Lens hoods are primarily designed to prevent unwanted stray light from entering the lens by extending and shading the end of the lens. In addition, since the end of the lens is extended, you also get the added benefit of some extra protection from accidental impact.
The geometry of the lens hood can vary from a plain cylindrical or conical section (much like a lamp shade) to a more complex shape, sometimes called a petal, tulip, or flower hood. These more complex shapes take into account the final image's shape and aspect ratio. This allows the lens hood to block stray light with the higher portions of the lens hood, while allowing more light into the corners of the image through the lowered portions of the hood, thereby reducing the amount of vignetting in the final image
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