Three vital pieces of equipment

Posted on November 1, 2011


In being a photographer, there are three pieces of equipment that have been indispensable to me as a photographer. As the digital era has taken hold, these three pieces of equipment are still indispensable. These are often overlooked by novice photographers, or considered too expensive.

The first of these vital objects is the lens hood. This device controls flare from side light. Depending on the environment, the lens hood will also protect the end of your lens, and keep it from contacting anything that might scratch or chip your front element. With longer focal lengths, there is an added protection from the elements like rain and snow. I recommend getting at least one manufactured specifically for your lens, but know that there are trade offs if you have a zoom lens as the precise length can’t be set for any of them. The reason being that the shorter (or wider) your focal length, the shorter the lens hood needs to be to avoid vignetting. This would also mean that most lens hoods for a zoom lens are optimized for the shorter focal lengths of the zoom lens. For some reason, the major camera manufacturers still insist on the lens hood being an optional piece of equipment that they can make some additional money from selling separately. I haven’t understood this and the prices they charge for them. When you buy one of the major camera manufacturer’s lenses, be sure to factor in the purchase of their recommended lens shade. Other lens manufacturers, like Sigma, Tokina, and the like, often include the lens hood with their lenses. If you are lucky, you may be able to find one of the professional accordion lens hoods by Ambico or another manufacturer that are more frequently called “matte boxes”.  You may even find a third party lens hood that looks and feels like the one from the major manufacturer, except it is a third to two thirds cheaper. You may be wondering why some look like tulips, other circles, and yet others like accordions. The circular hoods were the originals, and are designed to keep light along the shorter length of the medium from flaring, and this would often cause a slight vignette on the longer edge. This would mean that by using a lens hood, you would always end up with a slight vignette of the image or slight lens flare in the past. A few years back, someone decided to create a tulip shaped hood for their lens because they didn’t want this vignetting to occur, and optimized the length of the tulip to each side of the medium being used. Since then, almost everyone has gone to the tulip style lens hood. The new problem is that there are different digital sensor sizes, so the tulips are optimized for the largest sensor that can be used with the lens and smaller digital sensors will have the possibility of flare. I referred to the accordion matte boxes as a professional lens hood. Frequently, pros used to buy one and use it with all their lenses. The advantage was that you could use one shade and adjust it for each lens you had for the appropriate distance. You controlled the amount of flare by adjusting the length of the hood. I have frequently heard how a lens hood is expensive and inconvenient to use. When you compare the cost you paid for the lens, a lens hood really isn’t much. As for inconvenience, after using one for a little while, they no longer seem like an inconvenience and become a strong necessity that is second nature. This piece of equipment is vital for the professional photographer and well worth the added expense of purchasing one if one isn’t already included with your lens.

The next item is the polarizing filter. A polarizing filter works by only allowing light that pulses in a specific orientation to pass, and blocks the remaining light from passing. The net effect is a compressed black range, or increased contrast (darker skies and brighter colors), and reduction in haze.  When changing the direction of the light entering (glass, foilage, and water), you will frequently be able to adjust the amount of reflections from glassy and watery surfaces. You will not be able to adjust the reflections from metallic surfaces like chrome. The polarizer is the one filter that can’t be duplicated in effects by programs like Photoshop. To use the filter, you affix the filter to the front of your lens, then adjust the filter rotation to accomplish the effect you want.

The last piece of equipment is the hat. It is that infamous item that you put on your head. The advantage of having a hat is that it helps to control the sweat falling from your forehead, protect against sun light, and frequently doubles as a secondary lens shade.