To Hood or Not to Hood?

To use a lens hood or not?

I’m a big advocate of using the factory hood, at all times. But there’s more than one way to protect your camera lens…or you can choose not to protect it at all. I’ve seen four distinct answers to this question –

  1. Always use the factory hood
  2. Forget about a hood and use a UV filter for front element protection
  3. Replace the factory hood if it’s too bulky with an aftermarket hood
  4. Don’t protect the lens at all: No hood, no UV filter
Zeiss Touit 32mm X mount with factory hood installed

Zeiss Touit 32mm X mount with factory hood installed

Zeiss Touit 12mm X mount without factory hood

Zeiss Touit 12mm X mount without factory hood

Always use the factory hood

I always use the factory hood. Most (but not all) factory hoods for good quality lenses are optimized for that specific lens, so it protects the front element well from stray light. Many lenses that are designed specifically for use with a rangefinder (e.g. Leica M) also have cut out vents in their factory-specific hood so that any blockage of the frame lines within the camera’s viewfinder is minimized.

Sometimes, a hood from a major lens manufacturer will be specified for two different focal lengths, or even more. While the physical fit will be fine, the protection for the longer focal length won’t be as optimized, because the hood has to be wide enough in order not to vignette the shorter focal length.

Overall though, sticking with a factory hood means you’ll provide good shading of the front element from stray light (light that doesn’t contribute to the creation of the image). This means no loss of contrast due to stray light flare, aiding the performance of your lens.

In addition, if you forego placing a piece of glass over the front element like a UV filter, you’re further optimizing the best optical conditions for your expensive lens.

Hoods for standard to longer focal lengths usually provide excellent physical protection.   They tend to be fairly deep hoods. Deep hoods means the front element is well protected from finger prints, getting bumped or scratched, and other random damage.

Wide-angle specific hoods, while providing the best possible shade from stray light, may not be deep enough to provide adequate physical protection, as they tend to be shallow compare to standard to tele hoods. While there’s some protection, you may still need to be a bit careful on physical handling.

Some factory hoods can be very bulky, and unfortunately, may add a lot of width or length to an otherwise compact lens.  I’ve put up with this, for the sake of optical quality and physical protection for the lens, but you’ll read about an alternative approach from veejaycee further in this article.

If you’re going into a sand storm, rain storm or snow storm, or any other truly bad weather conditions…don’t be an idiot, get a UV filter over that front element, even if the hood is in place! In those circumstances, a hood may not provide sufficient physical protection. A quality UV filter over the front of your lens may subtly degrade the image quality, but it can also save you a lot of money by protecting the front element.

Forego the lens hood & use a UV filter instead

This is a popular alternative to using a hood. My friend Patrick from findingrange.com does this with one of his favorite lenses, the Zeiss Touit 12mm X mount. That lens has an enormous, petal shaped factory hood which is very wide and bulky, considering the moderate size of the lens itself and that it fits onto a compact Fuji X body.

Patrick also favors the very compact and efficient Billingham-made Leica M Combination bag. This is a tiny bag that’s smartly designed, but a huge hood like the one on the Zeiss 12mm would be a real hassle to fit into it.

So Patrick instead uses a high quality, B+W brand filter on his Zeiss 12mm. It protects the wide, vulnerable front element. Better a few scratches to a filter that can be replaced for less than $100, rather than the hassle and expense of trying to get a front element replaced by the manufacturer.

It also keeps the lens compact. Makes it easy to fit into a small bag like the Leica M Combination, Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 or the Billingham Hadley Small.

There is a downside: once you get serious about photography, you’re probably starting to invest in very high quality optics. How much sense does it make to pay a lot of money for a great lens, and then the first thing you do is to stick a piece of glass in front of it?

Having even a high quality, clear filter can lead to some degradation of the image. The most common issue with having a glass filter in front of your lens is a loss in contrast. This is especially true if the light is at an angle and catches the glass. Sometimes this occurs with a light source directly in view as well.

Replace the factory hood with a more compact, aftermarket hood

This is a great idea that I never thought of, until veejaycee of the Fuji X forum brought it up in a thread on that forum. While I’ve purchased after market hoods before for lenses that that didn’t come with one, I never considered buying a more compact hood if the factory version was too bulky.

As veejaycee has pointed out, there are many choices available on the Internet. Choose one that will fit in the diameter and thread pitch of your lens. And make sure that it will clear your focal length’s angle of view. For example, there are dozens of 39mm diameter hoods available, but be sure to get a wide, shallow one if your lens is a wide angle, and a deeper one for better optical and physical protection, if you have a standard or telephoto lens.

One complication if you’re looking for an aftermarket hood and you use a camera with an optical finder in the body, like a Leica M or Fuji X-Pro1 (when you choose to view using its OVF rather than EVF): the hood may block your lower right hand side of the frame lines.

As mentioned, lens hoods that are made specifically for a Leica M will often have cut outs or vents in the hood, where it will overlap the viewfinder’s frame lines. One of my Fuji X lenses, the 60mm Macro, has a very large hood but it has vents so that it doesn’t completely block the view in the lower right hand corner. With vents, the photographer can still see some of the subject in that area. While there are a lot of options on eBay for vented hoods, the majority of generic hoods don’t have viewing vents.

Interestingly, while the big factory hood on my Zeiss Touit 32mm easily blocks a chunk of the lower right hand section of the frame lines, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ve been using optical viewfinder cameras (Leica M) for 28 years, and have gotten used to some blockage, even with Leica’s vented hoods. I simply end up pre-visualizing what will be in the lower, right hand corner.

Of course, when shooting with my Fuji X-Pro1, if I truly need to see the entire frame when using a lens with hood blockage, there’s an easy solution. With a flick of a switch, I simply change from the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and now I’m looking through the lens – no issues anymore.

With the caveat that one has to be careful in selection, going with this aftermarket route, you can drop your factory hood if it’s too large. Instead, choose a more compact aftermarket lens hood, providing shade from stray light on the front element and having some physical protection for it as well.

Forget about a Hood or a Filter

Before I conclude this article, I’d like to bring up the examples of two highly accomplished photographers that shoot without a hood or filter – basically, no protection for their lens, at all.

Antonin Kratochvil is one of the great magazine and photojournalism shooters over the last few decades. He doesn’t use a hood on his Canon lens, and intentionally uses flare as a creative element in many of his shots. Take a look at his distinctive and unique visual style, and you’ll see what I mean. An amazing shooter –

http://viiphoto.com/author/antonin-kratochvil/

The other legendary photographer that doesn’t use a hood or a filter, is a photographer I’ve witnessed personally, at work. The famous Josef Koudelka of Magnum Photos is one of reasons why I was inspired to become a photographer when I was a kid. I first saw his astonishing work in my high school library in 1981. That led me on the path of wanting to become a photographer myself.

http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL535C7T

Out of sheer coincidence, I accidently met him twice. The first time was in 1983, when he was coming out a subway station in Toronto. I happened to have my Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron around my neck, which I had secretly saved up for years as a kid, working summer jobs. He had his battered black paint Leica M4 with a first generation 35mm Summilux, without a hood or a filter. We glanced at each other cameras, he asked me for directions, and we walked silently together to his destination, and then he thanked me for my help. We then parted ways.

I know I should’ve said something (Koudelka was my hero), but I was a dumb teenager and was far too awestruck to say much to him! Later that day, I managed to muster enough courage to knock on the door I led him to. The woman who answered the door confirmed that it was, indeed, Koudelka whom I met and he had come over to visit for lunch. Later that month, I signed up for college to study photography.

Luckily, after graduating from college four years later, I accidently ran into Koudelka again! This time, it was in Paris, and he was in action: photographing people being herded out of the Luxembourg Gardens during closing time. We had a chance to chat after he was finished shooting, and he was quite amused when I recounted our first meeting from years earlier.

Mr. Koudelka was carrying that same battered Leica M4 and Summilux (with even more of its black paint gone, four years later), plus an old Olympus SLR, and a Fuji 6×17 panoramic camera, slung on his back. In a similar style to his Magnum colleague, Henri Cartier-Bresson, he bobbed and weaved in and out of the crowd, pretending to look beyond the people immediately in front of him, all the while shooting, switching rapidly from one camera to the next.

The most remarkable thing I saw him do, regarding protecting his Summilux from flare, was that every time he shot into the setting sun, he would use his hand as a sort of “manual hood” to prevent stray light from hitting the lens’s front element! Kind of puts worrying about front lens protection into perspective 🙂

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “To Hood or Not to Hood?

  1. Agreed. While I understand the requirement for front element protection using a UV filter in certain conditions, I believe the last time I really needed one was over 22 years ago, when I was working in a country that had a multi-year drought (and therefore, severe dust).

    Besides the fact that hoods help optimize the optical qualities of one’s expensive, top quality lenses, I find they provide more than sufficient physical protection too, the majority of the time.

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