Traditional camera straps are pretty awful to use because they never really fulfill their purpose. With a traditional strap you basically have two choices of 'wearing' your camera. Hung around your neck like a cliche 'Japanese Tourist' or off the shoulder.
Hanging it around your neck has got to be the most uncomfortable way to carry your camera as the weight of the camera and lens pulls at the back of your neck and the camera constantly bounces off your chest as you walk. That might be just about bearable with a Canon 400D and 18-55mm Kit lens but would be really uncomfortable with a Canon 50D or 1DMkIII and a 70-200 lens.
Hanging the camera over your shoulder is probably the best way to carry your camera with one of these straps but there are inherent problems with this too. Invariably the weight of the camera and lens means that you feel the need to constantly hold onto the strap in order to stop it slipping off your shoulder. Either that or you constantly walk around with one shoulder raised up and end up with back ache. If you do hang the camera over your shoulder each time you take the camera off to take a photo the strap gets twisted and and you then have to keep untwisting it to straighten it back out again. The standard strap even gets in the way when you go to take a photo. You take the camera off your shoulder and so that strap just hangs off the camera getting in the way so what do you do? You wrap the strap around your wrist which then gets it tangled again.
A company in America called BlackRapid have come up with an alternative that has such a simple design but it is one is proving hugely popular around the world because it is so effective. The strap in question is the R-Strap which currently comes in 5 different versions, RS-4, RS-5, RS-7, RS-W1 and Double Strap and all work on the same principle that being that instead of hanging the camera around your neck or over your shoulder, you wear it across your body in a sling. I have just purchased the RS-4 and after just one outing with it I honestly can't ever imagine not using it, I absolutely love it! So how does it work?
The design of the RS-4 like all the straps in the R-Strap range is very simple, you simply have a long looped strap with a clasp at end which hooks into a special fastener that then screws into the tripod thread of your camera.
The RS-4 also has a small pocket on the padded shoulder pad which is large enough to fit 2 Compact Flash memory cards in their protective cases. Obviously if your camera uses smaller memory cards like SD Cards then you would be able to fit considerably more in the pocket. However as I use 8GB Kingston Elite Pro 133x Memory Cards this still means that with one card already in the camera I can carry 24GB worth of storage with me at any time which is more than enough for a day's shoot!
At the bottom of the shoulder pad is an adjustable clasp which is how you adjust the length of the strap itself. This is done in such a simple way, simply attach the strap to your camera and put it on and then just pull down on the clasp. Each time you pull on the clasp the weight of the camera pulls a small length of strap through lengthening it.
Sliding along the strap is the ConnectR-2 clasp which has gone through a few redesigns. The original ConnectR was larger and inferior to the ConnectR-2 in that the original was simply sprung loaded whereas the ConnectR-2 is screwed shut making it more secure. Also because the original ConnectR was longer there was the danger that on some cameras the clasp could actually hit the LCD screen on the back of the camera which is obviously far from ideal. I'm glad to say that the ConnectR-2 does not suffer from this problem at all and even without a battery grip on my Canon 30D the clasp comes nowhere near the LCD screen and barely extends beyond the base of the camera making it perfectly safe.
The R-Strap connects to the bottom of the camera via the FastenR-2 which simply screws into the tripod thread, equally if you are using a long lens with a tripod collar then the FastenR-2 would screw into that. This obviously does present a bit of a problem for when you want to use a tripod but it's really not that big a deal as you can easily unscrew the strap without taking it off and so continue to wear the strap whilst you take a photo with a tripod and then, if need be, reattach the camera to the R-Strap when you are done. The only other minor issue with attaching any strap to the tripod thread is that if you put your camera down on a table it now won't sit level, however the very few times that any of these issues will present a problem are vastly out weighed by the benefits of using the R-Strap every time you use it.
As can been seen from this photo, with the camera attached to the R-Strap there is now no chance that the ConnectR-2 can possibly make contact with the LCD screen on the back of the camera. One of the marketing tools of the R-Strap is that it's being called the fastest camera strap in that you can instantly swing the camera up to your eye to take a photo. Personally speaking, whilst it is a bit faster, this isn't the main selling point for the R-Strap. The main selling point is that it makes carrying your camera around all day an absolute pleasure. Let me try and explain the difference it has made to me. Normally I would put my camera with my Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 attached into my camera bag along with my Sigma 10-20 and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L USM and sling that over my shoulder. 99% of the time I only need two lenses typically either the 24-70 and 10-20 or 24-70 and 70-200, it's not often I need the 70-200 and 10-20 on the same shoot but because I have a big enough bag I often lug all three lenses around and needless to say this makes for a fairly heavy bag. When I get to the shoot I take the camera out and sling it over my shoulder, so I now have the camera on one shoulder and bag on the other, invariably meaning I'm then holding the straps of both to prevent them sliding off my shoulder. This often becomes both tiring and awkward so I end up wrapping the camera strap around my wrist and holding the camera whilst hanging the bag off of my shoulder but still having to walk with one shoulder higher than the other or holding onto the bag strap.
With the RS-4 I simply sling the camera across my body leaving both hands completely free without the need to carry anything, hold onto any straps or walk with one shoulder higher than the other? What about carrying other lenses? Simple. All my lenses came with pouches and both of the Sigma pouches have belt loops whilst the Canon pouch comes with a long shoulder strap that you can wear across your body too as the 70-200 is too heavy to hang from your belt! This means for me 95% of the time I can leave my bag at home and just chuck a spare lens in the pouch attached to my belt, chuck some memory cards in the pocket of the RS-4 and perhaps a lens cleaning cloth in my pocket and I'm good to go. In use the RS-4 feels so natural, so natural in fact that you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. There is a little lock on the strap that you position at the point where you want the camera to hang, this allows you to have the camera hang in front of you, at your side or behind your back and there it pretty much stays. You can then swing the camera up to take a photo and even then just drop it knowing that it will then simply slide back into place at your side.
It is fair to say that the R-Strap isn't cheap and I have read a couple of reviews where people have felt that it is too expensive for what you get. You can't really dispute the fact that anything above £20 for a strap is expensive for what is essentially a length of webbing however the R-Strap isn't really that over priced. As a comparison I tried to find a company that could provide all the parts I needed to make my own version of an RS-4. The cheapest I could get all the components of the strap itself NOT including a FastenR-2 or ConnectR-2 type connectors was around £12. I couldn't really find anything that was like the ConnectR-2 although I'm sure that something similar must exist somewhere but the nearest I found was something that might just about do the job but was made of plastic which I really didn't fancy using. Considering that the FastenR-2 and ConnectR-2 cost £12 each then to make your own would cost around £36 but arguably wouldn't look as good. Whilst this would still represent a £23 saving over the RS-4 I don't really think the saving is worth the effort or risk and if you like the sound of the R-Strap I would seriously recommend getting one, they really are a pleasure to use!