Master Guide to Rigging a Nikon D800 or D800E (Part 2)

In this part I’ll cover everything else that comes in front of a lens mount!

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MATTE BOXES

A Matte box serves two major purposes:

  • It cuts flare
  • It helps mount filters


The advantage of using a matte box is that you only need one size of filters for any lens type, and you don’t need a lens hood. Stacking filters is also easier. The disadvantage is that it makes the rig bulkier and front-heavy.

There are two basic kinds of matte boxes – lens mounted and rod mounted. Light matte boxes can be fixed directly on the lens. Heavy matte boxes are better off affixed to rods.

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.

Considerations:
What do you 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

Here are my suggestions:

Lightweight and for ‘run-and-gun’ shooting – Lens mounted

Most of the lenses I’ve listed in Part I are of a 77mm filter size. Unfortunately, run-and-gun also means the system will take a lot of abuse, so going cheap isn’t a good idea.

Genus GL GWMC Wide Angle Matte Box

Genus GL GFFW French Flag Assembly

Genus GL GAR77 77 mm Lens Adaptor Ring

Middleweight – for a 50-50 shooting ratio

This one has rod supports, has two filter trays (one rotating), and has a 4″ x 4″ filter size.

Genus GMKDSLR-77 Mattebox Kit

Heavyweight – for feature films

Cavision 5″ x 5″ Matte Box Kit

Arri MMB-2 Matte Box kit

You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any cheap knock-offs. First of all, not everyone who makes cheap versions really understand how matte boxes work. A matte box, when used as it is supposed to, takes a great deal of abuse – filters are changed frequently, lenses are changed, flaps are moved, etc. Plastic matte boxes really don’t stand the test of time (not to mention high or low temperatures!), in my opinion.

If you really don’t have the money, you can always make do with a lens shade and a folded newspaper, right?

FOLLOW FOCUS

Most lenses worth their salt have manual focus rings. The good ones are well-made and are excellent for still photography. Videography, however, is another ball game.

Low budget productions usually can’t afford expensive or large light sources or huge sets, and indoor shooting happens between f/1.4 and f/2.8. Full-frame sensor cameras like the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E have extremely shallow depth of fields at these apertures, and pulling focus is a job for a zen master.

Which brings us to the follow focus system, which fulfills the following functions:

  • Geared focusing mechanism for finer focus throw
  • Rigid construction to limit vibration
  • Allows a second person (focus-puller) to pull focus by standing out of the camera operator’s way
  • Clear white area for markings

Here are my suggestions, from cheapest to best:

Digital Shoulder Rig and Follow Focus

Genus G-SFOC Superior Follow Focus System

Arri MFF-2 Follow focus system

A lot of people are swayed by the cheap systems, mostly plastic-based, available online. They are cheap for a reason. Some of them can only work with certain lens ranges. Some of them are worse than using the focus rings on the lens!

Without experience it is almost impossible to understand why the pros use expensive gear. Nobody wants to pay more for something that can be accomplished for less. There’s always a catch.

FILTERS

Filters are usually pieces of glass that manipulate the image before they hit the lens. Some cameras have ND filters after the lens, and most sensors have color filter arrays, etc. I use the term to signify a device that can be removed by the professional and used when necessary.

For our purposes, filters can be divided into two major groups – those that screw directly on to the lenses, and those that are used on matte boxes. The problem with screw-filters are that you’ll have to buy different filters for each lens filter thread.

Filters can do many things, but for the purposes of this guide, I’ll stick to four major types:

  • UV Filter
  • Polarising Filter
  • Neutral Density (ND) Filter
  • Diffusion Filter

Considerations:

  • Metal construction
  • Uncompromising optical quality
  • Constant performance, no vignetting
  • Negligible difference between different samples of the same glass
  • Easily available
  • Scratch, water and dirt resistant if possible

Here are my suggestions for various filters. I list both screw mounted (mainly 77mm filter size) and 4″ x 4″ matte box mounted filters.

UV Filters
There’s no real harm in leaving a UV filter on your lens forever, as long as you remove it for cleaning once in while. If you don’t, the UV filter might get stuck onto the lens. The Tiffen 77mm UV Protection Filter is a great all-rounder. But the best is:

B+W 77mm UV Filter

Polarizing Filters

There are two kinds of polarizing filters – Linear and Circular. Both of them do these things:

  • Darken the sky
  • Remove reflections from surfaces like water, mirrors, etc
  • Take the gloss off shiny surfaces
  • Increase color saturation

I’ll keep it simple – stick to circular polarizers for the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E. They do everything linear polarizers do, and they are not hard on your camera’s meter.

Here are my choices:

B+W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer

Schneider Optics 4″x 4″ True-Pol Circular Polarizer

Neutral Density Filters

These work like sunglasses. They cut light. For outdoor video they are almost a necessity. There are three broad classes:

  • Fixed value ND filters
  • Variable ND filters
  • Split or Graduated ND filters

Fixed value ND filters offer the greatest precision, with the downside that you’ll need many filters to cover all scenarios.

Tiffen 77mm Neutral Density 0.9 Filter

Schneider Optics 4″x 4″ ND 0.3, Neutral Density Filter

Variable ND filters often cover a range, but a limited range. If you’re going for this kind of filter, get the best. You change the density by rotating the filter.

Singh-Ray Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter

As you can see, 4″ x 4″ variable ND filters are not a good idea!

Split or Graduated filters are ND filters with the ND over a limited area only, like if you want to stop down only the sky, for example.

B+W 77mm Grad ND Filter

Schneider Optics 4″x 4″ Neutral Density ND 0.9, Soft Edge Graduated Filter

Diffusion Filters

These filters soften the image, which can be a good thing when dealing with skin, etc. Like ND filters, diffusers have different ‘powers’, depending on the intensity of the effect you are after. E.g., The Tiffen 77mm Glimmer Glass Filter has numbers 1, 2, 3, etc – where 1 is the subtlest effect and it goes up from there. Test thoroughly before you use.

Tiffen 77mm Glimmer Glass 3 Filter

Tiffen 4×4 Gold Diffusion Special Effects (FX) Filter #1

Filters obviously form an integral part of any videographer’s or cinematographer’s arsenal of tools. It’s so much easier and cheaper to get certain effects on camera rather than in a color grading suite – and more artistically satisfying!

In Part III I’ll cover rigs – the thing that holds everything together! Stay tuned.


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5 replies on “Master Guide to Rigging a Nikon D800 or D800E (Part 2)”

  1. Why do people think that being full frame changes the depth of field? It makes no difference how large the sensor is, the dof stays the same. Different length lenses have different dof.

    1. Fflint You are right. the DOF stays the same. Here’s an excellent post I read earlier that demonstrates this: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/dof2.shtml
      But there’s another way to look at it. Most people consider the same ‘borders of the  frame/relative position of subject to frame’ when comparing sensors. 
      E.g., a portrait at 50mm f/1.4 is not the same as both a portrait at 50mm f/1.4 on a larger sensor with the same ‘frame’, nor a 50mm equivalent lens on the same sensor with the same ‘frame’. The different lens design makes it impossible to replicate.
      The only time there might be some similarity is when you crop an image from a larger frame. In still photography one might be quite happy to do this. But in video, it’s too much work. But even if it were possible, I wouldn’t want to.
      I tend to agree with Roger Deakins, who stated if it were practical he’d have prime lenses in 1mm increments. Every small difference changes the ’emotional’ impact of a lens. I choose a lens for its ‘signature’ on a given sensor. It takes many years to learn how to use a lens-sensor combination to tell a story. What happens when either one changes?

  2. I would add Tilta shoulder mount. Very strong …a little heavy though. Stay away from Tiffen and buy either Shneider, Formatt or BW filters. They are made out of water glass. Add an IR filter to your list as CMOS sensor are very sensitive to Infra Red…especially if you are shooting in low light.

    1. Great info. Thanks for the tip about IR. I’ll try to add that to the Comprehensive guide, which will be updated semi-annually.

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