When I teach my Intro to Digital Photography class at the Pontotoc Technology Center, the second night is usually lens night. I show my students wide angle lenses, telephoto lenses, macro lenses, and so on. One thing they notice right away is that none of my lenses are wearing lens caps. The reasons for this are…
- I need to be ready to shoot as soon as I look through the camera. Lens caps impede that process. Using a cap on my lens would be a little like keeping a cloth cover on my car.
- Putting a lens cap on and taking it off tends to dirty the front of a lens with fingerprints, which is in opposition to the reason for having the cap in the first place.
- Lens hoods actually do provide some shade from extraneous light sources, reducing flare.
- Since they make lenses bigger and more commanding, hoods make a lens look more professional.
- Lens caps actually provide less protection than lens hoods.
What do I mean by that last statement? Simply put, when confronted with impact damage, lens hoods act as a buffer zone, absorbing the energy of a collision. Hoods made of steel will usually bend, and plastic ones often break. An analog for this action might be the crumple zones in the structure of modern cars.
I experienced this twice in recent months. On one occasion, a football player knocked a camera from my hands. It rolled across the field. The lens and camera were fine, since the hood, which was plastic, absorbed the impact. I was able to glue the hood back together. On another occasion, a basketball player collided with my camera. A plastic hood on my lens was crushed inward, but the lens was, again, fine, and again, I was able to repair the hood.
Another advantage to having a hood on your lens is that you can set it down on its front, and the front element of the lens remains above the surface, keeping it clean.
The next line of defense for my lenses is a filter, usually a “UV Haze” filter, or more recently one that’s simply called a “protector.” These optically flat glass filters mount on the front of lenses and take the brunt of the abuse that gets past the hood: rain, smudges, dust, smoke, and so on. I feel like I can clean muddy rain off a $30 filter with my shirt tail, but would never risk doing that to a $1500 lens. On one occasion I was standing next to a door with a camera on my shoulder when someone came through the the door unannounced. The doorknob struck smack in the middle of my lens, shattering the filter. 15 minutes later when I was back at the office, I threw away the damaged filter and put a new one on. The lens was fine.
A maxim in photography is “it is better to keep your lens clean than to keep cleaning your lens.” I feel that using hoods and filters for that purpose serves me well.