Sun Sniper Alternative Camera Strap Review
Camera technology has come a long way, but the camera strap hasn't evolved much since the advent of the camera. Recently, there have been several companies making efforts to improve the abilities of this essential accessory that is often an after-thought. But the concept of the sliding harness – though not a new idea – is a breath of fresh air on the camera scene. Among the sliding harness heroes is the Sun Sniper, which I was able to acquire for the purpose of this review.
Arguably, there are several contenders in the sliding harness ring – each with their own subtle design tweaks – but the general concept is the same. Instead of hanging the camera from your neck, the sliding harness goes across one shoulder and the camera hangs at your side. In the case of the Sun Sniper, the strap is not intended to move as you pull the camera up to your eye. There are two versions of the Sun Sniper strap – the Sun Sniper “One” and the Sun Sniper “Steel”. The model I reviewed is the “Steel” version, which contains a steel cable woven into the strap. Otherwise, the two straps are very much alike.
The Sun Sniper's strap is adjustable with a shock-absorbing shoulder pad. For the “Steel” version, the strap is reinforced with a steel cable that is woven into the strap that not only helps the camera to slide, but also serves as an extra level of protection from would-be-thieves. On the strap hangs a metal clasp slide with a carabiner-like faster. This can be hooked (and locked via a screw mechanism on the clasp) to a special D-Ring screw that screws into the tripod mount of your camera. The shoulder pad is contoured to hug your shoulder, partially for comfort and partially to permit the strap to stay put as you raise/lower the camera from its resting place. The pad holds to the strap by two sets of velcro enclosures that serves to hide the excess strap. The strap is adjustable, and the adjustment buckle nestles into a place within the strap – so once your strap is adjusted, it will not slide through the shoulder strap.
The concept of wearing your camera at your side, or possibly along your lower back, is appealing to anyone who's been shooting for a while. Wearing a strap around your neck can get tiresome, especially with a full-size camera or with your larger lenses. The Sun Sniper – and other straps like it – transfers the weight to your shoulder, which is better designed for bearing weight. I kept the strap fastened to my camera for several days to evaluate its use under several conditions. I took it out on photo walks in and around the city to specifically get an idea of how it fared.
For street photography, the strap was a dream. As many of you may know, when you wander about the city, you don't want to pack your camera away all the time. You'll miss photos that way. With the camera around your neck, it never seems to hang comfortably, especially when you have a heavy zoom lens on the front. At it's side, I was able to keep the camera relatively out of the way but easily within reach. I still found myself keeping a hand on the camera when not in use (which you would normally do while walking through the city), but I didn't experience any arm strain or stress as I would if the camera were hanging around my neck. In crowds, having the camera at the side or even behind me seemed a little awkward as I shifted and twisted my body through crowds. My first day out, I bumped my camera into a door I was trying to open. I eventually got used to this, but there is certainly more potential for camera damage with it hanging at your side.
I did notice something relatively interesting – I found that the Sun Sniper worked much better with heavier lenses than with my small 50mm prime lens. With the larger and heavier lenses, the camera and lens seemed to fit well into the contour of my back when not in use. When I had my 50mm on the body, it never really seemed to hang just right. Neither the body nor the lens would make good contact with my body, and I found it bouncing around quite a bit.
As I mentioned above, the adjustment buckle nestles between two sets of velcro enclosures on the shoulder pad. Think of these like over-lapping doors that hold the shoulder pad to the strap. The buckle is far more durable than you might be used to, but it otherwise functions like other nylon strap buckles found on backpacks and the like. In this photo, I have one of the enclosures opened to illustrate how it works. You make your adjustments, and then fold and tuck the excess strap into the shoulder pad and close the velcro enclosure. The shock absorbing portion of the strap is on the other side of the shoulder pad (not shown). From a design point of view, this is a fairly nice system that keeps everything looking tidy and easy to manage. However, in practicality, it makes adjustment more complicated than necessary. One might argue that you'll only need to adjust it once and then leave it be. In practice, however, I found the need to adjust as I changed lenses – especially when I went from my 185mm zoom to my 50mm prime. The shock absorbing portion of the strap works by elasticity. It expands and contracts as your camera bounces – or as the weight of your camera changes. Throw on a heavy lens, and the camera hangs just a little lower. So when I placed my 50mm on my camera, it hung too high and it annoyed me. Adjusting the strap proved to be a pain. Making such adjustments while wearing the strap is uncomfortable and complicated. Especially since on my shoulder, the end of the strap would hang over my back – tightening while wearing it is essentially impossible.
One misconception I dispelled on my own was the fastener – the D-ring screw that fits into your tripod mount. My biggest concern was about whether or not that screw would loosen while in use. The screw comes with a big fat spongy washer that functions like a lock-washer to hold it in place. Through all my travels these past few weeks, the screw has not loosened once. During the first days of my evaluation, I used the strap as designed, fastened to the tripod mount of my camera. As I was moving about and hand-holding, this worked quite well. But on the occasions I wanted to use my tripod or set my camera down on its bottom, the mounting bolt caused trouble.
Eventually, the bottom-mount annoyance grew to a point that I experimented with mounting the strap in other ways – mind you, not harming the product in any way. As a proof of concept, I fastened a key ring to one of the strap points on my camera (see photo at left). This is not as Sun Sniper had intended, but it was a potentially viable solution that I wanted to test out. At first, I fastened the key ring and strap to the grip-side of the camera. Unfortunately, I found that the strap's hook pinched my fingers often when using it in this manner. So I fastened it to the opposite side of the camera (as shown). While it no longer pinches my fingers, the hook mechanism is not large enough to get the camera away from my body when in this configuration. It does work, however, the camera hangs appropriately, and the strap is mounted steady. But to consider this a better mounting position, it would need to permit the camera to get farther from the Sun Sniper strap. I would consider a short web strap to fasten to your camera, like Op Tech USA's Utility Loop. I realize that this is the combination of two product lines, but something of the sort would allow a better fastening to the camera (as opposed to a keyring) and it would allow you to pull the camera away from the body. I wonder if Sun Sniper might propose such an option in the future.
For a photographer that spends a lot of time moving around like event photographers, especially for a photographers with more than one camera body, the Sun Sniper appears to be a great alternative to the every day strap. Street photographers will also see some benefits, but portrait and landscape photographers may find it to be a nuisance if one cannot fasten the strap to their tripod mount.
The build quality is top notch. Materials all seem durable and all points of stress seem to be addressed quite well. Of the alternative straps I am aware of, this is the only one with the steel cable reinforcement. The shoulder pad is also quite comfortable and well thought out, though it is arguably a bit bulky for a camera strap.
Bottom line, it really comes to preference. But I would recommend this product for the movers – the street photographers, the wedding photographers and the like. If you like to use your tripod, this is not a product for you, unless you modify it as I discussed above.
As of this writing, the Sun Sniper retails for about $55 (USD) and is available at Amazon.com and at B&H Photo. The Sun Sniper “Steel” (which has the cable – the model I reviewed here) is available at Amazon.com for about $75 USD California Sunbounce Sun-Sniper Steel
Things We Liked
- Comfortable shoulder pad which also hides adjustment and shock absorption component.
- Very durable and strong materials.
- Steel cable embedded in strap (“Steel” version only).
- Locking clasp.
- Smooth operation as the clasp slides along the strap.
Things We Didn't Like
- Fastening options – as designed, there is only one option: The Tripod Mount. It can be annoying for frequent tripod users, plus the jury is still out about whether this is a good place to hang your camera.
- Bulky – when not in use, the shoulder pad and strap will take up the space of one of your mid-sized lenses.
- Difficult to adjust – adjustments while wearing the strap is very difficult. Getting it set perfectly while off your body is challenging.
- Not ideal for small lenses.