When my sister and I came across the Hold Fastweb page, we were both amazed with Matthew Swaggart's idea of producing equipment from natural materials such as leather, duck canvas and rope. Surfing through the product gallery made me whine "I want this, and I want that!" Therefore we decided to contact Matthew, and offer him to review some of his products. His quick, positive response put a smile on both of our faces. After a few weeks, the package finally arrived at my post office.
Let the tests begin!
In the course of several weeks I have put Hold Fast Money Maker and Ruck Strap through serious tests. They have been tested around horses because this is my most frequent environment, which is not really camera-friendly, owing to a lot of dust, mud, sudden movements and the real danger of somehow breaking the equipment. I had no intention of sparing the Hold Fast gear in any way. I wanted to see how far it would follow me, and how reliable it was. While I made use of the Money Maker mostly in high performance photographing, the Ruck Strap came in very handy in more leisurely shootings. Today, I am bringing you review of Money Maker and the one for Ruck Strap will be following in a day or two.
Money Maker, my new best friend :)
What is the Money Maker? Unfortunately, it is not a cash machine, but it will most definitely make your life easier while you are working. Since I am almost always in movement with my camera, keeping my equipment in a camera bag is not always the most practical solution. Money Maker is a camera harness produced from high quality leather. Two belts are connected on your back, both adjustable in size, so you do not have to worry about them fitting you or rubbing your back in any way. Each belt has one loose camera leash that slides up and down the belt with ease, and is attached to your camera with the Camera Holdfast (two of them come with the package). The carabineer that you attach your camera to is really strong and closes like a clamp, making it truly "will stay closed under any circumstances" reliable :). When any weight is attached, the camera leashes slide smoothly to the bottom of the belts, just a bit behind your hips, so the weight does not swing around and you have almost no worries that you might hit something. If this weight is your camera, it is perfect because the camera body will be on your hip (available for fast drawing), while the lens will fall behind, to your rear, keeping it safer. The Money Maker has four more free links (two on each belt), which you can use in any way you want - strapping a third camera leash to them, or attaching anything else that might be helpful to you at the given moment. The leather that it is made of is thick and sturdy, which gives you the security that it will not be a weak link in intensive situations.
I had two tests in mind for the Money Maker, but while I was taking photos for the Ruck Strap, a third test occurred completely unexpectedly :). The very first test was assigning Money Maker as my assistant while photographing a two-day horseback riding competition on two weekends in a row. I carried my Canon 7D, along with a 70-200mm 2.8, a 28-300mm 3.5-5.6, and a 50mm 1.4 lense. Since I seldom use two camera bodies (my backup one is really overused and is not as reliable as it used to be), I had to have both L lenses with me at all times, and the 50mm during breaks. Having both lenses attached to Camera Holdfast gave me the freedom to quickly switch between the two lenses, without the hassle of unpacking my backpack, and producing noise while doing so (while covering horse competitions, you need to be as quiet as possible, to avoid scaring a horse in the arena). I attached my SanDisk memory card pocket with a carabineer to one of the free links mentioned above, making sure that everything I might need was at hand. After a whole day on my feet, running around and taking photos, I had no neck pain, as usual when carrying my camera neck strap over only one shoulder. In this way, the weight is balanced over both of your shoulders and your back, making the equipment easier to carry around. Also, a really interesting fact is that people would notice the harness, and with it they noticed me. They were all amused by it, but at the same time they admired it. People who are a lot around horses tend to love leather that is put to good use with taste.
The second test was a performance test in conditions in which I need to have everything around me, and be able to act quickly and move about. I tested the harness around several herds of Croatian coldblooded horses named "Hrvatski posavski konj", each herd containing 150 - 200 horses at once. There are around one thousand horses altogether, that graze on the pastures during the warm months. I took pictures of them in the afternoon, while the sun was setting and the horses were all heading towards the riverside to drink water and cool down after a long hot day. When I got there, two herds were already there, stallions, mares, foals, yearlings... altogether, fascinating :). I had two cameras attached to the harness, one with a wide lens and one with my regular 70-200mm zoom. I was all over the place, lying in the grass, sliding down the slopes to the shore through dust, and in no time my sneakers and socks were off and I was in muddy water to my knees, having all my equipment attached to the Money Maker. Apart from a few stains from splashing water, there were no marks on the gear. It even endured a nosy foal that was really interested in Money Maker, and tried to pull me up by grasping it with his teeth - no marks and nothing went loose. I was satisfied! I had only one slight problem, and that was when the Camera Holdfast was attached to my camera grip - it got in my way a bit because of the carabineer that it was attached with. I could not grasp the grip snugly, which annoyed me a bit because I did not have full control over my camera balance. Switching the Holdfast to the lens was not an option, because the camera leash was too short, making it impossible for me to take pictures in this manner, and I did not want to release it from the Money Maker while shooting, since I was standing in the middle of the river.
Finally, the third test, the unexpected one. When we were done with the Ruck Strap shooting, I led a horse I had borrowed from a friend of mine - Calwadus, a wonderful white Holstein gelding, who had just qualified to participate at this year’s European Championship. I insisted that I be the one to lead him, in case anything happened. I had my Money Maker on with two cameras - one with the large, white 70-200mm zoom, the other with a wide angle lens, and in addition one old camera that we used for “set” photos, when all of a sudden Calwadus got scared and jumped high in the air, pulling me up off my feet - all six of our legs were in the air before we landed back on solid ground. I managed to put the horse back under my control - and the equipment? As if nothing had happened - I was truly amazed!
There were two things I missed a bit, and I think it would be a good idea to produce two accessories that could come along with it optionally. One would be something to hold a water bottle and be attachable to the Money Maker, as it is meant for those of us who are often in constant movement outdoors, which often makes thirsty. The second accessory would be an additional pouch that you could attach to the belt to hold your smaller lenses, as there is no possibility of attaching them to the Camera Holdfast, yet they are frequently used. In the end, I also think that the camera leash should be adjustable (which would fix my problem mentioned earlier) or at least come in different sizes. Even though the camera tripod mount is really strong, the lens mount is a less sturdy part, so having a heavy lens bouncing around on it could prove risky.
+ weight is balanced well over your shoulders
+ quick access to anything you might need
+ additional links to which you can attach anything you may need
+ the camera leashes with weight slide down just behind your hips, getting the equipment out of the way
+ perfect for outdoor photographers who are in constant movement
- it can represent an inconvenience when attached to the camera grip, since it cannot be grasped as firmly
- the camera leashes are a bit too short to have them attached to a lens tripod mount instead of a grip while using your camera
Since my sister told me that the best grading scale was from 1 to 7, I shall use this scale for grading the equipment :).
My overall grade is 6/7 because the cons I mentioned earlier are really minor, and it is possible to avoid them while using the Money Maker, or fix them in future versions of it. I believe Money Maker is a must have for a photographer like me, as it gives us freedom. Now that I have tested it for endurance, I plan on using it while taking pictures off a horses back (I will make sure to post a photo of it when I do so :D)