Clearing Up The Noise Part II: Solutions For Capturing Quality DSLR Audio
As mentioned in Part I: Shortfalls In Capturing DSLR Audio, a number of problems plague DSLR filmmakers, including poor internal microphone quality, automatic gain control (AGC), and lack of important audio-recording features.
Fortunately, video-capable DSLRs have been around just long enough for effective solutions to emerge.
The most basic solution to replacing the camera's internal mic is to plug an external mic into the camera. Sennheiser and Rode make excellent microphones designed especially for DSLRs that mount directly to the camera. Of course, this doesn't fix the problem of AGC, you still can't monitor the sound, and more of the signal will be lost without XLR connections (as explained in Part I) but your audio quality will be considerably higher.
The next step towards audio capturing excellence involves an external audio recorder. If you bypass the camera's audio recording shortfalls, you'll eliminate the problems. Right now, the most popular external audio recorder is the Zoom H4n, but as Peter Marsh points out at DSLR Film, many other styles and options are available (his article isn't extremely current, but still covers relevant material). Choose an audio recorder to fit your current or anticipated needs. If you don't need XLR connections, find an external recorder without this option that still allows you to monitor sound, turn off AGC, and record sound. The Zoom H1 records great sound, sheds the XLR connections, and can be purchased for around $100. You can view a video test comparing the H1 to the H4n conducted by SLR Zoom Lenses here; basically, if you don't need the XLR connections, don't mind a plastic case and don't need to adjust the angle of the microphones on the Zoom, go for the H1 and save yourself a couple hundred bucks.
Recording to an external audio recorder is an excellent solution for bypassing the camera's poor audio recording abilities, but it presents another problem. The audio needs to be synced in post production. PluralEyes software eliminates the problem by automatically syncing the audio to the video with the click of a “Sync” button, but if you're not interested in spending the extra money, a simple clap will enable you to sync the audio manually. Turn on the microphone, stand in front of the camera, and clap loudly. The clap will produce a sharp spike in the audio which is also captured in the video, and you can sync the two components in under 30 seconds with a little practice.
If this is all new to you, you're probably wondering how much this is all going to cost and how much of this equipment you really need. As with most things, you get what you pay for, but the audio industry evolving to produce high-quality equipment at lower costs just like DSLRs themselves. You can pick up a Zoom H1 audio recorder for $100, wired lav mics for around $25, and a directional condenser mic for $150. More on microphones in a later post.
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