Does Canon's 2.0.4 Firmware Make the DN101 Obsolete?
It might seem like manufacturers like juicedLink are rushing too quickly to adapt current HD capable DSLR's for video work. On the surface it may appear that Canon's new 2.0.4 firmware update for the EOS 5D Mark II renders the recently released DN101 obsolete. While Canon's new firmware does give the 5D Mark II audio meters and the option to turn off the AGC (automatic gain control) for manual control of the audio, the DN101 still provides you with some critical abilities for video production.
The DN101 is a small box that can be mounted to one of JuicedLink's CX series camera XLR adapters. The main purpose it serves is enabling you to plug in headphones so you can monitor the audio you're recording into the camera. For sound recording, this is as important as looking in a camera's viewfinder to focus and frame a shot.
Sure, Canon's 2.0.4 firmware gives you audio meters, but they're only shown when called up on the camera's display through a menu command. Canon's audio meters cannot be seen when you're recording video. The audio meters on the DN101 are always visible and functional. When the camera is rolling you'll be able to see your audio levels visually represented on the DN101's meters, and you can adjust the levels going into the camera on your CX series XLR adapter's volume knobs.
The fact that Canon's new firmware update disables AGC is good news for everyone, not just people who decided to hold out on picking up a DN101. Since you won't need to use the built-in AGC disabler on the DN101, you also won't need to forfeit one of your two channels. However, the DN101 was setup at the factory to interface with a camera with AGC running, so you should take a few minutes to re-calibrate it if you're going to use the new firmware on a 5D Mark II. Here's what you need to do:
1) Plug in your CX series XLR adapter, DN101, and your microphone of choice into your Canon 5D Mark II
2) Make sure the AGC Disable mode is turned off on the DN101
3) Turn off the AGC in your Canon 5D Mark II
4) Turn down the audio levels in the 5D Mark II with Canon's new manual audio control feature, so that the camera's audio meters are only going up about 1/3 of the length of the meters
5) Speak into the microphone (saying the alphabet is a good way to go) and adjust the levels on your CX preamps so that the meters on your 5D Mark II are dancing around -12dB
6) Using a small 1/16" screwdriver, turn down the pot that's located inside the M1 hole on the DN101, so the meters on the DN101 match the levels of the meters on the 5D Mark II. Don't forget to keep saying the alphabet as you do this. It might sound a little wacky... sitting there with your little screwdriver singing A B C D... but don't be intimidated. This calibration process isn't very involved, and will ensure accurate metering when you use your DN101.
Lastly, if you're using any video-enabled DSLR camera that doesn't have a way to defeat AGC and doesn't have metering, then the DN101 is an invaluable tool. Buying an accessory like this isn't like investing in a home Betamax player. Those machines could only play Beta tapes, but these tools can assist any video-enabled DSLR with an external microphone input. If you own a camera that doesn't feature headphone monitoring, audio meters, and AGC defeat, and you want your audio to sound clear and professional, than a CX series preamp and the DN101 are the tools that will get the job done.