If you’re actively honing your skills as a videographer, either with camcorders or HDSLRs, try working with matte boxes to enhance your video production and kick it up a notch in quality.
A matte box is an accessory that attaches to the end of a lens and allows you to block stray light from striking the surface of the lens. A matte box also holds one or more filters in front of the lens—they drop in quickly and easily. It’s basically similar to a lens hood, but instead of having a fixed form, matte boxes usually have movable metal flaps, or French flags, up front that allow you to block sunlight and artificial light sources that can cause problematic glare and lens flare.
While nobody will be able to tell that you’ve used a matte box, the important thing is that nobody will notice that you didn’t use one but should have. Matte boxes and filters are simply used to prevent or compensate for problems such as lens flare, which can cause haziness or other visual artifacts to appear across the image.
Matte boxes and filters are also used to ensure consistency from one scene to the next, which can be a problem when shooting outdoors in bright sunlight where the camera has to point in different directions for different scenes. Conversely, matte boxes and filters are sometimes used to achieve various effects such as vignetting. It all depends on what final effect you’re after.
Depending on their size and weight, some matte boxes attach to the end of a lens, while others depend on a rod system for support. The rod system attaches to the underside of the camera and runs the length of it, and it can support a matte box and other accessories if needed. The rod system is important because it takes the weight off the lens, which isn’t designed to support much weight on its own. On the other hand, a lightweight matte box that attaches to the end of a lens doesn’t put much stress on the lens and therefore doesn’t require a rod system. Lightweight matte boxes are recommended for handheld shooting, while heavier rod-mounted units should be used with a tripod.
B&H carries hundreds of different matte boxes. B&H’s website makes it easy to shop by brand, price and the filter sizes matte boxes will accept. Some matte boxes are made for specific cameras, while others are more generic and come with threaded adapter rings to fit particular manufacturers’ lenses. Some matte boxes feature a bellows that lets you position the sunshade to match the angle of view of the camera and lens combination you’re using. Be aware that the more features a matte box offers, the heavier it will be, and the more likely it is that you will also need a rod system to support it. It is often most convenient to buy a complete matte box kit.
If you just want to experiment with matte boxes then you should shop by price, as some of them can cost more than the camera you’re using. Be sure to look for something that will accept filters if you also want to try your hand at filter use. Different models accept different numbers of filters, so try to determine the maximum number of filters you will want to use simultaneously and select a matte box with enough filter slots to hold them all. UV filters, polarizing filters, color filters and neutral density filters are all popular choices. For more information on proper filter use, see the InDepth article, Filters for Landscape Photography.
Once you’ve settled on a particular matte box, you’ll need to select filters for it. Filters are selected by size, so just note the size required for the matte box you’re interested in and search for filters that match the size. Filters can be purchased individually or in sets.
If you’re still interested in purchasing a matte box but aren’t sure how to go about selecting one for use with your camera, you can always call B&H and speak to a member of our expert sales staff. They can help you choose something that meets your needs and fits your budget. You can also get the same expert help by clicking on the Live Chat link on the B&H website.
Do you have any questions or comments about using matte boxes and filters? We invite you to share them in the Comments section below.