If you have back pain or want the most comfortable, ergonomic way to carry camera equipment, a photo belt system is the answer. Whether you're a music photographer like me, a photojournalist, or an event photographer looking for the best way to carry gear for extended periods, a belt system will reduce pain and maximize comfort and utility.
We'll look at the kit I personally use and the approach I recommend if you want to the most comfortable carry options as a photographer.
My Photo Belt System Setup
For general photography, I use a three lens setup with three dedicated lens pouches for each lens, plus a small accessories pouch for memory cards. This kit covers everything I need as a professional music photographer covering a concert or music festival.
Here's my kit and the corresponding Think Tank Photo bags that I use.
The two parts are essentially redundant. I have my cameras mounted to the double camera strap, and I have the belt system around my waist.
Whenever I am not actively photographing, I holster the lens/camera combo in a dedicated lens pouch. What this achieves is that I get the traditional security of a camera strap with the ergonomics and comfort of a belt system.
This approach keeps the weight off your shoulders nearly 100% of the time, in theory — you're either holding the camera and the weight supported by your arms/grip, or the camera is stowed and the weight is on your hips.
However, in practice, I do put the cameras down for short periods of time, putting the weight on my shoulders. The reality is that this is just faster than holstering the lens every time, and this is why I still use a camera strap (as well as for security).
Regardless of this real world caveat, if you have back issues or pain, the holster method is going to change your life.
Why use a Photo Belt System?
There are four main reason for using a belt system:
Low profile & Compact Size
We'll look at these in depth below in the following sections.
Weight Distribution with a Photo Belt System
Using conventional camera straps, we have several pounds of cameras and lenses hanging off us from one or even both shoulders. Extended sessions with this weight can put massive strain on your neck, your shoulders, your upper and lower back and more.
With a belt system, the weight is distributed to your hips and transferred to your legs. The main stress points become your knees, rather than your shoulders, as absorbers of most of the weight.
Directly related to weight distribution is the longterm comfort of using a belt system. While transferring weight to your hips has some tradeoffs, for most people the longterm comfort of a belt system is superior to keeping the weight on your shoulders.
Unlike a traditional backpack, sling or shoulder back, a belt system keeps lenses and accessible at all times right at your waist. Nothing to take off, swing around, or even unzip.
Need to change lenses? Stow your lens in dedicated lens pouch and unmount it. Tape the lens cap off the new lens, install it on the lens you just stowed. Mount it to your camera body. You're done. This happens in seconds and you're ready to shoot again.
Low Profile & Compact Size
In the photo pits of music photography as well as other close quarter types of photography where space is at a premium, it's often frowned upon to wear a camera backpack.
Camera backpacks or even messenger or sling backs block people from passing around you, they increase your physical footprint, and more. You have to slide them around if not take them off entirely to access lenses, which create more problems.
A photo belt is much more streamlined and compact compared to a traditional photo bag. Even in the tightest photo pits, a camera belt system will let you slip past others courteously and with the lowest profile possible.
I've been using a belt system for years. It's only in the last couple years that I've perfected what I call the holster method for camera carry. Personally, I wish I'd found this setup sooner. I could have saved myself a lot of back pain!
That said, if you're looking for the most way to carry a lot of gear in the most comfortable way possible, a belt system is it. Whether or not use you use the holster method, even upgrading to a belt system instead of a heavy camera bag is going to save your back.