She had watched me struggle with my camera gear in the field for years. I have used backbacks, fannypacks, hip packs, several types of shoulder strap, a couple of different camera vests, etc. and always struggled with trying to manage my big bird lenses, my macro lenses, flashes etc. while hiking in the field. I had never heard of the system before I got the gift certificate but she had done some research and reviews were very positive.
The problem all of these setups have is:
- 1. If you have your gear over your shoulder (i.e. on a strap), when you bend over to flip something, it swings around into the way.
2. If you put gear into a backpack, you lose the ability to access it quickly and miss mammal, bird, or herp in situ shots.
3. If you have big gear, it is hard to restrain without a bulky camera bag.
It certainly would work for hauling a 70-200 or similar lens in the field, but I use a 100-400 and then macro/wide angle lenses. But the money had already been spent so I bought one of the chest carriers with a side holster (photos stolen from cottoncarrier.com, but since it is a positive review, I'm sure they won't mind).
Here's a photo of the setup that I bought (I have no idea who this person is!) and about how I used it, i.e. with my photo vest worn over it for my flash, etc.. However, I only carried one camera so no side holster. Where she has the side holster (and second camera) attached, I attached a small lens carrier which I used for my macro lens or my flash.
What the system does is attaches a small hub to the tripod screw of your camera which slides into the chest harness.
You camera is therefore secured to the front of your chest. The little bracket locks into place, but it only takes a fraction of a second to remove your camera. This means you can comfortably hike, bend over, climb, etc with your camera securely in place but be able to grab it and get a shot in the blink of an eye. It's like having a third hand to hold your camera out of the way.
I purchased what was in effect the "vest system for two cameras". I didn't plan on using it for two cameras, but I was worried the chest harness wouldn't work for me and I wanted the flexibility of the waist harness. Turns out the chest harness works so well I haven't used the side holster thing at all. Here's a photo from their website (again, I have no idea who these people are, hope they don't mind being in my review):
So I have used this for a few months under the following circumstances:
- birding with my big 100-400 on my camera both in the US and in Ecuador
- herping with my macro lens on my camera in the tropical rainforests of Ecuador at night
I was a little concerned by a review I read online where someone said it was too hot and uncomfortable to wear in a tropical rainforest when they took it. My response is "what a wuss". Being in a tropical rainforest at night IS uncomfortable and sweaty and hot, even if you are naked (don't ask - transgressions of my youth). I spent hours wearing this in the Ecuadorian Amazon, day and night. The system is far less hot and sweaty than a backpack. Frankly, I didn't notice it because I was too busy looking at the rainforest and its denizens.
The camera gear is out in the elements, unlike in a camera bag, but I found that a plastic shopping bag or even a shower cap make a quick, easy, cheap rain cover for the camera. If you are paranoid about your camera gear getting wet or dirty, stay in the studio. We are herpers, cameras are tools.
My assessment is . I really thought it wasn't going to be convenient or comfortable but I was wrong.
- 1. It is MUCH more comfortable than having heavy gear on a shoulder strap. I have spent many, many hours in the field with a heavy lens on a big camera slung over my shoulder. Never again.
2. Your camera is not swinging around, banging off trees, rocks, etc.
3. It is just as easy to access the camera as if you had it on a shoulder strap. It takes a bit of practice (like twice), but it is very convenient.
4. It is very secure. One feature I came to depend on is the safety harness that connects your camera to the system independent of the actual chest bracket. This means that if you let go of your camera it doesn't drop to the ground but is stopped and swings at waist level. So if you are handling and angry snake in the forest at night and need to set you camera down, you can just let it hang (if you don't want to take the extra second to put it back in the chest bracket). (Gentlemen, take note - it does swing just below waist level....enough said). You can see the safety harnesses clipped to the D-ring at the top of the chest plate and the camera bodies of the woman in the purple sweater. The top woman deosn't appear to be using hers - woe betide! You can still remove the camera and hold it up to you eye easily with it clipped to the safety harness so it doesn't interfere with camera use. (To set you camera on the ground, etc, you would just unclip the safety harness).
5. You can add inexpensive "belt" lens holders, etc to the side straps on your chest harness to carry a flash or extra lens without any sense of extra weight or discomfort. It is actually more comfortable than carrying them around our waist. They are out of the way, but readily accessible.
6. You could carry a long lens attached to one camera body attached to your chest and you macro lens on another camera attached to the side, but I think that would slow you down in the field (and you would need two separate bodies).
7. It keeps your hands free in the field. I also like to record audio using a shotgun mic and recorder in the field and it was easy to just stick the camera on my chest and grab my microphone. It also doesn't make noise when you move as an added bonus.
Downsides so far (all minor):
- 1. It does take getting used to and getting it adjusted to your body takes a few minutes when you first unpack.
2. If you have a large flash attached to your camera (like I did), it does stick out a bit from your chest but it wasn't a big problem.
3. It does take a second to get on or off
4. It is tight around the bottom of your chest. It isn't uncomfortable, just different. I don't know what it would be like for a woman to wear although the reviews I read from women said it was not a problem because the tightness is around the lower part of the rib cage. I guess that depends on you body morph.
5. It makes wearing binoculars difficult. I'm going to get a tripod mount for my binocs, attach an extra hub to that and try attaching my binocs to my side holster on my waist.
6. You look like a major geek wearing it with your camera on it. But if you are the type of person who checks how your field gear looks on you in the mirror before you go in the field, better just go to the mall .
7. It does look a bit military, like some sort of kevlar vest. Some of you may think that's cool, but it can get you in trouble in some places on the globe. They now have a green one (they didn't when I ordered ) which is better. Read this thread for some comments about military-looking gear in the field (http://fieldherpforum.com/forum/viewtop ... f=2&t=9779). I tended to wear an unbuttoned long sleeve field shirt or camera vest over it. (I generally wear loose fitting, long sleeve shirts in the field anyway because after decades of experience all over the globe, I find that more comfortable than short sleeves and I like my skin cancer free.)
8. Mine cames with a nice free handstrap which I like, but I did have to remove my normal camera strap. Had to learn that I couldn't just throw the camera over my shoulder/around my neck, but I adapted pretty quick. You could easily snap a strap onto the camera if you wanted one.
My only thing I would change is I want to get the quick release camera plate for my tripod. I have a ballhead with and Arca-Swiss style Quick Release but I had to remove my QR plate from my camera to attach the hub. My big lens has a tripod mount so that isn't an issue, but right now I can't tripod mount my camera with my macro or wide angle lenses. The hub does have a tripod screw hole, but I want a QR on my camera body as well. Their QR plate has both things built into the same bracket. It was an oversight not to order it with the original system.
What is interesting to me is that I would never have bought myself this system based on looking at the website, etc. It just didn't look practical for the type of photography I do.
But I had to buy something from them because I had a gift certificate. I'm really glad I was forced to try it. It is perfect for what I do in the field....and I still have all my other bags, etc, for the times I need something different.
I would give this a for a field herper. It isn't cheap, but it isn't expensive either compared to other systems and bags and it provides things that none of the other systems do.
Of course, YMMV.