Thursday, September 29, 2016

Focus F-1 Quick Rapid shoulder sling

For a long time I have carried my photography gear in a rucksack style camera bag and it has generally worked pretty well for me. The main problem is the time that it takes to get gear out and start shooting. So I decided I needed to carry a camera already set up for much more of the time in the field. Carrying a camera on a standard neck strap, especially when you also want to have binoculars immediately to hand, is not comfortable or practical. Therefore, I decided to go for a shoulder sling type strap.

The "top of the range" model seems to be the Black Rapid Sports-RS, but at £75-80 it is ridiculously expensive just for a strap! Whilst investigating alternatives, I came across the Focus F-1. This seems to be a Chinese made copy of the Black Rapid and  prices on eBay or Amazon were around £17-20, which seemed a much more reasonable price for a strap. I found a number of reviews which said it was comfortable, well made and good value, so I bought one. That was in Feb 2016. I have used it a great deal since then, including on several field trips when I have worn it pretty much continuously for periods of one to two weeks.

Canon 60D with 100-400mm lens on Focus F1 sling
It has indeed been comfortable and the strap itself seems well made and has shown no signs of wear or weakness. The original fastening on which to hang the equipment looked like this:
Original fastening

It consists of a D-ring and a carabiner style hook with a screw-gate fastener made from some sort of hardened aluminum alloy. This clips into a loop with a tripod screw which attaches into the tripod bush on your equipment. I didn't find this fastening terribly convenient because I often needed to unscrew it and then screw on a Manfrotto mounting plate to use the camera on my tripod or monopod. I quickly realised that I could just as easily clip the hook into the wire loop on a Manfrotto quick release plate. Carried like this, I only had to unhook the gear and put it straight onto the tripod or monopod.
Note the damage to the hook caused by the steel ring of the Manfrotto quick release plate - and the fact that the hook has pulled out of the swivel in the D-ring! The cut in the D-ring was done by me with a hack-saw to remove it from the strap.
This all worked well until earlier this month, although the steel ring on the Manfrotto plate was clearly causing some wear on the softer alloy of the hook - as can be seen on the photo above. Then, whilst I was on the beach at Titchwell on 6th Sept, the hook pulled out of its swivel! Luckily, the gear dropped harmlessly to the sand without any damage.

I decided to replace the fastening with a small, steel, screw-gate carabiner bought from Amazon for £2.35. (Stainless Steel M7 70mm Length Spring Snap Hook Stainless Steel Climbing Gear Carabiner Quick Oval Screw Gate Rock Lock).
Manfrotto quick release plate attached with a steel screw-gate carabiner.

As you can see from the photo, with the carabiner "upside-down" so that the big end is on the strap and the steel loop of the quick release plate through the small end, this works well. I was a little concerned that the lack of a swivel would be a problem, but it really has not been so far - and again I have used it pretty regularly over the past 3 weeks or so.

In summary, the Focus F-1 strap itself seems fine, but the attachment supplied with it is not really strong enough - at least not for a camera and lens combination weighing in at about 2.3Kg.The substitution of a steel carabiner, which is sold as climbing gear and is rated for far more load than this, should fix the problem.