From an ergonomics standpoint, the most important aspect of any camera kit in my view is often the most overlooked: the strap. Shooting on a week-long vacation with a camera that's less than perfect in hand is usually a minor irritation at worst. In the same situation, however, a large camera on a thin, coarse strap can make an impression (both mentally and physically) that won't soon leave you. For larger, heavier cameras that don't fit neatly into a purse or pocket – DSLRs and ultra-zooms, primarily – having a comfortable way to tote the camera while keeping it close at hand for grabbing quick shots is often a must. For smaller cameras or less serious shooters, the strap that came with your camera may be sufficient, but if you've found yourself thinking, "This thing shouldn't be this uncomfortable," you're not alone.
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Enter Lowepro's flagship Voyager C, a thick, padded neoprene unit with about as many bells and whistles as you can put into a camera strap. For an accessory that most people think about as an afterthought (if they think about it at all), the Voyager is pricey. Even so, there aren't many products out there that can do more to improve the quality of your shooting experience, if not necessarily the quality of your shots.
Design and Construction
The Lowepro Voyager C is approximately 40 inches long, with a thick and soft, 3-inch wide neoprene mid-section. The rather hefty strap (it weighs in at nearly a pound, buckles and all) is sufficiently flexible in all directions, and a rubberized grip pattern on the inside of the strap is designed to hold the strap in place and prevent sliding, whether it's positioned around your neck or over the shoulder.
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On this point, note that the Lowepro Voyager series comes in two different models: the contoured C model used for this review, and a straight-profile S model that's ideally shaped for carrying your camera sling-style over a shoulder.
Compared to the thin webbing straps supplied from most camera manufacturers, the Voyager C is like having a pillow wrapped around you neck. The extra surface area alone means that the weight of your camera is distributed more evenly: with most manufacturer-supplied straps measuring in at less than an inch wide, you're more than tripling the strap contact area with the Lowepro unit. Wide and acceptably grippy for neck use, the Voyager can be easily repositioned further down on the shoulders as well, providing even better weight distribution.
Continuing its heavy-duty theme, the Voyager uses a double-ladder locking system on its buckle ends. It's virtually impossible to conceive of how this strap might work itself loose from even the heaviest camera. Quick-connect buckles on both ends are also a great idea, allowing the bulk of the strap to be effortlessly connected or removed from the camera body.
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If you shoot with multiple cameras or bodies, this quick-connect system eliminates the need for owning multiple straps: simply order a set of mounts for each body and you're ready to go. Being able to remove the bulk of the strap also means less folding, wadding, and shoving to try and make a thick strap fit neatly into a camera case alongside the camera itself.
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Given how tightly the double-ladder system locks up, the only possible complaint with the Voyager's connections concerns the difficulty of removing the strap mounts from the camera if needed. It's a fiddly system that requires some dexterous fingers to be sure, but such is the price of security. Since removing the mounts will probably be an infrequent occurrence, it's especially hard to fault Lowepro for choosing the strongest possible connection at the expense of some ease of use.
A velcro-attached memory wallet, designed to hold two SD cards, completes the package. The wallet has a nice feel, is easy to open, closes securely, and adds nice functionality without purchasing an additional accessory. Given that a strap of this size will likely have broadest appeal with DSLR users, the fact that the wallet is too small (at least in my testing) to hold CF cards is a potential shortcoming, however.
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Like most every Lowepro product I've come across, construction of the Voyager C is top-notch. The plastic buckles feel like they'll stand up to near constant use without cracking. Webbing sections are nice and thick, and transition areas to the neoprene strap center are double-stitched and reinforced with leather pads.
As noted, the neoprene strap core is thick enough to adequately distribute the heaviest camera loads, and soft enough to wear comfortably even around a bare neck. The springy material flexes and bends with easy, meaning that the camera stays put around your neck instead of sliding around like a more rigid strap is prone to do. Neoprene's inherent grippiness, combined with the rubberized inset, also aid in keeping everything steady when worn around the neck.
Even with a commercial-size DSLR complete with a battery grip, metal-cased lens, and swivel-head flash unit, the Voyager provides enough comfort for several hours of around-the-neck carrying time. By comparison, this kind of heavy, shifty set-up on a traditional nylon webbing strap would, within five minutes, give your neck abrasions that look and feel nasty enough to make you think you need skin grafts. Take the word of someone who has made this mistake.
With a compact, an ultra-zoom, or even most DSLR kits (like the Pentax K110D pictured in these test shots), the Voyager is comfy enough to wear all day. As suggested, it may be overkill for many lighter cameras most of the time, but if you're a vacation shooter who spends an entire day (or days) with a camera around your neck, you will likely start to find the added niceties of the Voyager worth the extra cost as the day wears on.
For all that it does very well, however, the Voyager C isn't perfect. I was slightly disappointed when using this strap over the shoulder: the rubberized pattern, while it looks stylish and feels nice on bare skin, doesn't adequately prevent a heavy camera from wanting to slip off a shoulder. Since the shoulder-specific S model uses this same pattern (rather than a large rubber pad for maximum slip prevention like some competitive models), while the Voyager line may work well as an around-the-neck strap, if you want the flexibility of shouldering your camera even occasionally, the Voyager simply isn't the best choice.
Likewise, in spite of Lowepro's claims to the contrary, neoprene is not particularly breathable. The dreaded "sweaty neck syndrome" manifests itself quicker than I'd like with this strap, and once this happens things head downhill in a hurry. This is hardly a problem unique to the Voyager, and neoprene does a better job than most materials at mitigating the impact, but it should be noted that there is definitely a breathability trade-off for that wide, padded section. For all-day shooting with heavy equipment, the field tested "old towel and duct tape" method of wrapping a strap may be still be a better solution.
Assuming we exclude specialty products from luxury brands like Voigtlander and Leica, the Lowepro Voyager is one of the most expensive readily available camera straps out there. In terms of all-around comfort, it's also the best off-the-shelf solution I've found. While the price is steep for a strap (I've paid less than the Lowepro's $25 street price for a cheap top-loader bag, albeit one that wasn't nearly as comfortable to carry as a camera on a Voyager), if you need or desire to carry your camera at the ready for hours at a time, the Voyager provides as much comfort and flexibility as you'll find anywhere to do the job. In short, in spite of its minor limitations, it's a solution that can be confidently recommended to serious and casual photographers alike.