Billed as a gentle 45 minute hike with a steep scramble to the hilltop, we brought snow shoes to make the way up. I had hoped for clear skies, but we got mostly grey cloud today. The site is under the stewardship of the Clifford Family, who provide guided tours of the area. Today, Howard Clifford met us and walked up the mountain with us. A very pleasant and soft-spoken individual, he provided interesting conversation and nature interpretation details along the way.
This was a good opportunity to use my Cotton Carrier vest carrier , a camera carrying system which is Canadian made, and which is very well made at that. The design uses the common sense application of load-bearing systems to carry cameras and lenses while walking, hiking, etc., without having to constantly keep a steadying hand on your camera as you do when hiking with a strap system. I'm going to talk about this system briefly (I am not being paid to do so, nor am I receiving anything from the company; I paid full price for all my products from the company, except for a lens bag which was free to all ordering a particular item at the time).
I believe the Cotton Carrier company has an extremely good idea, its Canadian-made and its an idea and a product that deserves to succeed. It may look a bit unconventional to wear your camera on your chest, but it works extremely well on active photo adventures. The Cotton Carrier vest carrier may be different than other similar items at first glance, but I believe Cotton Carrier systems are so well thought out, practical, well-constructed, that they're simply loads better than anything else in current production, way ahead of its time and will become a ubiquitous and well-used product around the world. http://www.cottoncarrier.com/
I shoot with a Canon 7D, and using an 18-200mm lens or larger, the weight is enough that the camera, swinging pendulum-like from a strap, requires that you constantly keep one hand on the camera to steady it. Not to mention that its a challenge to keeping lens filters from being damaged on a day's outing in the woods when the camera is bopping into your hip on every other step. Straps are good for modelling shoots, and casual social functions. They don't do so well on hour three of an eight hour hike in the brush.
The Cotton Carrier vest is a well-crafted product, which uses mesh in the back for comfort and ventilation, and a solid, padded area on the front where the camera is carried. The one-size-fits-all really does; I'm a pretty big guy, and this system has strap space to spare. Which means you don't have to wonder if it fits over your winter parka on back country hikes to photograph elusive wildlife. It will.
There are retention straps on the vest as well, so that when you unhook your camera from the vest, the camera is safely tethered and protected from a fall. When I go for a walk and put on the Cotton Carrier vest, I leave my BlackRapid R7 strap on until the vest is on, and then immediately tether the camera so its safe from an unintended drop once the BlackRapid is removed. Only when my camera is tethered to the vest do I unhook my general duty R7 strap, and attach the Cotton Carrier base plate to my camera. There is nothing more horrifying to the camera owner than the sound of a nice DSLR and lens making the expensive sounds of impact with the ground. The tethering system is a very good design idea.
The nice thing about the Cotton Carrier vest system, is that your camera rides on your chest. If you're walking a distance, up hills, etc, not having your camera swinging into your hip on a sling strap is a nice advantage. The carrier comes with a solid metal base plate, which screws into the camera base with a hex key. The base plate allows you to slot your camera into a vertical Lexan slot located on the chest portion of the vest, holding the camera very secure, hands-free manner. To release and access the camera, just twist and pull up. The base plate is angled, so that the camera lens angles into your body for additional stability.
This angle initially caused me a bit of a problem, since I use a lot of P sized filters on my lenses. The angle was shoving the filters into my chest. I called Cotton Carrier and ended up speaking with the owner, Joe Cotton. He was very pleasant and willing to talk about the system. He suggested I reverse the base plate (given that I wasn't using a huge, heavy lens that would cause undue torque). By reversing the base plate, the camera lens was angled away from my body. Doing this while using the large P-sized lens filters was a simple and effective fix. If I was to use a heavy lens, like Canon's 70-200 f/2.8 IS, the weight of the lens would require that I use the base plate as intended, angling the lens into the body. There's even a hide-away strap on the vest that can offer additional security over the lens, if you're using a large, heavy telephoto or prime lens. For smaller lenses, as I was using today (Canon 18-200mm and Canon 17-40mm), this security strap isn't necessary.
I liked the vest carrier so much, I ended up ordering a side carrier, which uses a shoulder strap and waist belt to hold your camera in the slotted holster, but on your hip instead of on the chest. Cotton Carrier had a free lens bag offer going when I ordered the side carrier, so I got the lens bag, thinking I really wouldn't use it much, but hey, it was free.
Well, having used it, I'd happily endorse the Cotton lens bag to anyone. The lens bag is a black ballistic fabric, with a padded shoulder strap and padded waist strap, making the fit extremely secure, but unusually comfortable. The bag zips open from the top, so that when you have it strapped to your hip, nothing can easily fall out when the bag is open. I generally use it to carry about 3-4 P sized filters, adapter rings, hex wrench to keep the base plate tight, cleaning solution and cloth and a spare lens as large as my Sigma 70-300mm. Having all of these bits right on your hip, easily available, is hugely convenient and much easier than carrying a knapsack camera bag. The hip bag is small enough to be light, portable and convenient, but large enough to be useful. The fact that it keeps a small array of critical kit securely and comfortably at hand makes it far and away the best system for active use storage I have ever seen. Knapsacks require that you remove them to access items, shoulder bags are good for going to Starbucks and walking around town, but not so useful on hikes over hill and over dale. This system keeps a lens and other mission critical items right at your hip, next to your hand. Extremely accessible, practical, and comfortable.
There's a picture of me on this post, wearing the vest carrier and side bag. My bagged out jacket isn't the most slimming view, but you can see the camera on my chest and the lens bag on my hip. Everything you need for a full day's outing, hands-free and secure to the body. You could run a marathon with this kit, and it wouldn't drop items. I find that on hikes through the brush and back country, I'm supremely confident that I'm not inadvertently losing expensive filters, adapter rings, etc., as I thump along.
There are a few other pictures of the view from the mountaintop, as well as a few pictures of our very pleasant guide, Howard, who conducts tours of the area as part of a stewardship program with the Mississippi Conservation Authority. The chickadees know Howard so well, that when he puts seed on his head, they land in his hair for a snack stop. The contrast of his character-rich features with a small bird on his head make for a great subject.
We plan to make the trip back--about an hour and forty-five minutes from Ottawa--to try and capture a nice sunset on a clearer day. We wanted to go today so we could get an idea of the trail.
Until next time, stay safe, and stay out there. And remember, you can't get great pictures when you're watching t.v.