Basic Information About Using a Lens Hood and Reasons When Not To Use One

Basic Information About Using a Lens Hood and Reasons When Not To Use One

Most expensive lenses include a lens hood. For the cheaper lenses, you have to order a lens hood separately. Is a lens hood so important you have to use it, or can you do without such an accessory? Let’s look at lens hoods a bit in this article.

Do you have a lens hood for your lenses? If you bought an expensive lens, you probably found one in the box. For the cheaper lenses, you have to buy one separately as an accessory. The original ones are often quite expensive. Fortunately, there are third-party lens hoods that have a much friendlier price tag. You have to be careful when choosing a third party lens hood, though. If you buy the wrong one, it may lead to a serious amount of vignetting.

Lens hoods in all shapes and sizes. Should you use one or not?

What’s a Lens Hood Good For?

As the name suggests, a lens hood will shield the lens, especially from light that is coming in sideways. This can be sunlight, but also streetlights, car lights, someone’s flashlight, or any other light source.

Lens hoods can give some protection against flares. But the lens hood won't help at all when the light source is in the frame itself, just like this example. A lens hood was used, by the way.

Light from this direction can cause internal reflections inside the lens, which are commonly known as flares. Depending on the lens, these flares can become very distracting. It can even ruin your photo completely. A lens hood helps in preventing flares.

Some photographers don’t realize that a lens hood is only effective if the light source is right outside the frame. If the light source is inside the frame, a lens hood won’t help at all. In other words, if you have the sun, streetlight, or someone's light in your photo, you might still end up with a nasty flare.

A Lens Hood Has More Benefits

A lens hood shields the lens from light sources that are just outside the frame. If there's an overcast sky or when there are no bright light sources nearby, you would think there is no need for a lens hood. But a lens hood can have more benefits. It will provide some physical protection for your front lens element. It will also provide some shielding against falling rain and snow.

A deep lens hood like the one for the telephoto zoom does offer protection. The shallow lens hood for the wide angle zoom doesn't offer as much. 

When a Lens Hood Is a Nuisance

There are situations when a lens hood cannot be used at all or it may be a nuisance when placed onto the lens. The most obvious situation is perhaps with the use of a filter system. You have to remove the lens hood completely before you can place the filter.

Some filter systems provide a lens hood of their own. Often, these are quite large and cumbersome to use. The LucrOid filter system has some kind of lens hood system, but it isn’t that effective for flares. It offers a bit of protection against rain and snow, but only a limited amount.

The LucrOid filter holder and its lens hood system. Although it seems nice, it won't provide a lot of protection against flares.

Do you use a polarization filter for your photography? Some lens hoods have an opening that allows you to rotate the filter with the hood installed. This way, you are able to change the polarization effect without removing the lens hood. Again, the opening can only be found for the deep lens hoods, alas, not for every lens hood. 

Most deep lens hoods have an opening that allows you to rotate a polarization filter.

Although the lens hood provides protection against rain and snow, it can become a nuisance if there is a lot of wind. The deep lens hoods like the ones for larger telephoto zoom lenses can catch a lot of wind. If that happens, it becomes nearly impossible to get a steady shot. Removing the lens hood may prove the only way to get sharp images under those circumstances.

Make Sure You Use the Correct Lens Hood

There are basically two kinds of lens hoods: round and petal. It’s important to place the latter in the correct way to prevent vignetting. The petal form is chosen to maximize the protection against light falling in. The long side of the frame has a deeper petal compared to the sides. If you misalign the petal shape lens hood, it will show up in the photo.

Two types of lens hoods.

If you receive a lens hood with the lens you bought, you know you have the right lens hood for that lens. The form is optimized for the focal length to provide the maximum protection. But if you need to buy one yourself, make sure you have the correct lens hood. The wrong lens hood may not provide enough protection against unwanted light or it will show up as vignetting in your photo. You should be extra careful with cheap third party lens hoods. Make sure they're optimized for your lens.

Make sure you use the right lens hood for your lens. A wrong one will often lead to vignetting.

Is a Lens Hood Essential or Not?

Should you always use a lens hood or is it not that important? I used to use a lens hood at all times, no matter what. I only removed it when I wanted to use a filter system. But nowadays, I almost never use a lens hood anymore. Not for all lenses, that is.

The petal shape lens hoods are a nuisance for me. These petals make it difficult to place a lens inside a shoulder bag. The petals always hook on the dividers. That’s why I stopped using it.

Although the petal lens hood provides a nice shield from light, it can get stuck on dividers when placing the lens inside a camera bag.

I also removed the lens hood from my wide angle lenses. It’s never that efficient in blocking light from outside the frame. On top of that, I almost always have a filter system in use with these lenses. The only time I have a lens hood installed is for my telephoto zoom lenses when there is a chance of rain or snow.

Sometimes, flares can give a nice feel to your image. Then again, it mostly works when the light source is in the frame also. 

If flares occur, I always have a hand available to shield the light source. Then again, sometimes, a flare can be a nice addition to the photo. Do you use a lens hood for your photography? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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20 Comments
Steve White's picture

The physical protection offered by a lens hood should not be discounted: just this past month my camera (Olympus E-M1, 8-25mm lens mounted) took a tumble from the back hatch of my car (my fault). Landed squarely on the hood; the hood was broken on two petals and jammed off its track but the lens and camera were undamaged. I was able to remove the hood later without further damage. The replacement hood was, of course, pricey ($35) but it saved my lens.

Sartaj Randhawa's picture

Lens hood is ok for minor scrapes against a wall or something abrasive but not for impacts or drops. Just because the outside looks ok doesn’t mean the glass is ok inside. Or the alignment of the lens mount. The impact shock does travel upstream to the glass, mount or the sensor.

Timothy Linn's picture

I had my Canon 5D with an attached 24-70 fall off a tripod that was over my shoulder and crash down onto the glacial rubble I was climbing on. The lens hood was scarred up but it completely saved the lens. Obviously, this is a single example but it certainly supports the argument that the lens hood can offer significant protection.

Steve White's picture

To Sartaj: a good point, of course, and one I evaluated for myself with some test shoots with that camera and lens. After a drop like that a careful test is mandatory. I lucked out, and in that case it was thanks t to the hood.

Duck Man's picture

While a hood can protect the front element from impact, I did have one case where I tripped and fell ont he grass and the lens hood snapped off with part of the camera's filter thread rim. As my lens was out of warranty my only option was to super glue and tape the filter thread back onto the lens.

Timothy Linn's picture

I always use a hood unless it is one of those really short, wide hoods for an ultra-wide lens that accomplishes little and is huge to store. The hood for the TS-E17 comes to mind if I recall correctly. But even the small hood for my RF14-35 gets used because it is small enough that it doesn't create a storage issue and it provides a little shade and at least some protection.

In the fast paced world of portrait/event/wedding photography, I can imagine that a petal hood catching a divider would be quite annoying. That said. this has never happened to me while putting a lens into my bag. It does occasionally happen when I am removing a lens from my bag, depending on how my dividers are configured. Not often.

David Illig's picture

I find lens hoods to be cumbersome and a waste of precious space. I haven’t used one in years and I have discerned no Ill effects from not using them.

Charles Mercier's picture

See my comment below.

Charles Mercier's picture

Decades ago, I read a book (I'm pretty sure it was by Freeman Patterson) in which he compared several shots with and without a lens hood. The benefit that I remember was that the lens hood not only reduced glare but also improved the contrast!

David Illig's picture

I'm sure that Freeman Patterson had his own good reasons for what he wrote. I'm also sure that optics have improved considerably over the decades. I do not experience either glare or flare (unless I want it) or low contrast in my hoodless photos. Furthermore, I'm not telling anyone they shouldn't use lens hoods, only saying that I decline to use them. Attachment: EOS R5, RF 100mm macro lens, hand-held, available light.

michael candee's picture

Surprised you dont mention the rubber lens hood. They can stay on the camera all the time because they retract. They can also absorb some impact should the lens strike something or get dropped. I use these on all my lenses and would not consider using anything else. BTW Also helpful if forced to shoot through glass. Lens hoods are a must!

S Browne's picture

Lens hoods can be problematic when they are not the type that lock securely, which most don't. When such hoods are bumped they can rotate slightly and petals can get into the field of view or cause vignetting. You'd think you would notice while looking through the viewfinder, but it's not as apparent as you'd think when your brain is focusing on composing the image. I've had a number mages spoiled that way because of a loose lens hood. I agree that they mostly aren't necessary and sometimes can be a headache.

Devin Rogers's picture

Agreed. I cannot stand non-locking lens hoods. I've definitely had a few shots ruined by the hood rotating.

Another thing I'd add to this article is that the big lens hoods on super tele lenses can seriously soften your IQ if you go straight from a warm car out into the cold. For example, you're driving the loop in Yellowstone on a fall morning shooting roadside wildlife. Something about the harsh temperature differential I guess. It's a very noticeable difference with hood on/off

Steve Hunter's picture

I had my 200-600 Sony drop straight out of the mount, while hanging from my shoulder, on to the ground, falling out of a loose teleconverter. Hood a write off, lens and camera no damage.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

What really annoys me. People who leave their lens hood on in the reversed (transport) position and then use the lens that way. Use it or leave it.

David Illig's picture

You need to “focus” on your own business and not concern yourself with what others are doing. Why would you possibly care whether someone has installed their lens cap properly or is wearing it on their head!?

OTAVIO ERNESTO's picture

As a bird photographer I always use hood protection on my lenses. In the field we often do not have time to see if there is some undesirable light rays, we are often shooting upwards, it protect against rain, dirty hands, etc.
It is hard to see a bird photographer not using one at all.

Michelle Maani's picture

Keep the hood on, take it off when you don't need it. The lens hood protects the lens. And it won't get permanently stuck like some of those UV filters

Dustin Levine's picture

I only use my lens hoods now when shooting landscapes in light rain or near moving water like waterfalls. It definitely keeps some water drops off my front element and allows me to not be constantly wiping off my lens in between exposures.

I use to put them on my lens at all times in any situation many years ago, but to me I see no difference in contrast or flare. I'm assuming this is because of modern lens coatings and design improvementts in the glass elements.