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The World's First Portable Experience Recorder

By Sam Mallery

For the past 20 years I've been shooting video with many different devices; from 1980's over-the-shoulder VHS camcorders, to my sweet little Canon SD1000. What's tragic is that everything I've shot throughout my entire life has completely failed to capture what those moments actually sounded like. Now ask yourself this: what camera would you use to record a toddler mumbling nonsensical baby-talk? How would you create a musical performance video for YouTube that could potentially lead to mass exposure? How are you currently shooting videos that could make or break your career?

The trouble is, if you shot any of the previously mentioned scenarios with a Flip camera, a smart phone, an iPod nano, or even a $5000 HD video camera, it's likely that your audio is going to sound really, really bad. It's one of the most common problems in video production today. The built-in microphones on your camera are the cheapest, least elegant part of the device. The moving images on your VSLR may look beautiful, and your smart phone may be really handy for checking your Facebook status, but like it or not, they both record sound that's distractingly awful.

Recently, a product called the Zoom Q3 was released that directly addresses this blaring, old problem. The idea behind the Q3 is really simple. Take the great sounding microphones and recording technology from a digital audio recorder, and add a video camera. This way, when you shoot a video, your audio will be just as appealing as your picture.

It seems like an obvious product to bring to the market, a recorder that captures the world of light and sound with equal acumen, but it took decades for something like this to finally become available. I was fortunate enough to spend a week with a Q3 in my pocket, and my experience operating the gadget was as drop dead simple as the concept behind it.

Hardcore videographers and photographers may not be impressed with the Q3 at first. Their kneejerk reaction is to turn their nose up at its humble optics and resolution. These people are missing the whole point of the product. Everyone can benefit from having a compact, high-quality audio recorder in their pocket. Photographers can record audio to accompany their slide shows, and videographers can use them to record higher fidelity sound than their cameras are capable of. This is why portable digital audio recorders have exploded in popularity over the past few years. The Q3 works really well as high-quality audio recorder, with the added benefit of having an integrated video camera. Plus, it's a lot less expensive than many similar products that lack video capability. Couple this with the fact that the Q3 is really easy to use, and you have a winner in my book.

All of the controls on the device are refreshingly obvious. You don't have to hunt for the power button. It boots up quickly. When I timed it with my stopwatch, the Q3 was up and running and ready to shoot video in 5.4 seconds. I'm the rare type of person who likes to read the manual before I start using a product, but this was completely unnecessary with the Q3. You quite literally power it up, press the big red button, and you're rolling.

When inspiration strikes in the field, whipping out the Q3 doesn't seem to cause anyone to give a second glance. While it's visually attractive in its proud blue chassis, it's relatively inconspicuous when in action on the street. Gadgets with color LCD screens are a dime a dozen these days, and passersby likely thought I was holding some kind of telephone or GPS device. The form factor was an unforeseen bonus of the Q3. It doesn't look very much like a video camera, and my subjects seemed oblivious to the lens and much more at ease

The operation of the Q3 is as simple as pointing and shooting. There is no focusing, no white balancing, no setting of apertures. On the audio side you have a bit more control. You can choose your gain setting with a physical switch, and select many different file types for recording. Everything from low quality MP3's to high quality WAV's are options. I choose to record at 48 kHz 24-bit. It's the highest quality recording the device can make. The idea behind the thing is to sound good, so I decided to go for it.

After conducting several tests, I was very pleased with how my recordings came out. The picture is not high definition (the resolution is 640 x 480), but my goal was to make a video suitable for posting on YouTube, and for this purpose the Q3 was ideal. You have to be mindful of handling noise when you're recording. If you shuffle the device in your hand, you can sometimes pick up that noise. It's also a good idea to always keep the included foam wind screen with you. It doesn't take much of a breeze to disturb the sound quality of the Q3, but the same is true with every other microphone in existence.

Having a portable recorder with you at all times is really a wonderful thing. You can gather ambiances to use in films, you can collect samples to use in music, etc. It's awesome to be able to record candid clips of people speaking, or doing embarrassing and outlandish things. Portable recorders allow you to quickly collect elements of the outside world and easily bring them into your productions. The Zoom Q3 did all of these things with outstanding audio quality, and captured interesting visual moments as well. In a sense, it's the world's first experience recorder.

I shot a video of myself saying goodbye to some old friends in a parking garage. It was a token home movie that one would normally expect to turn out poorly. The Q3 recorded the scene clearly and intimately, and the distant echoes in the garage added a startling amount of depth and power to the clip. The Q3 seemed to encourage having fun, so I just went with it:

Considering the fact that growing portions of the population are more likely to watch content on their mobile device rather than the large TV in their living room, the video quality of the Q3 seems just right. You don't need to formulate complicated technical strategies for how you're going to downgrade large HD video files in order to upload them to the Internet. You simply shoot and upload to the web without having to think about it.

The 2.4" color LCD screen on the back of the Q3 is nice to have. The images look crisp, and the colorful audio meters stay active whether you're in video mode or audio recording-only mode. The built-in speaker is another critical inclusion that made its way into the Q3, and it was handy to be able to immediately monitor the playback of a clip without needing to take out headphones.

A clever little USB cable is fixed to the base of the Q3, and it neatly tucks away when you don't need to use it. When I docked the Q3 to my computer, it acted as an external drive, and downloading the numerically named files was intuitive and simple. Again, I didn't need to touch the manual. You can access the included HandyShare software from the device itself when it's mounted to your computer. The software enables you to edit your video, and it assists you with sharing your videos on the Internet through Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace.

The Zoom Q3 is a recording device that truly suits our culture. Whether you're shooting videos of babbling babies, up and coming rock stars, or important business presentations, you should consider using the delightfully simple Zoom Q3. You will hear every nuance that has regretfully always been lost. The future looks bright, and it finally sounds warm.

Sam Mallery is a musician, boompole operator, writer, and film maker who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. He creates music under the name Hidden Driveways, and is a Web Content Writer at B&H.

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