What Works for You? A Guide to DSLR Audio

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If you gather ten sound engineers in a room and ask them what’s the best way to record something, don’t be surprised when you get ten different answers. One thing that makes sound engineering such a fun field is that all ten answers will probably be right. With audio, you quickly find there are many ways to accomplish a given task, and which of those techniques you use should be decided by the circumstances. With that said, not every engineer performs the same task the same way, and many have completely different setups and approaches that all result in great-sounding audio.

One field in which this is especially true is DSLR audio. It is accepted that the built-in mic on your DSLR is not going to provide you with great sound. This leaves you in need of some other way to capture audio when filming. The decision not to use your camera’s built-in mic is an easy one, but the task of figuring out what to replace it with can be daunting, thanks to the vast number of mic and recording solutions available.

It is best to start by thinking about what your audio needs are by considering what you are going to be filming and recording. If you already own a few mics, your needs are going to differ from those of someone who doesn’t. By looking at a range of typical setups and examining some of the solutions that are available, you can find out what is going to work best for you.  

If you find that you generally film one or two people at a time and don’t require close-up miking, it probably goes without saying that you aren’t spending money on a dedicated soundman and will be handling both the filming and the audio. An uncomplicated means to capturing great-sounding audio in this scenario is with a camera-mounted shotgun mic. While there are countless shotgun mics available, the Shure VP83F Lenshopper is a straightforward, all-in-one solution. The unit has an integrated Rycote Lyre shockmount that helps prevent vibrations and movement from affecting your sound. What makes the VP83F stand out from the pack is its built-in recorder. You can track your audio in 24-bit/48kHz directly to a MicroSDHC card. It also features a headphone input for monitoring, and a camera output so you can send audio to your DSLR to create a reference track for post. It takes 2 AA batteries that will give you about 10 hours of recording time.  

Let’s say you have a more intricate miking scenario but you are still going to be handling both the filming and audio by yourself. Maybe you require a multiple-mic setup, such as a combination of wireless lavalier mics and a camera-mounted shotgun. Since you are one person handling the filming and the audio tracking, you will definitely want a recording device you can attach to the DSLR. Having the recorder attached to the camera will help you keep your sanity in the long run, as it will let you keep your attention focused on one area.

If you already own lavalier mics, you should check out the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder. It provides 4 combo XLR/TRS mic inputs and includes swappable XY and Mid-Side mic capsules, allowing you to employ whichever mic technique will work best in a given scenario. You can also pick up a shotgun capsule, which is ideal for DSLR audio applications. The H6 can track 6 channels simultaneously, in up to 24-bit/96kHz WAV quality or as MP3s, if that’s your preference. All your audio is recorded to an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card. Gain control for each of the 4 combo inputs as well as the mic capsule are right at your fingertips. Monitoring is provided through the 3.5mm headphone jack, and a second 3.5mm output provides a line level signal that you can route to your camera to create a reference track. The H6 has a color LCD screen that is angled downward, allowing it to remain visible even when you have it connected to your camera with an optional hot-shoe mount. It is a good choice for an initial audio investment, as it includes two mic capsules to get you started and has the additional input to let you expand your mic collection without outgrowing your recorder. The H6 is powered by 4 AA batteries or an optional AC adapter.

Maybe you are in a similar boat as far as your miking needs, but already own a few mics and do not have the need for any more at the moment.The Tascam DR-60D 4-Channel Linear PCM Recorder has a feature set that caters to you, and will work well with a dedicated sound person or a multi-tasker. It can track up to 4 channels of audio simultaneously and is designed to be screwed to the bottom of your DSLR, but can just as easily be attached to a DSLR mount if you have a more complex rig. If you do happen to have a sound engineer, the DR-60D can easily fit in a field case. The dual combination XLR/TRS inputs and stereo 3.5mm input keep you covered for most sorts of mic connections.

Tascam has a hard-earned reputation in the recording world, and not surprisingly, the quality of both the mic preamps and the conversion in the DR-60D really shine. Thanks to ample connectivity, you can monitor the live mics, the recorded content from your SDHC card, and even the audio from your DSLR (via the camera input jack), all from the 3.5mm headphone out. Separate camera and line outputs allow you to send a reference track to your DSLR and a separate recorder for redundancy, if desired. The DR-60D lets you track in up to 96kHz/24-bit and switch between 24- and 48-volt phantom power to save battery life. Like most devices, it records to SD or SDHC cards. A useful feature on the DR-60D is its built-in USB port that allows you to upload your tracks directly to your computer, especially beneficial if your computer does not have an SD slot.

With a dedicated sound person, it can be a very different game. You no longer have to look for a recording device that will attach to your DSLR, as it is likely going to be worn in a field case. The Roland R-26 6-Channel Field Recorder is an all-in-one solution similar to the H6, but it is optimized to be worn during recording. The R-26 can track 6 channels simultaneously and has a built-in omnidirectional stereo mic and a built-in XY stereo mic. You can integrate your own mics via the dual combo XLR/TRS inputs and the 3.5mm stereo mic input. The majority of the unit’s controls can be adjusted with the large touchscreen LCD, but the gain control for inputs 1 and 2, as well as the transport, are still old-fashioned knobs and buttons—having tactile control over these parameters is integral (you won’t always want to look down at the device to make a quick adjustment). The R-26 captures your audio either as WAV/BWF files in up to 24-bit/96 kHz quality or as MP3s up to 320kb/s, and writes to SD or SDHC cards.

Now, an external recording device might not be ideal for everyone. When you track your audio to an SDHC card, you’re going to have to line the audio up with your video in post, and for some, this can honestly be a hassle that isn’t worth the time and effort. Recording your audio directly to your DSLR in this case will work just fine… but not with your built-in mic. The BeachTek DXA-SLR PRO HDSLR Audio Adapter is a high-quality, 2-channel audio mixer that will connect to the audio input on your DSLR. While the concept may sound simple, the DXA-SLR PRO provides enough connectivity to serve as a multipurpose audio hub. The unit itself mounts on the bottom of your camera and has two Neutrik XLR inputs that it will mix down to a stereo signal to be sent to your camera’s audio input for recording.

If your DSLR has an audio output, you can connect it to the DXA-SLR PRO and have playback monitoring as well as input monitoring available to you with the flip of a switch. Since most DSLRs will record a bit of hiss during quiet moments, BeachTek integrated a feature called AGC Disable, which sends an inaudible tone to keep the camera from increasing its gain (and thus hiss) during silence. The DXA-SLR PRO is really geared toward a “set it and forget it” type of operation, with its integrated limiters assuring your input levels will stay below 0dB. A setup like this would work well in scenarios where the audio capture might not be as pressing a concern, such as filming wedding parties or crowded outdoor events.

A good sound engineer is going to make use of the tools on hand, and should always have a back-up plan ready to go at a moment’s notice. Even the most reliable gear can break down, and you don’t want to be caught on a shoot with no way to capture audio. As it is safe to assume you will have some sort of smartphone or iPod with you, a simple adapter cable such as the Sescom iOS Adapter will allow you to connect the 3.5mm output of your microphone to your phone for recording. It even has a second 3.5mm jack for monitoring.

All these different methods have at least one thing in common, and that’s the quality of results you will be able to get from them. Whether your setup is straightforward or requires multiple mics, you can obtain professional-quality audio by figuring out what will work best for you. If you have any questions, you can ask a B&H sales professional at our SuperStore in New York City, give us a call at 1-800-606-6969, post a comment below, or join us online for a Live Chat.

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I have been using a Zoom H4N with a Rode N3G mike to record wildlife sound for wildlife video.  I have to boost the sound level up to 95 or 100 on the H4N and that means I get a lot of noise to signal.  So I'm looking to upgrading to see if I can get less noise. So I am wondering if I could choose between the H6N the Tascam DR-60D or the Marantz PMD661 Mk II which has the best preamp to boost the signal and which would record the best sound?

And should I think about an upgrade to a Sennheiser shotgun mic over the N3G? 

thanks for your input.  

 

Hi Alan -

One of the best recorders, with the cleanest pre-amps for the money currently, is the Zoom H6.

Now for mic choices:

The Rode NTG-8 Precision Broadcast-Grade Long Shotgun Microphone picks up on the tradition of the NTG-3 shotgun microphone with broadcast quality performance, uniform directionality and durable construction. The long NTG-8 measures 22" (559mm) in length and features a true condenser, supercardioid, external RF biased element with a high resistance to humidity and adverse weather conditions.  Its extended length makes it a viable choice for achieving high levels of intelligibility, detail and low noise during wide camera shots, or while positioned further from the signal source. The NTG-8's frequency response, sensitivity and dynamic range make it outstanding in audio for video, feature film, documentaries, live broadcasts and much more. The microphone is phantom powered (externally) and includes a windscreen, shockmount and aluminum storage cylinder.

The Sennheiser MKH 416 transformerless, RF condenser is designed as a combination of pressure gradient and interference tube microphones. Very good feedback rejection, low proximity effect, 130 dB/SPL. Rugged and resistant to changing climate conditions. Ideal for boom, fishpole, and camera mounting. Its excellent directivity and compact design, high consonant articulation and feedback rejection make the MKH 416 a superb all-around microphone for film, radio and television, especially for outside broadcast applications.

The Audio-Technica BP4071L Shotgun Microphone features an extended length of 21" that maximizes directivity and narrows the pick up area. The result is focused audio capturing and minimal noise and artifacts from sources outside the pick up area. The BP4071L is a popular choice among broadcast and film recording professionals, but may also be used in ENG (News Gathering), sound design applications and more.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

I have Nikon D90 and would like to use it for short video teleseminar. The filming will take place indoors mostly interviewing one person at a time. Would you recommend the VP83F for this?

Hi Ciara -

The Shure VP83F is an ideal choice if shooting within a tight proximity; from the waist up or head and shoulders, of your subject.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

I recently bought a Sony RX10 for use in filming short docos. I have a little shotgun mike which is good for natsots, but as a lot of my work involved profiling interview subjects, I need to use lapel radio mikes. Can you recommend the best audio kit for me? I would be operating alone, and would like easy options in edit with syncing if possible.

Thanks

Dan

Hi Dan -

As far as wireless is concerned, my favorite is the Sony UWP-D11 Integrated Digital Wireless Bodypack Lavalier Microphone System which features all-metal construction, easy to read LCD displays, a wide switching RF bandwidth, USB power and charging, automatic channel scanning, infrared synchronization between transmitter and receiver, Mic/Line switchable input on the bodypack transmitter, a true diversity receiver, PLL-synthesized tuning, a headphone output on the receiver, output gain controls on the receiver for optimizing the input level into a camera, and digital companding circuitry. The package is suitable for a wide range of wireless applications such as ENG, documentary work, talk shows, conferences, and more.

The TASCAM DR-100mkII is a portable stereo digital audio recorder designed with high-end recording features aimed at musicians and engineers. Four built-in microphones, two cardioid and two omnidirectional, deliver great sound via the high-gain and low-noise microphone preamps. A pair of XLR inputs can accommodate external microphones and provide switchable phantom power for use with condenser microphones. The 24-bit/96kHz linear PCM recorder features dedicated stereo mini balanced line in and out connectors in addition to an S/PDIF digital input. Also available is the ability to connect balanced line inputs via the locking XLR connectors. An upgrade to the DR-100, an already versatile unit, the rugged DR-100mkII extends the functionality of a professional portable recorder while improving the overall sound. 

PluralEyes 3.5 from Red Giant, featuring Drift Correction, is an electronic download of software for automatically syncing double system audio with video. PluralEyes 3.5 is compatible with both Mac and Windows platforms. The software imports your footage into its own timeline and automatically syncs the video from a single or multiple cameras to simultaneously recorded audio. Automatic syncing is accomplished by the software lining up the audio waveforms of the audio and video files, so for PluralEyes to work you must record an audio scratch track with your video footage. PluralEyes is able to import/export timelines from/to Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Media Composer, and Vegas Pro. You can also export .mov or .avi media files for use in other programs.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

i have sony hxr-mc1500p.  i would like to record my own video lecture for my student . i am using code less mic but i am getting hum in video so which device is best for me

Hi Giriraj -

You may have a defective cable that is creating the hum.  Try replacing the connecting cable. If you are looking to upgrade your wireless microphone, consider my favorite, the Sony UWP-D11 Integrated Digital Wireless Bodypack Lavalier Microphone System.  It features all-metal construction, easy to read LCD displays, a wide switching RF bandwidth, USB power and charging, automatic channel scanning, infrared synchronization between transmitter and receiver, Mic/Line switchable input on the bodypack transmitter, a true diversity receiver, PLL-synthesized tuning, a headphone output on the receiver, output gain controls on the receiver for optimizing the input level into a camera, and digital companding circuitry. The package is suitable for a wide range of wireless applications such as ENG, documentary work, talk shows, conferences, and more.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com