Audio recording for interview
I am wanting to shoot some documentary interviews on my Canon 60D and was wondering if anyone had any tips for a entry level to mid level audio recording set up?
There are quite a few options. Do you have any mics or are you starting from scratch? Quite a few people do double system with the Zoom H4n. I ended up getting a JuicedLink DT454 and running that right into my GH2 to record. Are you talking sit down interviews or run 'n' gun with a shotgun mic?
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I have nothing other than my camera and a tripod. All the interviews are going to be sitting down, but it would be nice to have something that will be versatile enough to use when I am on the move.
Do those set ups you mention work for this type of use?
I use the H4n for my audio needs, it was $$$, and I worry about batteries, and it is a bit of a pain if I don't have a 2nd person with me and I am on the move. But man each and every time I get back to the studio and play the audio files from it I say SO WORTH IT.
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I'm an audio perfectionist without the budget to buy the best, which in my opinion would be Sound Devices. So like many others shooting with DSLR, I use double system sound with a separate, dedicated audio recorder.
There are two issues, really: the recorder, and the microphones.
The threshold you are looking for in a dedicated audio recorder is XLR inputs for external microphones. The Zoom H4n is very popular among DSLR filmmakers because it delivers quality at a great price.
I have bought several Zoom recorders, and there were always design and quality problems. I had a Zoom H2 that failed a day or two after going out of warranty, though it was a backup and never used. And I owned the original Zoom H4, which was great, except for really cheesy materials and build quality. Thankfully, from all reports, Zoom has addressed these issues in the radically redesigned second generation H4n.
I'm through with Zoom, however. I am currently using a Tascam DR-100, which I love. It has great materials and build quality, and great sound. Also, it is well designed for field use, with manual function switches that, in the heat of production, I find world's better than menu settings. Another feature I like is dual battery systems, with a Lithium Ion rechargable (via any USB power source) and two AA. This redundancy gives you long run times from the Li-ion, and a failover system to disposable AA alkalines (or NiMH) also.
The DR-100 is not perfect. The built-in omni mics, everyone says, are not much, though the built-in directional cardiods are said to be OK. I don't know, because I always use my DR-100 with external mics. Some people don't like the concentric level controls, but in general I really like the ergonomics of the DR-100 -- you can operate it even with gloves. The DR-100 is not perfect, and if I were in charge of changes for a Mk II version, the first thing on my list would be an ability to switch the mic preamps out of XLR circuit for situations where someone would like to use an external mixer to supply line level inputs to the the DR-100 XLRs.
I also own a Tascam HD-P2 portable 2-track recorder. This is a good, almost great, recorder. The best thing about it is the very straightforward design. Anybody who has worked with audio can simply grab it and go, no need to read any manuals. When I get stressed and working under pressure, this is the recorder I reach for because it always brings home the bacon, and I never make mistakes. Downside is maybe materials and build quality, just slightly off Tascam's past standards. Plastic, and I don't know how this happened, but mine obviously got stored shut inside a Pelican case under humid conditions, and all the exposed screw heads are rusted. Still, the HD-P2 has my confidence, though I'm not sure I can recommend it any longer because it is an older model and likely to be discontinued soon.
Everybody working with DSLRs is so focused on the Zoom H4n, and discussion rarely goes beyond this recorder. But you specified "entry level to mid level" so I will discuss the next step in audio, something that a lot more interview shooters should consider.
Specifically, the Tascam DR-680, which is billed as an 8 channel recorder, though it is, as a practical matter, capable of 6 microphone inputs. In anything beyond run and gun shooting where I need the audio recorder and wireless mic receivers mounted on the camera rig, the DR-680 offers filmmakers a lot of bang for the buck. It costs about the same as a Canon Rebel class camera body, so this is to me something that every serious filmmaker needs to have on hand.
The DR-680 has 6 inputs. Each one is switchable between line or mic, and phantom power can be applied in pairs. It runs on 8 AA batteries or AC. Of the 6 inputs, 4 are XLR, and 2 are 1/4" TRS. You can run these in any combination of sources because even the TRS inputs support XLR mics with the right cable, and supply phantom power. (Be careful to switch Phantom power off on any recorder while making connections, but particularly be careful and certain Phantom is off with TRS connectors because they short while inserting the 1/4" plug.)
The DR-680 is really a jewel in that you can put a separate mic on several people and record each mic to a discrete channel and a discrete track (file). With 6 channels available, you can do things like redundant microphones and safety levels. You have extra channels for ambience, or situations where there is an audience and mics for question and answer sessions.
The downside of the DR-680 is the recorder is really not built to professional standards of similarly capable machines. It is plastic, not metal. There is a single multifunction control knob, and a set of buttons used to arm individual tracks or target a specific channel for level setting. Also, you need to read the manual and practice before getting under pressure in a production situation.
All in all, I love the DR-680. It has outstanding sound quality and capabilities at a phenomenal price of $795. Make that $875, because the Tascam carry case is optional. PortaBrace also make a case for the DR-680. I own a lot of PortaBrace audio cases, and only bought the Tascam factory case because PortaBrace did not have one out for the DR-680 at the time I purchased mine. Turns out I like the factory case just fine.
OK, this post is long enough. I should go on to microphones, but I'm out of time. I'll just say I favor Rode and Sennheiser mics, Sanken, Tram, and Countryman lavaliers. Don't buy cheap mics! You will never regret the purchase of a quality mic. Audio experts will dispute any of my choices on recorders -- we are talking entry and mid level here -- but don't buy a mic you will have to apologize for. I've just named stuff I own, but if the money is there, there are others you should consider like the Schoeps CMIT 5U, but this is definitely a high end mic. What I'm saying is "entry to mid level" on recorders works is OK, but I would rule out entry level mics.
BTW - some DSLR shooters may not be familiar with the Tascam brand name. Since this post already sounds like an ad, I'll mention that Tascam is a division of Teac, a professional audio company with roots stretching back decades. Tascam stuff has always offered great, audiophile level performance. This brand really created the project studio market segment, long before computers made it possible even conceive of finishing films or broadcast video in a project studio setting.
As such, Tascam was not the cornerstone of professional recording studios. In major recording studios, there was a whole different range of cost-is-no-object brand names. This was a time when any audio facility with equipment under a half million was considered low budget, just as analog video suites costs started at about the same half million (except crummy 3/4" Umatic, which could be done for less).
Anyway, Tascam gear is very equivalent in quality and tradition to Nikon and Canon. Remember, there was a time when 35mm still cameras were considered amateur, and no true professional photographer would use anything less than a medium format Mamiya or Hasselblad, or a large format view camera.
Tascam is a great brand that really deserves more recognition and use in the DSLR community. Zoom, in comparison, is an interesting upstart, something I'd put on the level of GoPro.