In this part I’ll cover everything else that comes in front of a lens mount!
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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.
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.
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.
Heavyweight – for feature films
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?
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
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:
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 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
- 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.
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
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
Here are my choices:
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.
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.
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.
Schneider Optics 4″x 4″ Neutral Density ND 0.9, Soft Edge Graduated Filter
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
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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