Mic/mixer audio to camera woes; a cautionary tale
As a forum leader, I like the idea of preventing problems before they happen. Here's an all too frequent set of problems and some solutions.
Running line level into a mic level input is, perhaps, the most frequent audio problem on shoots. You run some tone from the mixer, set a level, stop tone, hear some audio, hit record thinking everything is OK. If you're not listening, as you shoot (a hugely bad idea), you don't realize every second of audio is distorted.
You can pretty much eliminate the problem by listening to the audio during tone. Line level tone has a little hair around it even at -20 when it's feeding a mic input. After sending tone, grab one of the mics set a normal level on the mixer and talk into the mic. Everything OK? Then you are PROBABLY fine. Are you doing split tracks - one mic to one channel, one to the other? Then make sure you check that BOTH are really getting to their proper channels. (This is the second most frequent mistake.)
Mistake #3: Tap the on-camera mic to make sure you haven't switched it on by mistake. (Unless you intended to use it.)
Mistake #3a: The shooter goes off to shoot B-roll and switches to the on-camera mic. When he/she comes back, you cable up without checking. Oops! You just lost one side of your audio. Camera Ops are notorious for this. You just can't trust them. I've even had them try to tell me there must be something wrong with my cables.
They will also inadvertently change the audio input controls while going handheld during that B-roll capture and if you don't check when they get back, your levels may be WAY off. Solution: put a piece of gaffers tape over the controls immediately after setting levels. (NOT DUCT TAPE, GAFFERS TAPE!!!)
Some cameras don't let you hear a stereo split in the headphones. You can hear all left, all right or a mono mix, regardless of where you have your mixer pan pots set.
Weird JVC anomaly: Last week I was on a shoot with a JVC camera that only had one XLR in the rear. It had another one in the front that the on-camera mic plugged into. By habit and convention, you might normally throw the channel 1/2 switches to REAR because that's how most cameras are set up.
We weren't split tracking so it didn't make any difference, but had we been, I would have had to set one camera input to FRONT. How to tell? During audio setup with a mixer, after tone is set, bring up one mic on the mixer and pan that audio from one side to the other. If it goes away when you go to one side and the camera meters also show reduced level on that side, the camera input switches are probably not in the right position. If the levels are there, but you don't hear audio, the headphone monitor switch is probably not set to BOTH, or you may be hearing the on-camera mic. As above, tap the mic to be sure.
Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide