5 ways to improve your audio recordings with DSLR Filming

Field Audio Recorders & DSLR

Everyone knows that amazing results can be had Filming with DSLR cameras. If fact almost certainly they are now the most widely used cameras in professional filming today.

Conversely, everyone knows they are pants when it comes to Audio. Personally I don’t think it was ever imagined that these cameras would achieve such status in the Video/Flim world hence the lack of attention to audio capabilities.

Here at Audio4post.com we get a fair few jobs in every month where our task is to repair or restore poorly recorded audio made with DSLRs.

So…. here  in this, our first blog, are some basic  tips  that will help those that are new to the game on your way to improving your sound. I’ve tried to include both ends of the budget scale in this brief blog, however this blog is very much for those who are new to filming with DSLRS. You pros know this stuff already!…

 

1. Record your audio separately

 

This is the way all big budget movies and Television are made. The best results will be achieved by using a dedicated Digital Audio Recorder. On the budget end you can purchase handheld 24 bit audio recorders from 2 tracks to 6 tracks from Tascam or Zoom that have loads of features at very reasonable prices that produce results much better than their price point may suggest.. (£200-£400) . Most of the following are specifically made for the DSLR market in mind.  I recommend the Tascam DR60D (4 track), Tascam DR-100Mk2 ( 2 Track) or Zoom H4N (4 Track) and Zoom H6 (6 Track)

At the other end of the spectrum Sound Devices make arguably the most robust and fully featured high end Audio location recording kit available with two track recording  702T  starting at around £2000.

The method here is:  you send an output feed from the Recorder to your DSLRs audio In, resulting in the recorders output being recorded in the DSLR purely as a reference with your pictures. Most DSLRs are just 16 bit and you will lose the benefits of the higher sample rates  if you use the camera feed on your final output instead of syncing up the separate recording.

Your sound files are recorded to SD or CF cards, that are inexpensive, and easily read using a cheap usb card reader from Amazon, by your computer. Sound files can be 16 or 24 bit  48khz or even 96khz depending on the device. Higher the sample rate – the better the sound quality, however there is a law of diminishing returns past 24 bit where the benefits are arguable…Bear in mind higher sample rates use more memory on your SD or CF media.

Most recordings are done “wild” i.e. without timecode,  and then synced back to the clapperboard , or a handclap, or….using the wonderful and inexpensive Plural Eyes software from that excellent company Red Giant that automatically syncs the audio with the picture and then exports the synced video file directly to your NLE. This does of course take a little time however,  the end result usually makes this exercise well worthwhile

 

2.Alternatively…use a quality Pre amp feeding your DSLR

 

If you opt not to record separately there are a number of options available that overcome the poor line amps in your DSLR and allow the connection of 48v phantom powered professional mics and headphone monitoring. Quality end here is Sound Devices again – the Mix Pre-D (£800) is two channel high spec mic amp. A mounting plate is available for camera mount. Beachtek: DXA-SLR pro (£318) is a very portable budget two channel mic amp which sits under your DSLR. Juicedlink also offer a number of different options depending on the features you need also in the lower price bracket.

With this method you continue to record Audio within the DSLR with improved fidelity due to the addition of decent Mic amps,  and you won’t have to re-sync the sound files. You will however be limited to 16 bit recordings  (based on the DSLRs capability) , and at the mercy of the cameras A to D convertors

In both cases if your camera has an Auto Gain control (AGC) do remember to turn it off and set your Gain manually.

 

3. Use the best Mics you can afford 

 

Remember the old adage that a record player is only as good as the stylus? ( I know – Im showing my age! )  Well your mics are key to getting a good result in much the same way. Every part of the chain matters….

There are hundreds of mics out there on the market geared towards filming/video. The best practise here is stick to quality brands such as Sennheiser, Akg, Rode . With a quality brand even the cheaper end of the scale will be a better mic than brands you have never heard of. This is probably the hardest section of all  as far as recommendation is concerned  as I don’t know what it is you are filming. If voices are involved use a Shotgun boom mic and and a Lav mic.

If you are only going to buy one mic – It should be a good shotgun boom.  The Sennheiser  MKH-416 (£700)  is really the industry standard. Its not cheap, but it will last you a lifetime if you treat it right. A cheaper option is the RODE NTG-3 (£370). Forget about mounting the Shotgun mic on the camera. Get a boom pole and place it as near to the action as possible. As far a Lapel mics or Lavaliers go,  you can’t go wrong with SennheiserAKG  both under £500, or DPA further up the scale.  Lavs can be supplied wired or wireless depending on your needs. When recording voices, a combination of shotgun boom and Lav mics mixed together ( or recorded separately) will give the best results.  Just using a lav mic will leave you susceptible to changes in level when your subject moves their head, not to mention the rustling of clothing. Something that is very difficult to avoid when dealing with a live human being…The use of a shotgun mic provides a more natural sound with some room tone . On mixing these together the lav provides a bit of crispness, for want of a better word, to the final result. The balance will often be a little more of the boom with the lav supporting the boom lower in the mix/ balance.

 

4. Get yourself a good pair of Headphones

 

Its vital to monitor whats going on properly. Sometimes you need to adjust levels on the fly and be aware of issues such as the rustling of clothing , cabling noises or other external unpredictable events that may compromise your recording. You can’t do that if you aren’t listening properly.  Closed cup headphones are the best way to go, especially if you are indoors as there will be virtually no bleed in the room if you have them at a sensible level. Beyer DT100 (£100)  are a popular choice – I think this is in part due to the fact that every part of the headphone can be purchased separately when bits break down. I have at least one pair thats like Triggers broom from Only Fools and Horses!..They are a good workhouse product, however some might find them dull sounding. Looking more up market I would suggest Sennheiser HD650s ( £400) or perhaps the new Focal Spirit Pros (£215).

 

5. Last and by no means least – Don’t scrimp on Cables! 

 

Remember – every link in the chain matters – with cables you are looking at  the links themselves!  Quality cables aren’t cheap, but like good quality Mics, they will last for ever if you treat them with respect. You spent a fortune on your camera. Using cheap cables is like buying a Ferrari  but limiting yourself to driving at 20mph!  Cheap audio cabling can also cost many dbs of signal gain and overall fidelity. In my opinion Mogami is the way to go here however there are other very good brands of cable out there. Get your cables custom made if possible. In relation to the cost of your camera its really not too much of a stretch to get this bit right. For custom made cabling these guys are great! Kelseyweb

Ultimately a lot of testing is required here to hone your individual needs down. I would always recommend hiring what you are thinking of buying first and try it out if possible. Some dealers will let you buy and return if items don’t meet your requirements.

Ok! that wraps up our first blog – I hope you found it useful –  Next Up will be – 

 “5 common problems with your Audio Recordings…and how to avoid them!”