Spider Holster Update and Review: Go Strapless!

On March 1, 2010 I did a blog post about my impressions of the Spider Holster after two months of daily use. Now, after another five months of almost daily use during assignments in Sudan, Mali, Kenya, Cambodia, and Thailand, I would like to update everyone on my experience with this ground breaking product.

On March 1, 2010 I did a blog post about my impressions of the Spider Holster after two months of daily use. Now, after another five months of almost daily use during assignments in Sudan, Mali, Kenya, Cambodia, and Thailand, I would like to update everyone on my experience with this ground breaking product.

The Spider and Spider Pin

There are a number of excellent reviews of this product on the internet; and then there are some reviews based on little or no actual field experience. I have lived with and worked with this product extensively over a period of 7 months and feel comfortable telling you that most of the skepticism is unfounded. This product has improved my ability to do my job comfortably and effectively. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who’s shooting style or requirements are similar to mine.

The Spider Holster website

Back in March I stated that the spider holster is probably one of the most significant pieces of camera gear that has come out in the last few years…I was right, but things got even better.  Back in March I was using a single Spider Holster to carry my Nikon D3S with attached 70 -200 F2 .8 on my right hip, while carrying my Nikon D3S with attached 17 -35 F2.8 on my left shoulder using Al Stegmeyer’s UPstrap. There are photos of  that setup on my blog post about March 1, 2010.

image courtesy of Henry Greene

Since that, I have abandoned the strap on my wide lens camera and have gone totally strapless by adopting a dual Spider Holster setup.  I must say that it is a liberating experience not to have any camera straps on my shoulders. No more readjusting the straps to keep them in place, no more straps are falling across my diopter just as I’m trying to get a shot, no more worrying about swinging cameras crashing into things…. I can’t imagine ever go back to using straps again!

I have spent a fair amount of time reading the message boards and other photographers reviews of the Spider Holster. One of the most common concerns with the Spider Holster is safety. The purpose of this post is to dispel those fears.

Many photographers who may have not actually used the Spider Holster, postulated that it would be easy to drop your camera using the Spider Holster system. I will admit that for the first few days or week of using the Spider Holster system it does feel pretty strange to holster your strapless camera into the Spider and release it. Mountain climbers trust their ropes, SCUBA divers trust the regulators, NASCAR drivers trust their brakes and we as photographers trust our straps or in this case, our Spider Holster.

In Jodhpur India with Steve McCurry back in my “strap” days

Truthfully, after a full seven months of using the Spider Holster I find it no more dangerous than using straps. Sure, you have to pay attention that the Spider Pin has been engaged with the Spider before you take your hand off of the camera, but if you’re using straps you have to make sure the strap is on your shoulder before you let go of the camera. So in my estimation, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with a different system. Change sometimes makes us uncomfortable until we are familiar with a new way of doing things.

the Spider Belt

Another concern was raised in several reviews and on several message boards with regard to the buckle on the Spider Belt. Some authors worried that if the buckle failed their expensive cameras would fall to the ground. This was a concern of mine as well, I have had buckles fail in the past…it happens.

For many years, and to this day, I use the think tank holster system to transport my gear from point A to point B, and on my think tank belt I have rigged a redundant backup, safety strap, using a carabiner and a 4 inch “climber’s dog-bone” strap (Webbing strength: 22kN). See the photo below.

Think Tank Holster with Carabiner safety strap

I did the same thing for my Spider Holster system. As you can see in the photo below I use a small carabiner and some Kevlar reinforced nylon string given to me by photographer Harry Purcell as a secondary backup safety catch in the event that I didn’t properly fasten the buckle of the Spider Holster belt, or if the buckle itself were to fail. In it’s current form, my jury rigged “fix” is functional, but damn ugly. I’ll change it as soon as I get to Burma this October, where I know a good shoe repair guy who can sew on a high strength loop of 1/2 inch black nylon strapping.  For the time being though, this secondary safety strap prevents both my cameras from hitting the ground in the event of buckle failure.

Redundant, Carabiner-safety strap

Another concern that people have commented on is that with the weight of two heavy cameras on your hips, ones pants might, as they said  “end up around your ankles”.  I have not personally found this to be a problem, I wear the Spider Belt comfortably snug.  Even with the weight of two pro digital SLRs with big glass attached, the system stays right where it should be, during extended walks, climbing and my day-to-day activities.

At work in Manila. Photo courtesy of Red Santos

What I consider to be the biggest advantage of my dual-Spider Holster setup is that I can instantly access either one of my cameras without fumbling with bags or straps. In my particular style of photography speed is of the essence. I’m often switching between my wide lens and my telephoto in order to capture different parts of an unfolding story.

At work in Mali, photo by Tyler Rattrey, Freedom From Hunger

The nature of photojournalism is that it is often fast paced and dynamic rather than slow and deliberate.  I have to be ready and able to get the shot at a moments notice. This is of course quite different from the requirement of a landscape photographer where speed and agility is less important. Essentially, what I’m saying is that the spider holster system works for me because of the type of work I’m doing, however it will not be the answer for everyone.

Now I would like to address several of the things that I that I like most about the Spider Holster system.

I like the fact that the Spider Holster has a solid, machined feel. It feels, works and acts like a piece of high quality professional gear, it is sleek and elegant and tough.

Spider Pin and Spider

I like not having to deal with straps anymore. At first it felt strange not having straps attached to my cameras; they looked and felt so naked, but now I can never go back to straps. Less really is more!

At work in Manila. Photo courtesy of Red Santos

My neck and shoulder problems have all but disappeared now that the weight of my cameras is carried on my hips rather than on my neck and/or shoulders.

I like using the single Spider Pin rather than the “Spider Pro Plate” because I find that the cameras hang in a position that’s more comfortable and secure.

Using the single Spider Pin rather than the Spider Plate, the cameras tuck in behind my butt.  Since I don’t even own a tripod, I don’t need to have access to the tripod hole. If you use a tripod often or even occasionally, this set up would be inconvenient for you…you would need to use the Spider Pro Plate.

photo courtesy of Red Santos, Manila based Photojournalist

I like the fact that in dangerous situations and in crowds where pickpockets may lurk, I can flick the locking mechanism on the Spider so that it’s difficult for someone to snatch a camera from my hip. I also lock the Spider when I’m riding a motorbike so that if I hit a bump, the camera does not inadvertently  “pop out” of the Spider.

photo courtesy of Spider Holster

Well, now you know how I feel about the Spider Holster system. As I have stated this system is not for everyone, but for me it has revolutionized the way I carry my cameras and it has increased my comfort and the speed at which I can work. I am always looking for ways to minimize the amount of gear I carry. Going strapless by using the Spider Holster system allowed me to streamline, simplify and improve the ergonomics of my overall system.

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25 Responses to “Spider Holster Update and Review: Go Strapless!” Subscribe

  1. Henry Greene September 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm #


    I’ve been enjoying following you on your blog and just read the article about the spider holster.
    How are you liking your Nikons and have you changed your focusing method now that you’ve got the new cameras?
    Hope you’re doing well.
    Marilyn I look forward to traveling with you again someday.

  2. Karl Grobl September 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    Hi Henry,

    Thanks, for the nice comment, yes, I am enjoying the Nikons!

    To answer your question about focusing. I use single point but also here are the rest of my focus menu settings:

    a1 AF-C priority selection=Release + focus
    a2 AF-S priority selection=Release
    a3 Dynamic AF area=51 points 3D tracking
    a4 Focus tracking with lock-on=Normal
    a5 AF activation=Shutter/AF-ON
    a6 Focus point illumination,Manual focus mode= yes. Continuous mode=yes
    a7 Focus point wrap-around=No wrap
    a8 AF point selection=AF11 point

    On the front of the camera I select the focus mode as Single in most cases.
    On the back of the camera I set the AF mode to the middle setting (looks like cross hairs)

  3. Hooman September 10, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    Great post. I have been using the Spider for about 4 months now with 2 cameras, and it really is a so liberating and nice. I could never imagine going back to straps. Several clients even have commented how cool the setup is.

  4. Karl Grobl September 10, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Thanks for the comment Hooman.
    I’m glad to hear that there are other 2-camera users out there.
    I checked out your wedding photos….truly exceptional!
    Keep up the great work.

  5. Fara September 10, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Karl – I just received mine in the mail a few days ago. I ordered it based on your first review. Glad to hear you are still enjoying it.


  6. Karl Grobl September 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Fara-glad to hear that your a “convert”…you’ll never look back, the Spider Holster is fantastic. See you soon.


  7. Jordan Yard September 11, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Nice work. This could be the solution for me. Ask Jet, my youngest boy what he would think. I can’t tell you how many times while I’m picking up my kids or stooping down to talk to them that my cameras have swung over and knocked the in the head. “Daddy! Get your camera away from me!” I may get one of these. So are you saying I could ride a bicycle with one of these at my hip? Or chase my kids around the park? Or I could do pullups? Does it work decent with just one camera rather than two (for balance)? I like that the cameras hang to the side and aft over the butt. My only concern is that with the spider pro plate the camera won’t sit right, like you said. I’ve been doing some video with the big Nikon and I keep saying I’ll get a monopod or use my tripod and then I’d need the plate. But I have been getting decent video hand holding and shooting wide so things don’t shake so much, like 30mm or so, and stopping down to f8 or something so I can keep things in focus.
    Thanks. Jordan

  8. Karl Grobl September 11, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    Hi Jordan. yes, it would work nicely on a bike..I ride motorcycles in Asia while wearing the spider holster and it works great…and the one camera set up is fine too. cheers, Karl

  9. Szymek September 12, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Hi 🙂
    What’s the plan in case it starts raining?
    Do you carry plastic bags or something similar to protect your cameras?


  10. Karl Grobl September 12, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Szymek, thanks for the question. No, I don’t carry plastic bags. If it starts raining I look for shelter, and/or a place to buy a disposable rain poncho (usually ubiquitous and under a dollar in Southeast Asian countries). If I’m sure it is going to rain, I work out of my Think Tank Holster system (with rain covers built in) http://www.karlgrobl.com/EquipmentReviews/ThinkTankBeltSystem.htm . I also carry a Sea To Summit Dry Sack which is very compact http://www.karlgrobl.com/EquipmentReviews/Sea%20to%20Summit%20Waterproof%20Stuff%20sack.htm
    I have found that the pro cameras are quite capable of handling a bit of rain. I have worked out in the rain, with my cameras unprotected. I recall several shoots in Burma and East Timor where it was raining heavily and I kept working. The cameras got wet, but were not adversely effected. I cannot comment on the “waterproof” capabilities of consumer or “pro-sumer” cameras and lenses. Thanks

  11. Karl Grobl September 12, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Hi Szymek,
    Thanks for the question.
    If it starts raining I either keep shooting, look for shelter, or try to find one of those disposable rain ponchos which are ubiquitous in Southeast Asia (usually cost under $1). If it looks like it’s going to rain all day I work out of my Think Tank Holster. If I need to completely protect my gear from water I have a Sea to Summit Waterproof Stuff Sack tucked into my Think Tank bags I have worked outside in heavy rain with my cameras unprotected, once in Burma and the other time in East Timor. At least in my experience, the pro bodies and lenses can take a fair amount of water and not have any problems. I cannot comment on the consumer and pro-sumer cameras and lenses though. Take care, Karl

  12. Dean Forbes September 13, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    Interesting post Karl. My concern with the Spider is once the camera is in your hands there is no \safety net\ if something happens and you have to let your hands go free. I use the R Strap because the swivel gives you the freedom to easily bring the camera to your eye but it remains connected to your body.

  13. Karl Grobl September 13, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Hi Dean, Thanks for the comment. As a R-Strap user in the past, I agree that the R-Strap provides a bit more of a safety net because it’s around your neck and if you let go of the camera it doesn’t fall. The Spider is more along the lines of an over the shoulder strap…if the strap comes off your shoulder the camera falls. This happened to me in India as I was getting off of an elephant. (luckily my lens and camera survived…see this report by Ken Rockwell, he tested the lens for me http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses/70-200mm-f28-is.htm ). Another danger of straps (other than the R-Strap) is that straps can catch on things and pull the camera off your shoulder or out of your hand. The R-Strap is good, but I found myself constantly adjusting it and fiddling to keep it where it was comfortable…and I needed to get the weight of the cameras off my shoulders due to cervical neck problems. Many people feel uncomfortable without a strap, for me, at first, it was weird and unsettling not to have a strap..now it’s second nature.The freedom of going strapless is awesome, my work is easier and more comfortable. Stick with the R-Strap if you’re comfortable with it. That’s the good thing about all the choices we have now-a-days in terms of carrying our cameras. A few years back there were no R-Straps or Spiders! Cheers, Karl

  14. Ed Strennen September 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Hey Karl…Another great article and insight. Based on your recommendation, I used the Think Tank system for carrying my DSLRs around SE Asia this year. The Spider system looks great, but my only concern is the additional padding from the Think Tank system and also constantly showing everyone your expensive gear. I really liked the Think Tank system for traveling in crowded shady areas too. I got used to a ‘quick draw’ on the Think Tank, but I can imagine the the Spider system is even better.

    I also hiked for several days carrying the two DSLRs on my hips and never got tired. It’s a world better than any backpack method I’ve tried.

    Thanks again for your great insight!


  15. Karl Grobl September 13, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Ed, thanks for the comment. You’re correct…no padding with the Spider Holster..just bare cameras read to shoot without any sort of difficulty. In terms of showing everyone the expensive gear…yep, it’s out there in full sight but you can flip the locking mechanism and the camera cannot be lifted out of the spider. Here’s a post I did about “how not to be a target” http://www.karlgrobl.com/EquipmentReviews/HowNottoBeaTarget.htm
    Both the Spider Holster and Think Tank holster systems are awesome…I will never carry the weight of two heavy cameras on my shoulders or neck again.
    Take care and I hope to see you on another trip with us.

  16. Joe Meli September 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    This system seems quite efficacious. What is the most hostile terrain you’ve experienced while using it?

  17. Karl Grobl September 18, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    Joe Meli….the Joe Meli of Benet Academy fame, from….buh, buh, buh…Bogota? Dude, if that’s you…call me or email me. If you’re a different Joe Meli, please disregard. Yes, the Spider Holster is fantastic. I have hiked, biked, motorbiked, and even climbed water towers with it on….perhaps the most “hostile” territory I have used it in is Sudan, but that’s a different kind of hostility than I think you’re thinking of. Thanks for the comment.

  18. Theodore Paradise September 30, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    Hi Karl – I enjoy following your travels and work via the blog. This was a really interesting and informative write-up; the system immediately piqued my interest and I’ve been working through trying a few set-ups this evening with the system. For the second camera Spider, how are you attaching it to the belt – e.g. just over the top of it or putting the velcro adjustment strap through it? Also, I note that the buckle has been redesigned a bit from the one shown in the photos above. It looks like the same overall concept – a three finger release input (pushing in the outside prongs, and pushing a middle button) is required.



  19. Shey Getz October 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    The countries you list are all rather hot. I don’t see this setup working in places where you’d wear a jacket (let alone gloves), right? Also, if you need more than two lenses (or don’t have two cameras) and other accessoires, you’d need a bag. Now where would that go?

  20. Kelvin November 2, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    Hi Karl. Nice write-up on the spider system. Just a quick question. When you use a single pin, doesn’t the pin get in the way when you shoot in portrait mode? thanks.


  21. Karl Grobl November 2, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Kelvin,
    The pin in the tripod mounting hole does get in the way nwhen shooting in portrait mode, but not enough to worry about, it actually fits between two fingers.
    Thanks for the question

  22. Dan March 20, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Hi Karl!

    Thanks for the great review. A review from someone with a name and a face is always better than anonymous forum opinions! A quick question for you; Are you able to sit down without the cameras getting in the way?



  23. Karl Grobl March 20, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Yes, I can sit down with the system on, but carefully, because the lenses, especially the 70-200 will touch the floor and therefore need to be rotated as I sit down.

  24. Roland Walter February 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Hi Karl

    You are absolutely right. I use also use the spider pro holster dual camera system and I have to say it’s an amazing tool.

    I have seen in your video that you are now using a handstrap on your bodies. What is the benefit for you and and what product do you use?


  25. michele zousmer August 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    hope they come in small sizes? checking this out today. looking forward to seeing you very soon.

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