Do I really need a Matte Box? This is the most basic question most videographers and photographers ask themselves. At a certain point in time I myself considered venturing into videography. It seemed fun but after a little bit of research I figured it wasn’t really where my heart was but I learnt quite a lot about it. In the time I was doing videography I discovered that there was one important accessory most videographers and photographers take lightly and that is a video camera matte box. When I say, “video camera matte box”, it’s seems as if I am implying only a video camera uses a matte box but that’s not the case. You can use a matte box in still photography as well.


What is a matte box?

A matte box is a camera accessory designed specifically to help you deal with light in photography and videography. It usually comes with a hood complete with adjustable barn doors or simply put they are called French flags and it also holds one or more filters in front of the lens which have a “drop-in” feature .It is very similar to a lens hood, but different in the sense that a lens hood has a fixed for whereas a matte box usually has movable metal flaps (French flags) up front that allow you to block sunlight and artificial light sources that can cause problematic glare and lens flares.



How much is a matte box?

A matte box is a thing of beauty when all the components are in place and is a filmmaking tool that do more than just improve the look of your camera. It can help you craft quality pictures with a simple camera and hence can be quite pricey than the camera you’re using. Matte boxes range from a few hundred bucks and all the way to at least $9000 depending on the company that made it, materials used to make it, the different options they have and even the way it works. Most photographers and videographers don’t usually consider buying one because they are quite expensive at time but it’s possible to find a cheap one which works really well.

 

Why should you consider using one?

In truth, there are 3 fundamental functions of a matte box and these are to keep stray light off the lens, holding filters and well for protection. There more reasons to use a matte box but these are just the basic ones. Well let’s look at these and more uses of a matte box.

1. Blocking unwanted light

Matte boxes are pretty amazing when it comes to blocking unwanted light. This helps your camera maintain optimal contrast across the images. This helps better for even consistency throughout all your pictures. Rather than be forced to change the entire frame by moving your camera, you can use a matte box simply by adjusting the French flags in such a way to block and reduce the volume of stray light that is coming through to the lens. Without a matte box it’s extremely hard to get a perfect and consistent contrast throughout your image.

Let’s look at it this way, you have two video cameras that are filming a certain event from two different positions, one of the cameras might film well than the other due to different contrasts and the other might be affected by the sun or other light sources. This is where a matte box steps in, to cut the light from the secondary camera and hence creating somewhat of a consistency in contrast between the two cameras.

2. Filtration of light

Another important use of a matte box is to hold glass or plastic filters in place in front of the lens. Filtration can be anything from neutral density (ND) all the way to specialized filtration. The matte box keeps the filters in place in front of the lens. Matte boxes have a variety of filtration trays and stages. Some have a single stage which can only accommodate one filter while others can have all the way up to a triple stage which can accommodate three filters. A matte box allows you to quickly change filters in record time due to the “drop-in” design. A matte box can replace all of your filters nomatter what size you need, saving you time and money.

3. Safety

Your camera lens is a bit safer when there is a matte box in place. A lot of things happen when you’re filming or taking pictures and keep in mind that your equipment can be damaged at any given time for example, if the camera falls off a tripod or gets pinned up against a wall, a matte box becomes the first point of contact instead of the lens hence acting as a guard. At times replacing a cracked matte box is quite fair than having to replace a cracked lens. In as much as screw-on filters protect the glass, matte boxes can protect the glass itself in addition to the other things like your lens filter ring, which can be expensive to repair when bent. So all this adds to the protection of your camera.

4. Improves the look on your camera

Let’s be honest, everybody wants something nice. We really can’t avoid putting this as an advantage. Personally if I were to buy a matte box I’d definitely go for the one that looks cool. Of course a matte box is much more than just coolness but it really can elevate the appearance of your camera set. Trust me if you are a freelancer you’d really be knowledgeable about the fact that clients tend to go for photographers and videographers with quite a lot of equipment even when they really have no idea about the use of that equipment.




A bit more about the matte box

Depending on their size and weight, some matte boxes attach to the end of a lens and some depend on a system for support. The rod system attaches to the underside of the camera. A rod system is important because it takes on all the weight of the accessories which reduces the weight on the lens because the lens isn’t really designed to support much weight. Some matte boxes are very heavy and are hard to use for handheld shooting but if you’re doing much of handheld shooting a lightweight matte box would be the best. One that I personally recommend would be the SmallRig Lightweight Matte Box 2660.

 

After selecting a particular matte box, you then need to select filters for separately because due to the different sizes of the filters not all of them will fit on your selected matte box. If by any chance you’ve got questions or any comments about matte boxes, I invite you to share them in the comments section below.



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7 Responses

  1. Thank you for such an informative post. I am not into photography or videography but my brother is. He is a professional photographer and has a canon r5, for a long time he is telling me about the benefits of this box but due to lack of funds, he is not able to afford it. It’s his birthday in 2 months and I want to give him something special and something which he can use. I think being an elder brother, I should support him and get him a matte box. Can you suggest to me any good options for canon r5?

    • Okay now that’s an amazing Camera, the Canon EOS r5. It’s pretty much built for quality images but it also has an amazing continuous shooting speed. Well for this one I’d recommend either the Fotga DP3000 M3 4×4 swing-away matte box. At the moment it’s going for $98.50 on Amazon. It has a rail system so it might be a bit heavy and another alternative is the one I mentioned in the post, the Smallrig lightweight matte box 2660 and its going for $79.90 on coollcd.com.  For me these are the best I’ve got. Good luck finding one for your brother.

  2. I like the idea of a matt box for cameras. When we used film cameras, the use of an eyepiece didn’t need a matt bix. Today, with LCD screens being common for viewfinders, a matt box seems mandatory for seeing the LCD legibly when the sun is shining around you. 

    Are matt boxes also available for mobile phones?

    Cheers.

    Edwin

    • Unfortunately for mobile phones I haven’t come across any matte boxes but I’m pretty sure that with how much the technology is improving there will somehow be an alternative for a matte on phones.

  3. Great article. I love taking pictures especially of nature but I am no where near being professional. I wish! Anyway I have seen pictures taken of the same object with and without a box and the difference really is astonishing. The average person viewing a photo of professional quality without a box would think wow that is beautiful but then when compared to one taken with the box of the same object they are amazed. Granted the first photo is beautiful but most don’t understand how much the right lighting and angle can make two exact pictures look totally different. 

    Best wishes 

    Pat

    • Most people usually turn to photoshop when they see the lighting isn’t good enough but if they were to try using a matte box they’d see the significant difference without editing the picture on a computer.

  4. I think lighting is one of the most important aspects of videography and cinematography, that’s why there are specialists that work only with this. You can completely change the look of your video just by manipulating the light on each shot, making it an integral part of the process. It’s no surprise why many cameras in professional shots use matte boxes.

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