Flexible and oversized lens hoods

Taking photographs through windows

equipment
lens hoods
Author

Pedro J. Aphalo

Published

2023-05-13

Modified

2023-05-13

Keywords

objectives, windows, reflections

Note

I wrote this web page using two of my posts from 2018 and 2019 as its base.

Introduction

I read during the 1970’s, most likely in a photography magazine, about the use of collapsible rubber lens hoods to take photographs through windows. They do work, specially if one manages to find a stiff enough one that will not collapse instantly at the first bump in the road or in the flight. Hama branded rubber lens hoods did work well for this purpose 45 years ago and those currently available from Hama also do work well. The problem is that given their size one has little room for deviations from pointing straight into the window as vignetting quickly becomes a problem, drastically limiting the possibility of framing the image. Neither can one use them with wide angle lenses.

The Ultimate Lens Hood (ULH)

When I saw a KickStarter campaign for the Ultimate Lens Hood (ULH) in 2018, I wrote that the “Ultimate Lens Hood” seemed like a good tool. It was still to be seen if it was stiff enough and/or a bit sticky so as to easily stay in place on the glass surface how would it be the handling in real use. I bought an Ultimate Lens Hood (ULH) from Kickstarter, at a price that was neither unreasonable, nor cheap: £ 30. (Current selling price is lower.)

When I tried to use it I concluded that the idea was very good but the design failed to provide a usable gadget: the ULH is unwieldy in its size and at the same time too soft to properly keep its shape while in use. In the end my ULH simply stayed in storage and I continued using a small rubber lens hood to take photographs through windows as I had earlier written about.

A Chinese alternative

Almost half a year later I saw at AliExpress (under the title “Reflection-free Collapsible Silicone Lens Hood for Camera Mobile Phone Small/Large”) a new development on the same idea but cheaper, so I decided to order the two sizes they offered. They are a lot bigger in diameter than a normal collapsible rubber lens hood, but not excessively so. They are conical, but the back is very broad avoiding vignetting even when tilting the camera when framing with wide angle lenses. The wall is stiffer and rarely collapses by accident. Even the solid ring for the front end that I had in mind has been added. The problem of having to stretch the near end over the front of the lens remains. However, I did find a solution to this. In conclusion, this is not a knock-off of the original “ultimate lens hood”. These lens hoods have been redesigned to solve most of the problems I complained about in my comment from last December.

Three oversized lens hoods and a camera. On the left, the large and small lens hoods from AliExpress; on the right, an Olympus E-M1 camera and the Ultimate Lens Hood from KickStarter.

Note

Several alternative designs of oversized lens hoods have appeared in AliExpress, eBay and Amazon, and possibly some have made it to shops. Most are generic not sold under a unique and recognizable brand name. The ones I prefer have a rigid plastic ring at the front end. This adds to the easy of use very significantly. This ring is most important on vehicles than on windows of buildings and other static settings.

Warning

Although the Chinese lens hoods are an improvement on the original design, some AliExpress sellers have advertised them using photographs stolen from the the KickStarter page for the ULH. This is unacceptable, so let’s not support such sellers. There are other sellers in AliExpress and eBay using original illustrations for the same improved lens hoods which I think work better than the ULH, which seems to still be available.

Modifying the lens hoods

One problem remained: the flexible hoods as meant to be stretched and slipped over the front of the lens. The problem is that all the lenses I wanted to use had control rings up to or near the front of the lens. So attachment as designed was not possible, so I modified the large and small Chinese lens hoods.

First how did I modify this Chinese lens hood for which I paid less than 10 €? The hole at the rear of the large-size hood has a diameter of 60 mm. This was the right size for fitting the threaded metal ring from the Hama 62 mm rubber lens hood that I had (the ring from some cheaper ones could also work!). The ring stays in place without glue as it fits snugly, maybe a little too tightly. Now the lens hood can be easily screwed to the front of a lens, directly or with a step up ring. One might need to be careful not to put too much stress on the front of “kit” zoom lenses when using this large hood (specially on bumpy bus drives), but with prime lenses with internal focusing or zooms that are well built there should not be any problems.

I later modified the small-size hood using a 52 mm threaded ring after enlarging the opening with a suitable punch. Whoever designed these Chinese lens hoods did a magnificent job! I can only imagine someone spending a lot of time getting the right shape for the hood plus achieving by trial and error exactly the needed stiffness for the rubber wall. To my surprise I also discovered that it not only can be fully collapsed when not in use, but it is perfectly usable not only fully extended but also collapsed half way. This is in fact extremely useful: collapsed half way it causes no vignetting with my M.Zuiko 12-40 mm f:2.8 zoom even when set at 12 mm. When fully extended it gives additional room to manoeuvre at normal and telephoto focal lengths. Adding the stiff plastic ring to the front helps a lot, even more than what I had expected. This ring is smooth and when one very slightly presses the hood with the camera, it generates very slight suction that helps to hold the hood against the glass. So, my only complain is the lack of the threaded ring that I had to add. With a wide angle lens it is also difficult to stretch it over the very shallow plastic or metal hood.

The hoods in use

Compared to a normal rubber lens hood one gains better control of reflections and very importantly the possibility of properly framing and composing images without causing vignetting. My initial tests were done with an M.Zuiko 12-40 mm, f:2.8 Zoom from Olympus for MFT cameras (with 62 mm filter thread). In the long-run I used the most the smaller hood with a Sigma 30 mm f:1.4 MFT lens (with 52 mm filter thread) as the wide aperture helps with keeping dirty windows totally out of focus as well as it allows to use a fast shutter speed.

Not all windows are equally suitable: some are tinted slightly green, and affect the colour rendition making editing the photographs time consuming. In buses in Spain I faced grey-tinted but very dark glass windows that forced the use of high ISO even in sunny conditions. Of course, photographing against the sun through windows is challenging to say the least, to planing in advance when booking seats on which side the sun will be helps a lot.

Tip

The main problem when taking photographs through windows is the presence of reflections, and a relatively large and mat black-coloured lens hood pressed against the glass keeps the camera side of the window protected from light, which greatly reduces reflections. Some light entering from the outside may be reflected back by the front of the lens, but most lenses are designed to minimize such reflections.

Using a wide aperture is very effective in making dirt and small blemishes on windows become invisible; they will still decrease image contrast as haze, but this can be in most cases corrected by using a dehaze or contrast adjustment when editing the photographs. Larger ice crystals on aeroplane windows are sometimes visible in the photographs, but they rarely cover the whole window, usually making it possible to find a usable region.

In cameras or lenses that support this, if using autofocus, it is important to limit the range of distances targeted during focusing. Depending on the distance limits set, it is possible to make the camera not only ignore the window itself but also nearby objects like trees or poles that sweep in front of the window.

The speed of the train together with the distance to the subjects determine whether movement will be apparent or not in the photographs. I have managed to take good photographs from trains moving at 200 km/h.

Photographs

I have an album in Flickr with photographs taken during a trip to Spain through windows, taken using the oversized lens hood from AliExpress described above. Some of the windows had dark grey tinted glass and required use of rather high ISO and adjustment of white balance in post-processing.

As at the time I was travelling nearly every week by train between the cities of Helsinki and Joensuu, a trip lasting between four and a half and five hours I started a project photographing the landscape through the windows of the upper level of two-level inter city train cars. I regularly took photographs during nearly two years. Some of these photographs are in another Flickr album with photographs taken during these trips also using one or another of the lens hoods. Many of the windows in Finnish Inter City train cars are tinted green, and made restoring a good white balance sometimes very difficult.

I have taken also photographs from aeroplanes, where, the more modestly sized Chinese lens hood works better than the larger one given the small size of aeroplane windows.