In my seemingly never ending quest to make it more comfortable and easier for me take wildlife photos whilst safari, I recently got the change to test the ICS Photography Belt & Harness System from Vanguard.
Vanguard ICS Series
The Vanguard ICS Series actually consists of a whole host of products including a photography belt, harness, vest and a range of small bags to carry equipment like camera bodies, lenses and flashes. These separate ICS series products can be bought individually, but all come together nicely, allowing you to pick and mix the ones that suit your particular needs.
The fact that you can pick and choose only the elements that you really need is great and for me this is especially important as I tend to use slightly different equipment whilst in the bush:
Ideally I want to be able to comfortably carry my camera, telephoto lens, a tripod, a pair of binoculars and a few other small photography accessories in what are often hot and uncomfortable conditions, over difficult terrain and quite often over long distances and/or periods of time. As you can see from the photo below, this is easily possible with this system:
In the photo above, I have attached the ICS Harness to the ICS Belt. Then I have attached two bags to the belt, the ICS 25 Lens bag (under my right hand) is used to carry my Raynox teleconversion lens and I am using the ICS Camera Body Bag that is usually meant for carrying a SLR camera body, to store my Vanguard Spirit ED 8×42 Binoculars in.
What you can’t see in this photo is the ICS Flash Bag attached to the belt behind me, this is usually designed to carry a SRL camera’s flash, but I actually got it because I needed a bag to carry a small water bottle, which is essential for me on long walks in the bush.
My bridge camera is held securely on my shoulder for very quick access. What I really like is that the camera can’t slide off my shoulder as there is a very handy Velcro fastening on the shoulder of the ICS harness that keeps your camera strap in place.
I chose to use three of the 7 different bags in the Vanguard ICS series (The ICS Body, the ICS Lens 25 and the ICS Flash Bag). Below I have listed the details of them all:
- ICS Body Bag – Designed to carry a DSLR camera body, but was an ideal fit form my superzoom bridge camera or it can easily carry a pair of binoculars with some room to spare
- ICS Flash Bag – A small bag designed to carry a SRL camera’s flash – I actually got it because I needed a bag to carry a small water bottle, which is essential for me on long walks in the bush.
- ICS Bag 8 – For larger compact digital cameras
- ICS Bag 12 – A fairly wide bag that has been designed to carry a small camcorder and is ideal for something like the Canon LEGRIA HF M406
- ICS Bag 14 – A fairly large bag for storing a DSLR camera with attached standard kit lens
- ICS Lens 18 – Designed to take a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a telephoto zoom like 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
- ICS Lens 25 – Designed to take a large telephoto zoom lens such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 and fitted my Raynox 2.2x teleconversion lens perfectly
All the ICS bags come with a built in rain cover that is neatly kept in a zippered pocket, a connecting flap with Velcro fasteners that ensures that they securely attach to the ICS belt or indeed any belt and even some vests. They alaso all come with their own carry strap, should you wish to use them on their own. I thought that the bags that I tested were very well made, had plenty of padding and the zip fasteners worked excellently without ever getting stuck.
The Vanguard ICS Belt comes in three sizes, small medium and large and like all the other products in the ICS series, it looks to be very well made, the quick release buckle also looks fairly tough and should not break or come apart easily.
The belt itself is very well padded which really helps when you are carrying all of your gear and in my experience of using it never got uncomfortable. What I really like though is that you can remove the major part of the padding, leaving a slim lined version for when you are wanting to carry less or lighter equipment.
This is great because there are times when I really want to travel light and this way I can just use the belt, without the harness with just one or two of the smaller bags attached to it. In this situation, the padding can be overkill and so being able to remove it is a really good idea and makes it much less bulkier.
The padded part of the belt also has two small zipped pockets that are ideal for storing items like memory cards and possible some personal items like keys or money.
The ICS bags attach to the belt via Velcro fastened loops that are very secure and should not come away accidentally. I like it that you can position the bags anywhere on the belt, even on the back. This you you can make sure that the belt is well balanced and what you need most is easiest to get to. The belt also has a number of metal loops dotted all around it that make it easy to attach any other equipment that you may have.
The photo harness comes in two sizes – small and large and is very customizable. It fits to the belt using two straps on the front and one on your back. All of which are highly customizable and so you should not have any problems ensuring that you get a comfortable fit.
A small feature, but one that I really like is the velcro loop on the shoulder that you can use to secure your camera strap to to make sure that it does not slide off – I use this all the time and shows excellent attention to detail from Vanguard.
The harness itself also has a number of other loops and buckles, to which you could carry some more equipment, but for me it’s main use was to help take the weight on the belt. For me the shoulder pads were very comfortable, even on long walks with all my equipment. attached to the system.
There is a small chest strap that fits together with a quick release buckle and is there to ensure that the harness does not come apart and slide off of your shoulders.
Much of the rear section is made from mesh which is light, but still easily strong to carry even the heaviest of loads. It also means that you should sweat less under it.
You can also use the harness to carry a shoulder bag/zoom bag on you back as it has what Vanguard say is a “innovative adjustment system on the back”, effectively turning it into a backpack. This is not something that I have yet tried, but because of the straps, buckles and Velcro fasteners on the back, there are a number of ways that you could adapt it to carry a bag on your back.
The Vanguard ICS system also includes a vest that attaches to the harness, this is to enable you to carry even more on yourself. At the time of writing this review, I did not think that it was necessary from my needs and so could not comment on it. But since then I have now got it, so you can read my full review of the Vanguard ICS Vest.
Camera Backpack vs Photography Harness & Belt
My usual solution to carrying all my optical gear is to use a camera bag, with my current favourite being the Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack, but it does have a couple of disadvantages when compared to a harness system like the Vanguard ICS:
1) With a camera backpack, it can be quite difficult at times to access some of your gear and you often have to remove the bag to get at certain items. Whilst it may take a little longer to initially set up and pack the harness and belt system, once done you can quickly access all your lenses, memory cards, batteries and even binoculars without having to take it off you. This means far less hassle and is quicker, helping to ensure that you don’t miss that once in a lifetime shot because you were rummaging through a bag!
2) Even though there are vents on the back, it can still get pretty sweaty on your back – with the ICS, you have far less material in contact with your body and on the back it is also made from mesh which means that you should sweat less under it and will be much cooler to carry over long distances in hot weather.
The down side to the Belt and harness system is that you don’t really have anywhere to carry a tripod as you do with a camera backpack.
I did actually connect my full sized Alta Pro 263AT Tripod with the GH-100 Pistol Grip Ball Head to the side of the ICS belt using a quick release clip, which actually worked pretty well and would be far better than having to carry the tripod, but it is not ideal.
Whilst on safari if you want to be able to enjoy yourself and take really great wildlife photos, three of the most important considerations when choosing your equipment are:
- The size and weight of all your safari gear
- Is all your gear comfortable to carry around with you
- Is it all very easily accessible at all times
Video: Vanguard ICS Collection 2011
Below is the Vanguard promotional video that that demonstrates how all the ICS photo products fit together and their main features:
I have written a lot about what I think are the Best Cameras for Safari and Travel and why for people like me, who really enjoy wildlife photography and who like taking great pictures on safari, but are who not professional photographers, I highly recommend using a Superzoom Bridge Camera and not a full SLR camera for safaris, so I wont go over that again.
But what I will say is that for me, keeping the size and weight of my equipment down to a minimum is very important. This really helps me when I am travelling as well as when I am actually out in the field or on safari. On my next trip I plan to do a lot of walking in the bush and so I was looking for something that could help me to carry my gear, but be lighter and cooler than traditional camera backpack. The Vanguard ICS does exactly this and I will definitely be using it and overall I highly recommend it for anyone with the same or similar needs.
Build Quality: 9/10 โ Very well made using high quality materials. All zips, buckles and fasteners work well and are secure
Design: 9/10 โ Very innovative and I love how flexible it is and all the different ways you can use it. The fact that you can mix and match which parts of the ICS system you want is also great.
Carrying Capacity: 8/10 โ Here again you can get as many or as few bags as you need to suit your requirements. I just need to figure out the best way to carry my tripod.
Style: 8/10 โ You can look a little like Rambo with it all on – this can be a good or bad thing, but you definitely look like you mean business!
Cost & Where to Buy
Depending on what you buy, will obviously dictate the price – Good places to check the prices and buy each part of the Vanguard ICS system are below: