Black Rapid RS DR-1 Double Camera Strap Review
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Let’s get the mystery out of the way first. The BlackRapid RS DR-1 Double Strap does what it is designed to do and does it well. Whether it does what you need it to do is a very different question and its field functionality will be the essence of this review. I am assuming that you know a little about their product if you have found your way here, but if not, I suggest you visit their website before proceeding.
The RS DR-1 is great for shooting with two cameras using hand-holdable lenses. For example, I put a 70-200 on my Canon 1DsMkIII on one side and a 300mm F4 on my Canon 7D on the other and loved the ease with which I could change cameras. Lower one and pick up the other; I can’t imagine anything quicker.
If you are shooting with a super-telephoto on a monopod, the RS DR-1 has less appeal but may still prove to be a useful way to carry a second camera. Since the camera is right at your side you can just pick it up and shoot. Obviously, you could accomplish the same thing with a much less expensive single sling strap, but there are two reasons why the RS DR-1 may be more desirable.
First, the RS DR-1 hangs straight down on your side. This MAY make it easier to use in combination with a second camera on a monopod as the camera doesn’t have to come across your chest as you raise it to your eye. The motion required is similar to simply hanging a camera off your shoulder but you don’t have to worry that it will slip off at an inconvenient moment.
Secondly, if you shoot gym/arena sports as well as field sports, the RS DR-1 may prove to be very handy when you move indoors and want to use two cameras with smaller lenses.
Be aware that if you are using only one side of the RS DR-1 that you will need to attach the unused strap to a belt loop on your pants or camera belt system. This is a necessity because if you don’t attach the free strap to something you will find that the RS DR-1 slips around uncomfortably and quickly becomes unbalanced. On the plus side, this helps keep your camera belt up and/or your pants from falling down.
In terms of comfort, the RS DR-1 really takes the strain off of your back and neck. Even after three solid days of shooting a national track and field event followed by a major political dinner on the night of the third day (a lovely 19 hour day), my neck wasn’t sore and I wasn’t popping Aleve for my back as I have in past years.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, not quite. The strap is great for carrying cameras but not so great if you have to carry other things as well. This is a major stumbling point because most of us carry other equipment, extra lenses, filters, water bottles, etc. and the RS DR-1 precludes the convenient use of a backpack or shoulder bag. This is a pretty big deal actually, at least from my perspective, because I can’t really imagine a situation were I would need two cameras but no other supporting gear.
Fortunately, the ThinkTank Pro Speed Belt is a very good system that can carry lots of goodies and, by itself, it will co-exist on your body with the RS DR-1 without undue conflict. Problem solved, right? Well, not quite.
The Speed Belt works best (for me – YMMV) in combination with a shoulder harness and ThinkTank makes a great one with their Pixel Racing Harness. This keeps the belt from sliding down and distributes the weight between your hips and shoulders. ThinkTank has tried to be nice to our bodies and has heavily padded the harness and there in lies the problem. Unfortunately, using two heavily padded shoulder harnesses simultaneously (the RS DR-1 and the Pixel Racing) is uncomfortable, dysfunctional, and leaves you looking kind of silly.
So basically, at this point we have a great camera strap but no way to carry the rest of the stuff a photographer needs to do his or her job. Ever in search of solutions and refusing to be stumped, I tried using one inch webbing through some of the RS DR-1 connectors to convert the RS DR-1 into a harness for the Speed Belt. Pretty clever, right? And it worked – kinda, sorta. In use, it was difficult to get in to and out of, plus it was a real pain to adjust. I emailed Black Rapid about the issue and their response left me some hope that we may see a more elegant solution from them at some point in the future.
Still undaunted, the next stop was Home Depot where I picked up a $20 set of lightly padded carpenter’s suspenders and three D rings to attach the suspenders to the Speed Belt. Voilà! The reduced thickness made using both harnesses reasonable and allows the belt and the DR-1 to be put on separately, rather than as a single, convoluted mess of straps. This makes life much easier and the combination worked very well over three hard days of shooting.
Time to get back to discussing the DR-1 itself…
The unit comes with connectors that screw into the tripod socket. The new DR-1’s are shipping with a recently updated connector called the FastnerR-3 and that’s a very good thing. My first RS DR-1 was returned solely because the then standard FastnerR-2 are such hateful devices. The moveable link of the FastenR-2 does just that – it moves – while you are trying to clip it on the strap. If you have three hands then there isn’t a problem, but, if you only have two, it is a PIA.
The FastenerR-3 are a vast improvement and it seems very unlikely that they are going to loosen up on their own, which is the problem the FastenR-2s were originally designed to address.
Speaking of the connectors, they continue to make tripod usage difficult and require a work around. I use an L bracket on my cameras and when I know I am going to be using a tripod but want to use the strap for carrying the camera, I remove the FastnerR-3 and attach a key ring to the L bracket to which I clip the strap. This works OK, but I’ll continue to look for a better way.
While the belt itself was very well made, the stop clips that were on my first RS DR-1 were second rate. I don’t know if they were from a bad batch or just didn’t like me because the stop clips on my new strap are significantly better than those that were on my original. These seem to actually lock where you want them while the originals constantly, and irritatingly, came loose.
In researching the RS DR-1, numerous people expressed concern about the cameras swinging around too much on sling straps. I didn’t find this to be a problem at all. In fact, controlling the cameras in crowded situations required no more thought or effort than any other camera carrying technique I have used. As a real bonus, the combination of the Speed Belt and the RS DR-1 makes it easy to sit down or to visit the Little General’s Room.
Perhaps the biggest and nicest surprise is how well the RS DR-1 functions as a single strap. It comes apart easily for single camera use and is, by far, the most comfortable strap that I have ever worn. In fact, it is much more comfortable than Black Rapid’s own top-of-the-line single strap, the RS-7. The big caveat here is that there may not be enough strap length to use it as a cross body single strap if you are over 5’10” or so. Black Rapid would do well by their customers to add a few more inches of extra webbing for their taller users.
As a single strap, the RS DR-1 is great for event shooters as you can wear it under a suit jacket without a problem and sit at a table without bumping your camera. It would also probably be fine when used as a double strap for events as well, but I have not tried it. It works well with a flash (including reflector) attached and doesn’t get in the way. I spent an evening in a crowded political event without impaling anyone or bumping the camera.
If you are in a situation where there is a Secret Service or private security presence you will want to talk to them before the event and show them what you are sporting under your jacket. This is because the motion required to raise the camera to your eye using a sling strap is one of the movements that they have been trained to recognize as a potential threat. Although you may think I’m kidding, I’m not, and it may save you from getting slammed to the floor.
I am convinced that sling straps are the way to go – for me. They are easy to use, comfortable to wear, and are safer if you are climbing around to get a shot because the camera is less in the way. If you need to carry two cameras, the Black Rapid RS DR-1 is an excellent choice, not only because it is the only game in town, but because it is a good product. From a purely material perspective, it is expensive for what it is, but I would suggest that it is not unreasonable for what it does – which is make shooting faster, easier, and more effective while reducing muscle stress and physical fatigue. It kind of depends on your perspective, but for me it rates as one of my better gear buys.
If you are in the market for a single sling strap then the Luma Loop has some design advantages that might make it worth considering. In particular, the ability to connect it in such a way as to facilitate the use of a tripod and the ease of connecting the camera to the sling are particularly attractive to me. Although I haven’t tried the Luma Loop, I wasn’t impressed with the comfort of the Black Rapid RS-7, so I wouldn’t hesitate to give the Luma a whirl if their return policy is decent.