I’m quite a fan of the Lee filter holder. A single holder for multiple drop-in filters beats having to buy a pile of the same filter in different sizes, plus drop-in graduated neutral density filters are much more versatile than screw-on GNDs. The addition of an adapter ring to hold a circular polarizer is pretty good, too (though the need to buy it separately is a bit annoying, and the price of 105mm CPLs is enough to make you wince). But when using the Lee filter system, I’ve had times when I’ve cursed the lack of a proper filter hood to block out unwanted stray light. Well, it turns out that Lee does make a couple of filter hoods for their system: the Universal and the Wide Angle Hoods.
I decided to splurge on the Universal Hood (which, for some mysterious reason, is called the Medium Wide Hood in North America). It isn’t a typical rigid piece of plastic, like the filter hoods that one gets with lenses these days. Instead, it is a funky-looking accordion thing, adjustable to a variety of lengths from a wide angle to a medium telephoto length. The vaguely leather-like material has some rigid internal supports that make the hood self-supporting, staying where it is put. The bellows hood is pretty flexible as well, so you can even angle it if you want. The Universal Hood comes with a couple of filter holder slots which fit behind the hood; you can adjust the number of such slots in the same way as the regular filter holder (remove some screws, add/subtract what you want, screw back together – obviously, not for fiddling with in the field), and you can add the 105mm adapter ring to the front, within the hood.
It is pretty easy to use. Like the regular filter holder, it affixes to the adapter ring you screw onto the lens; the brass knob on the side pulls out a bit to allow you to put it on or remove it. With the hood, you simply pull out the hood as far as you need to and leave it. In the field, I haven’t noticed any problem with wind knocking it around, even while shooting long exposures in fairly windy conditions. Even fully retracted, the hood provides a bit of glare protection. There is some vignetting at really wide angles on some lenses (at 16-17mm on my Pentax 16-50 lens, but not on my Sigma 10-20mm lens), even when using the wide angle adapter ring, but the problem typically vanishes if I zoom in a millimetre or two. The problem is from the CPL on the 105mm adapter ring than from the hood itself; given that the CPL is basically useless at wide angles anyway, I just remove the CPL if I need to shoot really wide (which isn’t often). I’ve found that putting the CPL on the adapter ring is a bit of a hassle in the field, requiring me to remove the hood from the camera first, so most of the time I end up leaving it on. Rotating the CPL is a slight nuisance, since it necessitates reaching around the hood to spin it, so I usually only pull the hood out after I’ve adjusted the CPL.
The Universal Hood, even when collapsed, is still quite a bit larger than the regular Lee holder. You’ll need to make a bit more room in your photo bag for it. On the plus side, even when collapsed the hood can help protect a mounted CPL.
There is one point of irritation I have with an otherwise fine piece of gear, and that is the lack of glare cover for the filter slots. Sometimes, when shooting close to mid-day and not using both filter slots, light leaks into the unused slot(s). If I’m shooting relatively short exposures, this isn’t really a problem. Not so much when shooting long exposures of several minutes; every little bit of glare, like every little bit of dust, is amplified over the course of the exposure. The solution I came to is fairly cheap and easy, though. Cut a strip off a sheet of black foam, and affix to the sides of the filter slots with Velcro or, better still, Dual Lock. Problem solved.
Nuisances aside, I’ve found the Lee Universal Hood to be a pretty useful addition to my gear bag, and I often don’t bother to bring the regular filter holder with me anymore. Would I recommend it? Absolutely; it is a very useful upgrade for any outdoor photographer.