On the Matte: DIY mattebox with Cokin Filter holder

on August 1, 2014

DIY Matte Box WITH filter holder!

Shooting outdoors can be both a rewarding experience, and a major pain. The sun is a free light source with amazing quality and fill potential.

It’s also a fickle beats. While the light is free, the shade is not, and controlling color temperature and stopping down shadows are major things to contend with on an outdoor shoot.

A pernicious problem with a lot of vintage lenses is their tendency to flare. Yes.
We all love GOOD flare.
(I’m talking to you JJ.)
Very soon we will be featuring a post on how to get that anamorphic blue flare right in camera.
But flare can sometimes haze over the entire image, making the shot difficult to color match, or even unusable.

This is why filmmakers have ben using matte boxes. Now- a good professional matte box does a couple of things:

1. It protects the lens from the sun- preventing flare.
2. As the name suggests, it accepts MATTES, a way to control the exposure or the look of the scene. Shooting outdoors often makes you choose between exposing for the scene, or exposing for the sky. A gradient filter will take take of this for you. (Yes, this can also be done in Post- but it is important to know all the ways to AVOID doing it in post. Trust me on this.)
3. It makes your DSLR look more like a production camera. This is not to be underestimated. If you are shooting on the street, and you want relaxed interviews, a big camera and matte box will make people self-conscious. At the same time, when clients who don’t know about DSLR video see you shooting their expensive promo on a camera that they take on vacation- they start to question where their money is going. It’s a prop- to be sure- but a little set dressing goes a long way for clients when it comes to justifying a fee.

I don’t know why that third thing is true. I think it’s because the age we live in, everything IS more accessible. Anyone who buys Final Draft thinks they have the talent to be a screenwriter. DSLRs have democratized the industry, and that makes it more important to set yourself apart. YOUR GEAR DOES NOT MAKE YOU A GREAT SHOOTER. But clients seem to think so. Having a matte box could give you a couple extra hundred just in subliminal return.

The good matte boxes have diaphragms and filter holders that accept industry standard filters. I love these things. They swing away so you can change the lens easily- rotate when you shoot dutch and need to get a gradient filter to line up with the horizon.
But the cheap ones don’t do this. They are nothing more than shades for your camera.
HOWEVER- I have been using some Cokin Square filters after my father gave me all his old 35mm photography stuff. For you kids out there- this was before photoshop. You HAD to get it right in camera. There are some really cool things you can do with these filters, and if you want to go cheap, they are DIRT cheap on the internet. (Thanks, again, to Photoshop.)
Having a filter holder that will accept three layers DOES give me the ability to use ND filters on the MATTE BOX, instead of trying to screw and unscrew it from every lens that I shoot with. Again, the benefit here is that it save me time, and i know I am not moving the Variable ND filter when i unscrew it.

The only filter holder I saw where ones that screwed on the lens, though.
Light is light, and if it goes one way, it goes the other.

So I just turned it around.
At first, I was just going to attache it straight to the matte box, but then I figured I wanted to be able to rotate the matte if I needed it. So I took the largest lens adapter they had (82m) and used SUGRU to attach it to the back of the matte box.
After it cured, i slipped the filter holder onto the lens adapter (backwards, as mentioned) and voila! A rotating filter holder that accepts inexpensive Cokin sized filters!

ps A word about filters: Everything you shoot through affects your image. Cheap filters scratch and degrade your image quality. It is the weak link in the optical chain. There is no use getting GREAT glass, only to have it filtered through a hazed up piece of plastic- so think carefully. I DO have a cheap set of colored filters that I use to play with. It’s kind of my “lomography” kit. The degradation gives an organic feel to the image, but i use it for creative work and pet projects. Your lens is your eye. Treat it well.