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Audio is 50% of your film…

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Has anyone ever said how important audio is when if comes to video? “Audio is 50% of your film” is the second most tediously repeated phrase you hear after “The best camera is the one you have on you…” and yes, quite often it is me saying it!

We all know DSLRs generally have awful audio. Terrible on board mics, 3.5mm inputs which are consumer connections and pre-amps that amplify with an additional unwanted hiss! Even since I started using the Canon 5DMKII back in May 2009 working out how to get decent audio from these stills-cameras-that-shoot-really-rather-nice-video (this is what I called them as I always hated HD-DSLRs and VDSLRs) has been a challenge.

A7rII with KM2 400pxExternal recorders have been my solution for the most part with syncing to the picture done in post. This is a pain of course especially as occasionally you could forget to hit record on your external recorder. Not by me of course, I have never ever ever made such a basic error! Well, maybe once or twice…

 Things did start to change though when Sony brought out their XLR adaptor for the A7s cameras and other cameras which have their “Multi-Interface hot shoe.” The two part XLR-K1M was first followed by the one piece XLR-K2M. This gave these cameras professional XLR connectors, manual pots to adjust the level, phantom power and decent pre-amps. Although the A7 series of cameras have half decent pre-amps, well compared to Canon DSLRs that is!

 The downside to the two part XLR-K1M is it needs an additional cold shoe to mount the actual adaptor part as the MI shoe is taken by the cable. This is solved by the XLR-K2M but the downside is it feels less robust as all the strain is on the MI shoe connector rather than the solid metal cold shoe connector of the K1M. Also the K2M doesn’t have an additional cold shoe connector on it to hold a radio mic because it just isn’t solid enough. The K1M does. So if you want to use a radio mic with this unit then you need to find somewhere to put it. I thoroughly recommend the Movcam cages for these cameras as they not only give you multiple places to mount stuff they offer proper protection for your pride and joy!

km1 with a7s and movcam cage

There is another option with the MI shoe and this one is fabulous. If you have the Sony UWP-D mics you can buy the catchily named SMAD-P3 adaptor which lets you connect it directly to the camera. No XLR adaptor is needed and no internal AA batteries. It draws that from the camera, although with the Sony A7S and it’s rather hungry power consumption this isn’t always ideal but it does keep it really neat and more importantly you have a direct digital connection for your audio. This is by far the best way to get a radio mic connected to your Sony mirrorless camera.

With the Sony PMW-FS7 you also have an MI shoe which means you can mount a radio mic semi-permanently on it and still have the two XLR inputs free for whatever you want as the camera records four separate channels of audio. You can assign whichever input you want for the 4 channels but I tend to put the radio mic on channel 3 as it makes the most sense. In fact if you use one of the K1 XLR adaptors you get two additional XLR inputs for the camera although it looks a bit odd!

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two mics wonderlist 450pxYou can also use the MI shoes of the PXW-FS5 except the firmware to enable 4 channels has not come out yet. You can only record 2 channels rights now. I hope this will be fixed in future firmware updates but until then when you use the MI shoe you lose one of your XLR inputs. It is still advantageous due to the digital connection and power draw.

There are some other downsides of course. Nothing is ever 100% positive in life. If you use the UWP-D directly into your A7 series camera you cannot change audio levels in the menus, you have to do it with the settings on the mic which is fiddly and frustrating. This is not an issue with the FS7 as you can do it in the menus. The lavalier mic that comes with is OK but a bit chunky for my taste. You can buy the RODE lavalier with their adaptor for the UWP-D which is much smaller and much better for hiding under clothes. I also think it sounds better.

sony mics set up for wonderlist 450pxFor season 2 of CNN Original Series “The Wonder List” we exclusively used the Sony UWP-D wireless mics as our cameras were entirely Sony; 2 x PXW-FS7s, 2 x A7s, an A7R II and A7S II.

We didn’t have a sound recordist sadly so we had to do it ourselves. Most of the time we recorded audio into one of the FS7 cameras. Once or twice we ran them into the Zoom H6 recorder but that was infrequent. With the ability to have 2 XLR inputs for radio mics and one directly into the MI shoe we were covered for almost everything as it was rare to need four mics on one interview.

One thing I would really love to see is a dual channel receiver from Sony. We know the MI shoes is capable of 2 channels of input so to have two transmitters and just one receiver would be a joy. Currently when using my A7S II or A7RII and I need to have two radio mics for interviews then I have to use my XLR-K1M adaptor and standard XLR connections for the two mics. It would be great to not have to do this…please Sony?

These are terrific radio mics whether you use Sony cameras or not. If your camera has an MI shoe they are an essential purchase.

After all, you do know that audio is 50% of your video, right?

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6 replies on “Audio is 50% of your film…”

Not sure the whole XLR good, 3.5mm bad. Yes, XLR locks in place but for live documentary audio, 3.5mm is not your enemy, otherwise, Rode and my ears have been lying to me all this time.

The quality is fine but its a weak, non locking connect consumer connection, like SDI is way preferable to HDMI. Maybe I am old fashioned but XLR connections are professional for a reason. I use 3.5mm if I have to, I would rather not though!

I find when using the UWP D11 radio mic with the Sony A7S and XLR K2M unit that there is a lot of hiss when monitoring and recording. I presume this is coming from the preamps of the Sony but is there any way of reducing this?

I am of the opinion that walking around with a wireless transmitter in a room that may or may not contain dead spots or pick-up police transmission or any other bad thing that can happen is really playing roulette – Syncing to an external audio in post is simple and not that much of a hassle. The on board microphone is constantly going to change in some situations as you move around while filming. I look at the on board mic and set-up as a safety blanket – putting all eggs in one basket when it comes to audio and tethering it to your camera just seems to me that could be catastrophic if there is a bad ground or something that is not detected in headphones while recording. Not to mention that just like in filming it is good to get audio from different places in the room and having several mic leads all directed and tethered to your camera is near impossible.

Having more than one audio source to me is the equivalent of running more than one camera. If there is corruption anywhere you might not get exactly what you planned for, but you will have something. In a live event – it is always better to have something than nothing.

As far as XLRs being the choice of pros – that is true, but it is for more reasons than just they are better. The constant wrapping, unplugging and plugging of the cable is where the connections and ground problems start to happen. Also in most cases the audio feeds might run up to a hundred of feet by time it gets to a mixing console and the lose of quality is less with XLRs.
Those thin little cables used for camera mics just can’t take the beating that a good quality XLR will take.
But as far as audio sound – an XLR connection with a crappy mic – still sounds crappy and good sounding on board mic can out perform it. Also – any pre-amp XLR that is tethered to a Camera and recorded with the video still goes through the camera’s pre-amps. You may be getting more gain with the external so that you don’t have to run the cameras pre-amps as hard but it still is plugging a pre-amp into a pre-amp. IMO – External is the best option.

Awesome! Thank you so much for posting this! I saw sooooo many films, where the crappy sound ruined the whole experience. It’s hard to enjoy something, when your ears are getting violated. I mean, just imagine trying to enjoy “The Dark Side of the Moon”, while someone is burning your eyes out with a super bright LED…

A body pack sized dual receiver would be really nice indeed. I think, that you need a bit of space between the units, so that they don’t interfere in any kind of way with each other. That’s probably why most dual receivers are only available for 19inch racks. This will probably change in the near future by transmitting the signal digitally via 2.4GHz.

If you are interested in understanding audio for film, please feel free to also check out this youtube-tutorial. I’m an audio engineer and college professor. I recently started making youtube tutorials (soon I will be using the a6300 for the tutorials, so thank you Philip for posting so much information about filming with Sony cameras. :).

I made one tutorial especially for video nerds with a lot of comparisons between video and audio: So if you know a lot about cameras, this will enlighten you. Let’s put an end to bad sounding films. It’s not that hard to make your movie sound good.

If you like this video, please spread the word.

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