On a recent trip to Europe I found myself paying attention to photographers and their gear. I discovered a strange phenomenon — the lack of lens hoods on very decent DSLR cameras. I would say that perhaps 50% of the DSLR owners I saw did not have their lens hoods mounted on their camera. Another 25% had the lens hood, but it was mounted backwards — the way we do for storing our lens hoods. And another 25% had them mounted properly.
Lens hoods come in many shapes and sizes and are engineered to fit a specific focal length lens. Petal-shaped lens hoods are generally for zoom lenses, and the standard round-shaped ones are for single focal length lenses, although this is not a set rule.
A lens hood serves two purposes: first, to prevent lens flare, and second, to protect the front element of the lens. Lens flare occurs when light (usually bright sunlight) falls directly onto the front element of the lens. Photographs that exhibit flare have ghosted or washed out images along with various artifacts in the photo such as oddly shaped coloured circles and other strange shapes.
In the crowded streets of Europe it is quite easy for your camera gear to get bumped and jostled and this happened to me in a park in Berlin. If my lens hood had not been in place, the front element of my lens would certainly have taken some abuse and/or been damaged.
I will touch briefly on one controversial lens protection device: a neutral clear filter. I have an NC (Nikon’s term for Neutral Clear) filter mounted on every single lens I own. Purists will say that adding a filter degrades the image quality. I think the average person would be hard-pressed to see any difference in the image quality of a photo taken with a filter versus one without. Obviously you should only purchase good-quality NC multicoated filters. And don’t let a camera store salesman sell you a UV filter as protection for the lens on your digital camera. All digital cameras have a UV filter right on the image sensor so you do not need to add a second UV filter! UV filters were standard in the old days of film but are no longer needed in today’s digital age of photography. A lens hood will take the brunt of any side impact. But if something hits your lens straight on, then there is every chance your NC filter will crack or shatter but not the front element of your lens. I think that it’s good insurance to use both the lens hood and NC filter.
Here are some photos I took in Europe that illustrate the lens hood phenomenon:
This is my favourite:
There are two things about the above photos that I find interesting. Canon users far outweighed Nikon users for their misuse of lens hoods. Is that because there are more Canon cameras in use versus Nikon? I can’t say, and believe me when I say I was not searching for Canon users; I was simply looking for lenses without lens hoods.
I can’t tell you the number of people I saw who went through a religious lens-cap-on, lens-cap-off ritual. For the sake of photographers everywhere, when you get out in the field, take off the damn lens cap and put it in your pocket or camera bag and leave it there. These people were fanatical about covering their precious lens in between shooting, but they didn’t have the sense to have or use their lens hood. For storage back in your camera bag, then yes, please put the lens cap back on.
That’s my rant on two pieces of plastic that have a valuable purpose for your camera lenses. If you haven’t already, please go and dig out your lens hood and remember to mount it properly when you are shooting.