I designed my own 3D printed lens hoods because Nikon’s suck

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My dad was into photography. He was a professor at Illinois in Speech and Hearing Science and did a lot of research on cadavers. He did a lot of photography as part of his research, and also enjoyed photography outside work. He had a darkroom in his lab and I had access to that while I was in town.

I always kept a camera or two on hand but was not dedicated enough to build a darkroom in the house. I didn’t really do much with photography after graduating from college. As computers advanced through the years and image editing began to mature, it became clear that the digital darkroom would become a thing. I inherited my dad’s Nikon F4 and a few lenses when he died, so that kind of put me on the Nikon side of the fence.

When I first saw Nikon’s announcement for the D1, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I started putting spare dollars into a box knowing that by the time I had enough to buy a camera, things would have moved way beyond the D1. It was a long and winding road, but finally, in 2007 I ended up buying a Nikon D80. I just wanted the control of an SLR and a digital darkroom to play in. I had no aspirations of photographic competence beyond knowing that I’d be able to take a technically good photo.

The learning curve with digital photography is so different than with film though, and I grew with photography well beyond my expectations and decided to go part-time pro in 2008.

Some of my stuff: zemlinphoto.com / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

In 2012, I started shooting for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They have big primes that I could use and I learned that swinging a big lens was something I could do and learned to love. I also enjoy nature and wildlife photography, although I have enough irons in the fire I don’t have much time for that.

Eventually, I set my sights on owning a big prime. After a lot of talk with other photographers, experimenting with the lenses at the track, and considering my bucket list of a couple of wildlife expeditions I decided it had to be the Nikon 400 f/2.8 VR. It plays well with teleconverters, and I can get out to 800mm with good IQ and still be at f/5.6, and while not quite “affordable” used, it was within reach. I keep my business funds separate from the grocery money but didn’t have the side-gig cash flow to support that kind of expense. I eventually convinced my wife to let me buy the lens before I was too old to swing it around.

I live in Indianapolis, so Robert’s Camera is local and I know some of the folks there. I kept my eye on their used gear for a couple of years. I looked at a few lenses, and finally, late in 2018, the right lens came at the right time. That’s where this story begins.

I love the lens and use it more than I expected. After getting it dialled in on all my bodies (D3s, D500, D810 at the time – now D850), the results are stunning. Even with the 2x TC-20e III. I kind of like the look of the two-piece hood, but I didn’t get along with it very well.

There were at least 3 times that it fell off while I was walking around with the lens. Twice when I was in the woods and I was lucky enough to hear it hit the ground, and once at the Speedway where, with the probability of buttered toast landing butter-side down – it landed on pavement on the clamp knob. No significant damage, but it got my brain stewing on design ideas.

One of my biggest hurdles in producing a 3D printed hood was the material selection. The two key properties are high strength and good sliding between components without creating wear issues. I print with a lot of materials, but nothing I was using at the time was going to be good enough for a big lens hood.

Then, right before the Covid shut down I discovered fiberglass reinforced ABS plastic. It’s expensive material and not easy to print, but it has the properties I was looking for. I also had parts in hand for a major upgrade on my 3D printers. I was off work for about 6 weeks as my employer was shut down and after some home improvement work, I upgraded my printers – adding heat to the enclosure, replacing the motion control board with a more advanced controller, and making some mechanical improvements as well.

I felt I now had all the pieces. The material to do the job, a heated enclosure on the printer that would let me print ABS, and the control features on the printer to deliver the part quality. Being out of work, I set to designing a bayonet-mount hood design for my 400mm. It took me a while to find the right combination of fits and features – a lot of 40mm tall test hoods to tweak the sizing, fit, and function. In early July I had a good V1.0 design and I shared this video on Facebook and with some of my local photo buddies.

I got immediate replies from some of them – “I hate the two-piece hood on my 400! I need one of those” (paraphrased) – and “The hood on my old 500 won’t stay on, can you make one for that lens?” “A Maryland basketball player bent the hood on my 200 f/2.” – and so it began.

The early adopters were super helpful, and their feedback helped drive some design tweaks, and I also worked on the CAD models to make redesign to other lenses easier.

Initially, I didn’t think a two-piece hood comparable to the original Nikon two-piece hoods would work, but when I finally tested it out the results were great. On the factory hoods, the outer section is shorter than the inner because it has to clear the clamp-knob when reversed. With my design, there is no clamp knob so I make the outer section the same length as the inner. I keep the recessed area matching the factory hood so lens covers design for the two-piece hood will still fit.

For the one-piece designs that replace two-piece hoods, I stretch it out so it’s within about 1.5mm of the tripod foot when reversed. This gives the maximum coverage possible while still being able to mount reversed. I also make an extended two-piece replacement where both sections are the length of my one-piece hood, maximizing protection while still mounting reversed for storage.

For lenses with one-piece hood designs, I try to match the factory dimensions as closely as I can. Sometimes I have to increase the diameter by a milimeter or two, but usually, I can match the factory hood exactly.

For every lens I design for, I make a mock-up of the end of the lens which matches the actual lens within a few hundredths of a millimeter. 3D printing isn’t a perfect process. The biggest variable I face is material. A different batch of filament can require different print and part scaling parameters in order to get the part accuracy I need on these hoods. So with every hood I produce, I mount it on a lens mockup to confirm good fit and function. Also, the first few lock-unlock cycles are a quick break-in for the cam surfaces. I’ll give it about 20 cycles for both shooting position and reverse mounting so it’s ready to roll when the customer gets it.

I’ve been selling these on eBay. My biggest seller so far has been the one-piece hood for the Nikon 400mm f/2.8. The same design works on the f/2.8G VR, the f/2.8D AF-S II, and the f/2.8D AF-S. I make the hoods to order so I don’t have to try to forecast sales and keep and inventory of parts. I can usually print a hood within a day of purchase, get it cleaned up, tested, and shipped in under 48 hours. Sometimes other commitments get in the way, but they all go out quick.

When I hear back from a customer, the response is usually over-the-top about the design and fit on their lens. I’ve had only one return from an eBay sale, and that was from someone who had a different lens than the hood was designed for – it didn’t fit.

I am continuing to add hoods/lenses to the design library. At this point, I’ve only been doing hoods to replace the “Slip-On” hoods for the big primes and 200-400. I’m still adding hoods to the library. Most of my hoods are for Nikon lenses. I have a design for Canon lenses too, but there seems to be greater hood discontent in the Nikon camp.

My main beta tester shoots a lot of sports. He said he’d like the hood on his 200 f/2 better if it didn’t slide when placed on the floor hood-down. After a few failed attempts, I found the perfect material to make a “Skid Pad” on my hoods. I embed a urethane ring in the face so when the lens is placed face down on the hood it will grip a smooth surface.

The most interesting hood request so far was from a photographer in Italy who has a Nikon AF-I 400 f/2.8. He works in a machine shop and had the tools and experience to take the precision measurements required for the hood design. We went back and forth a few times on measurements and I finally shipped him a hood without ever laying hands on the lens. He was elated with the hood when it arrived.

The owner of a rare Tochigi Nikon 300mm T2.2 contacted me about making a hood, as the Nikon-suggested HK-29 was not a good fit. He took his lens to a machine shop that provided me with measurements and I was able to design a hood for from the numbers.

Lenses currently in Zemlin Photo hood library:

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4.0G IF-ED VR – replaces HK-30
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4.0G IF-ED VR II – replaces HK-30
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2.0G ED VR – replaces HK-31
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2.0G ED VR II – replaces HK-31
  • Tochigi Nikon 300mm T2.2
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED – replaces HK-22
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED II – replaces HK-26
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR – replaces HK-30
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II – replaces HK-30
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED – replaces HK-25
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED II – replaces HK-27
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR – replaces HK-38
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR – replaces HK-33
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4.0D IF-ED II – replaces HK-28
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4.0D IF-ED – replaces HK-24
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4.0G ED VR – replaces HK-34
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4.0D IF-ED – replaces HK-23
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4.0D IF-ED II – replaces HK-29
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4.0G ED VR – replaces HK-35
  • Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM – replaces ET-138

Currently under development is a Canon EF 500mm f/2.8L IS II USM to replace the ET-155(WII) and a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4.0E FL ED VR to replace the HK-40. Requests for others, but I need to get my hands on the lenses.

I offer more than one option for many of these lenses. A lens that comes with a factory 2-piece hood will usually have three Zemlin Photo hood options – a one-piece, a standard two-piece, and an extended 2-piece. I also get customer requests for customs, like a 2-piece replacement for the HK-24 which is a super long hood, and the buyer wanted a two-piece option so they could swing a shorter hood at times, but maintain the full coverage when needed.

Another buyer asked for a 2-piece HK-26 replacement for his 300 F/2.8 so they would have better coverage when shooting with teleconverters.

If you want to see my entire range of hoods and maybe buy one for yourself, you can see what I have available on eBay.

About the Author

Karl Zemlin is a photographer and mechanical engineer from Carmel, Indiana. He worked as a machines and fabricator, spending the bulk of his professional career designing automation equipment. He started designing in 3D in the late 1980s and bought his first 3D printer in January 2016. You can find out more about Karl on his website, see his work on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube or buy his lens hoods on eBay.

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