If you’re moving into video the chances are that you’ll have to get your head around the potential minefield that is audio, and you’ll need a trusted partner to guide you through.
Of all the areas that concern experienced photographers who are considering adding filmmaking to their offering, it’s the thought of having to master audio that creates the most alarm. While the camera being used might be familiar and the whole concept of lighting and composing a scene could be second nature, sound is an area that most will have never encountered in a professional capacity before and suddenly they’re back to being a novice and unsure about the gear they’ll need to invest in or the techniques to use.
There are a few ways to go if you find yourself in this situation. You could go on a crash course to pick up the skills you need, you could call for help and add a professional sound recordist to your production team or you could go down the route of simply producing visuals and adding a sound track, so that audio never becomes an issue. Or you could head to a specialist filmmaking retailer such as CVP, where no-one will make any judgements about your lack of audio knowledge and you’ll be guided through the options and only sold the kit that’s essential to enable you to make a seamless move into sound.
That latter option is the one that’s proving popular with many, because there are distinct advantages to being on top of every aspect of your video production, and audio is nothing like as intimidating as it might initially appear to be once you summon up the nerve to dive in. Nor is it prohibitively expensive to acquire the kit you need. Talk through what your requirements are with a specialist and take some time to get your head around the technicalities of recording professional-standard audio and you’ll be ready to take your next step on the filmmaking road in no time at all.
The first thing to realise is that for a professional production it’s not an option to rely on the quality of audio you capture directly from a camera. While this could serve as a useful guide track if you need one, you’ll require a far more polished end result and there are a number of ways to achieve this.
“The most straightforward way to improve your audio quality while using a stills camera is to use a supplementary microphone that’s plugged into the camera or an external recorder,” says resident CVP technical expert Jake Ratcliffe. “Built-in camera microphones will deliver quite poor audio quality and they’ll be picking up all of the sounds of the camera, such as AF motors and the rustle of your hands. Ideally you need to separate the microphone from the camera body, and a quick and dirty solution to capturing better audio is a device that will simply slot into your camera’s hot shoe. While this won’t solve all of your audio problems it will immediately help you to capturing better general audio.”
There are plenty of choices out there, and one of the most popular and affordable models is the RODE VideoMic Pro + (CVP price £289), which builds on the success of the original model. One of the crucial things to bear in mind is the need to isolate the microphone capsule itself from the handling noise of using the camera and the VideoMic achieves this by utilising the Rycote Lyre System, a shock mount that absorbs vibration and takes away low frequency rumble. Advanced features of this particular mic include a two-stage high-pass filter, to enable such things as passing traffic noise to be reduced or to filter out sounds outside of the human frequency range to ensure an interview is registered clearly above background noise.
Another highly regarded shotgun microphone, and one that could potentially be mounted off-camera on a separate stand or used on a boom arm – a pole that holds the microphone and allows it to be positioned over subjects to achieve close-in sound without the mic appearing in shot – is the Sennheiser MKE 600, available from CVP priced £259. The MKE 600 picks up sounds coming from the direction in which the camera is pointing and effectively attenuates noise from the sides and rear. The switchable ‘Low Cut’ filter additionally minimises wind noise.
The benefit of these types of mic is that they are small enough to tuck in a gadget bag, can be set up and used very quickly and they also run for ages on battery power. If you shoot a sample clip of video using on-board audio and then a comparison clip with an external mic utilised, you’ll notice a whole world of difference, and yet it’s required very little in the way of technical skill or investment to achieve that improvement.
When choosing microphones it’s also worth knowing that there are two main types of connector that are available. The 3.5mm headphone jack is standard and can work really well, but the higher up the audio chain you go the more likely you are to be looking at a microphone with an XLR connection, which is more robust and better shielded.
This can create a few issues if you happen to have a camera that features a 3.5mm jack socket if you happen to want to be working with a microphone with an XLR connection, but there are adaptors available that can get you out of a hole. Saramonic, for example, produces the SR-PAXI Audio Mixer (CVP price £120), which is designed for mirrorless, DSLRs and camcorders and which features dual balanced XLR inputs.
“Cameras such as the Sony a7S III and Panasonic’s GH5 and GH5S cameras also have XLR top units available,” says Jake, “the XLR-K3M (CVP price £578.76) and the DMW-XLR1E (CVP price £319) respectively. These provide more professional inputs, controls and preamps, and they’re a great investment if you’re looking to improve your audio quality.”
There are a number of different types of microphone you can choose from, and each will come with a different set of attributes that might make it particularly suitable for a specific job. As you become more advanced in your audio expertise it’s likely that you’ll build up a collection of different mics which will be used to achieve the best result in a variety of situations.
The VideoMic Pro +, for example, is a condenser shotgun mic, and it’s highly directional so that sounds coming from behind the camera or from either side will be less distinct. Instead, you’ll be picking up the sounds coming from on front of the microphone, the direction your camera is facing, and so they are particularly good in interview situations, where you don’t want ambient sound around you to become a distraction. Condenser mics will often need phantom power, which can be supplied either by the mixer or, occasionally, a separate power supply such as a battery, which will be used to power an amplifier to get the output up to a higher level.
The alternative to a condenser mic is one that’s dynamic, and these tend to be less expensive and they have a wide uni-directional pattern of pickup, so are good in studio situations where you might be looking to capture overall sound. A good example of a dynamic mic would be the Saramonic SR-NV5, which will deliver all of the advantages off an off-camera mic but at a cost at CVP of just £75. It’s a very small price to pay for the increase in audio quality that it will enable, and it could be a great first step for those moving into video production.
Another type of microphone that has become hugely popular is the Lavaliere, and this is potentially one of the simplest ways to achieve sound right in the heart of the action without an intrusive microphone presence.
“Lavaliere mics are perfect for when you’re recording audio of someone talking and want the microphone close to them but also to be inconspicuous,” says Jake. “When I first started shooting interviews and branded content, the first microphone I picked up was a Lav that plugged straight into my Zoom H4N audio recorder that I was using at the time. It was a wired arrangement but it worked fine.
“Lav mics are so tiny that you don’t really notice them on screen and they tend to be pinned to a lapel so that they’re close to a subject’s mouth. These days there are a number of good wireless systems on the market that make shooting much simpler. Sennheiser, for example, produces the XSW-D Interview Kit (CVP price £138), while its higher end AVX-ME2 set (CVP price £619), features self-configuring digital transmission to eliminate time-consuming radio frequency set-up.
“The RODE Wireless GO system (CVP price £195) is another great budget solution, its party piece being the addition of a built-in microphone for those moments where you forget or break your Lav! The ability to pick up a range of decent and highly affordable, but also very good, wireless microphones systems is awesome for owner operators, and it massively simplifies the entire process.”
Zoom has also just announced another option, its F2 and F2-BT Field Recorders, which are designed to clip on to a belt or a strap, and these can be connected to the supplied Lavaliere mic to enable the filmmaker to record high quality sound in the field without being encumbered by weighty audio gear. It’s the company’s smallest and lightest recorder with 32-Bit Float Technology, which enables you to record the loudest audio signals without any clipping and without the need for gain setting or gain adjustment during recording. Recording is direct to Micro SD and SDHC cards up to 512 GB and the operation time is up to 15 hours using two AAA Batteries.
One of the most commonly used audio accessories is the windshield, sometimes charmingly referred to as the ‘dead cat’ – on account of it looking like a bedraggled piece of fur – or a blimp, a good example of which would be the RODE Blimp 2 (CVP price £229).
If you have experience of recording audio then you’ll be familiar with the buffeting noise that’s created when the wind hits an unprotected mic. It’s extremely distracting and can make your audio track unusable, and the idea of the windshield is to soak up the noise as much as possible. “Windshields are extremely handy to cut down the effect of wind on your sound,” confirms Jake, “and can also help protect your microphone if you’re using it in the elements.” Once again, it’s a very keenly priced piece of kit that can make a huge difference.
Another accessory that’s definitely worth considering is an external recorder, to save recording direct to the camera. Again, these can be highly affordable pieces of kit – a high end device such as Zoom’s feature-rich F6 Multi Track Field Recorder is available at CVP for £540 for example, while the equally formidable H8 (CVP price £502.80) is also hugely popular – and they can provide everything from simple one-track recording through to a feature set that wouldn’t like out of place in a fully-fledged recording studio.
It might not feature top of the list of accessories that you might consider if you’re a filmmaker capturing audio for the first time, but a set of quality headphones is also absolutely indispensable, and you can’t possibly manage without them. “Being able to focus on the sound your mic is picking up accurately will allow you to really listen to what you’re recording,” says Jake, “and it allows you to make sure that you’re getting the best audio quality possible. It also means that you’re monitoring the audio in case it drops out during a take, or the volume is too loud and you’re getting distortion, and you can fix it asap. If you come away from a shoot only to discover that your audio isn’t fit for purpose often there will be no way to fix the problem in post-production, and so you need to get it right.”
You can pay a premium for the high-end ‘cans’ that might be used on a Hollywood film production, but there are some far more affordable examples available that will still do a good job. The classic Sennheiser HD 25 headphones, for example, will set you back just £129 at CVP and they’re used by a wide range of filmmaking professionals and can do a great job.
As always, if you’re unsure about what you need it makes sense to get impartial professional and brand agnostic advice, which happens to be something that CVP specialises in. It’s surprisingly affordable to set yourself up with the audio essentials and it’s one of those areas where a little investment and some time spent learning the basics of sound recording will make the whole world of difference, and could move your whole filmmaking business on to a different level altogether.
Jake Ratcliffe (Please use pic of Jake)
One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree on photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
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