Hi, folks, today I want to talk about Matt Boxes and before I get started I must admit that they are something that falls right into a gap in my knowledge. Being a stills kind of guy I am used to using lens hoods to avoid lens flare and apart from using the correct one for the lens there really is nothing much to learn about them, however, as normal the moving image world is somewhat more complicated. Luckily I have an entire department of camera wizards to help me out so I thought it was about time I got myself educated in this important accessory.
So firstly a Matte box is used for much the same reason as a lens hood, and that is to stop unwanted light from hitting the front of the lens and causing issues such as lens flare, they differ from photographic lens hoods but essentially do the same job. Matte boxes tend to be more generic than lens hoods that are generally lens specific. This is an advantage as you only need to lug around one matte box for all the lenses on a job as opposed to carrying a different lens hood for each and every lens that may be used (I always seem to forget the lens hoods when I pack my equipment and then need to find room for them which is a pain as they are bulky, fragile and certainly not cheap for a plastic tube.
The first thing I notice is that matte boxes are not circular as lens hoods are but are oblong (my mission to revive the word oblong as it’s so much better than a rectangle). This is due to the matte box being a generic hood designed to fit a multitude of lenses as compared to a lens hood that can be manufactured to an exact field of view for the lens in question.
They also tend to have adjustable flaps on the front edge just like a set of barn doors on a light. These are known as French Flags or occasionally French Flaps (I prefer flaps as I think it’s an Australian expression). Now don’t start, French flaps is actually a bookbinding term originally and not rude at all. They allow for more flexibility to block light than the fixed form of a lens hood, this is necessary when the one box is to be used with many different lenses.
The other main difference between hoods and boxes is that matte boxes are designed to hold filters. Us stills guys tend to screw our filters directly onto the front of the lens and if we need more than one we stack them together sometimes causing vignetting, Cinematographic filters tend to be larger and square or oblong in shape allowing for multiple amounts to be used without this problem arising, they are inserted into slots or trays in the matte box itself.
Now we can separate matte boxes into a couple of types, clip on being ones that attach directly to the front of the lens and others that attach to a rod system. For those uninitiated in the cinematographic world, a rod system is literally two metal rods that attach under the camera and offer support for accessories such as batteries and of course matte boxes. The clip on matte boxes are light in weight and normally have fewer filter slots than the rail system equivalents that are generally larger and heavier. We need to use the rail system with these larger matte boxes due to their weight that lenses are not designed to support.
Now remember that rod systems come in two main diameters 15 and 19 mm and needless to say some matte boxes will fit on both but some will only fit on one or the other so this is something we need to check before selecting a particular unit.
Another thing to think about is how many filters you are going to need to use at any one time and ensure that the matte box you select has enough slots.
Various adaptor rings are available to fit between the front of the lens and the matte box or a flexible fabric alternative can be used, these are known humorously as nun’s knickers! (I could not possibly do a blog about matte boxes and not mention these).
For obvious reasons, the lighter smaller clip on units is recommended for hand-held work and the larger heavier ones for when the camera is on a tripod etc.
One thing I have learnt is that most matte boxes come with a set of mattes, these are thin black plates with various sized holes cut into them (letterbox style) and they can be fitted to the matte box to help adapt it to the particular lenses field of view, bigger hole for a wider angle and Visa-versa, this is so simple that I think it’s clever, as a firm believer of the KISS principle that is.
So that’s about it I will put a list together of what matte boxes we carry and how many and what size filters they can hold and so on for all our reference.
|Clip On||15mm Rods||19mm rods||Filter size||Number of trays||Other|
|Chrosziel MB 450
|NO||YES||NO||4 X 5.46||2|
|Arri LMB 25
|YES||NO||NO||4 X 5.46||2 OR 3||ONLY HAS TOP FLAG|
|Arri LMB 15
|YES||NO||NO||4 X 5.46||2 OR 3|
|Arri LMB 6
|YES||NO||NO||6 X 6||2 OR 3||HAS STEP DOWN FRAME TO PV SIZE
GOOD FOR WIDER LENSES
|Arri MB 29
|YES||NO||NO||4 X 5.46||2 OR 3 AND 138 MM CIRCULAR|
|Arri MB 20
|YES||YES||YES||5.65 x 5.65||1, 2, OR 3||GOOD FOR WIDER HD LENSES|
|Arri MB 19
|YES||YES||YES||4 X 5.46||2 OR 3 AND 138 MM CIRCULAR|
|Arri MB 18
|YES||YES||YES||4 x 4 , 4 x 5.65 AND 4.5 ROUND||2, 3, or 4
AND 138 MM
|Arri MB 16
|NO||YES||NO||4 X 5.46||3|
|Arri MMB 2
|NO||YES||YES||4 X 5.46||MORE FOR STILLS|
|Arri SMB 2
|NO||YES||YES||4 X 5.46||1, 2, OR 3|
|Arri SMB 1
|YES||YES||YES||4 X 5.46||1, 2, OR 3|
|VIV 3 stage
|YES||YES||YES||4 X 5.46||1, 2, OR 3
AND 138 MM
|Missfit Clip on 3 stage
|YES||NO||NO||6 X 6||3||GOOD FOR WIDER LENSES|
|4 x 4 Van Dieman Mosquito
|4 X 4||1 or 2|
|Bright Tangerine Atom
|YES||YES||4 X 5.46||2||GOOD FOR MOVI / RONIN, OUR LIGHTEST WEIGHT MATTE BOX|
Now remember this pearl of wisdom I found online “While nobody will notice that you’ve used a matte box, the important thing is that nobody will notice that you didn’t use one but should have”, wise words indeed.
Now Matte boxes don’t really warrant a BCR collectively but I feel that French Flaps and Nuns knickers deserve some score in their own right so let’s rename the BCR from Brucie Coolness Rating to Brilliant Crude or Rude and give them 5 points each making the score a maximum 10.
Cheers guys merry shooting BB.