I frequently browse the Canon Forums and a few weeks ago stumbled upon a thread discussing the Cotton Carrier vest made by Cotton Carrier Camera Systems (CCCS). The second I saw it on the Canon Forums I was very intrigued and watched the demonstration video on the CCCS site.
Last summer during the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, I carried my gripped 40D with a 35mm f/1.4L using the stock Canon neck strap, with my 13″ MacBook Pro, 200mm f/2.8L, and 580 EX II in my Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 35 (personal review). While the UD35 on the back pack strap converter wasn’t bad, carrying the 40D on the neck strap while walking the San Diego Convention Center floor resulted in neck and shoulder fatigue/pain.
With the 2010 SHOT Show in January, having something with better dSLR load bearing characteristics than a neck strap was a pressing need for me, so I bit the bullet and placed the order for the Cotton Carrier vest and holster kit ($139 + shipping) in the first week of December. After a few days it completed a trip from Vancouver (Canada) down to Riverside (California).
The complete CCCS comes with the vest, holster, two (2) inserts, a few Cotton Carrier business cards (to give to interested people who happen to see you using the CCCS), and instructions all bundled in a mesh drawstring bag.
The Cotton Carrier system revolves around the use of proprietary plates (dubbed by CCCS as ‘inserts’) that screw onto the camera tripod mount (same thread pitch).
It is these plates that then insert into the vest or holster. If you want to use gender terms, the plates on the camera would be ‘male’ and the plates on the vest and holster are ‘female’.
The male inserts are simply screwed on the camera and tightened using a coin (a US nickel or quarter work best).
Note the directional arrow on the insert in the above photo. This is an index mark to indicate the direction in which the insert will go into the plate. The insert is designed such that it can only move in and out of the vest or holster plate in one specific directional axis. Thus, I put the insert onto my camera bodies such that I have to rotate the camera 90 degrees in order to take the camera out of the vest or holster. The camera will not come out in any other direction.
After following the instructions on adjustments and how the vest should be worn (high on the chest), I played around with the vest in the house and immediately liked the ease of use of the vest.
As far as the holster, it was actually designed to fit on the right side of the camera vest (see: http://buy.cottoncarrier.com/v/vspfiles/photos/100CCS-2.jpg). I tried it that way, but found that the holstered camera was in a position too awkward on the abdomen for the camera to be easily unholstered/reholstered. The vertical location isn’t necessarily a problem, but coupled with the fact that it’s about 45 degrees from center at the same time makes it very difficult to unholster the camera. Anyone who has shot in action pistol matches knows that a lower holster is actually better for easy (un)holstering. Thus, I decided to buy a Think Tank Photo Steroid Speed Belt V2.0 in order to carry the CCCS holster lower (on the hip).
Note that before I discovered the Cotton Carrier via the Canon Forums, I was looking into a Think Tank Photo solution for carrying two dSLR bodies at SHOT Show. I was considering getting one of their dedicated camera belt packs like the Speed Racer or getting a standalone belt with modular pouches and holster bags. So with all the researching into TTP products, I was already familiar with the Steroid Speed Belt and coupling it with the the Cotton Carrier holster seemed logical.
While this write-up is meant to focus on the CCCS, I can’t ignore discussing the TTP Steroid Speed Belt since it fits within the scope of the CCCS application. The Steroid Speed Belt is very well built (it should be for the $47.50 MSRP) and is the thickest/widest of the three belt models they manufacturer (‘Thin’ and ‘Pro’ being the other two).
The load bearing portion of the belt is well padded and is very comfortable. Note that the TTP camera belts were designed to be used with their modular, skin, and holster pouches, and thus, were meant to carry lots of weight dispersed around the waistline.
The above photos show me wearing the TTP Steroid Speed Belt over a standard dress belt with a Canon 40D + BG-E2N + 70-200mm f/4L. Amazingly enough, the belt carries the weight perfectly and it doesn’t sag with all the weight being on only one side of the body. Of course, the key is to make sure the belt is adjusted properly for your body. I purchased the ‘S-M’ size belt which is supposed to fit 27-34″ waists. I have a 32″ tape measured waist, yet I easily have a good 4-5″ extra length on this belt in the unlikely event I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet when sporting this belt.
With all of this said, how does it actually perform? Well, I finally got around to actually walking around with the CCCS vest and holster + TTP Steroid Speed Belt last Sunday when I visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park. I walked into the SDWAP with the Canon 7D + BG-E7 + 200mm f/2.8L and the Canon 40D + BG-E2N + 35mm f/1.4L outfitted on the CCCS vest and holster. No neck/shoulder straps or other bags. Just the cameras on the CCCS and all the incidentals in my pockets (wallet, keys, extra CF cards, Lenspen, and some coins/tools for emergency tightening of the CCCS inserts). Frankly, the CCCS performed great.
I had zero neck or shoulder fatigue during the four hours I spent wandering the park. If anything, I felt some fatigue in my lower back. I think this is expected when you have a gripped dSLR body and a telephoto lens strapped to your chest adding extra weight forward of your center of mass. I think the key to minimizing the effect of the extra weight pulling your chest forward when walking around with a camera on the vest is to make sure the vest is worn as high on the chest as possible and to walk straight (good, upright posture).
As far as security of the cameras, I didn’t worry at all about the cameras dropping. I just had to make sure I didn’t brush anyone or any objects too closely/sharply along my right side since the holstered body was protruding off my right hip.
During my SDWAP photo walk on Sunday, a few people inquired about the CCCS setup and I answered questions and gave out the cottoncarrier.com URL. Those people were quite impressed by the concept especially from an ergonomics standpoint. Here are a couple photos from that day:
So the final verdict? I highly recommend the Cotton Carrier vest or holster to anyone who fits one of the following criteria:
- Needs a way to carry a camera for extended periods, but has neck/shoulder problems when using a neck strap.
- Is an event photographer.
- Wants to look like a total photography geek.
The CCCS definitely attracts attention, which may or may not be desirable, depending on your personality or ego. But it is an excellent system for anyone who is in a situation that requires having their dSLR(s) at the ready for extended periods. There are sling style straps like the Black Rapid R-Strap which also address the issue of neck strain, and that may actually work just as well as the CCCS for many people. But I feel that the CCCS keeps the camera(s) more stable as the operator moves while the cameras are in the carriers. The cameras don’t have excessive swing as the operator moves.
The following video is intentionally over-the-top / tongue-in-cheek, but brings the point across.
Anyway, if you feel the Cotton Carrier might fit your needs, give it a try. If you don’t like it, I’m sure you can easily flip it for a small loss (think “rental fee”) on a camera/photography forum.
I look forward to using my CCCS at the 2010 SHOT Show in Las Vegas this January. I have a Think Tank Photo Speed Changer modular bag enroute from Adorama to carry some accessories (lens, cleaning gear, memory cards, etc) while I walk the SHOT Show floor. I may order a couple more TTP modular pouches to round out my event/active photographer setup.
Addendum (added 2010-01-25):
Last week I went to SHOT Show 2010 in Las Vegas and used my Cotton Carrier Camera Systems vest and holster in combination with the Think Tank Photo Steroid Speed Belt. The Speed Belt also had the Speed Changer and Lightning Fast modular bags attached. This was the first time I used this specific rig configuration.
I spent about 5-6 hours on each Tuesday and Wednesday walking the exhibition floors (and an additional 3 hours on Thursday) carrying a gripped 7D on the vest and the gripped 40D the holster.
I can attest that this setup was extremely comfortable. I had zero fatigue as a result of carrying my camera gear. The only fatigue I did experience was with my legs (with all that walking) and my shoulder due to carrying tote bags filled with company literature and free swag collected on the show floor, neither of which were caused by the CCCS rig.
The system proved to be very efficient as well. I had zero issues getting to either of my camera bodies when I needed to, quickly and effectively.
After wearing this rig for nearly 15 hours over the course of three days, I definitely feel that the Cotton Carrier with a TTP Speed Belt is THE way to go for the active shooter.
During the show, I was approached by several people regarding the camera rig. They were very intrigued by how I was carrying the cameras and after I did a demonstration for them they were further impressed by the Cotton Carrier.
I ended up handing out the only three Cotton Carrier business cards I had in my business card holder, plus all of my personal business cards with the cottoncarrier.com URL (and my own website URL for this review) handwritten on the back. A few of the people I spoke to ended up being wedding photographers on the side and felt that the Cotton Carrier would be extremely valuable for their gigs.
If anyone I met at SHOT Show this past week reads this and ends up ordering a CCCS, I hope the system works as well for you as it has for me. Best of luck. Maybe I’ll see you at SHOT Show 2011 wearing a CCCS vest.