Lens Hood vs. Polarizing Filter – Which to Use?
Knowing when to use them, how to use them, and in what combination can be tricky if you don’t understand the fundamentals of both tools. The age old question of “when do I use a lens hood vs. polarizing filter” can be answered only once you understand what they both do for you.
The two most inexpensive investments you can make are in buying lens hoods and polarizing filters for your camera lenses.
They each have their unique purpose and can have a cumulative effect on the quality of your photos if used wisely.
Let’s dive right in:
What is a Lens Hood?
A lens hood is a piece of material, typically plastic or rubber, that affixes to and passes beyond your camera lens.
The lens hood serves a dual purpose—the material shields your lens from excessive light that could cause lens flare or uneven colors and it physically protects your precious lens should it sustain physical trauma.
Breaking a $30 lens hood is a much better outcome than breaking a $3,000 camera lens.
Lens hoods commonly come in two styles—a cylindrical style, which extends evenly beyond the camera lens and a “tulip” or “petal” style, which extends in the same way but has a “flower petal” shape.
Both styles do the same thing—it depends purely on your aesthetic preference which you prefer.
What is a Polarizing Filter?
Back before Photoshop and Instagram, photographers relied on physical filters to manipulate the way light passes through their camera lens.
Think of a polarizing filter as a pair of sunglasses for your camera lens.
It changes the dynamic range of what you see in much the same way—loud, brilliant colors are toned down, in turn revealing a higher range of color.
A good polarizing filter will make the sky and ocean bluer and even intensify reflective surfaces, giving you nearly perfect reflections in your shots under the right circumstances.
When Should You Use Them?
There’s a time and a place for everything.
The same is true in photography.
Using the wrong tool for the job, or enlisting too many tools at once can give you unsatisfactory results.
With that said, when should you use a lens hood vs. polarizing filter?
Since the primary function of a lens hood is to reduce lens flare from excessive light, it’s best to use a lens hood when you’re shooting in extremely bright situations, especially if the sun is directly on you or you’re working with artificial light.
The last thing you want is for a lens flare to ruin your shot.
However, if you’re trying to get that effect, or want to be completely natural in how you shoot your photography, then you may want to forego the hood and try and experiment with the way the light hits your lens.
On the other hand, a polarizing filter is meant for situations where you want to tone down the brilliance of your light source and give yourself a higher dynamic range of color.
Indoor studio sessions are probably not the best time for a filter.
However, a bright, sunny beach day would lend itself to the use of a polarizing filter.
The brilliant blue sky will come out a much deeper blue—same with the water.
Beyond that, polarizing filters also do neat things to reflective surfaces.
One great way to experiment with such a filter is to take your camera to a pond, lake, or another large body of water on an early, windless morning.
If you play with the filter enough, you’ll see the reflections in the water deepen until you might not even know when the water ends and the sky begins!
Can You Use a Lens Hood and Polarizing Filter at the Same Time?
Why even compare a lens hood vs. polarizing filter in the first place?
Can’t you use them both at the same time?
This can be a tricky question to answer.
After all, not all lens hoods are made the same way.
While it’s possible to affix a lens hood over a polarizing filter, it will be challenging to operate the filter.
A polarizing filter needs to be freely turned by hand to affect your shots.
A lens hood that screws into the threads of your camera lens will more than likely not support a polarizing filter—the threads will be in use, thereby giving your filter nowhere to screw into.
However, some lens hoods simply fit around your camera via soft rubber.
That style may accommodate a filter but you’d need to stick your hands into the hood and turn the filter—no easy task.
At the end of the day, the question of lens good vs. polarizing filter will still rely on some old fashioned intuition.
Best Lens Hoods
58 MM Lens Hood Set
Why not get two for the price of one?
This set offers both popular lens hood styles.
Best of all, the cylindrical hood is made of durable but soft rubber, which is collapsible for efficient storage.
(4.2 / 5)
- Gets the job done
- Can have slight vignetting
58MM Tulip Flower Lens Hood for Canon Rebel
The Canon Rebel is one of the most prolific “prosumer” cameras on the market, which makes this lens hood a good fit if you own any of the popular Canon DSLR brands out today.
Furthermore, the tulip shape of the hood will add a certain elegance to your setup.
(4 / 5)
- Gets the job done
- Great for price
- Be careful with the threading
You can’t beat a certified Canon lens hood.
Canon has always been known for their craftsmanship and their tulip-styled lens hood is no exception.
While you may end up spending more money on this hood than others, the name brand could be worth it for appearances.
(4.1 / 5)
- Worth the extra money
- Fits well
- Feels sleek and solid
- Can become loose if not fitted properly
Best Polarizing Filters
AmazonBasics Circular Polarizer Camera Photography Lens – Various Sizes
The circular polarizing lens filter produced by Amazon is a great go-to, especially if you have a lot of different camera lenses to cover.
While the 58 mm is their most popular, they offer a range from 52 mm up to 82 mm.
(4.3 / 5)
- Does all the wonderful things you want a CPL to do (cuts through the glass, reduces flaring)
- An incredibly cheap price (look at high end CPL’s approaching 10x the cost)
- Does all the negative things CPL’s do (such as reducing light reaching the sensor – which will require higher ISO at the same camera settings) AND also produces very soft images
Tiffen 58MM Circular Polarizer Glass Filter
Tiffen is a recognizable name in the photography industry, unlike Amazon.
While Tiffen’s filters are a little more expensive, they’re made completely of glass.
They’re a popular accessory and, at their price point, are a great accompaniment to your outdoor photography.
(4.4 / 5)
- Great quality
- Removes glare
- Makes colors pop a bit more
- Can’t use on wide angle lenses
Hoya HD Digital Circular Polarizing Screw-in Filter – Various Sizes
Hoya is another well-known brand name in the photography world.
Their glass polarizing filter is almost three times as much as many of the other options online.
However, the quality of their filters will quickly show you why that investment is worth it.
Thanks to a high-pressure manufacturing process, the Hoya polarizing filter is made of super-thin glass that creates little to no distortion on your photos.
Not to mention, the sleek aluminum ring stands out against the cheaper, plastic casings of its more inexpensive competition.
(4.5 / 5)
- Great quality and functionality
- Turns smoothly
- Worth the extra money
- Can be a little tough to unscrew
Your Tools Don’t Make You, but they Can Break You
As a photographer, your skill and intuition are what allow you to excel at your craft.
However, your tools are a valuable asset that shouldn’t be overlooked.
While it’s hard to swallow the sticker prices of the truly great camera lenses out there, there are small improvements you can make that won’t break the bank.
Both lens hoods and polarizing filters are valuable tools to understand and appreciate.
While you can’t often use them at the same time, with enough experience, you should know when to use a lens hood vs. a polarizing filter.
Your intuition as a photographer doesn’t just give you the skill to take great photographs—it will begin to tell you exactly what tools work for the moment and what tools don’t.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.