingers around the grip… bring it on!

Ready for action

It’s made in South Korea out of a very durable and comfortable combination of leather and nylon, and most importantly has a no-nonsense all-metal baseplate that secures consistently and reliably to the tripod mount of the camera while providing another, equally-sturdy 1/4”-20 receptacle for a tripod or monopod mount screw.

The version that I have is the only one that I’ve been able to find on this continent.  It has a pair of small legs that can be extended from the base that can allow the use of the camera on a table top or other flat surface.  I think I’ve used this feature once, perhaps twice.  It’s a nice concept with minimal practical applications.

But… the company’s literature (even the packaging for the straps that I have) indicate that an Arca-Swiss dovetail-compatible plate is available.  The question is “where?”  I’ve never found one.  At least not where I could converse in English with a seller.

Which brings me to an unintentionally teasing email that I got from B&H Photo last week introducing me to (tempting me with) products from a company called Camdapter.  They have everything that the Matin system does PLUS a smaller-profile plate that promises to not obstruct the battery-compartment door and… an option for a dovetail plate. 

Plus, there are a lot of colors available if matching your handbag is important.  I just need black, thanks.

Why don’t I have one yet?  It costs more than twice what the Matin strap did! 

Yeah, I’ll end up with one of those.  And a ball-head for both the tripod AND the monopod to go with it.  It doesn’t fit the budget at the moment, but I’ll squeeze it all in somehow. 

It’s hard to argue with stuff that actually works.

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