For indy filmmakers on a tight budget the purchase of a matte box is usually at the very bottom of the list but it is one of the most critical pieces to any filmmakers kit. No matter what kind of lens you have if you do not have a proper matte box you will get the inevitable glare and lens flare in your shot. A good matte box and an adjustable French Flag or eyebrow are basic essentials to controlling the light that enters the lens of your camera and is a filmmaker’s best friend when you are looking to get the perfect shot.
Speaking from experience, I can say that I too have left the purchase of a matte box for last simply because a good one costs more than my current DLSR and one of the cheap ones I had purchased during my 35mm adapter days fell a part just after a few shoots. And even after you purchase a good matte box, you still have to get standardized ND filters and rails to mount the matte box so there are additional costs that make it an expensive investment.
Could there be something in the middle ground that doesn’t cost a fortune, is light weight, and could give you solid results for the average pro or weekend warrior filmmaker?
Tim Ovel from indiSYSTEM is always trying to fill the gap and his new indiMATTEwide/slide is one of his newest creations that just may fit the bill if you are looking for an affordable wide angle matte box.
The indiMATTEwide/slide is a wide angle matte box and slider designed for the DSLR filmmaker in mind. What makes this matte box unique is that it can be used with rails or just screwed on to the front filter ring of your lens. The prototype that Tim sent me was surprisingly lightweight for such a wide matte box. Both the matte box and French Flag weighed in at just under a pound. The indiMATTEwide is 8 3/4 inches long and 5 1/2 inches wide and the top of the French Flag is 13 3/4 inches long and 5 1/2 inches wide. This matte box is nice and wide and a great match for many of my wide angle lenses including my beefy Canon J8x6B 6-48mm f/1.7 B4 zoom lens.
The wide/slide is made up of two main components, the indiMATTEwide which consists of the matte box and French Flag and the slider mount that allows you to mount the matte box to a set of rails.
Most manufacturers typically have a swing-out mount for your matte box and what Tim has done with the slider is found an inventive way to do without one. With the slider you can slide the mounted matte box forward and back making it pretty easy to change out lenses. The slider mechanism is about 4 1/4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide so you have plenty of sliding room to swap out and change your lenses in just a few minutes.
The indiMATTEwide prototype has a nice matte powder coated texture on the interior of the matte box which will also be on the exterior of the production model as well. On the prototype version the textured look is only in the inside. Some may think for such a lightweight matte box it must be made out of cheap plastic but that is far from the truth. The indiMATTEwide/slide is made from ABS PC (Polycarbonate/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) material. This is the same material used to build wheel covers, small tractor hoods, and non-professional safety helmets. I spent a month playing with the indiMATTEwide before even writing about it just to get a sense of its durability on my shoots. I find the indiMATTEwide akin to being the “Toughskins” of Matteboxes. I’ve thrown it out my second floor window, dropped it and threw it around set a few times and not a crack. In the shop, Tim had a 300 pound guy stand on the matte box and it did not crack or break.
On features, there were a few choices made on the wide/slide to keep the unit simple to use without much fuss.
The first thing I noticed is that the French Flag has four fixed positions. One position to store the French Flag and to cover the matte box from any dust getting into the lens. The other three positions for controling your light are horizontal, angled, and vertical. The first matte box I owned had an adjustable spring based hinge on the French Flag and you could move it at any angle but it would not tighten enough and the flag would slowly tip into the field of view. From my initial testing I found the fixed positions very useful and worked really well if you have the wide-slide fixed to your DSLR lens without the use of the slider. You can set it and go and not have to worry about the flag slowly moving into your frame especially when doing handheld work.
Second, instead of standardized filter holders, the indiMATTEwide/slide has a back disc with step ring that fits on the front filter of your DSLR lens. The back disc piece attaches to the rear of the matte box with two spring loaded ball clamps. The ball clamps secure the disc nicely although I’m hoping that on the production model Tim will go for a flatter clamp because the ball clamp can get in a way of securing your lens to the matte box.
Since many DSLR filmmakers are using variable ND filters these days this feature works quite well. I have a 77mm variable Fader ND so Tim was able to get me a 77mm pass through back disc. In the production unit you will have a choice of three different filter sizes to fit your most commonly used lenses. Definitely standardized 4×4 filters are better to use but this solution allows you to use circular filters in front of your matte box keeping the weight down and allowing you to use the matte box without rails. Down the road, Tim has talked about being able to put a rotating filter holder but there may be vignetting with that option so it may not happen.
One important thing to consider is that any lens where you have a rotating front element you will need to use the slider mount and a set of rails. For obvious reasons you can not clamp the step ring as you pull focus with a rotating front element because the matte box will turn with your lens. I have been playing around a bit for a temporary solution and one way to do it is to fit the circular disc to the matte box but leave it free and unclamped that way you can still pull focus. To prevent rubbing from the matte box you’ll have to adjust the riser on the slider.
Another caveat is that if you are using zoom lenses like a Canon B4 lens in order to avoid any vignetting, I removed the back disc and filter and passed it through the matte box.
The front lens diameter of the Canon J8x6B B4 lens is approximately 85mm and I used some of my extra SNAP! Gear “squish” to line the inner opening of the matte box so that no light could penetrate through.
This solution worked fine for me and perhaps with an 82mm pass through and 82mm threaded variable ND filter this would be a non issue but my 77mm ND filter and 77mm back disc ring showed vignetting so doing this solved the problem.
Currently, the indiMATTEwide/slide will sell for $229 which will include the matte box, French Flag, and slider as well as three back discs each with a filter size of your choice. Tim is currently working on the side flags that can be clipped on and off the the matte box and will be sold separately. From my understanding it has the similar fixed 4-position mount as in the French Flag mount.
From my initial testing so far the indiMATTEwide/slide is a pretty simple, solid, no fuss matte box.
- It’s geared for the DSLR shooter on a budget who doesn’t want to compromise their shots but who also doesn’t need to have to worry about much either.
- The ability to put a light weight cine matte box on your camera lens with a fixed French Flag is quite useful for me since I’m running around so much I don’t want to worry about the possibility of the French Flag falling into frame.
- The back disc 77mm pass through and my variable ND filter simplifies the mattebox filter system and keeps the weight down for non rail use.
- The option of using the slider to mount the indiMATTEwide on a set of rails with out a swing-out mount is a good simple choice for ease and functionality.
- The ABS PC material is pretty strong stuff and it’s nice to know that I can have one piece of gear that I don’t have to baby and that can take a hit now and then.
Knowing Tim I’m sure they’ll be even more improvements and I’m looking forward to seeing the production version of the indiMATTEwide/slide after the snow thaws out here in Philadelphia.