Carrying Big White Lenses

Without doubt the weight of camera gear is of significance in nature photography which often involves long periods of carrying the equipment while looking for wildlife.   I know a number of photographers who have recently switched from heavy full-frame or APS-C outfits to the smaller, lighter lenses associated with micro four-thirds, mirrorless cameras. However, in my view, while these rigs are really good as yet they do not have the top notch quality of the big white lenses.

I use a wide range of Canon lenses with full frame cameras but my default combination is the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens with a 1.4x converter attached and paired with a Canon 1DX Mk II camera.  This usually sits on a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head and together the outfit weighs about 8kg.  Even without a camera backpack with additional gear, this is a significant and unwieldy load to lug for long periods of time.

For a number of years my modus operandi has been to carry the outfit as a single unit with the extended tripod over my shoulder so that the camera and lens hung behind me.  Since the outfit is very expensive I did this carefully!  The advantage was that outfit was quickly available for action.  However, occasional shuffling was required to shift the discomfort! 

I recently decided a change was in order.  As the photograph below shows, I bought a long strap (Black Rapid Sport Breathe) to attach to the lens/camera combination.  This has enabled me to remove the combination from the tripod and to carry it diagonally from my left shoulder so that the it rests against my right hip with the lens tripod mount supported in my right hand.  The strap has a thick shoulder pad which spreads the burden and some of the weight is in my hand. I carry the tripod and head separately in my other hand.  For me this works well.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens with a 1.4 Converter attached and paired with a Canon 1DX Mk II camera. The combination also has a Black Rapid Sport Breathe strap attached to both the camera and the lens via a Kirk QRC-1 Quick Release 1 inch Clamp.

Black Rapid straps attach to the camera by using a fastener which screws into the tripod plate socket on the bottom of the camera. Consequently, to accommodate the strap, the tripod plate needs to be removed from the camera. Then to use the tripod, the fastener needs to be removed. This is most inconvenient. However, the difficulty may be overcome by attaching a quick release clamp (Kirk) to the Black Rapid screw fastener. The tripod plate is then left on the camera permanently and the strap is attached to the camera tripod plate via the quick release clamp. In addition, the Black Rapid strap may also be attached to the lens, as well as the camera. The picture below shows this arrangement.


Camera, lens & strap

Black Rapid strap securely attached to both camera and lens with a Kirk quick release clamp.

The following picture shows shows the details of the arrangement. The carabiner attaches to the black circular screw fastener which then screws into the quick release plate. The quick release plate attaches to the tripod plate on the camera base. The male clip attaches to a female counterpart which is fixed to the lens.

Kirk QRC-1 Quick Release 1 inch Clamp with Black Rapid Sport Breathe strap and fastener.

Kirk QRC-1 Quick Release 1 inch Clamp with Black Rapid Sport Breathe strap and fastener.

For me, this method is more portable and more comfortable than my previous arrangement of carrying the rig on my shoulder. A further benefit is that when I’m in a wildlife hide with the lens resting on a window ledge the strap is around my neck and secures the outfit without causing restriction.