Classic camera straps
This article is a bit different. I will focus on a part of photography that is somewhat essential yet also totally neglected. We are using it every day, yet take it totally for granted: camera straps.
The emergence of camera straps
Although omnipresent nowadays, camera straps are a relatively recent addition to the photography world. The first cameras, big wooden large format cameras with brass lenses, where so big and heavy that the idea to use a leather camera strap never came to mind. Instead most large format cameras had narrow handles. They were stored and carried in suitcases together with their brass lenses, tripods, glass plates and chemicals. Serious photographers, who had a lot of gear required a coach to transport everything.
The camera case offered not only the convenience to carry but also to protect its content. And so, when smaller photographic formats were released, most folding cameras were released with a leather carrying case. Even the first 35mm cameras such as the Leica Ia did not originally have lugs to mount a camera strap, instead they were sold with fancy leather cases:
Only later models of the Leica were equiped with lugs in order to be able to use straps, like the Leica III Model F below:
Nonetheless, as photographers became more mobile a new form of handheld photography emerged. Chemical and film advancements meant that the average exposure time could be reduced. Using a tripod was no longer a necessity. A new faster, easier and safer way to carry and hold your camera was required.
A classic example is the original Voigtländer prominent folding camera. The sophisticated Prominent folding camera was far ahead of its time for many reasons. First of all it was the first camera with an integrated light meter. Unlike the cameras of its time it has an automatic unfolding mechanism. Press the button and the camera unfolds – what an ingenious little feature. All this meant that the photographer could be ready to shoot much faster than with other folding cameras. Obviously this meant that the camera had to be offered with a carrying strap – unboxing the camera first would simply take too long. And so it is that the Voigtländer prominent, which was only produced about 3000 times, is not only in high demand among collectors due to its craftsmanship and innovation but also due to its ingenious and beautiful braided leather strap.
Unfortunately most classic cameras (including the one above) are missing their original leather straps. Some straps got lost, others ripped and a lot of them fell pray to the arch enemy of leather and vintage cameras in general: humidity. As camera collectors know, humidity and the old leather cases of vintage cameras can actually have a terrible effect: the camera body becomes rusty and the glass will develop fungus. Here is an example of a Leica fodis rangefinder that was kept a bit too long in its special leather casing and was probably stored in a humid place:
A good way to preserve a vintage camera is therefore not to keep it in its’ original case.
The best modern straps for classic cameras
I received a few questions regarding which new straps I would recommend for vintage cameras. Although this question might seem obsolete with the sheer amount of strap manufacturers available, when you look at it from a usability and design point of view most modern straps are not geared towards vintage or analogue cameras but towards digital and SLR cameras. I was personally very frustrated (and I heard the same story from a a lot of other photographers) when purchasing “on the cheap” on Ebay. There are a lot of affordable straps to choose from but the quality is terrible. I especially point that out because there are big differences when it comes to leather. I had the misfortune to purchase a leather camera strap from China and the strap seemed to be getting longer and longer every time I used it.
Lance Camera Straps
Luckily a small and dedicated group of photography fans produce real classic straps. Take lance camera straps for instance:Lance Camera Straps specialize in braided straps, a complex technique that is quiet uncommon today among modern strap manufacturers.
Their braided leather straps are pretty much identical to the original straps used for the Voigtländer Prominent. The strap offers the same advantages as the original: the braided leather is incredibly light and subtle. You won’t get a more classic looking and feeling strap on the market anywhere! You can really feel the craftsmanship, something I really appreciate in a world where everything seems to be made out of plastic. While very refined (there is a ring on the wrist strap so that you can adjust it to the right size) it is also understated – the black tone is subtle and there is no logo. It simply is a wrist strap of the highest quality that lets its craftsmanship speak for itself. That way it blends in perfectly with the vintage look of classic cameras.
The original Voigtländer Prominent with the Braided Leather Wrist Strap from Lance Camera Straps – what a perfect match, hard to tell that they didn’t leave the factory together 90 years ago:
The strap will not scratch your camera and will form and adapt to you in an beautifully organic way. The leather is incredibly soft. The advantage of braided straps is that although they are very tough and can carry a lot of weight, they are also surprisingly light.
Lance camera straps also offer high grade braided chords in many different lengths and colours. The braided chords are a real eye catcher! I especially like the red one with the black leather ending. They match any vintage camera beautifully. From a quality point of view these straps are absolutely perfect! Here is beautiful red example on a Leica M3:
Another brand that manufactures great vintage style straps is Figosa. They specialize in manufacturing very strong and resistant leather straps with a vintage look. The straps are of the highest quality and are beautifully made with a lot of attention for detail. This starts with the packaging, the labeling and the fact that the straps have integrated bumpers so that your camera won’t be scratched.
Here is an example of their classic shoulder / neck strap on a Nikon F1:
I especially like the colour of the strap. Its’ a classic colour that will match any camera. When you look on Ebay for straps you will find a lot of similarly styled straps – unfortunately I also bought one and there is absolutely no comparison to the quality of the figosa one. Even a relatively heavy camera such as the Nikon F1 above is not a problem for the figosa strap. The leather is tough and can carry weight. The Ebay one became longer and longer every-time I used it. Honestly if you have money for fine cameras and appreciate their quality then get yourself a decent strap like the one from figosa. There is nothing worse than dropping your precious gear.
figosa also manufacture wrist straps with a very special “croco-style”. Obviously this is not real crocodile leather but the design aspect of the leather is really cool and gives a nice special touch. The leather is smooth and has a double stitching. Here is an example on a Leica M2:
The figosa straps, including the wrist strap above are very well made. There is a lot of attention to details and design and I really like that. All straps are made in Italy and have a little Italian flag and the figosa logo on the side. These straps will last you a lifetime!
Straps for pigeon photography
It is also interesting to point out that some forms of photography could not have been developed without camera straps. Take pigeon photography for instance.
At the beginning of the last century pigeons were first used for aerial photography in Germany. Special cameras were attached to the pigeons using straps. The shots were made with a self timer so you had to be very lucky to actually photograph what you wanted.
During World War I this sort of photography was tested by the German Military. It was hoped that this new type of photography could be used for reconnaissance purposes. After a short trial period it was deemed not precise enough and became obsolete with the emergence of standard aerial photography using planes.