What is a Matte Box?

A Matte Box is a very simple but essential piece of equipment which sits immediately in front of the camera lens and serves 2 main purposes:

  1. A matte box allows the operator to drastically reduce or eliminate unwanted lens flare by preventing stray light from outside the camera’s field of view to enter the lens. This may be performed through the use of a ‘matte’, however many matte boxes now rely on the use of top, side and bottom flags to achieve the desired effect.
  2. A matte box allows and aids the use of single or multiple effects filters in front of the lens. More sophisticated matte boxes allow the use of multiple filters in independently rotating filter trays. Rotation allows filters such as linear polarizers to be precisely angled in order to eliminate specific reflections on a reflective surface such as a car windscreen, or a star filter to be rotated to a required angle…

Common Matte Box components:

The Matte Box itself is rather like a large rectangular lens hood or sunshade.

Top, Bottom and Side French Flags attach to the matte box and are hinged to allow the operator to precisely prevent stray light from entering the lens.

A matte box can accommodate the use of effects filters which are inserted into Filter Trays before in turn being slotted into Filter Holders which can often be rotated independently. Some matte boxes have fixed or only one rotating filter holder but the best models have dual independently rotating holders. Filter trays and holders should all be precisely engineered to prevent any ingress of extraneous light whilst ensuring that filters are held firmly in perfect parallel to the front element of the camera lens.

Clip-On matte boxes are attached to the camera lens either via a male screw thread which mates with the lens’ filter thread or (more commonly) using a clamp ring which clamps over the end of the lens.

Rail mounted systems require an additional ‘rail support bracket’ in order to allow attachment to the rails (these are most commonly 15mm and sometimes19mm in diameter) and then use a light exclusion ring or ‘donut’ in order to prevent stray light from entering the matte box from the rear and creating unwanted internal reflections within filters and the lens.

Some companies use flexible foam or cloth ‘donuts’ however these can impede operation of the lens’ focus ring. A Swing-Away bracket enables the matte box to be easily swung away from the lens in order to facilitate much faster lens changes…

Rail Mount or Clip-On?

The simplest and often least expensive method is to clamp the matte box to your lens barrel using an appropriately sized clamp ring. (This can only be done on lenses with internal focusing). This is good for those on a budget, however we’d always recommend considering rail-mounting as there are several additional benefits:

  • Rail-mounting allows easier changing of lenses
  • Rails allow the use of additional accessories such as follow-focus rigs
  • Rails transfer the weight of the matte box system away from the lens and lens mount
  • Rails help protect the camera lens from accidental damage

You can of course use a clamp mount system in conjunction with rails to provide the best possible lens support – This is the preferred method for rigs with large zoom lenses…