Using A Matte Box on My Film Cameras
I discovered that a matte box, typically used with DSLR and video cameras, can also be an excellent accessory for other camera types, like panoramic and large-format cameras. Its main job is to control unwanted light from getting into the camera lens and make it easier to use filters.
I came across this solution when the Sinar filter holder and hood I used with my 4×5 cameras didn’t work well with my 6×17 Fotoman camera. It caused vignetting on the right and left sides of the image. Instead, I now use a SmallRig matte box, similar to a lens hood but with a built-in filter holder and a flag on the top that can be removed if necessary. Now, I can block out excess light and use up to two filters simultaneously, which is more versatile than the regular filter holder and hood setup.
A Matte Box can Serve a Multitude of Essential Functions
(1) Light Control: A matte box controls the amount and direction of light that enters the camera’s lens. This control is crucial when using panoramic cameras like the 6×17 (or even 4×5 cameras), which often capture expansive scenes where even slight variations in lighting can be noticeable.
(2) Flare Reduction: The large lens and format of a 6×17 camera can be susceptible to lens flare, especially in bright or backlit conditions. A matte box can effectively block stray light, minimizing or eliminating lens flare and ensuring clear, high-quality images.
(3) Improved Contrast: A matte box helps maintain optimal contrast and color saturation in your photographs by preventing unwanted light from entering the lens. This results in sharper and more vibrant images.
(4) Vignette Prevention: Vignetting can be a common issue when using lens shades with wide-angle lenses, a 6×17 camera, or even a 4×5. A matte box can be configured to prevent vignetting, ensuring that the entire frame receives even illumination.
(5) Filter Holder: Many matte boxes are designed to accommodate filters such as neutral density, polarizers, and graduated filters. This lets you enhance your creative control over exposure and image quality without additional filter holders or attachments.
(6) Versatility: Matte boxes are versatile accessories that can be adapted for various camera systems, including the 6×17 camera I use. This adaptability makes them a valuable investment that can be used across different photography setups.
Matte Box On 4×5 Camera
The image above shows an Ebony 4×5 camera with a Nikkor W-150 lens and the SmallRig Matte Box. This lens has a 52mm thread, while the SmallRig Matte Box comes with a 67mm ring, the smallest available size. However, the photo demonstrates that this size difference is acceptable when using a stepping-up ring.
I’ve found that the SmallRig Matte Box fits perfectly with my 4×5 cameras. In the past, I used to attach a flag to the camera’s cold shoe and employed a LEE or Sinar filter holder. However, this setup posed a few challenges. Firstly, it was time-consuming to set up. Secondly, my hands weren’t accessible during the process, which could be inconvenient. Lastly, and most importantly, I couldn’t position myself behind the camera during the shot, which is my preferred vantage point. The SmallRig Matte Box has been a game-changer in overcoming these issues.
Pros and Cons of the SmallRig #2660
- made for wide-angle lens cameras
- lightweight carbon fiber construction
- accepts filters in 100mm & 100mm x 150mm
- installs/removes/rotates easily
- stepping rings can be used
- circular polarizer can be used on lens
- removable flag
- larger footprint than a typical filter holder + hood
- does not break down or fold for transport
- I use a level on the box to ensure its horizontal alignment
While a lens hood with a built-in filter holder offers advantages over simple lens shades, they may not work with all wide-angle lenses, causing vignetting. A simple filter holder on the lens with a flag from above (some use their hand or a hat) may suffice if you work in conditions that do not encounter lens flare or stray light issues. However, a matte box is a valuable accessory when precise control over light and composition is essential while employing filters on wide-angle and extreme wide-angle lenses.
Many matte boxes on the market have different offerings and construction materials. While the matte box I use is considered a beginner’s, it serves my needs well, as I am not using it for video work. I purchased a second after using the first on many shoots and saw the advantages of using it with my large format kit. Whatever type of hood you choose for shading and enhancing your images through light control, ensure your filters are shaded just as you would your lens.