Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review - Spider Holster System

Camera straps are now officially dead to me. ;-)

When I shoot weddings and events, I usually use 2 camera bodies - a 5D mkII with a 24-105 f4 L and a 7D with a 70-200 f2.8 L IS. On one of my recent beach wedding shoots, I nearly dropped the 5D mkII into the sand when the camera strap came undone right in the middle of the bride's processional. Luckily I was able to catch it before it hit the sand, but I didn't have time during the ceremony to reattach the strap.

Thankfully, on that particular day, I was testing out my DIY BlackRapid sling on my 7D.  I shoved the 5D camera strap into my pocket and quickly swapped the sling from the 7D to the 5D.  Since I had my Think Tank Skin 75 lens bag on my hip, I used that as a temporary camera holster for the 7D/70-200 lens whenever I needed to use the 5D on the sling.

I had originally thought about going with a Digital Holster bag attached to my Think Tank belt, but to accommodate the 70-200 lens I would have had to get the large Digital Holster 50 which would have added a lot of unwanted bulk to my setup.

So instead I started looking around for a better way to carry 2 camera bodies around and have them readily accessible to shoot.  Some of the things I looked at were the Cotton Carrier system and the Black Rapid strap system.

I didn't really care for the Cotton Carrier system.  Looked too much like a baby carrier and since I shoot a lot of outdoors weddings, I would be sweating all over the chest mounted camera. 

The Black Rapid system looked promising and as I mentioned, I was testing a DIY version of it on the day my other camera strap decided to malfunction.  I might use it from time to time, but I think I prefer a completely strapless setup.

Mahalo to fellow Maui photographer Donald Nakooka for turning me on to the Spider Holster System, which is what I finally settled on.

While I was shooting video for a recent Japanese wedding, I noticed another photographer using 2 of these holsters, one on each hip. He was able to quickly switch between cameras and get a lot more shots done quickly. That is what really won me over to this system.

The Spider Holster system is great because it takes all the camera weight off of your shoulders and puts it on your waist.

The kit comes with a plate and pin assembly that attaches to the tripod socket of the camera body and a metal holster that attaches to your belt. You can also order the Spider Holster belt, which is specifically designed for the Spider Holster.

I chose to order it with the accessory that allows you to attach it to the Think Tank Pro Speedbelt.

The plate comes with an allen wrench that fits into a slot on the plate.  This keeps it handy in case you need to retighten the screws in the field.

The top of the plate has two curved edges which help hold it in place against the edge of your camera body or grip when you attach it to the camera.

The included allen wrench is also used to tighten the spider pin into one of the holes on the bottom.  You can do left or right, depending on which side you plan to wear the camera on.

I chose to go with two pins since I ordered 2 holsters for left and right sides. This allowed me to use either camera in either holster.

To use the system, you simply clip the spider pin into the holster and let the camera hang naturally with the lens pointing backward. The holster automatically locks it in place until you manually release it with the little lever on the side of the holster.

The release lever on the side has 2 positions. When set to the middle position, the holster will lock the Spider pin in place so you can run, jump, spin around, whatever and your camera will stay locked on your belt.  To release the camera, simply pull the lever up a little and pull out your camera from the holster.

The lever can also be pushed all the way up.  This locks it in the open position.  This is good for if you need to quick draw your camera to get a shot and don't want to mess with unlocking it. The groove the pin slides into is deep enough that gravity will make the camera will stay in place on the holster. You can walk around and not have to worry about your camera falling out of the holster.  As long as you don't plan on doing any jumping jacks, you should be fine.

I used this system on a few beach weddings and I found that once I got accustomed to sliding the Spider pin into the holster, it made switching between cameras much easier.  The holsters don't weigh very much themselves so there were times during shoots where I was lying down to get a certain camera angle and forgot that the empty holster was on my belt.  Because of the simple slotted design of the holsters, I was able to quickly clear the holster of sand once I stood up. What little sand that got into the lever was quickly removed with a few clicks.

Couple of minor issues that I ran into.  I ordered two of these and while I was attaching the holsters to the belt, I noticed that one of the screws on one holster was slightly stripped ( I was able to remove it eventually with some effort ). On the other holster, I found that one of the screw holes was completely stripped, so instead of using 4 screws to attach the Think Tank adapter loop to the holster, I was only able to use 3.  I contacted the company about this and they were very quick in getting back to me to arrange a replacement.

I also ordered the Arca-Swiss adapter plate which attach to the bottom of the Spider Plate so that you can still use the camera on a tripod.  Unfortunately the plates were just a hair too narrow on my ReallyRightStuff ballhead, so they kept sliding out of the slot. I ended up having to return them.  I was told by the Spider Holster company that they outsource the manufacturing of the Arca Swiss adapters and might have to discontinue doing that.

What I might end up doing is getting a RRS quick release plate and mounting the Spider plate to the bottom of that, so that I have the option to quickly take off the Spider Plate in order to mount the camera on a tripod.  Similar to what this guy has:

Another issue that I ran into is that since the camera is simply attached to your hip by the metal clip, it offers pretty much zero protection for your camera.  Have to be careful when walking through doorways and such because since there's no camera straps, it's very easy to forget you have the camera on your hip and accidentally knock it against something as you're walking by.

The last issue is that when you're walking around with your camera swinging from your hip, it's kinda hard not to get this song out of your head:

You can see more about the Spider Holster here:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review - Think Tank Retrospective 30

Think Tank Photo is a company that really puts a lot of thought into every one of their products and their new Retrospective series of camera bags are a great example of this, which is why I bought one from Bic Camera in Ikebukuro on a recent trip to Japan.

It's also available in black but as a fan of the recent television series "24",  I liked this version better, the Retrospective 30 Pinestone. It is so well designed that if Jack Bauer were a photographer, this is the bag he would carry.

The first thing you'll notice is that there is no label on the front that screams "Hey! I'm a camera bag with a lot of expensive stuff in me!".  I wish more camera bag manufacturers would have the brains to do this. No matter how much manufacturers claim their bags "do not look like a typical camera bag", the second they sew a label on the front of the bag for everyone to see, it's game over.  Thieves are not stupid, they can look through any photography magazine and memorize the names of typical camera bag manufacturers.  Once they see that label on the front of a bag, they know it's a camera bag and a potential target. On past camera bags I've either torn the label off or covered it up with something like a "Starfleet Academy" patch. (I'm a geek yes, I'm well aware of that.)

Maybe I can find a "CTU" patch for this bag. ;-P

The Retrospective 30 has an outer label, but Think Tank intelligently put it on the BACK of the bag - the side that is against your body when you wear the bag so that no one can see it.

Not only that, but they made it very small and discreet.  You really have to look closely to see the name. The label is very inconspicuous, and from the front this bag looks just like an average messenger bag you can get from Amazon or wherever. Just like what Jack Bauer would carry all his guns and knives in.

There are many more intelligently designed features inside the bag, beginning with the pockets.

Some camera bag manufacturers add outer pockets to their bags while never even considering you might want to put something IN those pockets. I've seen even large roller bags with pockets that cover the entire front face of the case yet made so thin, you literally could not even get a single finger inside of them.

The Retrospective 30's pockets are very roomy.  If you look at the sides of the pockets, you'll see that they are designed to expand to hold a lot.  A 7D with a battery grip easily fits in one of these pockets with room to spare.

Another nice feature of the front pockets are the velcro closures.  There are small strips inside the pockets you can attach the cover flaps to if you want to keep them out of the way for faster access to what you have stored there.

This is really helpful to me on shoots where we have to pack up and move between locations quickly.  Although I may pack my camera bag a certain way, I don't always have time to put things back in their proper place when I'm in a hurry.  Large open pockets like these let me just "dump it in and go", and worry about putting things back to their proper place after the shoot is done.

In the back of the main compartment is a zippered pocket which runs the length of the bag.  Useful for storing papers like model release forms.

The bag comes with a bunch of dividers so you can customize the interior to how you like it.  I usually keep it to 4 dividers.

There are several different sizes of bags in the Retrospective line. The Retrospective 30 is currently the largest one Think Tank offers. The main compartment of this bag can hold a pro body and about 3-4 lenses.

My usual wedding loadout for this bag is:

Center  - 5d mkII with a battery grip or the WFT-E4  wifi transmitter, with a 24-105 f4L lens and the hood in shooting position.
Left - 70-200 f2.8L IS lens
Right - 7D w/ 50mm f1.4 lens
Front pockets - 2 Canon 580 EX flashes, 2 external battery packs

On either end of the main compartment you'll find these small flaps.

Lifting these flaps reveals another pocket. I usually store my battery powered router in this pocket.

Inside this pocket is yet again, another velcro strip in case you want to store the pocket strap out of the way.

It's the attention to even the smallest details like this that make Think Tank one of my favorite companies to purchase camera bags from.

On the inside of the front of the bag is a velcro flap with the company logo. This hides a section for pens, business cards, lens wipes, memory cards etc. 

I like how they put this section inside the bag, which frees up the front pockets for other gear. I also appreciate how they thought to use the logo flap to hold this section closed so that it doesn't get in the way when you move gear in and out of the bag.

On the inside of the main cover is a spot for a business card for ID purposes and the "Stealth Mode" velcro.

This particular feature is one of the things that attracted me to the Think Tank line of products in the first place. It is something they had on their Skin Component system and I'm glad they carried it over to this bag. What it does is it allows you to fold down and cover the velcro strips so that when you open and close the cover of the bag, you don't make that loud ripping noise associated with velcro.

This is really handy when you need to go into silent mode and not draw attention to yourself during a wedding ceremony.  Or if you're sneaking into an enemy compound to rescue a fellow CTU agent.;-)

Think Tank Photo - designed by freakin' NINJAs. ;-)

Remember the outer label on the back? I forgot to mention that right above that label is a zipper. This is one of the best examples of how forward thinking the people at Think Tank are:


It's not designed for the typical laptop, but it does fit an iPad perfectly.

When I say "fits perfectly", I mean PERFECTLY. I have my iPad in an Otterbox Defender case, which is one of the largest iPad cases available, and it still fits like a glove in this pocket.

This is exactly what I've been looking for.  With the WFT-E4 on the 5D transmitting images to the Shuttersnitch app on the iPad via the router in the side pocket,  I now have a fully mobile wireless tethered shooting setup all in one bag.

The Retrospective 30 also comes with a really good raincover. I usually store it in the side pocket so that it frees up one of the front pockets.

A video by Think Tank showing how to put on the rain cover.  As far as I know, they are the only company that thinks of doing videos like this to help their customers.

There are only a few minor issues that I have with this bag. First, the side pockets are a little too small for my tastes. Putting in a water bottle or a flash like the 580EX is a bit tight. 

It would be nice if they were to enlarge this pocket just a skosh more on their next version to make it easier to slipthings in and out of it.  The strap right above the pocket is for if you want to attach a modular component, such as an additional lens case.  It does get in the way a little when putting things in the pocket. I usually put the raincover in one side pocket and a couple of camera raincovers in the other.

The other issue I have is with the strap.

It's nice that it is somewhat padded and has these rubber lines that help grip your shoulder, but the strap is permanently connected to the bag. I understand the aesthetic choice they made with doing the strap this way, but on the next version of this bag I would like the option to be able to replace the strap with something else if I wanted to.

Overall though I'm really happy with this bag and I highly recommend it for location work.  It's well designed and the exterior is rugged enough to take a lot of punishment - just like Jack ;-).

(I would know, 'cause I'm really rough on my gear on a daily basis, ask anybody. If any manufacturers want to know if their product can really take a beating, just send it my way.  If it survives a week with me, heck it'll survive anything.)

You can purchase the Think Tank Retrospective 30 or any of their other products by clicking on this link or on their banner on this blog.

The people at Think Tank Photo were also gracious enough to allow me this year to start offering a special gift to readers of this blog.  On any order over $50, you can get a free camera bag or accessory such as:

Modular Pouch - Good for carrying small things like memory cards, pocket camera, light meter, etc.

Pixel Pocket Rocket - Holds a bunch of CF cards.  Or you can do a Joe McNally and mod them to hold gels for your flash instead. I bought a one just to do that - it's a really cool idea.

Security Tag - has a serial number that you can register at the Think Tank Photo website to help recover the bag it is attached to if lost or stolen.

Cable Management 20 - Great for organizing small cords and things.  I use one in my video bag to organize lavalier microphones.

To take advantage of this offer, go to the Think Tank Photo website via this link and enter the affiliate code AP-483.  You'll be able to choose your free bag or accessory upon checkout.