The Black Widow System From Spider Holster (Review)
Several months ago, Shutter Photo had an opportunity to review the SpiderPro System from Spider Holster, a unique carrying solution for your camera that puts it at your waist for quick access and comfort. Having the freedom to move your camera to your waist is something that a lot of our readers really responded well to. But the SpiderPro System is really designed for Pro Bodies, and so it can be a bit overkill for those with smaller cameras. And so Spider Holster has another product called the Black Widow, which is specifically designed for smaller cameras under four pounds. Recently, we were invited to review the Black Widow, along with a few accessories. The accessories, including the Black Widow Belt, Pad and Thin Plate, are all designed to make the system more comfortable with heavier or larger camera setups.
The Black Widow System consists of a catch plate and a pin. The pin screws into the tripod mount socket of your camera using any typical wrench (hand tightening is not recommended). The catch plate – the Black Widow itself – is then threaded through a belt that is then worn to hang at your side. You have the choice of using your own belt, or you can use the Black Widow Belt which is a bit wider than most belts to help distribute the weight. The Black Widow is made of a high density plastic with a few areas reinforced with metal. The catch plate will capture the pin and hold it in place with a automatic locking mechanism. This places the camera at your side in a comfortable position at the ready for the camera's next use. To free your camera, you simply push gently on the locking mechanism to release, and lift your camera out of the holster.
As I mentioned, you have the option of using the Black Widow Belt. It is an extra long, one-size-fits-most (from waists of 23 to 48 inches), nylon and Velcro belt that is wider than most belts. Its size and design helps to distribute the wight evenly across your hips for the ultimate comfort. The belt also has a small zippered chamber where you can keep small items like a few extra batteries or digital media. But I don't believe the chamber is designed to hold much as loading it up would sacrifice some of the belt's comfort. In conjunction with the belt, you can also add the Black Widow Pad. As the name indicates, it's simply a pad that rests between your camera and your hip when the camera is in the holster. It also sports a stretchy velcro strap to stabilize the lens for longer off-time carrying. Finally, Spider Holster also offers the Black Widow Thin Plate for tripod users. The Thin Plate is moves the pin off and out of the tripod socket, freeing the socket for your tripod's quick release plate. At one end of the Thin Plate, the Black Widow pin screws into a hole using a nut and lock washer (again, using a wrench). The plate is then fastened to the camera by the tripod's quick release plate – it goes between the tripod's plate and the camera. One side effect of the Thin Plate is that it changes the way the camera naturally rests. It tends to leave the camera at rest with the lens facing forward on the body. In my opinion, this is a preferred hanging position, but it renders the lens strap on the Black Widow Pad completely useless.
Before we go on, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the capacity of the Black Widow. As you can see on this chart (conveniently provided by Spider Holster), the Spider Holster itself, fastened to any belt, can hold up to 2 pounds. Granted, I would assume a more sturdy belt would allow a little extra weight, but this is a good rule of thumb that I wouldn't push. By adding the Black Widow Belt and the Black Widow Pad, you should be able to comfortably carry a setup up to 4 pounds. Anything above that, and you really should consider the SpiderPro system.
Now I have a few caveats that I'd like to add to this chart. My smallest camera, a Nikon D40, with my 18-135mm lens is still well under the 4 pound limit (not much over 2 pounds, actually), but it does not seem to carry comfortably. I attribute this to the lens which is relatively heavy and tends to send the camera off balance. I did find, however, that the Thin Plate made the setup carry much more comfortably. Additionally, when I started to get close to that four-pound limit with my other camera, my Nikon D80 and a large lens, it didn't seem comfortable at all. So my caveat is this: Those using longer zoom lenses or those that are just a hare under the weight limit may find that comfort is sacrificed. In either of these situations, I might also recommend the use of the SpiderPro. Of course I don't feel that any of these setups that I tried put my camera at risk nor did it seem to bring the Black Widow anywhere close to the point of failure. So I believe that the weight suggestions from Spider Holster are mostly comfort limits, but they should be adhered to as they are the designers and experts of the system's limitations.
It probably goes without saying that the Black Widow – or any camera holster – lends itself better to specific types of photography over others. And so I will admit up-front that my street, urban and architectural photography styles are not typically conducive to the use of the Black Widow. Portrait and event photographers would probably find a great deal of use for a holster system. The advantage is clear: When the camera is not in use, you can easily stow it to your hip, out of the way and free up both your hands. This is ideal for down-time between setups or if you need to direct your models or clients. I, on the other hand, tried this out in two unique situations for such a system: Street photography and sports photography. In a street photography setting in the middle of the city, I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable it was to use, even in crowded settings. But I will admit that I had a bit of a concern for security. It would not be difficult for a would-be thief to quickly grab my camera out of the holster. The quick-release is bright red, even someone who has never seen the Black Widow before would be able to figure out the mechanism. So while it was comfortable, I wouldn't really recommend the Black Widow for such a situation.
As for Sports Photography, I used the Black Widow at a Mud Run event. For those of you who aren't familiar, a Mud Run is a race involving a lot of muddy terrain, stream crossings and a slew of obstacles such as cargo nets or boulder walls that need to be traversed. During part of the day, I was stationed at one of the obstacles photographing team members as they went through. This scenario was ideal for the Black Widow as I had plenty of down time between team members. I simply clicked the camera into the holster and relaxed while I waited for the next teammate to come upon us. The other part of the day had me running between two or three obstacles trying to capture specific participants going through each. I had to stay ahead of them, and I really had to run at certain situations. I was not at all comfortable running with the camera in the holster, and so the holster was essentially useless during this segment. In fact, I felt that it was actually a disadvantage even over a traditional camera strap…because during these running intervals, there was nothing protecting my camera from a drop. This is where I would have preferred to have a sling strap that was always fastened to me in some way. But it's fair to say that this isn't your typical sporting event. Shooting a football game or even a track and field event where the photographer can pretty much stay in a relatively small area, the Black Widow is a great solution.
As I mentioned above, I preferred to use the Thin Plate in conjunction with my tripod's quick-release plate. This is true even when I wasn't using a tripod (which is true of the two scenarios I mentioned above). It's purely a matter of personal comfort and carrying preference. The Thin Plate put the pin in a nice position to carry my camera with the lens forward. The lens-forward position is not the recommended position from the manufacturer, but it is my preference all the same. It's possible to carry i with the lens pointed backward, but the camera – in my opinion – doesn't hang as nicely and seems to free-swing with larger lenses. Of course, one minor drawback of my preferred lens-forward position is that the camera grip most likely rested pointing to the ground. Not a problem for carrying, but when accessing my camera, it introduced another movement as I would grasp the camera by the lens collar and then readjust my grip once I had the camera out of the Black Widow. With the pin directly in the tripod socket, I was able to easily grasp the grip immediately, eliminating one movement from my camera access. This is of course a petty difference, and so I don't mind the extra movement. Again, it's simply a matter of preference. There is one minor problem with the Thin Plate that is specific only to a few tripods: It conflicted with my tripod's quick-release lever. My tripod's plate only fastens in one way, and the lever actually flips towards the lens. The Thin Plate gets fastened so that the pin is on the lens side of the camera. Thus you see the conflict. The pin prevents the lever from opening or closing. I was able to rotate the plate about 90 degrees (or 180 degrees, if one so chooses), but then that puts the tilt grip off to one side, which is not the way I prefer to use the tripod. Note that I have a Manfroto Pan/Tilt head, a pretty common tripod head, so my scenario is not at all unique.
The Black Widow Pad is an interesting accessory. Personally, I feel that it's an essential add-on, even if you're using your own belt. After about 30 minutes of carrying the camera at your side without the pad, the comfort level starts to drop quickly. No matter what you do, the camera will have some freedom to move, and it will spend most of that time trying to bang into your hip. The pad introduces a much needed buffer between you and your camera. But the element I find peculiar is the lens strap. While it did do it's job to stabilize my longer lenses, it greatly increases access time. There is no quick-draw capabilities with the strap in place. I guess the theory is that you can use it when you have long stretches of inactivity. But couldn't one also throw it into their camera bag, or set the camera down somewhere if in a studio environment? Furthermore, if you were to use the Thin Plate and carry the way I do (again, not the recommended carrying position from the manufacturer) the lens was pointing away from the lens strap. As it turned out, the only times I used the lens strap was the few times I tried it out for the sake of this review. Otherwise, I'd never use the strap. So while I believe the Pad itself is a great accessory, don't expect the lens strap to add anything to the use of the system.
The Black Widow Belt is, in my opinion, essential accessory. I tried the Black Widow with a number of my belts, but it wasn't as comfortable nor was it as easy to set up. I often wear a belt, but as it's threaded through my pants, that means I need to thread the Black Widow through every time. And to wear a regular belt without the belt loops isn't at all comfortable. The Black Widow Belt, on the other hand, can be threaded with the Black Widow and then left that way, ready for its next use. You can quickly and easily get into and out of the belt. I even wore it over my other belts without any affect on overall comfort. My only caveat about the belt is that it is just a simple Velcro strap. I would prefer to have some sort of buckle or clasp system, or at the very least a loop so you can fasten the strap back on itself. This is of course a matter of preference, but I'd be willing to pay a little bit more just to have such a belt.
Photographers specializing in certain styles – such as portrait or event photographers, or even sports photographers to some degree – would most find the Black Widow useful. In fact, I think with these aspects of the field, the Black Widow would become a much favored photography accessory. Of course those who are shooting “in the wild” – in back woods trails or in urban environments – you may wish to look elsewhere. The security is of course a concern in such environments, and comfort won't be its best under such use. But back to those who this system would benefit, I think the system offers enough flexibility to accommodate a number of preferences. My preference to use the Thin Plate, for example, may also appeal to you and I would suggest trying it. Some may find that the pin in the tripod socket is much more appealing. As I mentioned, I feel that the Black Widow Belt is a must-have, and I would also highly recommend the Black Widow Pad if you plan on using this holster for longer periods of time.
If you are interested in acquiring the Black Widow, you can get it for about $50 USD at Amazon.com. If you're considering the Belt and the Pad, you can buy them together as the Black Widow Kit for only a little more at $66 USD. The belt and the pad, each alone, costs about $15 – so purchasing as a kit is really the best deal. The Thin Plate is also available for about $15 USD. You can also order each of these items direct from Spider Holster for about the same prices. All prices are of course as of this writing and are subject to change.
Things We Liked
- Very durable
- Comfortable carrying for most smaller cameras.
- The Thin Plate – a very simple and effective solution for tripod users.
- The Black Widow Belt with the Pad is quite comfortable, even over your other belt.
- Not perfectly comfortable with all setups. For example, my longer lenses often caused the camera to hang weird.
- The Thin Plate places the pin potentially in conflict with your tripod's quick-release mechanism.
- Security is a concern in crowded or urban environments.
- The Lens strap (on the Black Widow Pad) is essentially useless, adding unnecessary time to placement and removal.