By Kevin Carter
I was sent the BlackRapid RS-5 camera sling for review, and my first thoughts on opening the package were how is this going to work? - it's an unusual design for a camera strap, to say the least. Fo the uninitiated, the camera is held, not by the usual two eyelets on the body, but by the tripod socket underneath. Now I wasn't immediately thinking of the benefits to this, indeed I was a little taken aback to be honest.
There's no doubt it feels strange to secure the camera by just one point, instead of two, but the RS-5 sling has a fastener and D-ring made from solid steel and a high-quality rubber compression washer (pictured above) - assuring a rock-sold attachment point to your camera. While the D-ring allows you to apply a precise amount of torque and the compression of the rubber holds the fastener without fear of it coming undone, the camera hangs up-side down. That's the concerning point. But as I mentioned earlier there are several important benefits to this.
If you've ever walked around with a heavy pro-camera fitted with a 70-200mm f/2.8 you'll know that a) it's uncomfortable, b) prone to getting in the way and often getting knocked, and c) not advised by the camera makers for excessive strain on the mount. As you would attach the fastener to the tripod socket of the lens (and not the camera), that avoids that problem, and, somewhat surprisingly I admit, after the strap is correctly adjusted so the camera and lens sits in the small of your back, it's very comfortable. And it works just as well when fastened to the camera body when using smaller lenses, without a tripod collar. It falls naturally close to the body and doesn't swing about either. If you prefer you can position it to the side of your body, over your kidney, with the body pointed forward. That position allows you to grab the camera quickly and pull it to your eye, and it really is quicker than a conventional strap.
On the underside, the RS-5 has a breathable mesh and, while not thickly padded, it's comfortable enough for said pro-camera and 70-200mm. It's very well-made and there are several nice extras over the standard slings, the RS-4 and RS-7, including a magneticly secured padded pouch for a cell phone (it fits the iPhone even with a case attached to the rear), and there's a zipped mesh pocket for change, keys or some memory cards. Interestingly, the pocket is held by another magnet, rather than noisy velcro. And, finally, there is a flat, zipped pocket for notes or tickets. If you like to feel free and unencumbered while shooting - I don't like keys, phones or change in my trousers (or shorts) when I'm photographing - then the RS-5 takes care of that.
In order to get the most from the $65/£60 RS-5, and the other slings in the range, you must use it as the maker suggests. Odd, I know, but that's just how it is. The sling must be placed over your head, and not just over a shoulder. And there's a buckle that seems to serve no purpose, but is intended to keep the pad, or camera, from slipping backwards. Even so, when the pad is correctly positioned, if you pull the camera up vertically, the sling swivels and the pad will fall behind you (especially when loaded with a phone and change) and that is bothersome. If, however, you pull the camera up in an arc, the pressure keeps the pad in place on your shoulder and then it works as it was intended.
Did I find anything I didn't like? Well, no, after I followed the maker's suggestions, it worked like a dream. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, and especially so, if you walk around with a 70-200mm f/2.8, or similar, permanently attached, then I can think of no better solution. But even if you're not a sports shooter or don't shoot birds in-flight, then anyone looking for a well-made and comfortable camera strap should take a closer look at the BlackRapid range.
Take a look at this video of Tyler from BlackRapid, giving the RS-5 a once-over.