Before I begin, let’s start with the ‘disadvantages’:
Matte boxes are big and heavy. One of the reasons is that they have to hold a large piece of glass, and must be of more sturdy construction. The second reason is that matte boxes have flaps to control flare, and these flaps have to be sturdy to withstand daily abuse. For these reasons matte boxes are made of tougher material than lens hoods.
Tougher materials, like metal and carbon fiber, are difficult to machine and refine. So, when a manufacturer designs and builds them, a lot of thought goes into it.
This makes matte boxes more expensive.
This is what a matte box looks like:
A matte box serves two major purposes:
- It cuts flare
- It helps mount filters
You can immediately see that having flaps means you can use it for many kinds of lenses, instead of having to use one standard lens hood for each lens.
The second advantage of using a matte box is that you only need one set of filters of the same size for all your lenses. Stacking filters is also easier.
There are two basic kinds of matte boxes:
- Lens mounted – for light plastic matte boxes that won’t put pressure on the lens or lens mount
- Rod mounted – for heavy matte boxes
Not all video applications need a matte box. When in doubt, decide if your rig is going to be mainly handheld or on a tripod. If there’s a lot of camera motion, the flare-cutting abilities of the matte box are reduced, since you can’t move the flaps continuously.
Also, if you are in control of your lighting situation, or don’t need any filter other than an ND or a UV, etc, a matte box might be more trouble than it is worth.
Don’t forget to take into account your lens choices, too. If the filter threads of your lenses vary, you’ll need different adapter rings for lens-mounted matte boxes. If you’re going to be using many lenses, get a rod-mounted matte box instead.
Still confused on whether you need a matte box?
Rule of thumb: Ultimately, most people avoid matte boxes for reasons of size, weight and cost. If none of these bother you, use a matte box. It’s worth it.
Considerations – What to look for in a matte box:
- Build quality, preferably of metal construction
- Light weight
- Movable flaps (barn doors) – on all four sides
- Ability to hold multiple filters, rotatable if possible
- Can take many thread sizes
Contrary to popular belief, run-and-gun shooting also means the system will take a lot of abuse, so going cheap isn’t a good idea.
Matte boxes made of plastic have two serious disadvantages:
- The flaps can break or get warped; or might even come off entirely with regular use.
- The matte itself might warp, putting your expensive filters under strain, and they might decide to jump ship.
Matte Box Recommendations for lens mounted, lightweight ‘running-and-gunning’, etc
For simple no-frills use, try the Genus GL GWMC Wide Angle Matte Box.
For ‘flagging’, you’ll need the Genus GL GFFW French Flag Assembly.
If you know the filter size of your lens, you could use the Genus GL GAR77 77 mm Lens Adaptor Ring.
If you have lenses with varying filter thread sizes, you could also use Genus GL GARD-NK Lens Adaptor Ring with Nuns Knickers – these are like bellows that can take any filter size 72mm and up:
Nuns knickers can’t be used in a lens-mounted mode, unless you want a droopy matte box.
Here’s a video from Genus with a brief introduction to this system.
Want something more versatile? Try the Manfrotto MVA512W Sympla Flexible Mattebox.
Both these hold rotatable 4×4″ sized filters and can also be adapted to rods.
As a general rule of thumb: Always mount a matte box on rods unless there is no alternative.
Matte Box Recommendation for Rod Mounted Systems
Most matte boxes are simply too heavy for the lens and lens mount to support. For this reason, they come with attachments at the bottom (or any side depending on the orientation of your rig) to take two rods. We’ll look at rods later, but for now know that the weight of the matte box should be entirely supported by the rods.
Here are two great options:
The MMB-2 matte box has a 114mm filter thread size – which fits perfectly to a Zeiss CP.2 lens. If you’re using other filter sizes, you’ll need adapters.
Here’s an excellent video by AbelCine on the Arri MMB-2:
Matte boxes might look like complicated pieces of gear but there’s nothing to them, really. Once you know which filters you need, how many of them you’ll be stacking, and what lenses you’ll be using, you can narrow down your choices quite easily.
If you don’t have the money for a good matte box, you can always make do with a folded newspaper, but don’t buy cheap systems. In my opinion, it’s a waste of money if you do. Click here to search for matte boxes on Amazon.