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Canon EOS Crop Sensor for HD
APS-C sensor cameras including the 80D, 70D, 7D Mk. II, 7D, EOS M and Rebel models for HD video recording.


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Old March 2nd, 2010, 08:31 PM   #1
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Matteboxes: Yea or Nay?

I think this subject is a pretty fascinating one. Of all the camera accessories you can get for a camera that shoots moving images, few have had as much mystery surrounding them as this. When the indie world started dressing up camcorders ten or so years ago, a lot of people were pissy that matteboxes made by the "establishment" (Arri, Chrosziel) cost $4000 and up. After all, it's just a box. Thus, newbie manufacturers started coming out with ever-cheaper ones to satisfy the hunger for this thing. What was interesting was what percentage of users actually weren't quite sure what they were used for--mostly they wanted to dress up their cameras, either for the fairly logical reasoning that they needed to impress clients who were used to and perhaps expecting a much larger and more impressive camera, or perhaps because the mattebox just made the camera look "cool". I even heard arguments here at DVI that actors somehow gave better performances because they took the production more seriously--because there was a mattebox on the camera.

So what is a mattebox used for? The name of course comes from mattes that were placed in front of the lens to create an effect, like a keyhole, but in modern times those trays are more traditionally used to hold filters. While filters seem to come in and out of vogue (a few years ago I was hearing "never use them, do all my looks in post", it's become clear that the newer breeds of camera need some help if you want to capture the cleanest image possible. IR, hot mirror, ND's (surprise surprise, DSLR's don't have the built-in ND's that 1/3" cameras do), diffusion--these are making more appearances in the indie world and it's a lot quicker and more efficient to stack them in a mattebox than to screw them on a lens. "Swinging a lens" needs to be as fast as possible when nothing else is changing on set but the focal length, and having to play the screwing/unscrewing game each time you swing the lens is, I'm sure we can agree, a cluster frak.

Outside of filters, the mattebox helps eliminate stray light from hitting the lens. While the box and bellows (if present) do a certain amount, an adjustable eyebrow and siders augment this considerably, also hard mattes if your system allows for them. Shooting outside into backlit sun or interiors with low backlights is trouble without a mattebox, unless you are looking to play the flares, which is certainly a valid choice but needs to be exactly that--a choice.

OK, fair enough. But now that we are shooting video with still cameras and their lenses, why would we need matteboxes--the still guys don't seem to use them?

Canon still lenses in particularly are coated to reject flare to a high degree, for one thing. And if your concern is to keep the camera as minimal as possible, it's not the first thing you are likely to add. It's dead weight right at the front of the camera, which makes the already fully-front heavy aspect of shooting handheld with these cameras only worse.

However, all of the reasons given above are still relevant. I've been working with Vincent Laforet over the past few months and until recently, we never had a mattebox on the camera and somehow we got away with it. I figured that it was only a matter of time though--we were mostly shooting controlled environments and using virtually no backlight which helped a lot.

I think for the individual user, it's going to be a judgement call whether its needed or not. If you previously had a mattebox just for show and never really used its various features and functions, maybe you can sit this round out. Save some bulk, save some bucks (certainly, screw-on filters are cheaper than 4x5's). Just today I was feverishly number-crunching lens heights of each body against distance to mini-rods to make sure they all line up properly, as I design my new production rig to handle all of the Canon DSLR's--I'm looking forward to dusting off my Chrosziel mattebox and having that control back again.

What say you?
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Old March 2nd, 2010, 09:02 PM   #2
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I think that's a very good question? And your point about stills guys not using them is understandable. If I had to guess though the difference might be that it's easier to prevent glare for stills than it is when filming moving objects (while you yourself are moving). But I always found them to be unecessary myself.
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Old March 2nd, 2010, 10:53 PM   #3
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I use it because it's very easy to add/remove filters within seconds. You can only use one screw on filter - vs several drop ins.

As far as still lenses that reduce flare - is exactly that. They help reduce flare, but it doesn't remove it. Matte boxes don't remove flare either - though, couple a mattebox with flare rejection technology on stills and you have yourself even less glare. Regardless of it's technical benefits - I'm sure a lot of people who've filmed with and without them (who've used them in the past) will agree that clients and actors alike tend to be in more /serious mode when you're using one.

My 2 cents.
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Old March 2nd, 2010, 11:01 PM   #4
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It's all about the Kiefer Test.
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Old March 2nd, 2010, 11:10 PM   #5
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I'm a fan of the matte box but it depends on the situation. The biggest plus that I don't see mentioned much is you can use graduated filters. You can also pick how much of the grad you want to use by sliding it in or out of the filter channel, you can rotate it as well. This is great for nailing exposure in situations like shooting outside, where the sky may be a couple stops brighter than anything else. Comes in real handy for windows too.

It's also real easy to rent a bunch of 4x4 glass filters and they work with any lens. You can rent a nice set of Tiffen nd's and grads for pretty cheap and they give you a ton of control with the 7D.

That and the Kiefer factor!
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Old March 2nd, 2010, 11:27 PM   #6
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You can stack round filters if you use a step up ring and larger sizes. It's only the super wides where you will run into trouble.
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 12:19 AM   #7
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Since no one's said it yet, I will: a big matte box can make a little DSLR look like a "real" camera.

Add rails and a follow focus and my clients would think they've died and gone to Hollywood. At any rate, they always enjoy the slate for my double-sound since I've moved from the XH-A1 to the 7D on most of my shoots.

OK, now back to talking about practical reasons to use one...
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 04:02 AM   #8
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"Since no one's said it yet, I will: [b]a big matte box can make a little DSLR look like a "real" camera."

No, the Kiefer test has been mentioned a couple times now...
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 05:18 AM   #9
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whats the kiefer test?
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 07:32 AM   #10
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Kiefer Sutherland, the actor in 24 didn't want to be filmed acting in the 24 show with an HD DSLR
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 07:39 AM   #11
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Ha ha...no...I don't think that's quite it. He is used to working with larger cams that used really big matte boxes (I guess it felt more professional to him). I don't think it mattered if it was a DSLR or not...he just couldn't concentrate when there was a small cam in fron t of him.
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 08:16 AM   #12
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maybe basing a decision whether or not to buy and use a mattebox on the comment one particular actor once made in one situation is a little bit over the top though?!

(unless of course you have a shoot with kiefer sutherland!)
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 08:27 AM   #13
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For me they are a waste of money and more important, I travel a lot and have to limit my accessories.

I do use a matte box on my EX3 and 4x4 filters, but then I shoot on a tripod 100% of the time. But even here, I could easily use a small hood and screw on filters. I doubt it ever made a difference to my work if I did - and I would have saved $1,500! Last trip I left the matte box at home - only one time I worried about flare (in the Himalayas) and I just shaded the lens manually.

For my 7D, a matte box adds too much weight in the worst place - on the lens. I am looking for extra large soft rubber hoods which I favor. Most shooters only use ND's anyway, so why not get screw type and step down rings. Save yourself $1,000 and buy all the rest of the stuff you really need - a good recording set up for instance.
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 08:48 AM   #14
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Burk, thanks for the note on the grad filters--that was somewhere in the back of my mind and I forgot it. I think that a lot of people haven't had the chance to experiment with these yet.

At this stage of the game, I feel like color grads (sunset etc) are probably best left to post where you can dial the effect in more carefully, track it as needed. But ND grads are still valuable to bring skies under control, certainly with the DSLRS that aren't noted for their highlight management.

As to this so-called "Kiefer Factor"--I can't speak to the reasons behind that gent's concerns but over the years, I have never yet encountered an actor who has had problems acting to a small camera. In fact, I've often found just the opposite. Actors generally don't care for the sturm und drang that can go hand-in-hand with filmmaking, particularly if they are in their moment just before the take begins and the camera requires attention. The process of shooting film required constant reloads and slating each take; with the advent of digital some directors have opted to just keep the camera rolling so that the moment becomes all theirs and the actors, and I've talked to a few that really like that they can move to the next take without interruption. There's a lot of things that make this bad for crew, and especially if you are operating handheld or Steadicam, trust me! When DV filmmaking first came in, a lot of actors responded favorably to the smaller camera because it felt more intimate to them and less "fussy".

In all of the projects I directed I never had an issue with actors taking things less seriously because the camera didn't have a mattebox. It's a little confounding to me how many stories I've heard to the opposite. I can only imagine that it involves actors who haven't spent much time on larger sets feeling a little self-important. But I also think it might speak to the tone that a director establishes on set, what kind of confidence he/she projects that makes an actor feel comfortable and that they are in good hands.
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 08:52 AM   #15
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You don't need a matte box to use drop in filters. There are several ranges with Cokin perhaps being the best known COKIN Creative System - The Holder System
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