The lens hood; that ubiquitous, sometimes-cumbersome piece of plastic found at the tip of lenses nowadays. Is it really useful? How important is it anyway? Is it just an aesthetic piece of apparatus that can make your camera look cool? If we better understood the hood’s many uses, then we can begin to realize its value and indispensability. Let’s see just what this gadget is really for:
Benefits of the lens hood
Using a lens hood provides us with certain advantages. Among them are the following:
1. Lens Flare
The primary purpose of the lens hood is to prevent a lens flare from ruining your shots. A lens flare is a reflection of the sun’s rays or a strong light source as it hits the front part of your lens and creates a reflection that resembles shiny discs or ‘flying saucers’ which mar a photo you are taking. Although in some cases the effect of the lens flare sometimes enhances the image, most of the time a lens flare is undesirable. This effect often happens whenever you are shooting a subject and the light source happens to be in the picture frame or just off the fringes of your viewfinder screen. So having a lens hood shades your front lens and helps when there’s a strong light source behind the subject of the scene you’re shooting.
2. Increased contrast
Using a lens hood gives you a greater chance to retain the contrast of the image you are taking. Having a strong light source in front of the camera allows some non-image forming light or stray light to bounce off the front lens element. If may not cause a lens flare but it can create a glare. This interferes with the image forming light that comes from your subject and affects the contrast of the image. The result is a picture with a shallow range of brightness, which can look dull and flat.
3. Lens protection
By having an extended plastic shade in front of your lens, this contraption can block sizable objects that may accidentally get in the way and damage your lens.
Often, we use a lens cover or cap to protect our lens when not in use. By using a lens hood in place of the cap, the camera will always be in a ready position as soon as you utilize it for shooting. This plays perfectly well when you’re on standby while anticipating candid moments or random opportunities that may arise all of a sudden.
Downside of the lens hood
With every advantage there is a corresponding disadvantage. Let’s find out what the drawbacks are.
A lens hood may cause vignetting. Vignetting is an effect that causes dark corners to form on the image. This happens if the extended shade of the lens hood protrudes too far out and ends up blocking not only the stray light but also the image forming light. This is often the case if the lens hood is not compatible with the lens so it’s important when buying the lens hood separately to make sure that it is compatible with your lens model.
Putting the lens hood on and taking it off is inconvenient. Not only does it waste time but it takes extra effort especially if you only shoot a few shots then put the camera back in your bag again for safe keeping. Some lens hoods can be bulky especially those used for wide angle zoom lenses and telephoto lenses that have wide aperture openings. These lenses with a small f-stop number (eg. f2.8) have wide lens diameters to allow them to accommodate more light. The outcome is a lens hood that matches their diameters and a wider shade to shield these lenses. The outcome is a bulky piece of accessory that takes up too much space in the camera bag.
Testing the compatibility of your lens hood
If you happen to buy or obtain a lens hood that is not part of the lens you bought, you can do a simple test to check its compatibility to ensure it does not cause vignetting. Note that vignetting does not pose much of a problem at close range. So when doing a test, look for an evenly lit subject located at a distance. Expose the subject at full aperture opening with the lens hood on and another without it. Do this again for the smallest aperture setting both with the lens hood and without. Compare the images. If the results are the same, then the lens hood is compatible to the lens. If there is a slight or gradual darkening on the corners with full aperture opening the lens hood may still be usable but it’s not a perfect match. If darkening on the corners occurs, then the lens hood is not compatible and not a good match.
In summary a lens hood does play an important role for the serious photographer. Although it may be inconvenient at times, still it provides you with incomparable benefits to produce those quality images outdoors. So, the next time you see your lens hood lying around, think twice before ignoring it.
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