Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The M Strap

Discussions on photography forums regularly have threads on the best camera bag, the best rangefinder camera bag, and (less frequently) the best camera strap. While none of these threads are headline news, people who have more than one camera (particularly vintage cameras that no longer have the original strap) soon find themselves with multiple kinds of straps and a favorite or two among them. I have decided that three kinds are absolutely not my favorites.
  • Wide straps with “Nikon” written all over them. Wide straps with company logos were more popular in the 1970’s, but they reminded me of guitar straps with “Fender” written all over them from the 1960’s. A poor fashion statement regardless of attire. And it is hard to blend in the crowd with a “Hey, I have a Nikon camera” strap.
  • Elastic camera straps. These are narrow nylon camera straps with a large, elastic (black sponge rubber) shoulder piece. The shoulder piece can stretch, acting like a shock absorber. I suppose these are more comfortable to use if you are carrying a cinder block on a strap, but not really necessary or desirable for a small camera.
  • Shoulder straps with two big plastic quick-release clasps. These must be for people who want to release the camera from the strap and leave the remainder of the strap sitting on their shoulder or around their neck. I want a strap to securely attach me to the camera, so two opportunities for a quick release don’t give me much security.

To be honest, I don’t really like any over the shoulder or neck camera straps. If I wear it across my chest (diagonally from left to right), the camera is secure but not available for use (and I look like a nerd). If I wear it around my neck, my camera bounces on my ample stomach and I look like a tourist. If I wear it over one shoulder, it repeatedly slides off my shoulder if I reach down even a small distance. Worse yet, two of my cameras have been seriously damaged (and many more banged around but not badly damaged) due to a strap slipping or catching on something, or the camera swinging against a hard object. My Nikon EL2 dropped about 4 feet from the seat of a Suburban to a concrete curb when my camera strap snagged when someone else was exiting the vehicle. My Canon VT Deluxe was flung about 6 feet onto the pavement (destroying the lens) when the camera strap tangled in my seat belt and gear shift while I was exiting my SUV. Clearly, I have some issues with straps.
I have tried to emulate photographer friend Sonny Carter's practice of carrying a camera just about everywhere. Most of my photography is what is loosely defined as Street Photography (photographs of people and things unplanned in natural surroundings), and most of it is in New Orleans, a city who existence relies on tourists. Wear a camera with a strap around your neck and you look just a tourist, a most muggable kind of victim. So I recently started using something far less conspicuous, the M Strap. This is not a shoulder strap. It is a small wrist strap that attaches to one side of the camera.
These are not produced by Leica, and are perhaps the least advertised camera straps in existence. Seth Levine, the producer of the M Classics Bag (the subject of a later blog entry), produces and distributes these from his austere web site.
The wrist strap seen on his home page is attached to the right side of a camera. This allows one to walk with the camera unobtrusively but securely in the hand until a decisive moment nears. I used one of his straps with a Bessa R for several weeks and found it a big improvement over a shoulder strap. My only concern was that I had to adjust the strap on my wrist from time to time in order to advance the film and/or trip the shutter. Last week, I decided to switch the strap to the left side of the camera, and that is where it will stay.

Yes, I know that my thumb is over the viewfinder window. This is the only way I could photograph myself holding the camera in my left hand.
The tension on the strap attached to my left wrist steadies the camera, leaving my fingers free to focus and my entire left hand free to advance the film and trip the shutter.
Seth Levine's operation appears to be a one-man enterprise, like my other favorite web-based operations CameraQuest and Frugal Photographer. Seth is an amiable chap who is conscientious with his customers. His contact information is here. I'm in no way affiliated with Seth or his store. I think his products deserve a bit more publicity as they have been most useful to me.