I remember when things were made to last, like old-model Chevrolets. There are still 1957 Chevys on the road, and Petroff products are in the same vein — they’re built to last and will probably last you a lifetime (unless you do something really stupid). In addition to being well constructed, Petroff matte boxes have some nice features that make them easy to use. First, they’re modular matte box systems, and no tools are needed to assemble them. I used a three-filter matte box for my testing, and Petroff is the only matte box that that allows you to add or remove stages without a need for tools.
When I wanted to lighten up my rig by removing a stage from the matte box, it was an easy operation. And while adding stages can make some aluminum matte boxes quite heavy, this is not the case with Petroff. Most of the parts in a Petroff matte box are made of glass-reinforced polymer with the strength of aluminum, but with only half the weight. The total weight of my three-stage Petroff matte box with all four flags came to only 30 ounces. The standard two-stage matte box without the bottom flag weighs only 26 ounces. Since I was testing the Petroff with a Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera (BMCC), I wanted to use a three-stage matte box. My logic was this: Since the BMCC is all about getting a cine look (achieved by placing the background out of focus), I needed to use ND filters so that I could keep my lens open. Also, the BMCC needs an IR filter to avoid funky-looking brown artifacts in the blacks when using ND filters. This brought me to a choice: Either I could use a set of Tiffen 4x4 IR ND filters, or just place an IR filter in the front slot, and stack one or two regular ND filters in slots 2 and 3. And since you can’t stack IR ND filters, that’s just what I did.
I used a Tiffen IR in the front slot and a Tiffen .3, .6, .9 or 1.2 ND in the rear slots. That way, if I needed more than a 1.2 ND (like a 2.1 ND), I could simply put in a 1.2 ND and a .9 ND filter, rather than having to buy a new 2.1 IR ND filter. That’s seven stops of ND in one-stop increments. To do all this I needed a matte box that could be easily manipulated by adding filter stages. Another consideration was to do this without making the system too heavy. After doing some research, I found that only the Petroff matte box had the features I needed. When I contacted Petroff, a rep told me that he had a new model 4x4 matte box. More accurately, this new matte box was the Petroff-Zacuto matte box, the result of a long technical collaboration with Zacuto.
What’s new in the Petroff-Zacuto 4x4 matte box? The back opening is now 142mm (instead of 110mm); there are three points (pins) of attachment of the shade to the mount ring (you can remove one for more rotation); there’s an added bottom flag; and the weight has been reduced. Unlike most matte boxes, all of the filters can rotate for use with a polarizer filter, or slide up and down to position a grad filter. If you’ve ever tried to reposition a filter during a shoot using a matte box that didn’t have this feature, you know how important this is. Another time-saving aspect of the Petroff is that the flags are foldable, and don’t need to be removed when transporting your camera rig. This makes it easy to just take out your camera, open the matte box flags, and shoot. Secondly, there’s a bottom flag — and, as far as I know, Petroff is the only 4x4 matte box with a bottom flag. If you’re shooting over a reflective surface, like water or a shiny car, the bottom flag can be used to block reflections coming from under the camera. You may not always need this but it’s a lifesaver when you do.
The Petroff Mini Follow Focus that I tested is tight and easy to use. It has a nice, black anodized finish; an angled marking disc for easy viewing; quick-release mounting bracket; and a movable witness mark. This follow focus is even reversible and very quick to position on either side of the lens. Just clip the Petroff Mini Follow Focus onto standard 15mm lightweight rods; push it toward the side of the lens until the follow focus and lens gears mesh; and you are ready to go. To reverse the direction of the drive gear, simply loosen one screw and rotate the drive gear mechanism 180 degrees to reverse the direction of the Mini Follow Focus’s gear. This eliminates the need for a reversing gear when using lenses like those made by Nikon, Tamron and Tokina, whose focus barrels turn the opposite direction of traditional cinematography lenses. (If you’ve ever tried to pull focus on a lens that rotates in the opposite direction of what you are accustomed, you know just how important this feature is.) And unlike some “budget” mini follow-focus units, the Petroff Mini Follow Focus is high quality with no gear lash. I tested it with a set of Rokinon Cine Prime lenses and just loved the way it felt with absolutely no “slop” in the gears at all.
If you need an affordable, reliable matte box and reversible follow focus for your film camera, HDSLR or video camera, think about investing in high-quality Petroff products.
Two-Stage Matte Box $1,370; Three-Stage with Bottom Flag $1,830;
Mini Follow Focus $1,298