A videographer has many tools available to them to make their projects come to life. Selecting the best gear for each shoot can be challenging, and there are a variety of ways to tackle the same problem. Your camera and its corresponding accessories play a massive role in the final result.
Matte boxes are incredibly powerful accessories that sometimes get overlooked in the gear selection process. Occasionally, budding videographers gravitate toward matte boxes because it gives you a more “professional” look, but they don’t actually know what it does. In truth, when used correctly, a matte box can prove invaluable to the result you achieve in the end. But to achieve the best possible quality, it’s important to know exactly what
it’s for and why you’re using it.
Many confuse matte boxes with screw-on filters and sometimes will use them interchangeably in conversation. But there are some key differences between matte boxes and filters that make using a matte box a smarter choice in certain situations.
What is a Matte Box?
A matte box is a camera/lens accessory designed to help you work with light. They usually come with a hood complete with barn doors or “French flags” and a built-in “drop-in” filter component. Some use a rod system to attach to your camera, while others secure firmly to the end of the lens.
How does a Matte Box Work?
Matte boxes serve two primary purposes, to block unwanted light from reaching the lens surface and to filter incoming light. The hood around a matte box can have metal pieces or “French flags” fastened to it, and they can be adjusted to cut unwanted light rays from specific parts of your frame. The same way barn doors work to shape light on your LEDs. Also, the “drop-in” filter component allows you to add almost any type of filtration to your camera simultaneously. There are a variety of filters that work to even out light, soften light, or even create special effects.
How does a Matte Box Affect Your Footage?
Sometimes, light is positioned in such a way that hits the subject perfectly, but unwanted light rays land on your lens. These unwanted rays can result in lens flares or other distortions that affect your image quality. Rather than be forced to change the entire frame by moving the camera, you can use a matte box to cut the light out.
A matte box also generates consistency across your images. This can work from scene to scene and across camera to camera. For example, you are filming an interview on a two camera set up, one camera looks perfect, but the other has a lens flare due to the sun or artificial light source. You could use a matte box to cut the light from that secondary camera, making the footage from each camera look relatively the same.
Not much can be done for lens flares or distortions once you get to post, so it’s always a good idea to cut them out if you can before you get to the editing process.
Why Use a Matte Box Instead of Filters?
A matte box has some advantages over standard screw-on filters. Firstly, the ability to block light from a specific part of your frame isn’t possible with screw-on filters. Using a matte box can save you from bringing additional light shaping tools like flags or scrims. Having a versatile piece of equipment that can replace multiple items is incredibly convenient.
Secondly, a matte box allows you to quickly change filters in record time due to the “drop-in” design. We may only be talking about a difference of a few seconds, but in video production, every second matters. Additionally,suppose you’re using multiple lenses with different filter ring sizes, for example, a 24-70mm with an 82mm filter ring and a 50mm with a 72mm filter ring. In that case, you’d have to get a different filter for each lens if you go with screw-ons. A matte box can replace all of your filters no matter what size you need, saving you time and money.
Thirdly, you have added safety for your lens when you use a matte box. Things happen on set all the time, and damage to the equipment is always a possibility. Anything you can do to protect the gear is always a good idea. While screw-on filters protect the glass, matte boxes can protect the glass in addition to other things like your lens filter ring, which can be expensive to repair if it gets bent. And, heaven forbid your camera is dropped, a matte box would take the brunt of the fall. And they are relatively inexpensive by comparison.
When Do you Need a Matte Box?
In truth, a matte box can be useful in any situation where light is present, whether that light is natural or artificial. However, if you are working with natural light outdoors, it’s beneficial to carry along a matte box since you won’t have the ability to move the sun. If you are planning to use multiple lenses that have different filter ring sizes or plan to use a variety of filters, then a matte box will save you time and money.
If you are using a gimbal or drone, a matte box could also be useful. They were too heavy to use in these situations for a long time, but lightweight versions have been created as technology has advanced. Our ultralight matte box is perfect for gimbals and drones. Whether you are using a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), mirrorless, or full-on cine camera, our matte box is versatile and easy to use.
Try Matte Box on Your Next Project
Being able to do something quick and easy is valuable to any production. As a videographer or cinematographer, it’s part of your job to select the right equipment to achieve the overall vision.
A matte box might prove to be your next secret weapon that massively improves your video quality. Try one on your next project.