Spider Holster’s Black Widow DSLR / camera belt holster review

spider holster

There aren’t too many new camera peripherals that do something truly new. Sure, quite a few of them complete a familiar task with more ease and less clutter, but the Black Widow by Spider Holster is an entirely new way to manage your primary or secondary camera. What’s unique about this device is that it can be used by both professional photographers as well as vacationers who simply wish to keep a camera at their hip at all times. Those afraid of missing “that moment” can probably relate. The concept here is really simple: it’s a belt that’s attached around you via a wide Velcro band, and there’s a small ‘catching’ mechanism on the side that sits right beside your leg. You screw in a small, silver knob into the bottom of any camera that accepts a traditional tripod thread screw. The knob then slides down into the socket on your waist, and there it hangs until you need it. A small red thumb switch unlocks the slide, allowing you to easily release the camera with one hand and pull it out for use. When you’ve got the shots you want, just drop it back in the holster. Read on for my full review, as well as a quick video showing exactly how the system works.

%Gallery-119802%I recently used the Black Widow while shooting a wedding, and it dramatically improved my workflow and enabled me to capture shots I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get. Quite simply, it allowed me to always carry around a secondary DSLR with an ultra wide-angle lens lens, and without having it right there at my waist, it would’ve been far tougher to reach into a backpack or messenger bag to grab the second camera. The convenience factor cannot be ignored. It also does an outstanding job of weight distribution. Lugging another camera over your shoulder or back takes a toll on your after a few hours; this hip solution didn’t bother me at all, even during an eight-hour shoot. For travelers, this seems like an awesome solution for carrying a camera while hiking or in a theme park.

spider holster

Why tie up a hand or have something strapped around your shoulder when you can have it around your waist? For adventure photographers, who simply cannot go to a destination without two cameras and at least two lenses, this is one of the simplest ways yet to carry that second rig. The only major nitpick I had is that the silver knob screw-in piece tends to work itself loose after a number of hours, so be sure to check its tightness every so often, particularly if you’re moving around with any frequency. Also, if you’ll need a tripod mount on the bottom, this system simply won’t work. My workaround is to keep my primary camera ready for tripod use, while using the holstered camera as a handheld-only unit. The other option is to buy a $15.99 tripod plate, which enables the use of tripod mounts while also supporting the holster.

Otherwise, it’s $49.99 well spent if you’re the type who is constantly trying to juggle a pair of cameras, or would like to travel and take shots without always having a camera in one of your hands. A more rugged and advanced ‘SpiderPro System‘ is also available now for $135, catering to those with larger DSLRs and lenses; if you have a trusty belt already, the $8.99 Belt Pad can slide onto just about any belt and provide the same holster action. Lastly, it’s totally possible to hang a camera from each hip if you add a socket on each side.


Columbia Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker Softshell electric / heated ski jacket review

columbia circuit breaker

It’s a mouthful of a name, but Columbia’s new Circuit Breaker Softshell heated jacket is exactly the kind of hardware that avid winter adventurists and residents of frigid locales have been clamoring for. Heated gear has been around for awhile, but older implementations have generally been prohibitively expensive, extremely bulky and short on life. Reviews have generally been mixed, and the cold weather world at large has really been waiting for battery and charging technologies to advance to a point where a heated jacket could be taken seriously. The Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker is it.

This coat is one of three new launches from Columbia for next ski season (it’s slated to go on sale to the public on October of 2011), accompanied by a pair of Omni-Heat electric boots and a set of electric gloves. For this review, we’re going to focus on the most sophisticated of the three: the Circuit Breaker Softshell jacket, albeit a pre-production version that may be altered ever-so-slightly prior to October. Was a jacket filled with heating elements able to keep our core satisfactorily warm during a frigid snowmobile trip through northwestern Montana and during a near-blizzard at Whitefish Mountain Resort? Read on to find out.
%Gallery-114914%The design of the Circuit Breaker Softshell is what really sets it apart, and why it’s likely to be very appealing to travelers looking to keep their load light as they engage in winter travel. The jacket is essentially the same size as any other non-heated ski jacket, but it’s actually thinner, lighter and more flexible than bulky coats which rely on thick layers to insulate you and keep you warm. This jacket is able to trim down on materials thanks to the heating system that runs throughout the fabric; the electric nature more than compensates for the thickness that’s lost. The other incredible part about this system is that you can’t actually feel it while wearing the coat. If there are hundreds of heating tubes ran throughout, you won’t ever notice them until you feel your body warming up. If you’re concerned about tubes or wires inhibiting your motion while wearing it, don’t be — it feels like wearing any other jacket save for one thing.

columbia circuit breaker

That “thing” is weight. On the inner side of each chest section, there’s a clear pocket where a battery pack is stored. The Circuit Breaker can run off of just one, but the battery life suffers. With both packs installed, the coat is definitely heavier than your average non-electric jacket, but once you’ve put on the rest of your winter gear, you’ll forget about the added weight. In our opinion, the added weight is worth carrying around for the benefit of having heat. This is still lighter than some of the older heated solutions on the market.

columbia circuit breaker

Continuing with design, the outer layer of the jacket repelled sleet and heavy snow with ease, and the hood was always easy to find and flip up onto one’s head. There are two waist-level pockets on the exterior, an external chest pocket, and a handy arm pocket that is perfect for storing loose change, lip balm, etc. Turning the heat on and off couldn’t be simpler; just press the button on the front of the coat for three seconds, and it’s flipped on and set for maximum output. Another gentle press turns it down to Medium heat, and another lowers it to Minimum heat. You can disable to light if you wish by holding it for ten seconds (that’ll force the coat to enter “Stealth Mode”). In practice, the button worked great, even when mashed with a gloved finger.

While the design is stellar in most aspects, we did find a few gripes. For starters, there are no extended zipper pulls on the waist-level pockets nor on the arm pocket. For whatever reason, the only extended pull is on the outer chest-level pocket. Columbia should’ve included extended zipper pulls on all external pockets; any skier will understand the difficulty in operating a zipper with a gloved hand, and having no extended pull really made these particular pockets difficult to access. Moreover, the internal clear pockets that hold the battery packs need to be larger; once the jack to each battery is inserted, it’s a tricky process to wiggle the packs into their holsters. A bit more room on the Velcro pockets would have been appreciated. There’s always the slight possibility that the company would add these prior to a full-scale launch, but at worse, you could add your own pulls if you end up sharing our problem.

columbia circuit breaker

Speaking of the battery packs, each one can be recharged via microUSB, and Columbia (thankfully) includes two microUSB charging cables and a single AC adapter that accepts two cables at once. That means a single AC plug can charge up both packs at once — nice! What really impressed us was the extra adapters that were included; anticipating that some buyers may take this jacket to international ski resorts, a number of internal AC plug adapters are included so that you can recharge your coat regardless of where your travels may take you (Swiss Alps, anyone?). This may be an under-appreciated extra by many, but here at Gadling, we’re huge fans of any company that includes support for worldwide power plugs.

columbia circuit breaker

We heard early on that Columbia expected the Circuit Breaker to provide around six hours of heat with both packs fully charged. When we broke out on the snowmobile trails near Olney, Montana, we placed the heat setting on ‘High’ and never backed it down. The wind chill was quite severe, and we needed any extra heat we could find. Within seconds, we felt a rush of warmth all throughout our core region, and it didn’t stop until right around five hours later. We had briefly used the jacket’s heating functions earlier in the day for around a half-hour, so all told, we managed ~5.5 hours of battery life. That’s pretty close to the stated six hours, and it’s even more impressive when you realize that bitter cold temperatures have a tendency to drain batteries.

columbia circuit breaker

Would we recommend the $850 Circuit Breaker? If you live in a location where temperatures routinely drop into the teens, or you’re a frequently traveler to frosty destinations, it may be a worthwhile investment. Non-heated jackets of similar quality can easily reach $500 or so, so the price premium for having five to six hours of heat may be worth it if you’re tired of freezing whenever you step outside. The good news is that the jacket really does do an exceptional job of keeping the wearer warm, and it’s about as elegant an implementation as we have seen. The biggest problem with this coat isn’t in the coat itself — it’s that you’ll probably be itching to splurge on Columbia’s Omni-Heat boots and gloves after you get one. For instructions on how to connect the battery packs, check out the video below.

As a side note, Columbia is planning an entire range of these heated jackets to launch in the fall of 2011. While this specific model has an $850 MSRP, there will be nine electric styles in total ranging from $750 to $1,200.


Kata 3N1-33 professional camera backpack review

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

Selecting a camera bag can be a daunting process. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of options, and even bags that aren’t specifically designed with cameras in mind can be altered and repurposed for use with your setup. Kata is a respected name in the bag industry, offering quite a few travel packs and a handful of dedicated camera packs. Where they stand out is their rigidity and flexibility. The company’s packs are stronger, stiffer and more rugged than the average bag, and the prices show it.

The Kata 3N1-33 is its highest-end sling / torso pack that’s designed for hauling around a robust DSLR rig. It’s not nearly as bulky as some of the backpacks we’ve seen, but the internal compartments are arranged in a way so that you can carry around a 15.4-inch (or smaller) laptop, a DSLR (with or without battery grip), a long-range zoom lens, five or six other lenses, a camera flash and a handful of chargers, batteries, pens, keys, business cards and any other small essentials that you typically would carry on a business or travel shoot.

But what truly sets this bag apart in our mind is the handling capabilities. You can wear this pack a half-dozen different ways: as a standard backpack, as a left or right-handed torso pack, or in a x-strap configuration that’s a hybrid of the two.

Wondering how this bag fares against the competition, and if it’s really worth the $130 or so that it’s selling for? Read on for our full review.

%Gallery-112423%With one look at the 3N1-33, you’ll know that it’s a very different pack. There are an interesting arrangement of straps, hooks, and pads in which to conceal those straps on the rear. Kata thankfully includes a small booklet which describes the many ways this pack can be worn. We particularly enjoyed two of them. Wearing it as a standard backpack was extremely comfortable. There’s a sufficient amount of padding on the rear, and adjusting the straps to bring it closer to your frame is a cinch. The torso / sling approach is quite useful as well. This combines the flexibility of a messenger bar hold with the stability of a backpack hold. You only use a single strap in torso mode, but the pack remains upright on your back; when you want, you simply slide the pack around in front of your stomach, and the side compartment is right there for easy access. Left and right side compartments are here to support left- and right-handed shooters.

Internally, there’s tons of room, and it’s all well arranged. You can easily fit a flash along with two to three lenses on each side compartment, along with three to four more in the center. Accessing those requires the bottom to be unzipped, but it’s not a hassle. There’s also a separate and dedicated top portion; we love the compartments here. Keeping things separate ensures that items don’t slide into a section as you’re shooting, and this approach worked very well for us in the field.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

There are two side pockets along the top edge that are separated from the core of the bag; these work very well for holding lens caps, keys, wallets, cellphones, business cards, etc. Of course, the padded laptop sleeve is its own compartment as well, and held our 15-inch MacBook Pro snugly and without issue. You can squeeze two in there back-to-back, but it’s really tight.

Overall, the attention to detail here is just impossible to ignore. The pack is rigid from top to bottom, and it’s almost impossible to knock over. The padded compartments are all easy to access, and we truly felt as if our lenses and peripherals were in good hands within the pack. The ability to wear this in so many different ways gives the 3N1-33 a huge leg-up over the competition, and while it’s compact enough to slide beneath the average airline seat, it’s able to hold quite a load due to it not slimming from bottom to top as most traditional backpacks do.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

Just to give you an idea of what will fit in here with ease: a 15-inch laptop, power adapter, 2.5-inch external hard drive, seven USB / connector cables, a Nikon D3s DSLR, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, an included Kata rain bag (to protect the entire pack if it starts raining), a bulky D3s charger, two Lensbaby creative lenses, an SB-700 flash, car keys, a stack of business cards, a smartphone and at least two more medium-sized lenses if I wanted. All of this fits in with ease, and while you’ll need a strong back to load it around, the Kata remains comfortable for hours on end, particularly when you can change how you carry it every half hour by just swapping a few clips and redistributing the weight.

This particular Kata has earned our highest recommendations, and that’s saying something. The only people who may not be fond of this bag are those who routinely carry very small camera setups. This is a bag intended for professionals or enthusiasts that enjoy carrying around a robust lens collection and loads of accessories. Kata makes a few smaller versions of this very pack that still maintain the multiple carrying options, so we’d recommend having a look at those (3N1-10, 3N1-11, 3N1-20, 3N1-22 and 3N1-30) if you need something that’s more compact.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

At around $130, the 3N1-33 isn’t cheap, but it’s a good value for what you get. Packs are easy to find, even cheap ones. But good packs are hard to come by, and you definitely pay a premium for good design, rigidity, stability and flexibility. This particular bag is also fantastic for traveling; the dedicated laptop compartment as well as the standalone top compartment help to keep things moving when rolling through airport security. Rather than having to dig into multiple places and under mounds of accessories to get your laptop and Bag ‘O Liquids out, you can keep them in their own sections for easy access. For the hardcore travel warriors, there’s even an optional wheel attachment that’ll allow you to roll this bag from gate-to-gate. Our advice here is to skip that and invest in a rugged roll-aboard while keeping this on your back.

If we had any complaints at all (more like recommendations for the next revision), we’d say that there’s a need for a dedicated zippered window on the front compartment, so you don’t have to unzip around the entire bottom just to access some of your lenses that are stored more towards the center of the pack. And while the zippers were as rugged as they come, we’d prefer the yellow found in the interior to be pulled over to those zipper pulls. When you’re shooting a dark reception, having well-lit zipper pulls makes accessing your gear a lot easier. Other than that, we can’t really find anything to nitpick, but we definitely see a need for an even larger version to house 17-inch laptops and even bigger lens collections.