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Josh Levine
Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 18, 2009 at 3:40:03 pm

Hi all,

I'm dipping my toes into the world of documentary making - and video in general - and need some advice. I have a Panasonic DVX100A and am looking for a basic audio setup to go with it. The doc will consist of many interviews in different locations: ie. outside in a major city; on public transit; and in controlled, indoor environments. At this time, I can only afford one lavalier mic and one shotgun mic. My budget is about $700 for both. I know by pro audio standards this isn't much, but sometimes you need to make do with what you have! To further complicate the matter, the shotgun mic needs to be camera mounted, as I don't have a dedicated audio person.

I've looked at several things, including the Sennheiser G2, the MKE 300, and some Azden stuff, but I'm not sure what to buy. Is it important that both mics are the same brand, or does that make a difference? (I figure tonal qualities can be evened out during mastering, but...) Can the Creative Cow forum members help advise me on what's the best bang for my buck?


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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 19, 2009 at 1:33:04 am

Hello Josh and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum,

Your current financial constraints are pretty much guaranteeing you an unpleasant outcome. Unless you're within two feet of the person you're interviewing, your audio will disappoint you. And even then, on a noisy street corner, you're going to hate yourself in the morning (when you get your clips loaded into the editing system and hear what you got.

So, the good news is that you can pretty much get any mic you want because the mic on the camera approach will make even good mics sound bad.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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David Jones
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 19, 2009 at 2:12:44 am

Hi Josh-

I have to agree with Ty, you just don't have a budget to get everything you want. At the very least, you need about twice that [$700]. You also need a good pair of headphones like the Sony MDR-7506 (at $95).

Mics mounted on cameras are fine for picking up general ambient sound, but usually not so good when trying to pick up clear sound from subjects. That's why you see sound guys booming from overhead.

As far as recommendations that fall within a more realistic budget I would look at Audio Technica shotgun mics like the AT4073 $599. And the Sennheiser G3 wireless system also $599.

Regards,
Dave J


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Josh Levine
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 19, 2009 at 3:31:29 am

The shotgun mic probably would only be used for indoor environments, interviewing small groups of people. The lav would be for individual interviews outside.

So, saying I up it to about $1100 and destroy my credit - haha - what then? Are the Sennheiser G2's a decent bet? How about the ME66 for a shotgun (for inside)?

I mean, I understand I'm not going to get Lucasfilm quality. That's a given. But I'm sure a $400-500 mic must be better than, say, a $50 Radio Shack one, right...? What's the lesser of evils, then, in mics within my range? (I'll check out the AT shotgun.)


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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 19, 2009 at 11:11:37 am

Josh,

Go with the lav for the interiors. Forget the shotgun. A shotgun mic mounted on a a camera is absolutely the wrong mic and wrong application for shooting interior interviews. Shotguns are much more omni directional at mid and low frequencies. The wall and ceiling bounce will compromise your audio.

Which one?

Countryman EMW or B3
Sony ECM 77b
Sanken COS 11

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Sam Mallery
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 20, 2009 at 1:27:07 pm

I firmly believe it's better to have an inexpensive yet decent quality shotgun mounted on the camera, as opposed to just using the internal mic.

I would get a Rode NGT1 shotgun:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/400812-REG/Rode__NTG_1_Condenser_Shot...

That kit includes the shotgun mic, the shockmount you need to mount it to the camera, and the XLR cable. That mic requires phantom power to operate, and you have phantom power on your DVX100. For the money, it's a surprisingly good sounding microphone.

That leaves us with $430 for a wireless lav. Well, if you can come up with an extra $70, you should really go for a Sennheiser G2:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/324242-REG/Sennheiser_EW112PG2_A_Evol...

The wireless lav kits that are cheaper than this really aren't worth it. A lot of people who have a limited budget go with the equipment I've listed here and are happy with the results. A lot of the advice that gets dispensed on this forum is coming from a good place, but the perspective is squarely from the highest standards of audio production equipment.

You can still get decent audio with your budget, you just need to try a little harder and pay a lot of attention to what you hear in your headphones, even if you can't afford a pair of $100 Sony MDR7506.



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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 20, 2009 at 1:52:00 pm

Sam,

Sorry, I'm going to speak against a wireless lav unless there's a really good reason to go wireless. It's more money, more complicated and doesn't sound as good as a good hard wired lav.

Regards,

Ty Ford




Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Sam Mallery
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 20, 2009 at 7:18:14 pm

Based on this information, I usually find that wireless lavs are a good idea:

"...documentary making... video in general... looking for a basic audio setup... The doc will consist of many interviews in different locations: outside in a major city; on public transit; and in controlled, indoor environments. At this time, I can only afford one lavalier mic and one shotgun mic..."

Boompoles, wires, and pistol mounted mics are generally not such a great idea on public transportation, at least for run and gun no-budget documentary film making.



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Craig Alan
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 21, 2009 at 6:25:48 pm

When you say interviews, who is asking the questions? Without a boom pole and operator, you need two mikes, one for the subject and one for the interviewer. For $700 you can't afford two Sennheiser G2s. Also the mike that comes with it can be disappointing. I'm not being super picky here, the kit for the most part works well but the lav itself is just so so. It requires experience and constant experimentation to get clean sound from it. The other problem is that if you are shooting in many locations, you are bound to face a situation where the cordless kit is picking up interference and will not work on any frequency.

I would on this budget stay with wired mikes. You can get ENG hand held mikes, which will record excellent interview sound. Look in the $150 apiece range. For example: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/76687-REG/Electro_Voice_16501707_RE50.... With canare xlr cables, you are at $400. Then think about two wired countryman lavs. Something like: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/295908-REG/Countryman_B3P4FF05B_B3_Om.... You might think that wired is less convenient than wireless but with a one-man crew getting the talent comfortable with the transmitter and adjusting it is a lot trickier than you might think. For the buck, you get much much much better sound quality with wired mikes. No scanning frequencies, no adjusting transmitter levels and receiver levels. No batteries running low. For the hassle of dealing with cords you get pro quality sound. Get yourself some soft cases to protect the mikes in your cam bag, a couple of rolls of gaffer tape, and a must have headphones http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/49510-REG/Sony_MDR_7506_MDR_7506_Head... and you are good to go. Even before I’d buy a cordless kit I’d get a sound devices 302 mixer. Check out the video that BH has on that ENG mike. There are other choices for ENG mikes as well.

If you only need one mike and absolutely require a cordless than go with the G2 kit that comes with the Plug-In Transmitter and get an ENG handheld to go with it and a countryman lav with the G2 adapter. You will be way over your budget and you’ll still need wired mikes and cables as backup.

On an interview heavy documentary, clean, pleasant sound is way more important than any other variable. You can always use ken burns style stills or graphics or b-roll to cover for bad or boring footage, but if you capture sub-par sound you end up with an un-watchable project.


OSX 10.5.7; MAC Book PRO (EARLY 2008); Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30, Sony vx2000/PD170, Canon xl2; Pana, Sony, and Canon consumer cams; FCP certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Craig Alan
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 21, 2009 at 7:12:04 pm

I see what you mean. But if you are just capturing the event as it happens, you still need to get your mike close to the source or you just get atmosphere sound. You can use this with a voice over and perhaps you'll get some clean enough voice clips within the scene. You'll need to get your cam real close for the attached mike to pick up dialog. I have shot footage in crowded events using a G2 with plug transmitter and an ENG mike. It works but it’s not an “interview” other than some quick off camera questions perhaps. And the G2 will fail in certain environments. Once you start setting up the body transmitter and lav it’s no longer true run and gun.

A lot depends on whether the subject is moving. And the whole style of the shoot. If you really want to capture subjects where they are not “in on” the production, then you need an assistant to get your cordless close to the subjects. You can’t zoom a mike.

If we are talking about recording voices on public transportation, the mike needs to be very very close to the subject’s mouth or the audience will be listening to loud background noise. This is fine for a few seconds in an action pic where the noise contributes to the sense of danger and the subject is shouting over the din. But for documentary interviews???

Good xlr cords are pretty easy to manage. Measure off how much slack you need from floor to cam. Put a piece of gaffers tape at that point. Disconnect cord from cam run your length to subject. Gaffer tape the cord down to avoid tripping hazards. Leave plenty of slack for talent. Reconnect xlr to cam. Use a Velcro tie or more tape to secure cord to cam or tripod to prevent it being tugged and straining connection (particularly if you are plugging into a miniplug).


OSX 10.5.7; MAC Book PRO (EARLY 2008); Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30, Sony vx2000/PD170, Canon xl2; Pana, Sony, and Canon consumer cams; FCP certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Sam Mallery
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 22, 2009 at 1:46:22 pm

"Good xlr cords are pretty easy to manage. Measure off how much slack you need from floor to cam. Put a piece of gaffers tape at that point. Disconnect cord from cam run your length to subject. Gaffer tape the cord down to avoid tripping hazards. Leave plenty of slack for talent. Reconnect xlr to cam. Use a Velcro tie or more tape to secure cord to cam or tripod to prevent it being tugged and straining connection (particularly if you are plugging into a miniplug)."

If using a wireless lav isn't true run and gun, what would you call this? :)

I agree that wired lavs are good to have around. But I think that handheld mics make documentaries look like journalism. Stick with the wireless lav and the Rode shotgun. You can get an XLR cable and a pistol grip for the Rode shockmount:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/529346-REG/Pearstone_GRIP_Universal_M...

That way if there is no one else there helping you, you can get the shotgun closer to the subject without getting the microphone in the shot. If someone is helping you, you can get the mic even closer. With a pistol you can also more the mic and point it at the person who is speaking.

Don't fear interference. There is plenty you can do with a Sennheiser G2 to remedy it. Besides, the vast majority of G2 users I've spoken to (I've litereally spoken to thousands of them) have never had issues with interference. In fact, most of them open up the box and use the frequency that was set at the factory and never need to even learn how to change it. A more common problem is adjusting the output level of the receiver.

In the great spirit of going over budget, you should really get this:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/267890-REG/Rycote_033042_14cm_Medium_...

That's the softie that fits the Rode NTG-1 shotgun. You'll need it for all outdoor shots. With the softie, the pistol grip, and a 25 foot XLR cable, you can do a lot.



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Craig Alan
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 22, 2009 at 6:27:14 pm

"But I think that handheld mics make documentaries look like journalism"

It all depends on how you plan to shoot your doc. And how you edit it. If the interviews are used mostly for audio tracks then what you care most about is the sound quality.

The vast majority of times you set up using the G2, it will be fine. But I would have a wired back up. There are locations where there is interference.

Good wireless cost way more than good wired. A good lav cost way more than a good hand held.

I also think the lav that comes with the G2 is not good enough to use as your main mic for a doc. It does not reject clothing noise well. Best to keep its wire looped and off the clothing. It has what I would call a hollow and dull audio quality. One kit alone is $700. And one mic does not make for an interview. So now you are talking about two kits. If using two, you need to set them to different frequencies. No big deal. Nor am I arguing against buying the g2. We have 4 kits. But it would not be my first choice on a $700 budget. I’d suggest these at $200 a piece: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=NavBar&A=getItemDetail&Q=...

The vast majority of times I run XLRs, I don’t bother with the gaffer tape. I threw that in only to give ideas if setting up an interview with a cooperative subject in a crowded environment. Nor does securing the wire with a piece of gaffers take a lot of time unless you are running gaffer over the full length of cable so people can step over it repeatedly.

Another thing to consider, and I’m not arguing for or against, is if you do go with the wireless kit and you are or are not mounting your camera on a tripod, figure out how you will mount your receiver to your camera. There are lots of accessories that can do this for you but give it some thought. Consider that you do want to be able to see the lcd screen in whatever position it ends up. So, for example, if you mount it horizontally on a hot shoe extender, you need to be tall enough to look down on it. Also the antennae should be aligned to each other: if your transmitter is vertical so should be your receiver.

Here’s a tutorial on how to set the basic controls for the G2 http://dvcreators.net/products/sennheiser_wireless_movieframe.htm.

Hint: pushing the on/off button quickly will take you out of the menu system.
Holding it for about 2 seconds will turn it on and off.

Tip: bring a large supply of batteries and have a way of storing them so the contacts don’t meet and they stay cool.




OSX 10.5.7; MAC Book PRO (EARLY 2008); Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30, Sony vx2000/PD170, Canon xl2; Pana, Sony, and Canon consumer cams; FCP certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Josh Levine
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 23, 2009 at 5:49:18 am

Thanks all of you for the responses.

The documentary is, I guess, what you guys call "run-n-gun." It's about graffiti in San Francisco in the 1980's, which was our golden era for graffiti. Since there's little actual footage (for obvious reasons), the doc will depend heavily on interviews and photo stills. I plan to show it locally (maybe at film festivals, if I pull this off) and release it on DVD.

Most the interviews will be one-on-ones outdoors in the City. However, most won't be in as challenging a location as the back of a bus. Some will be indoors, and there will be several group interviews, which I'll keep indoors to make it easier on myself. The interviews won't be Mike Wallace style, with a back and forth. Interviews will be used to get video clips and/or sound bytes, so there interviewer won't be featured in the film.

I have audio experience as a mixer, and my stepfather is an ex-pro mixer, so I'm decently experienced with that end, but I have little to no experience in actually capturing audio.

I bought the G2, and I think I may buy a wired lav as a backup, but I still need a mic for indoor group recording. I've given in to the idea of using a boom mic, so recommendations for the best I can get in the $300-400 range would be great. (I have good studio monitor headphones and extra XLR cables already.)


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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 23, 2009 at 11:59:31 am

Josh,

There is no mic that can accomplish good indoor group recording. Please elaborate on what you actually envision doing.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Sam Mallery
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 23, 2009 at 3:40:31 pm

For an indoor group, you should have a boompole, someone needs to operate the boompole and wear the headphones that are plugged into the headphone output of the camera to hear what they are doing at all times. The boom operator must do their best to follow the sound of the person who is speaking by maneuvering the pole around and pointing the mic at them.

That said, most indoor shoots will sound better if you don't use a shotgun style microphone on the pole, but rather you use a small diaphragm condenser with a hyper-cardioid pick-up pattern. Shotguns will pick up too many reflections of sound bouncing off of the walls and floor, where the small diaphragm hyper-cardioid will sound more like natural conversation, rather than sounding like an echoy room.

I use the Audio Technica AT4053 for the task of indoor booming. It's an amazing sounding indoor booming mic that you should be able to find used for $300 or less. You will also need a boompole, and these can be had in the low end for around $150.

When you boom a group like this, you should put the wireless lav on the most important person in the room.



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Josh Levine
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:13:33 am

Ty, I'm doing a movie on graffiti writers in my city. Most of the interviews will be one-on-ones, but I want to get group interviews as well to capture their interactions. For example, I may have 4-5 people in a room in seated in chairs or on a couch, I'll give them a subject, and let them talk. I can do a cardioid mic on a boom, but in a situation like that, I'd anticipate the conversation bouncing around a lot. It could be hard to follow the conversation using a boom, especially with an amateur operator. I understand my conditions aren't ideal, and I also realize mt budget is even less ideal. All I'm looking for is some advice on how to accomplish what I want as best as I can within my financial means. I've thought about wired lavs as well, but I can't afford 4 wired lavs right now. So... I'm stuck and hoping you pros can offer some advice!


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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 24, 2009 at 1:34:12 am

Find a sound guy with a Shure FP410 automixer. Four mic inputs, four lavs, one on each person speaking.

Mono out to one or both tracks of your camera.

Regards,

Ty Ford




Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Craig Alan
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 24, 2009 at 5:37:05 am

Great idea for a doc!

You’ve ordered the G2 so try out the lav. You’ll either think, “Sounds fine,” or you’ll get out your credit card and order the countryman or ask Ty which lav to get. Either way, I’d have a wired back up. I believe you can order a countryman that will work either way with the right connections.

The group scene can either be done the way Ty suggests or you’ll need a sound person to ride the levels with a mixer that can handle 4-6 inputs. You can probably rent the Shure FP410 automixer as well. But I wouldn’t rent just for the day of the shoot. I’d practice with it first.

Again, it sounds like you plan to edit sound bites from the group scenes over stills of the real subject which is the art. If that is so, I'd consider getting a good hand-held ENG mike and a plug transmitter for your G2. The same mic can then be used wired if the G2 is having problems. Either way the group is sharing memories with each other and it becomes a fun thing to pass the mike around to whoever wants to talk. This is not at all the way a news interview would look.

A student of mine shot a reunion of grads, now mostly seniors, exactly this way and it came out fine. The angle: we are taking turns documenting our memories for posterity.

You can zoom in close enough so the mike is out of the shot if you don’t like the look.

You ever notice on talk shows with a full crew, in a studio setting, and lots of experience, the boom pole/operator (when audience members talk) will often drift into the shot? As an alternative, the host will hand the audience member the mike or point the mike at their mouth. There is no affordable way to mike all those people. Hewell Howser uses the mike-in-shot style and it clearly feels like a documentary rather than news show.

I’d run a second mike to an MC who can introduce the speakers and direct the event. You might never use their voice in the final mix but at least the event will run smoothly and you’ll capture their interaction and names.




OSX 10.5.7; MAC Book PRO (EARLY 2008); Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30, Sony vx2000/PD170, Canon xl2; Pana, Sony, and Canon consumer cams; FCP certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Ty Ford
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 24, 2009 at 11:53:42 am

Excellent Craig,

A plausible "people" solution instead one that centers on technology.

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful ideas on the Cow.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Josh Levine
Re: Need Advice On a Cheap Setup
on Jul 28, 2009 at 4:19:56 am

Hmmm, yeah, I could go for a handheld as well. If I were to keep my groups at 2 people (for now), what would be a few wired lavs I could do? Can you guys recommend a few in different price classes?


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