What can we possibly say about a camera strap? After all, if it keeps your camera off the ground, it’s doing its job. Where’s the angle? This was my main concern when we were contacted by English strap and bag makers, Hawkesmill, about putting their leather straps through the rigors of a review. After two months of daily use I can say that I’ve found the angle – Hawkesmill’s straps do indeed keep your camera off the ground, no surprise there, but what is surprising (and what makes them worthy of commentary), is their simple unmatched quality.
For shooters who want nothing but the most luxurious of gear, Hawkesmill’s straps are straps to consider. They’re extremely tough, stunningly beautiful, surprisingly functional, and will last a lifetime. All this said, these straps will not work for every photo geek, and we’ll talk about why that is soon enough. But first, let’s talk about what Hawkesmill’s done really well.
First dreamed up in 2012, the brand quickly set out with a single goal in mind – create the highest quality leather camera bags and straps in the world, spare no expense, and produce them in England. After two years of development, their bags and straps tick all these boxes. With just nine camera bags and four strap styles, the product range is concise and targeted, so if you’re ready to buy a Hawkesmill bag or strap they’ll certainly have one that fits your needs.
Hawesmill’s straps are made of something called Horween Chromexcel leather, and though I’ve been crash-coursing the jargon of leather production for more than an hour, I’m not entirely sure what that means. They say that the production of this stuff is intensely involved, and that the final result is something close to perfection in leather. I say they’re probably right, because when I got my hands on Hawkesmill’s Westminster strap, it was instantly clear that I’d never touched leather this refined.
The interior of the strap is a remarkably soft and comfortable suede. In the hand and against the neck it’s as supple as some of the neoprene foam straps I’ve used in the past, which, style be damned, has long been the most effective material for proper weight distribution and chafe resistance. The outside surface is polished to an incredible luster that’s nearly impervious to scratches. In the event that a scratch did occur, say when I was on the Flying Horses carousel with my daughter, a quick rub erased the scratch like magic. Pretty amazing, especially compared to other leather straps I’ve owned which certainly don’t look as nice and have aged terribly.
Pliability is exceptional, and the comparably thin cross-section makes this strap one of the most stow-able straps I’ve fitted to my camera. It easily wraps around a wrist or lens barrel, making it versatile for those who don’t want their neck strap to always be a neck strap. And though this description may cause some shooters to question its resiliency, worry not. This strap is exceedingly tough. I attached it to some rather overweight, non-camera items – no problems. Even the metal ring connectors, which seem heavier spec than some other strap-makers’ connectors, didn’t bend.
The neck pad found on their Westminster and Borough straps (the latter of which also features length adjustability via metal connectors) are extremely wide, resulting in excellent weight transfer. This cuts down on irritation, especially when using heavier film cameras or massive DSLRs. Even their Oxford wrist strap and the pad-less Kensington neck strap are wider than similar straps from other makers, showing the brand cares about form and function in equal measure. Stitching is robust and inspires confidence, and contrasty color selection makes for an impactful touch of style.
My strap came with a nice soft-touch pouch with a drawstring and two sets of ring connectors, small and large. The pouch doubles as a safe storage bag for lenses, film, or your pet hedgehog, while the inclusion of multiple sizes of ring connectors just makes simple sense. It’s surprising that most other strap makers don’t do this, and pleasantly surprising that Hawkesmill does.
All of this sounds amazing, and it really is. There’s just one problem, and it’s one from which Hawkesmill doesn’t hide. They describe themselves as, among other things, a “…company [that’s] willing to spend the money and develop a bag that meets all those requirements and doesn’t concentrate on the final cost.” What this means, naturally, is that their bags and straps are expensive.
They range in price from approximately $150 for the largest neck strap to $85 for the pad-less version, and approximately $70 for their wrist straps. In the world of luxurious leather straps, this is actually status quo, and I don’t fault them for it, especially when I factor that they’re making the best leather strap I’ve ever used. But it’s impossible to ignore that, for some shooters, the cost simply won’t make sense.
There are photo geeks who will reference the idea I mentioned earlier, that at the end of the day we’re talking about a camera strap. And these folk will likely feel that no camera strap is worth that cost. We can buy a neoprene strap that will do everything this strap does at one tenth the price. It will be ugly, it won’t last, but it’ll do the same job for a fraction of the cost and we can buy five of them to hedge our bets. It’s also worth mentioning that vegans will not like what Hawkesmill’s making. So as we said, these straps are not for everyone.
But this kind of left brain evaluation might be missing the point. People interested in leather camera straps are interested in them for a reason. They, like me, typically value not only the effectiveness of their gear, but also the aesthetic value of the machine. I love film cameras not only because they make amazing images, but because they’re stunningly complex and beautiful as well. And it seems almost criminal to attach a flouncy rubber strap to a Leicaflex SL2, even if that cheap and ugly strap will keep the camera safe and secure just as well as the Hawkesmill can at a tenth the price.
Is the aesthetic refinery of an impeccably designed product worth the money to you? You’ll need to decide. For me, the decision is a fairly easy one.
After months of use, the value proposition offered by Hawkesmill really pushed to the forefront of my mind. It’s a camera strap, sure, but it’s a camera strap that will last a very long time. Will it last a lifetime? I can’t speak to that, yet. I’ve had some Kodak Retina’s come through my shop with incredible leather camera straps attached, and these straps seem as good as the day they were made (sometimes better, on account of patina).
Are Hawkesmill’s straps this good? The years will tell. But if my time with the product is anything to go by, it’s not too difficult to imagine a Hawkesmill strap purchased today hanging from a Leica in forty years, feeling and looking just as good then as it does now. If you’ve got the budget and want only the best, give these straps a try. They’re really quite nice.
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[This review was written based on gear supplied by the manufacturer]