In today’s Gear Tips I want to share my thoughts on something a lot of people give very little thought to: lens hoods. Most lenses come with a hood but I often see people out shooting without using them (or worse – having them on their lens backwards in a “storage” position). Some lenses don’t include a hood but getting one is usually very inexpensive. In this article I’ll talk about why we should always use a hood. I’ll also talk about two specific Sony lenses I own that didn’t include hoods – along with the hoods I found that worked great for them.
Photography isn’t cheap
If you’re into photography then you’ll agree that it’s not a cheap hobby. In fact – the more we dive into photography – the more expensive it becomes. To get good quality images with low noise, high resolution, awesome auto-focus and great low light performance you need a good camera. You can expect to spend at least $500 – $600 on an entry level interchangeable lens camera (like this Nikon D3300, this Canon T6 or a Sony a5000).
Once you have a camera it’s not uncommon to want to get some new lenses. Getting a longer lens will allow you to get much closer to your subject (great for wildlife photography, for example) and wide-angle lenses can give you shots with an amazing amount of angle of view (I use wide angle lenses for most of my landscape and travel photography). Fast lenses (with a very large aperture) can give you more control of depth of field (this is used to great effect in portrait photography). High quality lenses are not cheap. The longer, wider or faster you go the more expensive the lens will cost you.
Why am I bringing up how expensive photography is? Because once you begin to invest in your photography equipment you’re going to want to take good care of it. If you spend a thousand dollars on a lens the last thing you want is have it scratched. Here’s some bad news: every time we use our camera the outermost portion of the lens is exposed so getting scratched up is a real possibility. I can’t tell you how many times people have bumped into my camera without ever thinking that they’re putting thousands of dollars of equipment in jeopardy.
One solution that’s been used for decades is to buy an inexpensive filter to place on the front of a lens. In fact – if you bought a lens from a salesperson I can guarantee they tried to get you to buy a filter…
The idea behind using a filter is to have any damage occur to the (usually cheap) filter instead of the (very expensive lens). The idea is reasonable – but there is a downside. Cheap filters can really effect the quality of your images in a bad way. Imagine all the quality of your $3,000 lens with a $20 filter placed between your subject and the lens. It’s not a very good thought, is it?
So if filters are out then how can we protect our lenses from most accidental scratches? Easy – use the hood that came with your lens!
The First Reason to Use a Lens Hood
Included with almost every lens is a hood. It’s a round piece of plastic that attaches to the front of your lens and usually it will place the front face of your lens glass behind a protective protrusion. With your lens hood in place the chances of scratches goes way down. Here’s a look at my Sony 50mm f1.8 lens with the hood in it’s “stowed” position:
And here’s what the hood looks like in the proper “ready to be used” position:
You can see that the delicate glass of the lens is close to 2″ behind the front lip of the hood. The chances of an accidental scratch happening just went WAY DOWN!
What if Your Lens Didn’t Come with a Hood?
One of my most used lenses is a “pancake” style lens made by Sony. The term pancake is used to indicate just how small the lens is. My Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens is TINY! when attached to my camera it’s less than 1″ of protrusion from the lens mount. With such a small lens the entire camera size is extremely small and light – which makes it a perfect traveling companion. Here’s a look at my Sony 16mm pancake lens:
But, like most pancake style lenses, my Sony didn’t include a hood. What the heck, Sony?
I get it – a hood makes the entire lens larger and that additional size negates the reason people buy pancake style lenses. But a hood is something you can leave off if size matters that much so why not include it and let the buyer make the choice to use it or not? OK – I’m done venting…
So the smallest lenses may not include a hood. What can we do about this oversight? We can buy an accessory hood like the inexpensive hood I bought from Amazon. For less than $20 I can now have a little added protection for my lens without resorting to getting an inexpensive filter. Here’s a look at the SH-112 hood on my Sony 16mm lens:
Here’s another example: Sony makes a kit lens with optical stabilization, great zoom range (16mm wide to 50mm long) and even has a powered zoom feature for people who want to use this lens for video work. Believe it or not – it’s not a bad lens (especially for basic video work). But for reasons I’ll never understand Sony neglected to include a hood. STUPID! Here’s a look at my Sony 16mm-50mm PZ lens
So what’s the solution? Unfortunately it’s not as easy as what I did on my 16mm because the kit lens doesn’t include the typical mounting system most hoods use. So you’ll need to get a hood that can screw on where you normally attach a filter. I use a step up filter (because the Sony kit lens has a silly size thread) and a special hood designed for this kind of attachment. I use a 40.5mm to 49mm step up adapter and the Sensei screw-on lens hood. Here’s a look at my Sony kit lens with the hood system attached:
With this lens hood attached I now have some level of protection for the delicate front glass of my lens.
The Second Reason to Use a Lens Hood
When strong direct light hits your lens it can really degrade your images. Two things can happen: you will lose contrast (unwanted light will “wash out” the darker parts of your image) and you could have flare (the round spots you’ll see if a bright light is in your shot). Neither of these situations are ideal – but using a lens hood can fix most of these problems.
During the day it’s a no-brainer to use a lens hood to keep direct light (from the sun, for example) from effecting your shot. But what some people may not know is that a lens hood can be a huge help at night, too. Here’s a night time shot I took on my trip to London using my Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens and my Sony a6000 camera:
The shot, overall, looks fine – but there’s a huge spot on the top right side of the image. This spot was caused by a street light that was above and in front of my camera (out of the frame – but definitely affecting the shot). I couldn’t see the spot with my LCD (using live preview) before I snapped the shot – but it was really obvious once the image was captured.
The solution, once I saw what happened, was to put the hood on and retake the shot. Here’s a look at the very next shot I took after putting the lens hood on to block the stray light from hitting my lens:
This is a longer exposure time than the first shot but you can see that the spot is no longer there, thanks to the hood. For travel shooters who like to shoot at night it’s a good idea to leave the hood on the front of the lens, especially when there’s a nearby street light that’s just outside the shot.
Gear Tip #2: properly use the hood that came with your lens, and if your lens didn’t come with a hood buy one
I hope this gear tip helped to clarified the importance of using a lens hood to improve your images and to protect your expensive lens from getting scratched accidentally.
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Speaking of help – you can support me (which will help me to share more tips like this) by using my links to buy your gear – including your next accessory lens hood. Using my links won’t cost you any more – but I receive a small percentage that helps me cover the expenses of maintaining this blog, as well as producing new videos.
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Quick links for buying lens hoods:
The lens hood system I use for my Sony 16-50mm kit lens is available from B&H Photo:
the 40.5mm to 49mm step up ring: B&H Photo
the Sensei 49mm screw-on lens hood: B&H Photo
The lens hood I use for my Sony 16mm pancake lens (also works with the 20mm pancake) is available at Amazon:
the ALC-SH112 lens hood: Amazon
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