There’s a huge market for camera accessories made from leather, giving everything from your camera strap to your bag a stylish look. But so many of the leather products that a photographer ends up buying can be made with low quality materials. Here at Cruick we’ve got the knowledge you need to get your money’s worth every time regardless of who you are buying from.
Why does it matter? Well, high quality products not only look and feel great but they’re more durable too. Investing in the right leather product means you’ll be able to rely on the item to last, even when it’s lugging your camera around in search of the perfect snap. Here at Cruick, we’re leather geeks with a passion for fine, heritage leathers. And if it’s quality you’re after you should consider these five areas next time you shop.
Veg-tan vs chrome tan
The vast majority of leather today is chrome tanned. This is down to the fact it can be done in as little as a day. However, in a nut-shell, the fast, chemical process can mean sacrificing durability and strength. In contrast, veg-tanning leather can take up to a year in a gentle process where time is a core ingredient. It means that veg-tanned leather is usually more expensive to produce but will result in products than can last indefinitely with the occasional application of leather conditioner (chrome tanned leather doesn’t accept conditioner too well). In fact, with a bit of cleaning and oiling, veg-tan leather decades old can be as good as new – a worthy investment when you consider the long-term.
With strength, durability, and an interesting patina developing over time, veg-tan leather wins when it comes to camera straps.
For items that are going to be carrying weight, like your new eye-wateringly expensive lens, the stretch of the leather is important – you want to be sure your items are safe and supported.
Not all leather is equal. Just like steak cuts, there are ‘prime cuts’ that have a much tighter grain, these come from the ‘bends’ and ‘shoulders’ of the hide. Why does this matter? Because leather cuts taken from these areas are naturally far more resistant to stretch than other cuts. Next time you’re buying any leather product that needs to hold up against weight try asking what cuts of the hide the product is made from, you’ll spot straightaway which makers don’t have a clue.
Beware of stitching
You can be forgiven for thinking that stitching is a sign of high quality. Stitching panels of leather together to create a product is fine and is done well by many makers, but when it comes to a stitched lining on camera straps, it can often be used to hide something from view, or to add needed strength when cheaper top leather has been used. Lining means you can’t see the core layer.
So, what’s in between those layers? Is it glue, or is it a plastic core to add strength? Is it a cardboard ‘strengthener’ that will turn to mush if it gets wet and hold damaging moisture inside the leather? Is it foam padding that will eventually compress completely flat or is it more expensive neoprene that will never lose loft and is resistant to sweat? The point is, if you are buying a lined leather product you have to trust that the maker is only using the best materials even though they know their customers will probably never find out within a warranty period. Don’t be afraid to ask what the layers of a product are made from. A top maker will tell you exactly what is used and why it creates a superior product.
Blasting round a strap on a leather sewing machine costs very little. Using leather that does not require lining or additional stitching costs a lot more to make, is more durable and eliminates points of potential failure.
As a rule of thumb, leather that is dyed through - where it’s dyed in a big drum at a tannery – can lead to dye transfer to clothing after even just a little bit of moisture or slight rubbing. This is because the dye is present on both sides of the leather.
The alternative is surface dyed leather. This is where the process is done individually and by hand on each individual hide. This time taking process is occasionally done by top tanneries or by top makers with their own mixes and concentrations of dyes, oils and waxes. The result is leather where the dye is only on the topside of the leather so it won’t transfer onto clothing – an important quality for your camera strap if you’re a white collared wedding photographer.
Environment and ethics
Is your leather environmentally friendly? Pure vegetable tanned leather is, generally speaking, biodegradable and an environmentally kind tanning process. However, the chemicals involved with chrome tanning aren’t so kind to mother nature. If you’re choosing leather based on its environmental impact, then choose pure veg-tan leather 100% of the time.
When it comes to ethics, we have to acknowledge that leather comes from an animal but the ethics of each skin varies widely. We choose to only use leather that is from animals that are an ethical by-product of the livestock industry of regulated countries. However, there’s also a nasty side to leather when using animals like crocodiles, alligators, snakes, and ostrich where the value of the meat is significantly lower than the value of the skin (the exact opposite to cowhide). It means that these animals are typically only reared and dispatched primarily for their skins and are best avoided for ethical shoppers.