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SHAPE Swing-Away Matte Box Review – Great Cost/Feature Ratio on a Budget

November 2nd, 2021 Jump to Comment Section
SHAPE Swing-Away Matte Box Review – Great Cost/Feature Ratio on a Budget

Canadian camera accessories manufacturer SHAPE has released a new Swing-Away Matte Box with some unique features that make it a compelling entry into what was a stagnant accessory category. This new matte box features magnets, a fantastic tray locking design, and an adjustable height knob to raise and lower the whole matte box. I took the matte box out for a spin (or is it a swing?) on a several-weeks-long unannounced production. Here are my thoughts.

This is one snazzy-looking matte box. At first glance, no corners appear to have been cut on design. The little pops of red, now a hallmark of SHAPE products, look great.

However, I admit to worrying that I might have to gaff tape to kill any unwanted camera-op cameo on a reflective set at some point. I will also admit that’s a minor quibble.

SHAPE Swing-Away Matte Box – First impressions

Though in the past, I’ve been drawn to clip-on matte boxes (SHAPE makes those, too), my love of vintage lenses has led me back to the trusty swing-away design because older vintage lenses can’t support much weight. And yet, the design remains essential of course. When executed poorly, a swing-away matte box can add precious production time to a simple lens swap.

SHAPE Swing-Away
Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

I have used previous SHAPE matte box designs in the past, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan. Connecting the box with the camera in user-friendly ways wasn’t happening. That’s not the case here. A successful matte box revolves around compatibility, and with this design, it’s obvious SHAPE has listened to feedback.

There are some standard sizes to keep in mind here and ARRI has done much over the years to make the distance from center lens to rail somewhat standard, though SHAPE has an answer for any variability of camera dimensions here in the form of an adjustable knob on the bottom of the matte box (see below image).

This red knob allows you to raise and lower the entire matte box. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

Raising and lowering the matte box is a piece of cake, and this tells me no matter the camera and lens combo, the matte box will probably work. Disclosure: For this review, I didn’t try every lens and camera combo on the planet. Mostly I worked with the Sony FS7, the Canon C500 MK II, and a variety of primes.

SHAPE Swing-Away
Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

Included at launch along with a fabric “knicker” that helps control light spill between the matte box and lens are 87-82 mm, 87-77 mm, 87-72 mm, 87-67 mm aluminum adapter rings. I would like to see more adapter rings available because not all lenses I use on a day-to-day basis are covered. Also, I wish the fabric “knicker” was made with a rubber-donut design because I feel like there would be less chance of that design accidentally intruding on the shot than with the fabric version provided.

At 1.9 lbs., the overall weight is a bit on the heavy side when compared to clip-on offerings I’ve used from the likes of Bright Tangerine or Wooden Camera — however, with that weight comes a sturdy build that feels as if it would hold up well in a rental environment or the usual jostling on set or location. I can’t say the same about many of the other brand clip-on options I’ve tried lately. I always feel like I’m rolling dice with them as to whether a clip-on matte box will survive a rental.

The design

My favorite design element might be one of the smallest physically but among the most consequential while working. Besides changing lenses, changing filters while using a matte box can also be challenging. Picture a delicate one-handed dance with one hand grasping a 4 x 5.65″ $500 filter and the other hand attempting to unlock a matte box safety screw. The 4 x 5.65″ SHAPE filter trays — each marked “front” or “rear” — have a handy little red locking mechanism that makes removing filters a breeze.

All filter trays should have this locking mechanism. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

For added safety, you still have a small silver side-locking screw for each tray, but I have to say the red mechanism that locks and unlocks trays is just so satisfying. It’s one of my favorite parts of the design.

Also, note one tray can rotate if you’re using a polarizer and trying to find the perfect spot to kill unwanted glare or reflections.

SHAPE Swing-Away
Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

The SHAPE Swing-Away Matte Box includes a light carbon fiber top flag (sometimes lovingly called an eyebrow) with adjustable tension knobs. I do wish they had included flags to help control light spill from the sides. You can’t buy side flags as an added accessory because there isn’t a way to mount.

For moments when you can’t control an unwanted flare, I suggest purchasing a french flag like this one. I use french flags all the time, and they’re one of my favorite accessories.

SHAPE Swing-Away
Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

Another one of my favorite design features is the swing-away mechanism itself. Did I know I needed a magnet on my matte box? I didn’t, but now I can’t live without them. The magnet used here is just strong enough to prevent an unwanted mid-shot swing away in concert with a red-locking knob from occurring. It also helps give peace of mind with the sound of a soft click noise confirming the magnet is back in place against the base of the matte box.

This red knob allows you to start the swing-away move in prep for a lens change. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

I wonder how many other camera accessories would benefit both from the use of magnets and the handy locking mechanism in use on the filter trays? I’ll leave that to better minds to figure out.

SHAPE Swing-Away
Image Credit: Graham Sheldon, CineD

Final thoughts

Is a matte box the most the most exciting part of filmmaking for you? Maybe not, but if you’ve ever used a poorly designed matte box, and there are many, then you know what a hassle it can become in the middle of a 40 lens swap day on A-Cam. The new SHAPE Swing-Away Matte Box is well thought out and makes my life easier while filming. I’d also bet you a Canadian loonie this metal/carbon fiber matte box isn’t going to break anytime soon. If you decide to rent it out, my guess is it won’t come back in a pile of pieces.

For me, the magnetic locks, the red-locking tray system, and the base adjustable knob alone make this matte box worth the $597 price of admission. SHAPE nailed the design on this one, and I hope they continue supporting the product with additional lens adapter rings and maybe a molded hard case for rentals and travel. In the meantime, I give it two thumbs up.

Link: SHAPE

What do you think? Does the design of this new SHAPE Swing-Away matte box fix any of the quibbles you may have with other swing-away matte box designs? Will you be adding this to your kit? Let us know in the comments below!

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