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Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots

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David Turner
Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Dec 30, 2011 at 9:51:24 pm

Hi Guys,

I have been reading though the forums for the past 2 days and have not really found the advice I'm looking for. I hope my more amateurish relation to sound recording will not illicit a barrage angry responses, but some helpful ones.

Here is what I do:
I shoot Documentary style videos in Maine. This is for actual documentary projects, editorial projects, and Docu-Advertising projects. Right now this is not full time and I work on a lot of other related things between assignments. I also work on Mic Sync's and interviews for Public Radio. At times I run everything myself on very controlled environments like a 1 person sit down interview.

Here is what I have been working with:
I shoot all with Canon HDSLR's which means all my audio is recorded separately. I own a Tascam D-100 and use that occasionally. I also borrow a Marantz PMD661 and have been using that.

In terms of hiring a sound professional:
I do many times try to hire a sound professional for my shoots. The availability of people, and even more for people that can work for around $200 a day, is very slim in Maine. And very few of these people own a nice gear setup. I used to live in NYC and would be able to find a plethora of wonderful sound professionals... this is no longer the case.

Mics I record with:
I have a Rode NTG-2 shotgun/boom and Sennheiser Lavalier Mics that I use the most. I have a handful of other Omni mics and cardioid mics that occasionally get used.

Things that are important:
PORTABILITY - Most of my work is on the run documentary stuff that is outdoors, or in changing environments.

EASE OF USE - I would like to be able to teach myself this gear and teach any semi-experienced person I hire to monitor sound to use it relatively quickly.

MORE THAN 2 CHANNELS - There are times I wish I could be working with more than 2 channels. This is sometimes when having 3 Lavalier mics running, or 2 lavalier mics and a boom... And at most insane, 4 mics.

BUDGET - I can't spend an insane amount. I have a budget of around $1000 for new sound gear. I may be able to be slightly talked up a little higher, but really would like to stay close to this.

FEATURES - There are a few features I think would be great (feel free to convince me differently or add). Decent knobs to change audio levels. Some sort of switch that would send only one input to the headphones... so I can notice that one specific lav is causing problems. Good lights to monitor sound levels. Ability to fit in an over the shoulder PortaBrace or something similar. XLR inputs. As good as possible Pre-Amps. If possible some mixer features like filters (but I don't have any experience working with these... but I am willing to learn if it will improve my audio). The ability to record to different tracks for each mic (this is very important as some slight error with one mic shouldn't be tethered to any other, even with someone monitoring them). Ability to name tracks with a specific take name or the like to make syncing easier.

I have been looking at:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?is=REG&sku=542280&Q=&O=&A=d...
I'm not sure about this based on a few bad reviews.

I would consider a small mixer and a recorder, but that may put me way over budget or be too confusing or heavy.

I could use advice on what to buy and why. I would like to have a setup that a sound professional would prefer if they were working with a budget of around $1,000 give or take.

I can add more info or answer questions if my description was not good enough. Unfortunately this is for gear that non-sound professionals will need to learn.

I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks. And thanks in advance for your help.


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Brian Reynolds
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Dec 31, 2011 at 3:26:37 am

Are you actually trying to do to much?
In the city I work in there has been a trend to DSLR production and those people have now realised the complexity of a good quality product, some of them have gone back to single camera shooting to tape for the simplicity.
So the question is the stunning video quality worth the problems of shooting dual system for audio?
You mentioned a rate of $200 per day for a sound operator... how much would you pay per day for a mechanic or a plumber or carpenter? How much has a sound person got invested in gear? Even a basic kit of mixer, 2x radio mics, boom, shotgun mic etc would be worth $5-10 thousand +, shouldn't he get some return on his investment?

You are not alone with your problems and I don't think there is any easy answer.

The difference between Knowledge and Wisdom is... Knowledge is the knowing of facts.... Wisdom is the sensible application of good quality knowledge...


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Bouke Vahl
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 1, 2012 at 4:03:10 pm

to drift off a little,
in my experience dual sound is the least of the trouble when shooting with a DSLR (if you got a decent rig, and that can even be cheap)
Biggest problem with a DSLR is that it aint a 'production' cam.
It's great if you have time to set up a shot, but for getting a lot of (usable) shots in a short time, it just does not work.
But again, that's not the dual system sound that is holding things up...
(and yes, i agree, for 200 bucks a day you can't get a plumber, and a 5 to 10 K investment in equipment seems a reasonable figure to me...)
Strangely, if you are in a studio environment, you can get things done way cheaper (at the cost of the studio...)

Bouke

http://www.videotoolshed.com/
smart tools for video pros


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Ty Ford
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 1, 2012 at 11:17:24 pm

"The availability of people, and even more for people that can work for around $200 a day, is very slim in Maine. And very few of these people own a nice gear setup. I used to live in NYC and would be able to find a plethora of wonderful sound professionals... this is no longer the case."

Hello David and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

I wouldn't work for $200/day either in NYC or Maine.

"non-sound professionals wil need to learn..."

Good audio - audio that draws no attention to itself - is not within the purview of most non-professional audio people.

I advise that at some point every one-man-band has to get help or hit the wall. Cheaping out on audio, either by hardware or by inexperienced talent is taking chances with your reputation.

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader


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


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Bob Kessler
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 2, 2012 at 7:19:19 pm

To reinforce and then sort of ramble on...

A "studio" environment is much easier to deal with, and hence a lot less expensive in relative terms. The lack of the need for everything to be reliably battery powered reduces the cost of the gear. Audio could be recorded onto a laptop or tower. An audio interface of passable quality is not too terribly expensive. For the most part studio interviews are seated, so wireless lavs are not needed. Once the system has been set up - it is to a large degree, "set it and forget it" - there is not going to be too much in the way of major settings changes. A well instructed intern could learn to run everything after a few sessions with an experienced pro to teach them the ropes.

Working in the field is an entirely different story. The environment is constantly changing, requiring the operators to change with it and equipment that can also handle the rapid changes. Reliability is the main issue, ease of use is a very close second. Other important consideration are flexibility and upgrade-ability.

If you start off with Sound Devices as the standard for recorders and mixers when you start to get into cheaper units you begin by making tradeoffs. The biggest tradeoff is that it requires more skill, rather than less, to get optimum performance out of the unit; so an unskilled operator will not get you the quality recordings you desire. It may eat batteries, so that actually adds to the expense if you don't invest in battery packs.

The same sort of criteria applies to all the other equipment needed to produce quality recordings in the field.

Anyhow, my client finally showed up, so it's off to work I go. I'll try to finish up later...

Peace,

Bob
____________________________________________________________________
Filmmaking is the art of the invisible;
If anyone notices your work you haven't done your job right.


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David Turner
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 4, 2012 at 8:12:41 pm

Hi Guys,

I appreciate your time and answers. Still, these are exactly the answers I could have found in any random search through this forum. I understand forums often come to a place of airing your principles and philosophies of production, but no one specifically addressed the questions I was asking. This is frustrating.

I entirely agree with all of you. Is DSLR filmmaking ideal or even great? No. But it is a tiny fraction of the price when projects are scarce, and does pose a significant benefit when working on documentary footage where people are more nervous around bigger cameras. It also is a benefit when traveling abroad shooting short form doc. And it is a further benefit when doing some editorial photo work... no new gear... Right now it is the setup that makes sense, so I am using it and asking advice. When another setup makes sense I will get that one, and seek advice on optimizing that setup.

I would love to pay a professional sound person who has their own gear to work for me on every shoot for $4-500 a day. Sure. But again, reality strikes. Some of my productions I do alone, because they are simple and controlled... I need my own gear for this. Many of the larger productions don't have large budgets, so I can pay what I can. If it is a large enough budget, I will hire a sound professional at their rate every damn time. Seriously. I get it.

And when I hire sound people for $200 a day, they are aspiring sound professionals... This is the reality of the production world. When budgets aren't there, you hire young ambitious people who want to learn. This is how I learned everything I know about production. I was hired young and learned.

In fact, in the past I have worked sound for many a documentary shoot when they are recording low budget into camera... These documentaries are shown on network television. I was paid $200 a day. So please don't tell me these things are impossible. I see it done every single day when budgets are tight, and I've seen it for years.

While the ideal production world is great, you will always find someone on some side of the production with a great argument why more money should be spent on ________ to really get quality. And a lot of the time they are right... but this goes on forever until you are into commercial production budgets. This is independent documentary!!

I am asking for advice on gear. Specifically a recorder/mixer. Can someone please weigh in on that?


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Bouke Vahl
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 4, 2012 at 9:53:26 pm

well, there is a nice discussion on field recorders just a few threads below. That should get you started!

Bouke

http://www.videotoolshed.com/
smart tools for video pros


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David Turner
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Mar 2, 2012 at 11:27:27 pm

Hi Bouke,

Thanks for the response. I somehow signed up for this thread without email alerts (like my other ones) and so thought no one was responding.

When it comes to "a few threads down" how do I find that? I am not an expert on navigating these forums. I normally just use the search bar until I find threads that have topics that I think touch on what i am looking for. Can you post a link? Or the title? Or educate my feeble forum capabilities to be able to easily find what you were talking about?

Thanks again for your time.

- DT


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Tony Koretz
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 14, 2012 at 11:54:00 pm

Original poster, You mentioned you had a Marantz PMD661. That is fine as an audio recorder. However, the preamps in the recorder are reasonable but not anything to write home about. My advice would be to keep that as you recording device since you have one, but add a good field mixer with top quality preamps, such as those from Sound Devices. You would use the preamps in the field mixer and feed those to the Marantz to actually record the signals.

Rocksure Soundz
http://www.rocksuresoundz.com


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Al Bergstein
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Jan 22, 2012 at 7:02:06 am

Given what you are asking in your OP, I would save up and buy a SD or at least get an Edirol 4 channel. I am in the same boat, small market, low budget, and sometimes I run my own mix, and learned how to do it, and often I get the client to pay $200 to $300 to hire someone that does audio and I can train in how to do field sound. Not optimal at all, but real world. Yes, I do get clients to pay for sound engineering.

You would be far better off getting yourself the right gear to begin with, like the SD 5 channel, since you already have spent money on the entry level and found out you needed the higher end. Now go buy the higher end and learn how to use it. It appears you are needing it, with all the labs.

good luck!

Al


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David Turner
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Mar 3, 2012 at 12:04:29 am

Hey Al,

Thanks for the response, I appreciate the advice. I am leaning more and more toward Sound Devices gear by the day. I do have a few questions:

1 - Do they make a Recorder + Mixer? As in, a mixer that also records? So I would not have to purchase two things? If not do they sell discounted "kits" that combine these?

2 - It looks like there are a lot of 2 channels options. Is 3 channel just not popular? It looks like 2 or a even more expensive (and larger) 4 channel.

3 - Any recommended models in terms of SD stuff? Again things in my original post are most important: portability, ease of use, # of inputs, etc.


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David Turner
Re: Advice on Audio Recorder or Mixer for Documentary Style Shoots
on Mar 2, 2012 at 11:31:11 pm

Hi Tony,

Thanks for your response. I'm not huge on the Marantz for 2 reasons. One it is hard to see levels, especially if it is in a side pouch, and two it only has 2 channels. In my ideal setup, I would have 3 channels and a mixer (also with 3 channels). This would allow me to run 2 Lav mics and a boom/omni/other general mic without combining their signals (and thus not being able to lose one in post).

Thanks for your time!

- DT


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