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Backpack versus Shoulder bag, which one is better for photographers

Backpack versus Shoulder Bag, which one is better for Photographers.

Image source : Lowepro

Deciding between a backpack or a shoulder bag as a camera bag really depends on the individual photographer's needs and preferences. When I started in Photography, I got a small compact V shaped top loading bag with My first camera. It was Canon AL-1 with a canon 50mm lens.

Bought a nice shoulder bag with double compartments. Mostly when you are working in organized and controlled environment with assistants to help you around, shoulder bags are not a problem at all but when you need to walk around a lot on your own, you do need a system to carry all the weight in an ergonomically well distributed manner.

Bought a large Lowepro backpack with a dedicated compartment for a 17" laptop when there were restrictions after 9/11 all over the world. Only one bag could be carried.

Even otherwise, as the camera gear had grown tremendously, there was a need to add more bags. Another Lowepro backpack without laptop compartment followed.

We have a variety of backpacks and shoulder bags and use them as per the shooting requirements. If we are shooting on Medium format, we still carry a full frame camera system with us a s a backup or sometimes for miscellaneous shots which do not need the inputs of a high resolution medium format camera. Having different bags makes it easier to segregate the stuff.

For street, Travel and wedding photography, top loading v shaped bags work perfect as only immediately required accessories are carried, keeping the weight light. The other stuff can always be kept in the main bag, be it a backpack or a Shoulder bag.

Backpacks come as roller bags as well. It good to go for these only if one is sure that the bag can be rolled around. In street photography due to uneven terrain this may not always be possible so the limited scope would only be at the airports while travelling. Better not to opt for these if you will mostly be keeping it on the backpack as you will end up carrying the additional weight of the wheels and the handle as well besides these occupying the internal space.

In both the cases, I generally prefer the ones which are strong and sturdy yet not very hard. Being a bit soft allows the equipment to be fitted in even if its slightly larger in size. When it's very hard like a suit case, this is not possible but yes of course, it's much safer.


Shoulder Bags


​Can distribute the weight of the gear evenly across the back, making it more comfortable to carry for extended periods.

All the weight is on one of the shoulders and hence it's heavy to carry around. The centre of gravity is shifted to one side when carrying all the weight.


​Due to its shape, it can carry much more gear. The larger capacity often leads to the backpack getting more and more heavy. because there is scope, there is always the temptation to pack more.

​Usually limited gear can be carried.


​Since, it's on the back, access is slower and one needs to take it off to access.

​Easy Access is one of the main advantages. being on the shoulder, anything can be taken out quickly while moving around.


Once opened, a larger surface area is exposed for access. This allows the space to be divided into more compartments and everything is visible to the eye.

Because of its shape, the narrow side of the bag is available for access, which allows easy access to the gear on the top but difficult to take out stuff which is in lower compartments.

Laptop Compartment

At times, you are strictly allowed only one handbag in Airlines due to restrictions from time to time. This allows carrying more in a single bag, keeping everything in one place.

​Many shoulder bags are large enough to carry a 13" laptop at least if not a 15 or 17" one. But this unfortunately takes away the capacity meant for your camera gear. If there are no travel restrictions, I usually carry laptop in its own case to ensure that the main camera bag does not get too heavy and laptop is not required everywhere while shooting.


​Many Photography backpacks include day bag compartments as well. Many are adapted as sling bags which can be quickly rotated for easy and fast access.

​There are different kind of shapes and sizes are available for fast access. V shaped top loading bags are particularly useful when carrying a single camera with a lens attached. A little deeper ones can fit in one extra lens, flash or accessories.

Here are some pros and cons of each:



  • Can distribute the weight of the gear evenly across the back, making it more comfortable to carry for extended periods.

  • Can hold more gear than shoulder bags.

  • Often have more compartments for organization and easy access to gear.

  • Can be used for non-photography purposes as well, such as hiking or traveling.


  • Can be bulky and heavy, making it difficult to access gear quickly in certain situations.

  • Can make the photographer feel less mobile, especially in crowded or tight spaces.

  • Can be uncomfortable for photographers with back problems or injuries.

Shoulder bags


  • Allow for quick access to gear, making it easier to capture the shot on the fly.

  • Can be more compact and lightweight than backpacks.

  • Can be carried on one shoulder, leaving the other free to carry other gear or equipment.

  • Can have a more professional or stylish look than backpacks.


  • Can put strain on one shoulder or neck if carrying for long periods.

  • Can't hold as much gear as backpacks.

  • Can be less organized, with fewer compartments for storage and organization.

Ultimately, the best choice between a backpack or shoulder bag as a camera bag depends on the photographer's individual needs and preferences. Some photographers may find a backpack more comfortable for long shoots or hikes, while others may prefer the quick access and mobility of a shoulder bag.

As you will notice in these Photographs, backpacks in general have a larger capacity and easy access because a larger area opens up and everything is easily visible.

Having a retractable handle and wheels is an advantage but at the cost of additional weight. Even though these are light weighted and small but they do occupy the internal storage space. Go for these features if you have the option of actually using them in the practical sense. If you will mostly be carrying these on your shoulders, you might as well carry the weight of an extra lens instead of the wheels and the handle.

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