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Why Do You Need a Matte Box?

11.16.11 @ 4:37PM Tags : , ,

“Need” is perhaps a strong word, but a matte box serves two purposes: one, to cut down on unwanted lens flares; two, to allow for easily changeable filters in front of your lens. You may not need one; it depends on how you feel about lens flares, whether you’re planning on using filtration, and how high-profile you can afford to be if you’re on a guerrilla production (a matte box screams “real film” more than perhaps any other accessory, which I suspect is why a large portion of filmmakers run around with one attached: to look legit). Here with a nice, brief video of real-world examples of these issues is accessory manufacturer Cinevate:

<embed src="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=31434786" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

More info on Cinevate’s blog.

Companies making matte boxes in the $1,000 or less range (because you can spend a lot more if you go with an ARRI or Chrosziel unit) include Cinevate (of course), Redrock Micro, Shoot35, Light Craft Workshop, Cavision, and Genus.

I have a cheap Indian knockoff that I’ll be replacing in the weeks to come. Anyone have a particular model of matte box you love or hate?

[via FilmmakerIQ]

DISCLOSURE: Cinevate is a NFS sponsor.

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  • I was thinking of getting a matterbox, got a FaderND first because of price. And yes, I wanted the mattebox to make my tiny rig look more professional. Then I started shooting. And I realized I do NOT want to look pro and attract attention, or intimidate interviewees. You can do a lot of things very quickly without lugging out the “pro” looking rig. Also, it seems every addon you buy comes with a huge step up in supportive costs. The price of a Schneider 4×4 ND grad costs just as much as my ENTRE RIG. Looking pro and having pro gear does not help much at all. Put the money to whatever helps the aesthetic of the captured picture, and sound recording.

  • I see you watched Drive recently

  • Redrock microMattebox actually isn’t too bad for a clip-on mattebox, though I find the eyebrows and sidebrows fall off of it too easily. So an ARRI LMB-5 is a more dependable choice.

    Though not practical in every scenario, as a camera assistant, I enjoy swing-away matte boxes for obvious reasons — especially if your lens package is all the same size.

    • RevBenjamin on 11.17.11 @ 11:03AM

      I’ll second that Evan. Sad to hear I’m not the only one with issues. The redrock mattebox, while nice looking and great for filtering/simple mattebox, is terrible when it comes to the eyebrow and sideflags. We typically have to gaff the things on, the little blue shiny knobs fall off with great consistency. The loud crash of the eyebrow even ruined a great take on set. Not cool for the pricey-price.

      Speaking of price… when it comes to matteboxes/filtration/rod cages… does anyone else ever get tempted to just head out to the hardware store and try to make one for far, far less than they cost? I just feel the cost of some dslr gear is beyond comprehension for what you’re getting. I mean for the mattebox, I’m thinking a black drain pipe end, for example. Thoughts?

      • I’m with you on that. Whenever I want to see if I need something I go to HW store and put some temporary DIY hack together. If I use it a lot and it keeps falling apart I get more expensive pro part. But many times it just get’s used here and there and the hack is fine. But for everyday 12-14 hour film schedule, you need something that takes on beating and holds together :)
        For me medium priced ($500-$1000) matte works well.

      • Am making my own mattbox for all the cameras for years. Built a vacuum forming machine and turn out any size, shape I need for a particular camcorder or DSLR. I may make it available for anyone to get a formed unit from us and finish it anyway to fit their camera. I have pictures but don;t have time to make a link for this.

  • Yo thanks for posting Koo. What a matte box does for the clouds is impressive, and I wonder how much of that filter effect can’t be done in post with color correction? For what i’m going to be doing I think flares can only help the feel.
    I’m really curious though about how to affordably get that steadicam look and how much to invest in a rig I can carry around with me everywhere. This site has been awesome though and it’s perfect for a new guy like myself.

    • Getting rid of that glare in post wouldn’t give nearly the same result as physically filtering out the wavelengths during shooting. My $0.02.

    • Just to add to what Koo’s saying, although I know it doesn’t exactly answer your question: Trying to eliminate glare in post is like trying to recover blown out highlights. In face, in many cases that’s exactly what it is; in other words, generally impossible.

      Imagine also that you have a strong reflection on a pane of glass such that you can’t see your subject behind it. Those reflections aren’t, for example, a matter of colour correction; they’re physically obscuring your subject. It’d be the same job as removing a white sheet from in front of your subject in post.

      • Basically to put a pin in what Koo and Luke said- never, ever, ever, let yourself consider that “fixing it in post” is the first, second, or tenth option. Even on a guerrilla shoot, it’s worth it to think ahead of what time of day, and how the shoot is to be staged to prevent unintended lens flare or object glare. :)

  • I got an Indian knock-off matte box to hold my Schneider 4×4″ soft edge ND gradient filter. I can slide it up and down to match my horizon. A circular, screw-on grad ND would force me to put my horizon in the center, but the 4×4 can be positioned where I want it. When I want to go more low profile, I just slide the matte box off the rails and stick on my Canon lens hood.

    Regular hoods on zoom lenses are optimized for the widest focal length. If I’m towards the longer end of my zoom, the flags on the matte box do a better job, because they can adjust to being a more narrow “tunnel,” keeping out more extraneous light.

  • I’ve been using the Oconnor OBox and absolutely love it. It’s extremely robust and light considering it’s size.

  • I’m using the cinecity/dv city indian mattebox and I think it works fine.

  • When I started out in this business (only 2 yrs ago), of course I had to get me a matte box. Result so far is that the thing has been gathering dust. During my current shoot in Indonesia I realised its proper use: to prevent flares and to use a graduated ND filter for letting the rice paddies appear as green as they do and still get good exposure for the overbright sky… Of course I did not bring it with me, as I’m so used to travelling as light as I can and run-’n-gun the camera all day long.

  • Lens hood + standard lens filters wind up costing significantly less, and offer much of the same image control.

    I’m inclined to agree with Matt that there is a serious cost associated with either choice: if you throw on a matte box you make some people nervous and attract the attention of security personnel who want to know if you have permission to shoot, but if you go with either a simple lens hood or just naked filters [pointed away from direct sunlight] then nobody thinks you’re a pro… not even your clients :(

  • I haven’t used a matte box in several years, but they are quite effective at controlling lens flares and other aberrations that can occur from unintended light. They are essential when shooting film, especially on an older camera such as the SR-2 where you don’t have any SDI feed out to preview the shot. (I can’t help it, I love the aesthetic of 16mm!)

    The matte box is just another tool to ensure complete creative control over the image. I would never purchase one though – it’s more fit to be rented when needed.

  • Chad Hustlington on 11.16.11 @ 9:33PM

    I’m strongly considering going with Cokin P series filters. They look wack, but they get the job done and they’re cheap. It’s unfortunate that no-ones had the brainwave of making a decent mattebox that takes 3×3 filters. Aside from me, of course :P

  • Running a Genus now that I love. Tough as nails, light and manages to protect my lenses from all sorts of debris ( brass, mud, muzzle flash etc) when filming on the range.

  • Another option between a matte box and a screw on filter: the cokin filter systems (look it up on B&H or your favorite camera shop, or their own website: http://www.cokin.co.uk/). They have two types that are applicable to DSLRs: P series (85mm square or rectangular filters), and Z series (100mm square or rectangular filters, like 4×4 movie filters).

    They adapt to various filter thread diameters using adapter rings, and are significantly cheaper than movie filters, and also probably cheaper than getting several types of screw on filters for various thread diameters of your different lenses. Should mostly be fairly discreet in comparison to a matte box, and have most of the filter holding advantages of a matte box, but not the flare blocking however. Unfortunately the Z series holder for 4×4 filters is impossible to find right now, but one site claims that the supply should return soon. Cokin was supposedly having financial troubles, but apparently received some investment from Japan.

  • The O’connor O-Box. Hands down. I’ve owned the redrock and had real problems with the size, bulk, and the awful donuts. also the mattebox will not allow the rails to pass under the box, so it always has to be on the very end of the rails, which means adjusting absolutely everything each time you swap a lens. I purchased an obox for my rig and haven’t been happier. its a real cinema mattebox. I shoot personally on my 7D and professionally on RED, ARRI, and Panavision, so I’ve seen all the industry standard matteboxes, this one has me bringing it to set even on big jobs. its lightweight, compact, INSANELY durable, and as far as i know one of the only ones that is made to be a part of your handheld rig. I cannot stress how much i love this mattebox. O’connor makes great heads as well but this was a real surprise. and the cost kinda blew my mind. test drive it and tell me im wrong.

    • Thanks for the recommendation of the o’connor obox. I was not familiar with it but it looks pretty nice. If I’m ever in a position to spend that kind of money on a matte box I will definitely consider this one.

    • Harvey, does it swing away? Everyone’s got great things to say about it, just curious if that’s an option.

      • nope, because it can be fixed with the handles, it has to be as rigid as possible with the rod system… I’m thinking about it for a light handheld rig … hmmmm – price is not bad either for o’connor. I was just using their FF on a film production with 5D and it was excellent, but out of my reach to own.

        • I dont see why a Zacuto swing away couldn’t be added to the system. You wouldn’t want to use O Grip handles with it that way for sure. Its nice that the rails will go past the mattebox. Most don’t. The O-Box looks really nice. Maybe I’ll sell my RedRock and get this one. The RedRock is a beast!

  • As long as we’re voting, I’ve bought a Redrock Micro Mattebox for my EX-3. I like the fact that it is a quality device and works well. I think the price is very good for the quality you get. It is definitely a professional piece of kit and I certainly think it is up there with the rest of my Zacuto gear.

  • I have just ordered the Letus knock off company – Trusmt ‘s Matte Box (find them on Ebay) and hope the Box is a good as the reviews say it is. You get what you pay for, but I hope I got a steal!

    I can update my review when it arrives.

  • I’ve never got a matte box, too expensive and too unwieldy when you’re changing lenses often and not suitable for the type of on the fly doc shooting I do. So what I’d suggest is the Cokin filter system Shenan mentions above. It’s brilliant, you have to get loads of screw on adapter rings for each of your lenses (and then know where they are when you come to shoot anything!) but I already had all the filters from my old DSLR and still photography and then work a treat. You can stick in up to 3 in front of the camera, it’s not too big or unwieldy and quick and you can buy them any photography shop. And because they aren’t a “video” accessory, they are a reasonable price. Plus I’ve had very few problems with flare over the years (don’t shoot into the sun and use a lens hood!). The cokins are great, cheap and easy.

  • My 2 cents..

    With Redrock mirco rigyou need a mattebox because otherwise your lens will shift up and down when you rack focus but when the lens is “fixed” inside the mattebox, therse no shifting :)

    For example redrock field cinema bundle v2 + chrosziel mattebox 456-R20 with zeiss cp2 lenses gives you a nice steady focus pulling option.

  • I’ve been wanting a matte box for a while now, but when you’re from a shitty country that has currency exchange control, and only allows you to spend 400$ OF YOUR OWN MONEY, A YEAR! it’s fucking hard… I spend this year’s 400$ (plus 50$ from another card) and got a ME66 K6 sennheiser boom mic (which is in a closet, dusting it’s ass of), til’ next year when I can buy the Tascam DR100 to use it… Oh! wait!… I still miss boom pole, dead cat… I guess I’ll be GOOD sound recording by 2013…

    Yeah, you might say: “go buy it in a store”… BUT (and that’s a BIG but) the government control applies to every one (hell, not even medicines get the “benefit” in this shit hole) A Tascam DR100 in store is 6.000 Bs, and that’s about 1,400$ calculating the exchange at government rates, but you see, as the salesman doesn’t get “legal” dollars, he got to buy “black market” dollars, which are more than twice that the legal ones. So, everything keeps costing more and more.

    Sorry if I bored you with politics (it’s some kind of catharsis for me) , but the thing is, if any of you ever want to come to Venezuela and have a blast, don’t declare your money in the airport, National Guards will force you to exchange it there, and you will LOST money. You see, if you bring 1000$, with the government rate you’ll get 4.300 Bs, BUT if you get out the airport door, and sell those dollars to the first person you see you’ll get, AT LEAST 8.900 Bs. (some other may offer 10.000 Bs) And with that amount you’ll have SO MUCH FUN!!! Get to any beach (and we have the most beautiful beaches in America, no kidding) and smell lots of colombian coke. (don’t know why, but foreigns do ask for that a lot)… and bring a cheap matte box and I’ll drive you to a heavenly beach and eat the best cocoa bar you’ll ever taste, you won’t regret!

    • Rafa, that sounds terrible! Can’t you wire the money to a friend and have him buy it? Or go out of the country and buy it then come back?

    • Hilarious. And terrible!

      I was actually going to head to Venezuela (Isla de Margarita) a couple years ago but Costa Rica was so much cheaper…

    • That sounds really annyoing. And I thought Germany was annyoing, because they always sell video equipment for roughly 1:1 (Dollar to Euro). That means we always pay 1.4x the price as in the United States. But that actually sounds pretty good to what you’re having in Venezuela…

  • Lliam Worthington on 11.17.11 @ 11:09AM

    hahaha!!! Rafa that’s an awesome post.
    Love to take you up on that one day.

  • Your question inspired new post about my experience with and WITHout matte box.
    http://wp.me/p1ZqO0-e
    Since then I always use it :)

  • Ummmmmmmm, go to the dollar store and get one of the big sheets of black thick paper, then roll it up into a cone or tube and tape it on if you don’t like flares or want to tape on filters. Save yourself hundreds to thousands of dollars for nothing because your video (oh sorry your “film”) won’t make profit money anyways so why pay for something which won’t bring you any profit anyways, no one values video production, don’t waste your time in it unless you have a source who is paying you at least 50/h profit after expenses. Nothing is worth anything to support yourself unless someone else values you it and will give you something of theirs that provides you to live and take care of yourself, the same way they expect to get something of value from you when they provide their value to you. If you don’t get value back, don’t give value, they are unworthy otherwise.

    • hmmm would have to disagree with this :)
      I love to make visual work ( be it film, web,TV… ) and would do it even if ppl didn’t pay me. I would still invest to have the best tools. I like to snowboard and have top gear for it even if noone pays me to go down the hill.
      If you are doing it only for money, this is not the right field :)
      And BTW even if you get $50/hour, if you work 20 days straight 16 hours/day with producers constantly breathing on your back not to fall behind schedule, $50/hour is suddenly not so much :)

    • Well, if you’re a production company shooting for corporate clients it can make a whole lot of difference what your gear looks like. A 7D/5D with a nice rig and a big mattebox looks like some bad-ass professional film-camera to the CEO of your client company, and he will be impressed how professional you are and how much value he gets for a good price – that being before he ever saw one of the shots.

      That may sound stupid, but it works!

  • i don’t believe there’s really any matt-box filter that can’t be duplicated, better, in post.

    lens flares are another issue.

  • New to DSLRs here just bought a 60D and am on a tight budget need some pinions on these low end shoulder rigs what do you guys think of this ePhoto DSLR Rig Shoulder Mount Rod Support Rail System steadycam theres one that comes with a matte box

  • what about the difference from a low price matte box and a high price matte?

    is it just the beating that one and other can take?

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