Want a no frills, affordable matte box that gets the job done? Look no further than this offering from SmallRig.
Last year I wrote a piece about whether you actually need a matte box, the problem being that the really good ones are very expensive and the cheap ones are mostly more trouble than they are worth. My conclusion was that, for many people, they are not really necessary and, when they are, a lightweight one will probably suffice.
But sometimes you do need to mount more than one filter, and a flag above the lens can be vital in certain situations. Towards the end of last year SmallRig announced a new lightweight matte box, and at a price of under $100/£75, I couldn’t resist it.
SmallRig is one of those Chinese accessory companies that arose out of the DSLR boom and produce rather well engineered gadgets at bargain prices. The Lightweight Matte Box is no exception. Made of carbon fibre, aluminium and ABS, it comes very nicely packed in the sort of gold-blocked matt black box that Apple or an upmarket cosmetics company would be proud of (when did camera accessories start coming in sexy packaging?).
Sexy packaging? Image: Roland Denning.
It is supplied with adapter rings for 82mm, 77mm, 72mm and 67mm lenses – these adapters provide an outer diameter of 114mm which the matte box clamps directly on to. This means if you have adapters on all your lenses you could move the matte box very rapidly from one lens so another. Note that this matte box is primarily a clamp-on – it’s not really designed for the sort of configuration where the box sits on support rails and a set of ‘donuts’ are used to fit it to different lenses.
A 95mm adapter ring is available as an option, as is a support to mount onto 15mm rails. For another dollar, they will even engrave your logo on the side (actually ‘logo’ is the wrong word, as the service only offers text); yes, I fell for it.
You can have your name engraved on it, just in case you forget it. Image: Roland Denning.
The matte box will take two 4x4” or 4x5.65” filters simultaneously – they slide in easily from the side and there are two tightening screws on top of the matte box to keep each in place. Now that side fitting is not ideal if you want to using graduated filters (are people still using grads?) but you could, I guess, turn the matte box around 90º, as long you as you don’t have it mounted on rails. There is also no rotating stage so, if you wanted to use a pola, you would probably need to mount it on the lens itself, then mount the matte box in front of that (there are no internal threads in the adapter rings so you couldn’t fit a round pola filter within the matte box itself).
Sliding a filter in. Image: Roland Denning.
The carbon fibre top flap is connected by a sprung latch and stays in place at the angle you set it – hugely important. It can also be easily removed completely. The top flap comes with a piece of protective stick-on plastic emblazoned with the words ‘matte-box’ – I peeled this off as I had no need to be reminded of what this object was (there is actually a video on the SmallRig site that tells you, rather unnecessarily, how to do this).
The matte box is made to a much higher standard than you might expect for the price – the whole thing feels solid without being heavy (it weighs just 297g including the flap) and everything stays in place, just as it should. I really could find little wrong with it.
At this sort of price, there seems little reason not to buy one, even if you only use filters occasionally – it’s worth it just for that top flag – and the adapters make it simple to use on a wide range of lenses.