What is a matte box?
A matte box is traditionally a metal box with top and side flaps that sits in front of a camera lens with the objective of controlling the amount of natural light that enters the lens (and therefore sensor).
What is the purpose of a matte box?
There are a handful of advantages of using a matte box with the most obvious reason being ‘light-control’. Using a matte box creates a certain level of barrier around the lens which gives filmmakers more control over the amount of light entering the lens.
Reduce lens flares
Using a matte box can remove unwanted lens flares from your scene. Often you will see lens flares in a feature film and you may wonder how they managed to manipulate the light to get it to flare so beautifully when shooting. More likely than not, these lens flares have been added in post-production.
You can add French flags to the top and sides of your matte box to further control the level of light that enters your scene on-camera.
Another great benefit of using a matte box is the ability to slide in square/rectangular filters into the filter holders that sit in the matte box. Most matte boxes have 2 filter holders, allowing for you to use up to two different filters at any one time.
Why is this better than using regular photography ND filters that screw on to the end of your lens? These filters are usable with every lens you may have as it doesn’t need to be screwed on to anything - it just sits in your matte box and allows your lens to shoot through it. You can also use ‘graduated ND filters’ too - which aren’t as easily accessible if you’re not using a matte box. These graduated ND filters give your image a very specific look.
Protects your lens
Another advantage of using a matte box is that if your camera were to fall, the matte box will protect your lens and significantly reduce the chances of breakage. We’re not saying that a matte box guarantees against lens damage but it’ll definitely increase the chances of saving your lens.
Look professional and charge more
There’s no doubt that a matte box on your rig can look pretty impressive even if you have a low end dslr sat behind it. However, there’s a school of thought among some filmmakers that believes that clients are willing to pay more to filmmakers/videographers that look the part. The logic stands to reason in some regards, as certain employers will employ a better dressed but lesser skilled person over a higher skilled person.
Do you need a matte box?
That’s totally up to you. Do you want filters that fit your entire range of lenses without having to purchase ND’s for each lens? Do you want more control over your lighting conditions? Do you want to try and charge more for your filmmaking/videography services? If so, then you should definitely give a matte box a try! Matte boxes range in cost from $50 (on Ebay) up to $1000 depending on the brand and build quality. We’d always recommend checking out the reviews of any product that you’re thinking of buying to help inform your choice.