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D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp

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Randy Rotheisler
D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Oct 15, 2013 at 6:03:54 pm

Like many, I have been horrified by the poor quality of the D800s mic input preamps. These are truly wretched- I've had $40 tabletop cassette recorders that sounded better. Adding a separate preamp wasn't a solution that appealed to me. Another box to drag around, tend, and feed batteries to- just what I need.

My solution has been to use my Zoom H4N as a preamp, and feed a line from the headphone/line out jack as input to the camera. I record backup audio anyway, as a matter of course, so there's no extra box to drag.

This lets me run two independent channels of audio to the camera, and gives me 48v phantom as a bonus. Added bonus is that after level matching I can use the audio meters/headphones in the camera to also monitor the recording levels on the Zoom, which gives me one less thing to do when shooting.

This seems to work OK. The final recorded camera audio certainly isn't top quality, but IS usable for many applications. Camera preamp noise is greatly reduced, as I can record at about '3' on the camera, using an '70' headphone level setting on the Zoom.

It's not a cure-all, of course- the S/N is better, but still a long way from good, and the frequency response of the D800 is still pretty bad, but at least I can hand off the cards I shoot to clients without having to hang my head in shame over the audio quality.

That said, I'd very much welcome hearing the results of some formal tests from someone with the gear and expertise to conduct them. The preamps on the H4N seem OK and the levels match up, but I'm less sure about the D/A convertors to the headphone/line out jack.

Now, if only I could link the 'Record' triggers.....

randy


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Rob Manning
Re: D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Oct 17, 2013 at 5:29:50 am

Hi Randy,

My audio with the D800 is not wretched, used it more than once when dual source didn't apply.

That being said, your needs differ no doubt.

Here is a bench test thread from Nikonians : http://www.nikonians.org/forums/dcboard.php?az=set_threaded_mode&forum=402&...

Also, the combo will benefit further from one of these: http://audio-video-supply.markertek.com/search#w=sescom%20dslr%20nikon&asug...

SESCOM, makers of the now scarce as hens teeth IL-19 line attenuator (they changed the design) sacred to live sound crews, makes a ton of attenuated 3.5 mm TRS cables for maximizing the gain structure in camera.


Have fun!

Rob Manning


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Randy Rotheisler
Re: D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:35:19 pm

Hi Rob,

Thanks for the Nikonians link. It pretty much confirms my experience: that the D800 can handle a line level signal. " not only can the D800E handle a line level input, the gain setting needs to be modestly high (4-5)." and "at the 1 setting, it requires 1.015V RMS to reach [the camera's 0dB level]."

Maximum output of the H4n is 1VRMS, which puts it in the same ballpark as the maximum level of the Nikonians test. I 'm running the headphone output setting of the Zoom at 80 and recording at level 3 on the camera. My levels match up pretty well- the camera meters hit -12dB at the same time as the Zoom's.

This gives me some peace of mind, knowing that I'm not introducing distortion some where along the way by feeding the camera too hot a signal or via some wierd impedance mismatch.

Note though, the H4n/D800 combo will NOT benefit from a line attenuator cable. As per the Nikonians test, the camera will handle a 1VRMS line level signal just fine. This allows (requires!) recording at a very low level setting on the camera, thus lowering the noise floor and maximizing the S/N. A line attenuator would require a higher recording level- thus also raising the noise floor- and hiss- just what I'm trying to get away from!

As for wretched/not wretched, well, those are obviously value judgments, and to each his or her own. Different needs, as you said.

Best other benchmark tests I've been able to find are:

http://nikonrumors.com/2013/05/22/guest-post-nikon-d4-and-d800-audio-levels...

These findings can clearly be heard at the site below, especially when D800 recorded sound is compared to the sound of the 'control' mic.

http://www.audiovideopro.net/audio-recording-with-the-nikon-d800/
also at:

randy


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Rob Manning
Re: D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Oct 23, 2013 at 1:56:28 am

Thanks for the links.

I was (guessing) an attenuation buffer cable would help, not make things worse and my audio spec chops, well, left somewhere back in the '90s at DSR in Eagle Rock, so parroted as a live fire exercise.

Why else would they sell them (marketing)? Duh.

Thanks,

Rob


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Stephen Pritchard
Re: D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Feb 3, 2014 at 6:33:40 pm

Just a quick note to say I've now had a chance to test the D610 audio, courtesy of a review loan from Nikon.

The results (here: http://www.audiovideopro.net/audio-test-nikon-d610-dslr/) are broadly similar to those I found from testing the D800. The only difference with the new test is the addition of the Røde Video Mic Pro.

That test was, in itself, based on real-world sound recording experiences with the camera and the need to check those under controlled conditions.

For what it is worth, I use both a D800 and D600 for work.

I have also run similar tests with the D600, and with similar results. I would be happy to post these on Vimeo or elsewhere if there is enough interest.

Although I no longer have the camera, I found the audio on the D7000 was more acceptable using an external mic; I've not yet had a chance to test the D7100.


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Stephen Pritchard
Re: D800 DSLR Audio- Using Zoom H4n as Preamp
on Feb 8, 2014 at 5:43:40 pm

My apologies, it's been pointed out that the link in my reply above is wrong, hopefully this works: http://www.audiovideopro.net/audio-test-nikon-d610-dslr/


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