Tips for Using the Zoom H4n in a DSLR Video Shoot

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Video-enabled DSLR cameras have become the Tickle Me Elmo's of the creative production world, but one thing Elmo isn't laughing at is the audio quality of the built-in microphones. Whether your camera has a microphone input or not, you should consider using an external digital audio recorder to handle the sound recording for your next video production. Using an external audio recorder in video production and filmmaking is often referred to as "double system." This practice requires a bit more work on your part; but if the ultimate goal is to create an excellent finished product, then capturing good sound should be a top priority.

The extra work you'll be required to do extends to every phase of production. In pre-production you're going to need to plan your audio recorder/DSLR operation workflow. During the actual production you're going to have to operate (or preferably have someone else operate) the digital audio recorder. In post you're going to need to transfer the sound files into your computer and sync them with the picture. There are many inexpensive yet high-quality portable audio recorders on the market that will enable you to do all of this, but a favorite among video producers and independent filmmakers is the Zoom H4n. Not only does the H4n offer one of the best bang-for-the-buck ratios out there, but more importantly, a large number of video-enabled DSLR users have adopted this specific recorder for use in video production and are achieving impressive results.


The Zoom H4n is a popular audio recorder among DSLR video shooters


The Zoom H4n is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife production tool. Not only can it serve as an external recorder for DSLR video work, it can also act as an audio interface for your computer. This means that you can connect it to a Mac or Windows PC via USB 2.0, plug a microphone into one of its two XLR inputs, and use the H4n to create voiceovers in post production. You can record directly into the timeline of Final Cut Pro, or into any video or audio production software that supports external interfaces. There are also lots of powerful features for musicians in the H4n, such as multi-track recording, a guitar tuner, and a metronome. It's even possible to record four separate channels of audio using the H4n's high-quality built-in stereo condenser microphones and its two XLR microphone inputs simultaneously.

You can easily set the H4n to record different file formats and audio resolutions--including the ability to record audio as compressed MP3 files. But since the goal here is to achieve the best quality possible, let's forget I even mentioned the name MP3! In my personal experience recording sound for video productions, I've had great results setting the recorder for 24-bit/48 kHz WAV files. Many people have reported excellent sync results when setting the Zoom H4n to record sound with 16-bit/48 kHz WAV files for shooting 24p video. But I would recommend trying 24-bit/48 kHz first. It's a richer-sounding bit depth, and it gives your audio recordings more headroom.


The Zoom H4n and a few close friends


Because there are so many video-enabled DSLR's that offer different frame rate capabilities, you may need to experiment to find settings that work best between your camera, audio recorder, and editing software. I strongly recommend doing test shots to work out any issues before you get involved with a serious production. From start to finish, roll your camera and external audio recorder for over 10 minutes. As the equipment runs, periodically clap your hands in the frame (or better yet, use a clapper slate). After you've logged the footage into your computer, if the claps stay in sync when you watch the test video, then you've successfully recorded double system sound. If the clapping audio isn't in sync with the clapping on screen (especially later in the footage, 5 or 10 minutes in), then you need to adjust the settings of your software.

Interestingly, sync issues happen more often when the video editing software's preference settings are incorrect. The audio and video files are usually not at fault. A common pitfall is when the timeline of the video editing software is set to a different frame rate than the video and audio footage. Even if the DSLR was set to record video at 24fps and the audio files were recorded as 24-bit 48 kHz (or 16-bit 48 kHz) WAVs, if the timeline in the software is locked to 29.97 frames per second, you're bound to have sync issues.


The Pearstone SADC-711 Dry Erase Clapper helps sync DSLR footage


How you approach using the Zoom H4n with your DSLR can vary. If you're shooting everything by yourself, keep in mind that you're going to have to hit record on theH4n every time you start recording on your camera. You will have another set of batteries (the H4n runs on two AA's) and another memory card to keep tabs on as you work (the H4n records onto SD cards). Microphone placement also becomes a big issue if you're shooting solo. If the microphones are not physically close to the sound source, it's going to sound that way. I don't mean to discourage anyone from shooting double system while working alone, but you do need to keep these factors in mind.

One nice touch is that the Zoom H4n can be mounted on top of a DSLR camera. The H4n features a 1/4-20 tripod mount on the back of its chassis. With a simple accessory like the Pearstone Male Accessory Shoe, the Zoom H4n will balance comfortably on the shoe of your DSLR. However, you'll have to keep handling and wind noise in mind if you're going to be moving around with the H4n hard-mounted on your camera. If you want to get into using external professional microphones with the H4n, you could rig up your DSLR with shoe-extension accessories like the NRG 59111 Accessory Tri-Mount. This would enable you to mount the Zoom H4n and a shotgun microphone with a shockmount. For more options on microphone shockmounts for a DSLR camera, check out this B&H Insights blog post.


Easily mount the H4n to your DSLR with this shoe adapter


Whenever possible, try to work with a professional location sound person. They will take the burden of capturing the best sound off of your shoulders, allowing you to concentrate fully on making the best-looking picture possible. The more people you can get to help out on your production, the better. As mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to bring along a clapper slate whenever you shoot double system. Have a production assistant (or a friend who owes you a favor) operate the slate at the beginning of every take, and at the end of the take, too (if it's a lengthy shot). This will really help you sync the footage in post.

Feel free to get creative with the Zoom H4n on your shoots. If you don't have external microphones, have your talent hold the H4n just below the frame when they're speaking to the camera. This way if the microphones are closer to the subject's voice, it will likely sound better than if the H4n was mounted on top of your camera. If you don't have wireless microphones, you can plug a XLR wired lavalier or a mini-plug lavalier directly into the H4n and conceal the recorder in the talent's pocket for a wide shot. Finally, don't be intimidated by people who tell you that you can't achieve good audio with a limited budget. Let your own research and experimentation determine what you can and can't do. The clock is ticking. Stop dreaming about making a film. Get out there and bring your vision to life. Elmo is rooting for you!

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Thank you for the very informative article and research compiled here on using the H4N along with a DSLR camera.  Especially the potential use of accessory items I was unaware of.  Excellent point also on the 29.97 fps and the 24 fps synching issue which most DSLR cameras have.

I was hoping there would be some way to actually use a mini jack (1/8 inch male to male) into the DSLR camera mic. input, then connect the other end to the H4N and use it directly as the audio recording source vs. buying an external microphone for the DSLR.  Ultimately have 4 track audio with HD video.

The DSLR camera model would be the Panasonic DMC-GH1K

Any help would be great

Anthony

Im not to sure if this is right but could you use something like this?

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/287412-REG/Remote_Audio_CAFPTPAD_S...

This one is  $18.95 - Line to Mic cable for connecting H4n to DSLR camera:

www.markertek.com/Cables-Connectors-Adapters/Audio-Cables/DSLR-Audio-Cables/Sescom/LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N.xhtml

Specifications:

  • Audio Input Level: -10dBV (0.477pp) Prosumer Line Level
  • Input Impedance: 1.5K ohms
  • Audio Output Level: Approx. 25mV
  • Output Impedance: 92 ohms
  • Compatibile with the following DSLR cameras:
    • Canon: EOS-1D Mark IV, EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D, EOS 550D Rebel T2i
    • Nikon: D3S, D300S
    • Panasonic: Lumix GH1
    • Pentax: K-7

Hi there,

Is there a setting in the device that allows you to record two stereo channels using a wireless mic via XLR and then adjust the levels of one of those channels as a safety channel?

I've tried and have thus far been unsuccessful in finding a solution.

Thank you for your assistance! 

Josh Woll wrote:

Is there a setting in the device that allows you to record two stereo channels using a wireless mic via XLR and then adjust the levels of one of those channels as a safety channel?

Hi Josh,

Justin Davey is correct. There is no way to adjust the levels of the two XLR inputs on the H4n independently. However, with a few accessories you can pull this off without the need for a field mixer.

First you will need a Whirlwind IMP 1x2 microphone splitter. It splits one mic-level XLR input into two. I would not suggest using a Y-cable in the place of the Whirlwind IMP 1x2. The Whirlwind has impedance transformers that correct the signal flow. A Y-cable without impedance transformers will likely degrade the audio quality. You don't want to do that.

So, you would need to plug the XLR output of your wireless receiver into the input on the Whirlwind IMP 1x2. Then you would need a short XLR cable (like a Pearstone 1.5" XLR cable) to connect the "Direct" output on the IMP 1x2 into one of the XLR inputs on the Zoom H4n.

Next you will need an accessory called an "In-Line Pad" for the other output on the IMP 1x2. An In-Line Pad is a small barrel adapter that drops the level of the audio signal that passes through it.

So for the other output on the IMP 1x2, you would plug another short XLR cable into an In-Line Pad like the Audio Technica AT8202. You would then connect yet another short XLR cable from output of the AT8202 into the other XLR input on the Zoom H4n.

With all of these things in place, you will be able to record audio from your single wireless receiver into the H4n at two levels, creating the safety channel you desire. The nice thing about the AT8202 is that it has a switch that lets you select if you want to drop the signal down -10, -20, or -30dB.

It's not the most elegant solution, but it will work well. If I were to set something like this up, I would likely use some Kino Flo Tie Wraps to fasten all of this gear together, to keep it manageable.

Thanks for posting your question at B&H Insights!

Hi

Probably not without something like a field mixer first to take the single mono source and route it to both L and R outputs. Then you could reduce the input level of channel 2 on the Zoom by say -10dB for a safety channel. As far as I know, there is no way to route a single source coming into (say) channel 1 to both channel 1 and channel 2 whilst still having independent level control for each. You can route one input to both channels, but the input level remains identical for both.

Hope this helps.

 A simple thing, if you want to use the H4n mics (or other mics) and record directly on to the video camera as an alternative to or in addition to recording on the H4n, is to use a 1/8 to 1/8 male patch cord from the headphone/line out on the H4n into the mic input on the camera then adjust the output volume on the H4n to set the level - no need for a pad in the patch cord.

Just stating wtih the H4n. On an indoor video project, if using an external mic, which MODE do you shoot in. And do you shoot stereo?

 

 

CK wrote:

On an indoor video project, if using an external mic, which MODE do you shoot in. And do you shoot stereo?

You put the H4n in Stereo mode, and push the 1 & 2 button (so you use the XLR inputs, not the internal mics). This is the same for indoor and outdoor recording. Working outdoors is all about using wind protection.

Anonymous wrote:

If I can use the H4n with my handycam, what kind of assessory do I  need to connect the two?  Thanks. 

You would need a cable with an in-line pad that attenuates the line-level signal out of the H4n's headphone jack down to mic-level. I'm not aware of a 1/8" to 1/8" transformer cable like this that is sold at B&H. We sell larger XLR barrels that do this, but it's a bit impractical to use these with the H4n, especially if you're going to be mounting it on top of your camera.

zepp wrote:

I will most likely have 4 mics rolling at all times because we have some tight "car scene shots" and two Hd cameras rolling. Im thinking two wireless  LAV, shotgun (well not in car) as well has 1  handheld placed where ever possible, and if possible the built in mics rolling at all times. Im pretty sure I understand the 4 ch mode, I would use 1/8"mini line level from the h4 to xlr into the mixer...yes?

No. You want to plug the microphones into the mixer. You plug the outputs of the mixer into the two XLR inputs on the H4n. You could use the 4 track mode on the H4n, providing the the recorder is positioned in such a way that the audio from it's built-in mics will be useful. You don't want to use the MTR mode on the 4Hn for this kind of situation.

zepp wrote:

Or would I use the xlr 1,2 on the h4 into line xlr on the mixer, and run the handheld and shotgun from the mixer(mic)...If i did this in 4ch mode will the built in mics stay active?

Yes, the mics will be active. That's why you would want to postion them. Personally, I would try to get all the sound I needed with the other mics, and keep the H4n in a spot where I could easily access its controls (and not use the on-board mics). In a situation where you have multiple people working together to shoot a scene, it's best to be able to move quickly and make adjustments on your equipment quickly.

zepp wrote:

I guess I dont quite understand MTR mode other than it has effects, which seems would be great with an instrument but not all that useful with mics?

The MTR mode turns the H4n into a multi-track recorder. If you're familiar with the old cassette 4-track machines that were popular in the 1990's, the MTR mode basically turns the H4n into one of them.

zepp wrote:

I wanna show up to our shoot knowing exactly what mode is best and how to use it to get the best audio possible.

Pester your audio teacher with questions. Seriously. Audio is really deep. I think taking audio classes is a great thing to do. Make the most of it. Ask your teacher about everything, take a lot of notes, and keep the notes in a folder. I did that a long time ago, and I still pull out that old folder and re-read my audio class notes.

zepp wrote:

Also what exactly is the EXT. stereo input jack most commonly used for?

It's used for external mini-plug microphones. There are lots of them. Here's an article about mini-plug shotguns:

http://pro-audio.bhinsights.com/content/entry-level-shotguns.html

and here's a bunch of other mini-plug mics:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/browse/Microphones-Accessories/ci/6907/N/4294548282

[/quote]

BIG NEWS UPDATE!

You know that big comment I left on 10/06/10 about needing the IMP 1 x 2 Splitter and the Audio Technica in-line pad in order to control the two XLR input levels independently? Well, throw all of that out the windo\w.

This morning Zoom announced the free 1.70 firmware update for the H4n that adds independant level control to the H4n! Here's a link to the download and installation instructions:

http://www.zoom.co.jp/english/download/software/h4n.php

Hi, I recently purchased the Zoom H4n to record live performances of a youth band and the sound it delivers is beyond my expectations.  I was wondering if I could use the H4n as a microphone for my Sony 120 gb 12 megapixel High Definition Handycam, which delivers a great video but poor audio?  The model is:  HDRXR500.  It does have an external microphone jack as well as a headphone jack.  If I can use the H4n with my handycam, what kind of assessory do I  need to connect the two?  Thanks. 

 Hi ya, I am taking an intro to audio for video class and its my first time using the H4N other than to record a live practice using the internal mics and or myself and a guitar. For the above Ive always used stereo mode because its quick and well easy. In my current video project we can use or not use basically anything as far as mics are concerned...However we are required to use a field mixer. No biggie im just not sure what the best mode to use...4 CH. or MTR. I will most likely have 4 mics rolling at all times because we have some tight "car scene shots" and two Hd cameras rolling. Im thinking two wireless  LAV, shotgun (well not in car) as well has 1  handheld placed where ever possible, and if possible the built in mics rolling at all times. Im pretty sure I understand the 4 ch mode, I would use 1/8"mini line level from the h4 to xlr into the mixer...yes?  Or would I use the xlr 1,2 on the h4 into line xlr on the mixer, and run the handheld and shotgun from the mixer(mic)...If i did this in 4ch mode will the built in mics stay active? I guess I dont quite understand MTR mode other than it has effects, which seems would be great with an instrument but not all that useful with mics? Unfortunatly I do not have the field mixer at come to experiment with, our "rental" time is limited for some of the required gear and I wanna show up to our shoot knowing exactly what mode is best and how to use it to get the best audio possible. Also what exactly is the EXT. stereo input jack most commonly used for? Im having a hard time trying to think of a mic that uses an 1/8" connector other than a lav... which would be cool other than the built in mics do not work with this function? seems like a pretty heavy and large piece to hide..and if it shifted in a pocket wrong seems like the lil lav would yank right off the source. Any tips, advice, corrections would be much appreciated! All and all the H4N is the best, most versitile handheld recorder Ive yet to see. Thanks! -Zepp

 is it possible for me to record sound into my laptop instead of using a zoom h4n? 

Anonymous wrote:

 is it possible for me to record sound into my laptop instead of using a zoom h4n? 

Yes, providing that you have audio recording software on your computer, and an audio interface with microphone inputs.

I have successfully used a 1/8" stereo male to 1/8" stereo male cable between the H4n and my Sony A55.  I have only (so far) been using the built-in X/Y microphones on the Zoom. You need to adjust the mic rec level (side rocker button) down to below 70 to avoid clipping.  I forgot to change it recently and found bad clipping above 70 (and a ruined video to boot).  I am going to try using the built in compressor [Menu|Input|Comp/Limit|Mic] for the mic input at the next recording.  I also look forward to the independent recording levels for the 1 - 2 XLR inputs!

Hi, I use the Zoom 4HN with a wired lav connected to the XLR input. However, the recording level needs to be turned up super high--to the max of 100--and I still don't get the recording between -12 db and -6 db.

I have put in fresh batteries, used various other lavs and still the recording level does not hit the mark.

I found this post where others were complaining about the same situation.

Is there a preamp i can use to boost the level without increasing the noise level? I have been normalizing in final cut pro but would rather just capture the best sound.

thx

 So can i use garageband to record audio for my DSLR video shoot? Like hook up a shotgun mic to my laptop and record the audio? 

Anonymous wrote:

...can i use garageband to record audio for my DSLR video shoot?

Like hook up a shotgun mic to my laptop and record the audio? 

Yes, this can be done, but you're still going to need extra hardware to do it. Mac computers don't have a mic input. You need an audio interface to connect a mic (something basic like a Tascam US-100 will do). Then you'll need a shotgun microphone (like a Rode NTG2) and an XLR mic cable, boompole, shockmount, etc.

One of the drawbacks to working this way is that you'll need to operate a computer in addition to all of the other things you need to do on set. You'll have to create a project in Garageband, make sure everything is hunky dory between the computer and interface, route and arm the tracks, and command the computer to record and pause with the keyboard and trackpad whenever necessary. Later you'll have to export the tracks from the software. The boom operator won't have very much mobility being tethered to a computer and a hardware interface. If you need to shoot in the field, you'll be reliant on the battery life of your laptop.

Portable digital recorders make it easy to get up and running. The ease of pressing Record and Stop should not be overlooked. Being able to pop out spent batteries and put in fresh ones is a life saver. Quickly being able to dump the recorded files into a computer is one of the greatest things about this technology.

 hi,  recently purchased an H4n to go along with my t2i to record sound.  will use it for many different types of work, but would really like to use it for run n and gun/one man band journalism stuff i do.  what's the best way to sync?  i obviously won't be able to clap before each take.  would love any advice.  thanks!   

rob

RobL wrote:

hi,  recently purchased an H4n to go along with my t2i to record sound.  will use it for many different types of work, but would really like to use it for run n and gun/one man band journalism stuff i do.  what's the best way to sync?  i obviously won't be able to clap before each take.  would love any advice.  thanks!

A lot of people are having success syncing audio with video using Singluar's Plural Eyes and Dual Eyes software. There are different version of Plural Eyes available for Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Sony Vegas Pro. Plural Eyes works as a quasi-plug-in for those editing applications, while Dual Eyes is a standalone application that can be used with any Windows-based NLE program.

Syncing can also be done by hand. I was just doing this manually last night with Final Cut Pro. Basically you import the separate audio files into the project you're working on. You drop the audio files onto their own audio tracks in FCP, and try to approximate where they're supposed to be in the timeline. Then I mute all of the audio tracks except for the original camera audio. I listen to a couple of seconds, and use a specific word as a marker point. With the playhead hovering over that word, I mute the original camera audio track and unmute the audio from the portable digital recorder. Then I move those audio tracks around until the word that I had zeroed in on in the original camera audio is lined up directly in the same place. Often I have to zoom in on the timeline to really have the tracks lined up perfectly. When the new audio tracks are lined up directly with the camera audio, it's in sync.

It's a lot of work, but it's worth the extra effort. The audio from my portable digital recorder is always much better than the camera audio. Obviously, having the right Singular software for your post production workflow will save you a lot of trouble.

Great article very informative.  Took a class and heard about this recorder and this post helped cement my decision! 

 I've been reading through these comments and responses and it's helpful, but I just need some clarification on my specific circumstances, I'm shooting with a 5d mkii and a Rode VideoMic w/an h4n. 

Given the recent firmware update by zoom, I realize that I can now adjust the levels of my 2 audio channels independently through the h4n, yes? 

I guess my next question would be: what is the best way for me to hook up these pieces of equipment to one another (without having to purchase a mixer or a splitter box) so that my audio syncs w/my footage and I can still have 2 audio channels?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated (what wires I would need,etc.) thanks!  

Jess wrote:

Given the recent firmware update by zoom, I realize that I can now adjust the levels of my 2 audio channels independently through the h4n, yes? 

Yes. Yup. Absolutely.

Jess wrote:

I guess my next question would be: what is the best way for me to hook up these pieces of equipment to one another (without having to purchase a mixer or a splitter box) so that my audio syncs w/my footage and I can still have 2 audio channels?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated (what wires I would need,etc.) thanks!  

If you want to connect your Rode VideoMic to the mini-plug input on your Zoom H4n, and then connect the headphone output of the H4n to the mic input on your 5D Mark II, you would use a Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4 cable (between the H4n and the 5D).

The reason that you need this special Sescom cable is that the headphone output on your H4n is a lot hotter of a signal than the mic input on your camera is designed to accept. A headphone output is a lot louder than a microphone's output. The Sescom cable attenuates the loud "line-level" signal coming out of the headphone jack of the H4n down to a quiet "mic-level" that the camera is looking for. The Sescom cable effectively turns the volume down by -25dB.

Now, when you're shooting with an external microphone plugged into a camera, it's always a smart idea to wear headphones, so you can hear exactly what your audio sounds like, and make any adjustments if need be. In the above scenario you plugged the Sescom cable into the H4n's headphone output. Now that the Sescom cable is consuming the headphone output, you have no way to plug in headphones.

That's why they make a version of the Sescom cable with a "headphone tap." It's basically the same cable, with an additional little cable attached enabling you to plug in a pair of headphones. This cable is called the Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON.

Hi, just a heads up, found this thread looking for a way to use my H4N as a mic for a Sony SR8 Handycam. It works great, with a bit of playing aroung...

After testing, all you have to do is use 3.5 to 3.5 lead out of the headphone socket of the H4N and into your camcorders mic input.

Yes it is hot, but if you turn your headphone output down to 20 on the side of the H4N it is a similar level as what your cam gives you..

Some gotchas, your camcorder most likely has auto gain, but you have that with the camcorder mic anyway, the H4N is just a lot better quality.

You could record on the h4n as well so you have H4N audio going to the cam and the H4N SD card, this way you end up with cam audio safely auto gained (for instance in loud venues) and the H4N audio which you could manually set the levels for, just dont have it clipping or you lose both.

It will be really easy to sync the cam audio and SD card audio in post since the waveforms will be almost identical.

Good info

Hey,

Such a helpful and informative discussion, how ever for people like me who just jump into Dslr Film making, its great help for them. In fact I recently ordered the device and cant wait to start experiments with my Dslr.

Thanks to share and we will hope for in future. 

Regards.

Imran 

If I plug the h4n into my cannon t3i do I just hit record on both and bring the file from the camera in for editing, or do I bring both the h4n audio file and the t3i video file in to my editing package seperatly and add them together and sync them?

For the best possible quality you will want to record on both but then sync the audio from the Zoom with the video from the camera in post production.

Hi :

I connect audio cable(from h4n accessory) to h4n to dslr, but there is no any sound recorded since i hit record button on dslr ?

Could you advise me

Best Regards

Huang

Hi Byron -

The H4n operates independently of your camera.  The cable you are using sends recorded audio signal into your camera only.  It cannot control the recorder.  Remember to turn the H4n "on" and to "record" before shooting with the camera.  Be sure that you are using a recommended cable as well:

The LN2MIC-ZMH4N-6 from Sescom is a problem solving cable for users of HDSLRs who are using a Zoom H4N or Zoom H1 as a secondary audio recording source. Many professional DSLR cameras have unbalanced stereo microphone level audio inputs on a mini TRS 3.5mm jack. The Samson Zoom H4N or H1 output line level audio signals. This cable provides the proper microphone levels and preserves the delicate connector contacts inside the camera, allowing users to go directly from the audio recorder into the camera.

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

great