Camera straps are an essential piece of gear for all photographers, and one that is often underemphasized considering it suspends extremely valuable items and often times, comes into direct contact with our skin. Most frequently I observe photographers with red and black Canon straps or black and yellow Nikon straps that advertise what model of camera you are carrying and in effect, it's price tag. I'm slightly paranoid so I've been using a grey and black strap made overseas that feels like a mushy sponge but at least doesn't say CANON FULL FRAME MODEL 6D $1899 MSRP CASH MONEY on the side of it. It's only recently that I started thinking there could be more to a camera strap, which is how I found the Clawkeeper Cross Body Camera Strap.
Clawkeeper is a one person company based in Columbus, OH that makes a variety of handmade leather goods including wallets, custom tool rolls (that cater to the motorcycle crowd), razor strops, and leather tote bags. It seems only natural that Clawkeeper would turn their attention to handmade, high quality leather camera straps as an extension of their current product line up. These products fit neatly into America's resurgence of valuing craft, material quality, and durability. This is a lifetime camera strap that you can depend on and use to it's limits.
The Cross Body Strap (CBS) is made using "all natural veg tan cowhide, solid nickel or brass hardware, cut, stamped, dyed, finished, and riveted by hand". My test version came in black, with the nickel hardware. The camera has a simple buckle system to adjust it's sizing that was effective for someone in my height category (5'11). When not in use the camera hangs almost upside down which users of sling design camera straps will find familiar (check this out for an illustration). When it's time to shoot, you grab the camera hanging near your waist and bring it up towards your eye, while the camera slides up the strap that hangs across your body. If that seems confusing check out the fit photos below. Carrying cameras in this manner can feel strange at first but to many of us that enjoy sling designs, it becomes second nature because of the way the weight of your gear is distributed. To attach your camera to the CBS a D ring screw is secured to the cameras tripod mount, then the strap in clipped onto the D ring with a trigger snap....although Clawkeeper has said this part of the design is a work in progress and future straps might have a different locking mechanism such as a carabiner.
The styling of the strap is definitely on the heavy side, making me think of leather horse bridles and reigns. It's a strap that gets noticed and your friends will all ask you about it. This test sample has a BDSM vibe because of it's black dye and silver hardware, a look that I really enjoyed. The CBS will also be available in a natural finish for people wanting an alternative. This strap would fit right in at a wedding if you were wearing a sport coat or alternatively, at a motorcycle rally wearing an old leather jacket passed down to you from your crazy, risk-taking uncle. This strap might actually make you dress BETTER as a photographer, a group of people notorious for curating wardrobes dominated by khaki.
What really struck me about the Cross Body Strap was how rigid the leather was while still being flexible. The best parallels I can draw are to a Brooks Saddle or a new pair of Red Wing Boots (raw selvedge denim is similar in this way also). These are craft items highly respected in their fields for taking many years just to break in. Expect a similar use curve with the CBS: a break in period will be essential to long term use. Stick with it and don't give up. Use this strap at the beginning with a collared shirt for some padding, as your neck and the strap get acquainted. I personally loved the feel of this strap and noticed no discomfort after using the test piece on multiple shoots, but I want to give all my readers a fair warning to those accustomed to cushiony nylon straps (and ready to wear Levi's). The Cross Body Strap retails for $180, which is a premium above the average camera strap, but this isn't the average camera strap, so comparing is rather difficult. A cursory internet search yielded mostly very small, non-adjustable, skimpy leather straps in the $35-$125 dollar range. For the ruggedness that the CBS brings, the cost is certainly justified.
This strap is perfect for heavy cameras, full frame DSLR's with large prime lenses, or cameras with large zoom lenses attached. My feeling is that even medium format users could safely use the CBS if they carry their Mamiya or Contax medium format units in the field. The CBS might be overkill for smaller body rangefinders or mirrorless cameras, but that's my opinion. If you like the styling and you own a smaller camera, go with your gut.
The Cross Body Camera Strap can be purchased directly here.
Clawkeeper camera straps are also available at Midwest Photo Exchange here.
PROS: USA made, outstanding material quality and craftmanship, standout from the crowd styling, rugged, durable.
CONS: Heavy materials, sling style not for all photographers, (might) not be suitable for small cameras (just get a wrist strap already!),