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My review of the Cotton Carrier DSLR camera carry system.

Saturday, August 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


As regular readers of my blog know, I love to mountain bike and I love photography. I do a lot of cross-country mountain biking in the beautiful and expansive Wekiwa forest, and so taking my camera along seems only natural. Up until recently I always stuffed my camera (the Canon EOS 60D, usually outfitted with a superzoom lens like the Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM IF) into the back of my Camelbak HAWG hydration backpack. While the camera and lens fit just fine into the cavernous Camelbak HAWG, this setup was less than ideal simply because it was time-consuming (and a real pain) to retrieve the camera. When I saw something I wanted to photograph I’d have to stop the bike, get off the bike, unbuckle the Camelbak from my body, remove the Camelbak and hang it from the bike’s handlebars, unzip the compartment where the camera is kept, retrieve the camera and then either put the Camelbak back on, or lay the bike down with the Camelbak on top of it. I can’t tell you how many great shots I’ve missed because by the time I completed all of those steps the subject (often animals or birds) were long gone.

In search of a better system, several months ago I put a call out to the readers of this blog looking for suggestions. While there were some nice products suggested, none of them really improved on what I was already doing by a significant margin. The hunt continued…

About a month ago I was browsing a photography forum when I saw a thread about mountain biking with a DSLR camera. In this thread someone recommended a product I’d never heard of before, the Cotton Carrier. I started researching the product, and the more I learned the more excited I became. The Cotton Carrier looked to be exactly what I’d been searching for.

The Cotton Carrier securely holds DSLR cameras (even pro and battery-gripped cameras) to the body during extreme activity. The system is comprised of a special vest made from 1680 Denier Polypropylene material fitted with a Lexan camera receptacle; on the camera you’ve got an anodized flat aluminum hub, a stainless steel marine grade bolt and a high-density rubber washer that attaches to your camera’s tripod mount. Cotton Carrier also supplies a camera tether as an added form of security against accidental fumbles.

The way the system works is simple: to remove the camera simply rotate it 90 degrees and pull it up. The camera comes right out of the vest and you’re off and shooting. To place the camera back in the vest, turn it 90 degrees, insert the hub into the vest’s receptacle and simply let the camera swing down to lock it securely into place.

OK, so clearly this product looked to be exactly what I needed. But would the Cotton Carrier perform as designed out in the real world, and would it be comfortable? I decided to find out…

Right after a 32 mile mountain bike ride with my Cotton Carrier.

Right after a 32 mile mountain bike ride with my Cotton Carrier.

When my Cotton Carrier arrived my initial impression was that it was extremely well made. The Cotton Carrier is backed with a lifetime warranty, so the manufacturer clearly stands behind the materials, workmanship and design of the the product.

I read through the simple instructions and then began the process of fitting the vest to my body. The height of the chest receptacle harness is easily adjusted using straps, buckles and Velcro, and so is the fit across the chest. Cotton Carrier claims that the product can be adjusted to fit a wide range of chest sizes, from 28 inches all the way up to 70 inches. It took me about 30 minutes of adjustments and quick test rides on the bike to get my Carrier dialed in. Once I was pleased with the fit there was a good deal of excess strap hanging off the sides. There really was nowhere to quickly and neatly tuck the straps away, so I simply cut off the extra strap off and then used a lighter to seal the edges. This is not a big deal if the Cotton Carrier will only be used by one person, but if it is going to be shared by two people with different body types the excess strap flapping around might be annoying.

Since receiving my Cotton Carrier I’ve biked about 70 miles, mostly off-road on the trails. The most amazing thing about this system is how incredibly comfortable it makes carrying the camera! Not only did I experience literally zero neck or back strain, I almost forgot that I had the darn thing on. When I carried my camera in my Camelbak I could really feel feel the extra weight back there. Having the camera in front feels much more stable, sort of balancing out the weight of the water and gear I have strapped to my back.

I was concerned that the camera would bounce around as I hit jumps and rode over large sections of root and rock, but the camera remained stable and unobtrusive the entire time. The system is designed so that the camera is held close to the body, but the vest and the camera never felt uncomfortably tight. Even when I was completely out of breath I never felt like my breathing was restricted by the vest.

The lens I usually take with me when I’m mountain biking is not a particularly long lens when it’s retracted to 18mm, and that’s the position I keep the lens in when I ride. Lens creep would definitely be an issue, but my lens has a lockout switch. Cotton Carrier does supply a Velcro lens stabilization strap that allows very long lenses to be held down, but I found that I did not need to use it with my lens locked at 18mm.

As a test I fully extend my lens to 250mm and used the Velcro lens stabilization strap to hold it in place. While the strap worked like a charm, I found that the long lens really interfered with my ability to pedal, even with the vest mounted high on my chest. This probably would not be an issue if you’re hiking or skiing, but definitely something to think about if you’re taking long lenses or superzoom lenses without a lockout mountain biking.

Of course the whole point of the system is to allow the user to quickly go from whatever activity he or she is performing to shooting. Once again, the Cotton Carrier absolutely shines in this area: I can finally transition from mountain biking to shooting in a matter of a second or two. After all this time of going through such a long and tedious process to retrieve my camera, it’s incredibly liberating to be able to simply reach down, grab my camera and start shooting.

The only negative aspect of a system like this (and this is obviously not the fault of the Cotton Carrier), is that the camera is exposed. That means when my bike is slinging up mud and sand the camera is getting some of that. I will note that because the Cotton Carrier is designed to hold the camera tightly to the body, the lens surface was very well protected by my body. I never put the lens cap on, and even after 70 fairly muddy miles my glass remained spotless. The camera body and the exterior of the lens, however, required some post-ride cleaning.

EDIT: I was informed by the makers of the Cotton Carrier that they do offer a very handy rain cover to address the above issue. Why am I not surprised that they thought of that? 🙂

My search for the perfect DSLR camera carry system is over. The amount of thought that went into the Cotton Carrier is evident in every component. It’s light, strong, comfortable and it really works. Thanks to the Cotton Carrier I can finally combine mountain biking and photography without one activity getting in the way of the other. I’m absolutely thrilled with the Cotton Carrier, and I give it my highest recommendation.

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