For lenses 200mm on up, a collapsable travel hood may be something to consider in order to free up bag space. In this comparison review I check out a couple similar travel hoods to determine which is the one to buy.
There are a few different reasons someone may wish to purchase a collapsable lens hood for their big glass. First, it makes traveling with already bulky gear a little more tolerable. Even with the original manufacturer’s hood reversed on a telephoto lens, the increased diameter can make a big difference in the amount of other items that can be packed. Secondly, replacement lens hoods for big glass can be expensive. If one is looking to replace a lost or damaged hood, the travel hoods are another option.
In my case, I bought a used lens for a good price but it has a dented flat spot in the area the hood attaches. This disfiguration makes it a struggle to take on and off the hood. One other reason is that my lens, the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 APO, has a stock hood that is quite short for the focal length.
Two options for the collapsable travel hoods are the $149 AquaTech Soft Hood and the $109.99 LensCoat TravelHood. I decided to purchase both and compare them side by side to determine which is the best one.
At only a quick glance anyone can see that the Soft Hood from AquaTech looks way more built-up than LensCoat’s TravelHood. The former appears to have the same Velcro attachment style as the TravelHood, but they’ve also built in four buckle straps around the mounting area. The medium-sized Soft Hood and the small-sized TravelHood, the ones I bought for my particular 500mm, are made for the same class of lenses and have an almost identical sizing.
One benefit of the LensHood variety is that there’s a number of different camouflage design patterns to choose from in addition to plain black, whereas the Soft Hood only comes in black. The Soft Hood also features two large embarrassingly amateurish logos on each side of the lens hood, plus a third one that faces the user if heaven forbid one ever forgot their company name. Apparently on top of the extra $40 price difference we must also freely advertise for them as well. The TravelHood has a small logo patch, but it blends in pretty well with the camouflage pattern I chose.
Both of these hoods follow the same basic concept. On the interior of the mounting side there are two strips of grippy padding with a little bit of space between them. This gap between the padding is where one aligns the ridge found at the end of the lens. When these are lined up, just start wrapping around the lens until the hood forms and press the Velcro down together to lock it in place. With the TravelHood, this is it. With the Soft Hood, there are an additional four buckle straps around the mounting side that can be tightened and clipped in for extra clamping power.
The inner padded ridges of the Soft Hood feel beefier and slightly more non-slip than the TravelHood. Of course, the four buckles also make a big difference in how well the hood forms a connection to the lens too. On the flip side, the setup for the Soft Hood is slower and all the straps flapping around is not as clean looking as the TravelHood.
Moving on from the mounting area and down the barrel of these hoods I find a pretty big difference in rigidity. The long, thin strips used in the Soft Hood feel way more strong and rigid than the ones in the flimsier TravelHood. It would take far less effort to fold the TravelHood in half the wrong way than it would the Soft Hood. The Soft Hood also features an extra piece of rigid construction at the end of the hood where a long strip runs perpendicular to the numerous strips that make up the barrel. The Soft Hood is built far better in almost every way than the TravelHood, but it does come at the cost of weight. The AquaTech weighs in at 14.8 ounces whereas the LensCoat TravelHood is less than half that at 6.9 ounces.
In two areas the difference in structure becomes very clear: resting the lens and camera vertically on the ground, and resting the hood on a surface to steady your camera while shooting. Neither of those scenarios work while maintaining structural integrity with the TravelHood while both work just as a normal lens hood would with the AquaTech.
If lightweight traveling and completing the LensCoat camouflage look to one’s camera setup is the most important thing, or perhaps $109.99 is already topping out the budget, then the LensCoat TravelHood may be the best choice. For everyone else, while the AquaTech Soft Hood isn’t as pleasing to the eye and is more expensive at $149, it is overall a better collapsable travel hood in terms of materials and structure.