BlackRapid and OpTech sling and strap systems compared

BlackRapid and OpTech make a wide range of camera straps, slings and solutions for all manner of photographic equipment. For many years I used simple cloth straps on rangefinder cameras and an OpTech Pro strap for SLRs.

Now that I have moved to lighter micro four thirds Olympus cameras for most of my photography, it has been time to reassess and I thought I would share my findings - the short answer of course, like everything else, is that there are compromises.

BlackRapid make a range of straps for cameras, ranging from some pretty heavy duty dual straps for heavy, gripped DSLRs through to lighter straps for smaller bodies and even mobile phones. They also produce a number of accessories and fittings.

The basis of the BlackRapid system is an eyelet, known as the FastenR5 FR-5 Breathe, that screws into the tripod mounting with a thick rubber washer. All their straps attach to the eyelet with a sturdy carabiner with screw in latch, which they call the CR-3 Connector, which is integrated within the straps.

I have always liked wrist straps on smaller compact type cameras, and would sometimes use a leather wrist strap on my Leica M film bodies. Larger cameras with excellent ergonomics, like the Nikon D750 and Olympus OM-D E-M1, can be comfortably and securely held in one hand. For street photography this means they are ready to use rapidly and a simple wrist strap provides security, but is less bulky than a traditional neck strap.

The BlackRapid Wrist Strap Breathe lived on my E-M1 Mark II most of the time since I purchased it last summer. It consists of a nylon webbing strap with a sliding adjuster and the CR-3 connector, with LockStar Breathe - the lock star is a plastic clip that stops the carabiner releasing. It sounds a lot. This in fact is what led me to look around, it is extremely well made and engineered, but in fact probably over-engineered and bulky for a wrist strap.

When walking around with anything other than a compact camera for several hours, a sling type strap is preferable. This is where the systems come into their own, allowing quick switching between straps without fiddling with keyring type strap mounts.

The BlackRapid Cross Shot Breathe was my choice - it is a simple webbing strap with a heavy but comfortable rubber shoulder grip - length is adjustable. The same CR-3 connector and LockStar that connect to the FR-5 eyelet are free to slide on the webbing, subject to a couple of simple stoppers to restrict the movement if required.

Perhaps because of the size of the overall strap, this feels less “over the top” as a solution and is very comfortable to wear and works extremely well. There has always been the nagging worry of two things however, firstly that the weight of the camera and lens is borne by the tripod screw, which is not designed for this purpose and, should it fail, I suspect would be met with a shrug from the manufacturer - they provide perfectly good eyelets for strap mounting which they would (or should) accept responsibility for. Secondly there is considerable - albeit anecdotal - evidence of the tripod screw unscrewing, leading to the camera and lens falling to the floor without warning. Although this seems unlikely, it is certainly not impossible and indeed, BlackRapid produce a rather inelegant tether strap to mitigate this - it consists of a (very expensive) short length of thin webbing to be attached to the camera strap eyelet and to the CR-3 connector with another carabiner.

Before moving on to the alternative, I will mention that I also have the BlackRapid “Tripod Plate 70”, which is an Arca Swiss compatible plate with an eyelet built into the screw, for connecting the BlackRapid straps to instead of the eyelet - I have used it occasionally - its fine!

OpTech’s systems have been around for very many years and most photographers have heard of, if not used something from their range. They are in fact a few simple, well made neoprene or composite straps and a plethora of different connectors - it is a truly modular system. I have used the wrist strap and Mirrorless Sling with my Olympus. These use their Mini QD connectors which attach to the camera’s strap eyelets via thin (1.5mm) but very strong nylon cord.

The wrist strap or Cam Strap QD, is pretty much perfect - light in weight, simple, strong and very comfortable over extended use. It consists of a neoprene band with a plastic slider to adjust how tight it is around the wrist. I don’t dangle the camera from the strap (though I could safely), but lightly hold it by the grip with the wrist strap on for security.

The OpTech Mirrorless Sling adds a thin piece of webbing to one of their standard straps. The webbing has two QD connectors floating on it, to form a traditional style shoulder sling that allows the camera to slide along it as required. The shoulder strap component is very comfortable with a suitable amount of springiness - quality is very good indeed - all as I would expect from OpTech. Again it is worth noting that they use two connectors, one specifically noted as being for a “security lanyard” - in other words to connect both camera strap eyelets to the sling rather than one. This is in fact a drawback and is a big part of my negativity over this sling. Because the camera hangs sideways it tends to spin considerably more than with the BlackRapid sling and the arrangement of connectors and security tether gets twisted very quickly, so when needing to use the camera, you have to “unspin” and untangle a bit first. Add to this the fact that the camera does not slide as well along the webbing as the BlackRapid system and I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. The metal connector and swivel slides along the BlackRapid webbing much smoother than two plastic QD connectors on the skinny OpTech strap - petty as this may seem, it is very noticeable in use. I ended up disconnecting the sling element of the OpTech strap and connecting it straight to the camera as a conventional neck strap after an hour - a testament to the flexibility and modularity of the system, but not to the OpTech sling as a practical accessory.

So where does this leave me?

As most of the time I use a wrist strap, I will continue to use the OpTech wrist strap. For a sling however, I will stick with the BackRapid Cross Shot Breathe but rather than use their slightly bulky tether, I have used a Dyneema loop to connect to the camera strap eyelet via an OpTech QD connector for quick removal. It does mean when I want to switch between sling and wrist strap, I have to screw in or remove the tripod eyelet, but it’s as good as it gets for now. Having the camera hanging upside down from the sling via the tripod thread, means it spins less and is easier to grab and use quickly and easily. If I used the sling more and wrist strap less, I am certain I would happily compromise with the slightly bulky and over engineered BlackRapid wrist strap.

I added an OpTech QD connector to go through the loop on the BlackRapid tripod plate for the occasions I use a tripod so I am truly in a hybrid situation between the two brands for now.

As photographers, we are spoiled by a vast array of accessories and there really are so many options. It is worth finding a good camera shop who are happy for you to unpack and play with these things prior to purchase, although “real world” use will undoubtably get different results. I have looked at a number of other alternatives - despite having a loyal following, I found the Peak Design straps uncomfortable, although very well made and thought out. I was very tempted by the option of using a military style QD connector clipping in to a Really Right Stuff tripod plate - this could easily be adapted to work with the BlackRapid sling - if I used a tripod more, that is the route I would go for sure - no bulky eyelet and carabiner arrangement and complete reliability.

Lots of good options!

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