Cotton Carrier review
Don't you just love camera straps? No? Me neither - hate the damned rings, in fact! They dig into your neck, your camera swings and bounces around when you move and, invariably, you end your day with a sore neck. Nope - they've never quite worked for me. I've tried loads (cos the manufacturers ones are usually garbage, with no cushioning or flex built in), including some very expensive ones, cheap ones, neoprene ones, leather ones - the lot! Admittedly, the neoprene ones are a bit more comfortable, but still the last thing I want is a camera and 70-200 lens bouncing around everywhere. So, about 4 years ago I saw an advert for a new carrying solution from the USA which looked very interesting. The promotional video showed the photographer ski-ing downhill, mountain biking and hiking with his DSLR on this new-fangled rig and it wasn't bouncing around! Even better than that, when he stopped and grabbed his camera all he had to do was twist it through 90 degrees and it was ready to shoot in an instant! 'I'll be having one of those' I thought to myself.
So, a Cotton Carrier (www.cottoncarrier.com) was duly ordered and a nice wee unexpected customs import tax bill was paid before I took delivery of my new toy (at the time, they had just been launched and there was no-one importing them into the UK). What arrived was a chest-rig with an extra camera holster, which attaches either to your chest rig or onto your belt for when you just want to carry one camera, and two hubs.
Bear in mind, this is about 4 years old and it's lived quite a life during that time (but it is due another good scrub)
The hub screws into your camera tripod thread in a particular way as it has two straight edges which allow it to slide into the Cotton Carrier in the direction of the arrow, you then allow the camera to rotate and hang naturally and that's it - locked securely!
The Cotton Carrier now comes with two tether straps which attach to your cameras strap loop at one end and loops on your harness for added peace of mind. Although mine didn't come with these (they weren't a part of the original kit), I've since bought a pair and they remain on my cameras as handstraps when I'm not using the Cotton Carrier.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that in certain circumstances the Cotton Carrier does make you stand out a little bit. However, you can still use the holster if you want to remain a bit more discreet (although, I personally dislike the feeling that it's constantly trying to pull my trousers down). But - and this is a big BUT - when it comes to functionality, I simply cannot fault it! Once you lock your camera into, it's going nowhere! I've used my Cotton Carrier to shoot everything from mountain bike races and concerts, to demonstration marches and weddings and, for me, it's perfect for these jobs. My lenses and accessories are around my waist in a ThinkTank Photo Skin Set (http://ksgphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/thinktank-photo-skin-set-v20.html) and my cameras are with me wherever I go. I'm pretty much self-sufficient, with the only exception being the odd time I need a tripod or light stand for some off-camera flash. I get to the end of a day without any pain in my neck, and I know that if I need to run around I'm not going to have a heavy camera and lens combo re-arranging my delicate (ahem) facial features. I've fallen into ponds, landed on my arse and slid down hills, been grabbed onto a dance-floor, been knocked over by over-enthusiastic dogs and caught in the middle of some heated situations during protest marches and each time I've had BOTH hands free to either protect me or cushion me from any impacts. My cameras have remained exactly where I want them to. Now, if you think about the falling into the pond for a minute, yes the cameras got wet (that's going to happened irrespective of how you carry them) but it's quite possible that if they'd been on straps I could've received a good bump or two on the head - and being knocked out as you fall in a pond DEFINITELY isn't a good thing! At weddings, I find that black trousers, shirt and waistcoat mean that the Cotton Carrier isn't really noticed either. On top of that, whenever anyone asks for a business card - it has built-in card holder! How much thought went into that?
Muddy fields during a Trash The Dress shoot? Easy!
An enthusiastic patriot during the Scottish Independence march who wants a hug? Well, it'd be rude not to AND I've got both hands free!
Hiking up and down mountains shooting the Mountain Bike World Cup
There have been times when I kept a strap on my camera and, through laziness, sometimes I'd leave my Cotton Carrier at home and every single time, I missed it. I no longer keep straps on my main cameras. It may not be an essential tool for a portrait shoot or if you're studio-based, but if you shoot weddings, events, action sports or pretty much anything else where you are on the move and would prefer your camera/s to remain in place without swinging everywhere while you have both hands free, the Cotton Carrier should be very high on your list.
UPDATE - JANUARY 2014
Following their continued R&D, Cotton Carrier have made a few changes to the design of the camera vest. These changes are subtle, but functional - which only goes to show just how close to perfection the first incarnation was. I've attached some shots of the new version to illustrate them:
D-rings for attaching the tether cable have been added in place of the plastic clips on the upper part as well as being added to the lower part of the carrier.
This new strap wraps over your long lens to add even more security.
The side holster now has a belt loop in addition to the double velcro flap. I've tried this and it feels a lot more secure than just the velcro alone. Another small detail is that the grooves which the camera slide into feel a little wider and, therefore, easier to place your camera in, yet still lock securely in place (oh, and the logo has changed a bit too).
The hub is now angled instead of being straight. This may not seem like it's important, but it allows the lens to point inwards slightly and creates a slimmer profile as you manoeuvre through crowds etc. It now also attaches via an allen key (supplied) which certainly feels a bit more professional than fumbling around for a coin from your pocket - although it does mean you need to keep the allen key in your bag in case it starts to loosen (not something I've experienced, but definitely worth mentioning as it's another small item to lose)
I've now also had the opportunity to had the opportunity to try out another couple of Cotton Carrier products.
The hand strap attaches to the base via the hub and really aids your grip when working in a busy environment - coupled with the tether strap, it helps provide a safe feeling that you won't be dropping your camera any time soon.
There's even an adaptor plate which allows you to use it with your tripods quick-release plate. For details on how this works, there's a great video on the Cotton Carrier WEBSITE
So, there you have it. A few subtle changes to make an incredible camera carrying system even better and a couple of additional products, designed with the photographer in mind to help make life a little easier.
I am also extremely proud to be able to tell you that, following my initial review, my work has been noticed by Cotton Carrier, who have been in touch and I have been asked to come on board as one of their Pro Shooters! When I look at the list of the current Pro's on their website (Pro Shooters) I realise what a huge honour this is, especially when the only other wedding photographer on the list is none other than Kevin Kubota! (one of American Photo magazines' Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the World!) These guys are the cream of the crop and I strongly advise having a look at their work. What a great start to 2014!
Making a fraction of a second... last a lifetime