GEAR REVIEW: FOTGA DP3000 M3 DSLR swing-away Matte Box
My last Matte Box was an $1,000 beast. Can a < $200 alternative compare?
Not too long ago, I had a big chunk of my gear stolen. Luckily, my home owner’s insurance covered the loss. This gave me the opportunity to not only replace some aging gear, but to try to find better alternatives. One of the items lost was my matte box, the Cinevate Titan. I originally procured it used for a real bargain, so I was not looking forward to the prospect of replacing it since there was no way I could pay full retail price.
Now, Cinevate makes great gear. Dennis is by all accounts a great guy. If I had the means and the need, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy anything in their catalog. But in this case, I just couldn’t justify spending $1K on a piece of kit I don’t even need all that often. In truth, I find that only a small minority of my shots actually require a matte box (either to hold a square filter or for the flags to eliminate flare.)
While searching for a follow-focus, I noticed a cheap matte box from FOTGA that shared a feature that I really liked from the Titan – a swing-away mount. It is a great convenience to not have to loosen the rod mount and slide the matte box out of the way in order to change lenses. And the price. $125. Really? This must be junk, right? Well, while it’s definitely not a tank, after spending some time with the DP3000 I have no problem recommending it for light/medium duty.
To elaborate on the pro’s and cons of this piece of kit:
- Swing-away mount: This is a great time saving feature, and the main appeal of this matte box. While the arm itself is built of a solid, lightweight aluminum, I’m not a fan of the knob design that is used to loosen it. It’s a small fiddly knob and it has to complete disengage for the arm to swing. I’m definitely afraid I’m going to completely unscrew the little knob and lose it.
- Two filter holders: Having two is very useful. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to have a ND and a sky grad filter on at the same time. Only one holder rotates, but I can’t recall ever needing two filters to rotate at the same time.
- Flags: These flags perform like they do on most matte boxes … i.e. not that great. I’ve never used a design I really like. Not only do they seem to loosen in use, but the flimsy metal is easily bent and even more easily scratched. Even very light use will result in scratches, so just accept it. This is one part that would be better made of a slightly flexible plastic, I don’t know why manufactures continue to make flags from metal the thickness of tin foil. To be clear, the flags on the DP3000 are no worse than any other I’ve used, just not any better.
- Accessory 15mm rod mounts: I haven’t had occasion to use this feature as I find that my cage offers enough mount points, but I can see how this could be very useful in the right situation.
- Plastic pieces: While the matte box itself is made from a sturdy molded plastic, three of the knobs are made from what feels like cheap, brittle plastic. They work fine, but I’m concerned that they won’t stand-up to much abuse. Compared to the totally rock-solid build of FOTGA’s follow-focus, I found this a little surprising.
You could spend a lot more on a matte box, but before you do so really ask yourself if that extra spend will impact what what comes out the other end of the camera. My guess is, like me, you’d be better off investing the difference in some other aspect of your kit.