Need advice for an upcoming project PLEASE!
I'm going to be shooting a documentary soon in Los Angeles using a Canon XA10 and T4i and I'm fairly confident visually but ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of sound. It's more or less zero budget and I'll be handling both video and sound, the latter of which I have no experience with.
Sound equipment-wise I have a Zoom H4n, a Rode NTG-1, a Rode Videomic and an Audio Technica lav to cover a variety of circumstances, all with dialogue (usually one person, sometimes two). The primary plan is to use the NTG-1 into the Zoom and record second system sound (I've heard the Zoom records far superior sound than the XA10). Secondary plan would be to have the speaker wear the lav and clip on the Zoom. I did a few tests today that did not exactly inspire confidence...
So my question is this: Will a mixer help my situation? I've read a lot of poor reviews of the Zoom, which isn't helping my nerves any. Can I get useable sound with this equipment, or what should I get to improve the kit? I'm so darn scared I'm willing to spend a little money here to avoid disaster. Anyone's help would be greatly appreciated!!!
Do you have interview / directoral responsibility as well.
If so I think youre spreaading yourself thin.
directing, interviewing, lighting, sound (which youre afraid of) camera , edit graphics etc etc.
id serously consider hiring a sound man or an assistant with sound experience
this forum is littered with posts from people who arent soundies coming unstuck and regretting it. Not enough experience, ability, equipment and knowlege combined with too much brainpower elsewhere (down the lens, thinking about content, cutting, coverage etc etc. spells potential disatser.
If you must do it all yourself, practice your sound technique in advance so you are 100% relaxed about your ability - let the pictures look after themselves. Theyll probable fare better than the sound!!
Post Production Dubbing Mixer
+1 to Peter's post.ifyou really want this to succeed and be something for a portfolio, hire a sound person. Our practice till you know you can do it. Consider the cost of a sound engineer to be aninvestment in a good outcome, just like your gear!
Hi Steve, as already mentioned if you're trying to do everything, hire an assistant. However, if you're not, and you are just focusing on video and audio, here are some tips for the audio side:
Zoom H4n - It's a good beginner recorder. I've been using it for a couple months now, and have no problems with it as long as you recognize it's limitations. I'd recommend you use Stereo mode, and set the input settings to 48KHz, 24-bit. That'll give you about 1:49:00 (h:m:s) on a 2GB sd card. If you're operating camera as well, your best bet is to set the record levels ahead of time and forget it. Read through the manual so you are comfortable with Stereo mode. If you are going to use two inputs into the H4n, unlink the two inputs and make sure mono mix is set off (see the manual for more info). With mono mix on your two inputs will be mixed into one stereo file (both channels will contain a mix of input 1 & 2). With it off, input 1 will go to L channel and input 2 to R channel. This makes it easier in editing to strip out each channel to a mono file. Unlinking just means that you can set the record levels for inputs 1 & 2 separately.
Rode videomic - I would recommend against it. Do some tests and see how the sound is; especially if you are outside in a noisy or windy environment. Shotguns are primarily directional, meaning they pick primarily from the front of the mic. But they also pick up from the sides and the back a bit. That is partially why on most film sets, the boom operator holds the shotgun boom mic above the dialogue/audio. This minimizes extraneous noise from the sides and back. In the case of the videomic, since you will be behind the camera, your body will be shielding noise from the back of the mic. But do some tests for the sides of the videomic. You might want to do some searches on YouTube for others who have done Rode videomic tests to see what they have noticed in various outdoor and indoor situations.
On the other hand, if the videomic is not going to be your primary source of audio, you may want to use it (even if, in your tests, you find the audio quality isn't that great) to help with editing. Since you aren't using a clapper, syncing will be hard if the video clips don't have any marker to sync with audio. Check out a previous thread about PluralEyes; if you use the videomic to record audio with your video clips, and use the H4n to record good quality audio, you can probably use something like PluralEyes/DualEyes to sync up everything in editing.
Rode NTG-1 - Do you have a windsock or a furry cover for the NTG-1? You'll probably want it if you are doing a lot of outdoor shots. You'll want to preferably get both. The windsock is the foam that usually goes over the shotgun; it helps reduce light wind sound. The furry cover goes over the foam or sometimes directly over the shotgun; it helps reduce heavy wind sound. The only problem you'll have with using the NTG-1 is holding it. If you are operating camera as well, you won't be able to hold the boom pole. Speaking of which, do you have a boom pole to attach the mic to? As I mentioned above, most of the time, a shotgun boom mic is positioned directly above the dialogue to minimize extraneous noise. It also keeps the mic out of frame. So if you are using the NTG-1, you will definitely need a second person to help you.
I would recommend you use the AT lav as much as possible. Is it wireless or wired? However, if you have two people, the NTG-1 is the better way to go. Unless you can get a second lav. Lastly, with both the NTG-1 and the AT lav, check the H4n manual on how to set up phantom power. Both mics will need it, unless they have their own battery compartment.
I would recommend against a mixer, unless you can get a battery-operated mixer, and more importantly you have a second person to hold it or a place at each location to set it down. Otherwise, how are you going to carry a mixer along with the camera and the H4n and the shotgun? You can get quite good useable sound with the equipment you have. I haven't used the NTG-1 myself, but the biggest key if you are using it is to get a furry cover to minimize wind. And if you go second system, which I recommend, bring a notebook and pencil/pen to keep track of the H4n audio file # and the video clip #. You can set the H4n to use the date as a file prefix, and then the suffix just becomes a sequential number starting from 0.
I know that's a lot of info, but I hope it helps. If you cannot get a second person to help you - specifically an audio guy - do as many tests as you need to beforehand and make sure you are comfortable running both audio and video.
David H. Watson
Thanks for your thoroughly informative response, David. I've been immersing myself in sound for the last 48 hours and while still exceedingly ignorant I am beginning to feel a little better about this issue; your advice is helping immensely in that regard.
Perhaps the most important decision I have made is to purchase two wireless lavaliers of quality. Seems like there is the $200 range and the $500+ range, with very little in between. I've been looking at Sennheiser EW112-p G3 on the B&H site. While this model is considerably more than I wanted to spend ($629 each) having read many, many posts on this forum, Googling excessively and pondering the inherent uselessness of awesome imagery with terrible audio, I've simply come to the conclusion that something of this caliber is the only truly reliable way to achieve quality sound. So much of this project will involve one or two people, either following them around or (essentially) eavesdropping on them, with freeways in the near distance and God knows what else, that I really don't see any other way to achieve my objective without 'going big.' My background is camera; I've fabricated an ultra-lightweight body harness/bungee rig which really helps distribute the weight of the gear and provide my shots with a fluid motion. So the plan would be to XLR the wireless receivers into the Zoom (both attached to my generously-sized camera plate), set my channel levels and go. Plan to also utilize the NTG-1 (which extends 18" off a lightweight arm to angle down into frame from overhead) to record either into the Zoom or directly into camera. And as per your advice I am purchasing a proper dead cat to help dampen wind.
Couple of quick questions though, if you have any time left in your life after reading this lengthy post:
Is the Sennheiser wireless set-up the best way to go for my purposes, in your opinion? Any other make/model that you might recommend as a better alternative? And since memory in the Zoom is not a problem (I have dozens of 16 GB Extreme cards), should I just record at 96/24 to achieve the highest quality signal? Would a (lightweight!) pre-amp serve me in this scenario anywhere? I'm assuming not, especially with lavs involved, but understand that the Zoom doesn't have one.
I will definitely research how to unlink the two XLR inputs on the Zoom as well, great advice. I've also read about a balanced 3.5 mm cable with XLR splitters that some engineers have used to enable them to use the other two Zoom channels independently w/XLR inputs, and thought that perhaps the NTG-1 should plug into one of these to avoid recording into the camera altogether (except for a scratch track). Have you used or heard of this set-up?
Regarding PluralEyes, our (very small, mostly me) team has Final Cut Pro and we've recently been speaking with some editor pals who all say the same thing: GOTTA HAVE IT. It sounds like a Godsend - such a simple idea, it's about time someone did it, so we're not gonna hesitate on that one! Our plan is to keep meticulous notes so that audio and video cards can be downloaded each evening and filed appropriately onto a designated hard drive. Otherwise it will be like descending into the rabbit hole when we try to decipher all of it later!
Again, David, I sincerely appreciate your input. Folks who contribute to forums like this provide an invaluable service to folks like me who seek knowledge. Hats off to you all.
Hi Steve, I think going the double lav route is a great idea. As for makes/models, I'm not too sure. Perhaps someone else can throw in their two cents.
Regarding sample rate/bit size, 24-bits is generally the best option. As for sample rate, from what I've seen/heard/read, most film/video audio is recorded at 48KHz. I'm not sure why, because I know in a music studio the mantra is the higher the quality in recording, the better. You could try 96/24, but you may want to see how much recording time you've got on your 16GB versus 48/24. Don't forget, you may have plenty of cards, but it'll take time to switch a card out.
I haven't read about a balanced 3.5 mm cable with XLR splitters, but it sounds like a good idea. Some things to keep in mind though are: Will the NTG-1 need phantom power? If so, how much (usual is +48V)? I say this because the Zoom provides +3V through the 3.5mm input jack in the back that overrides the built-in mics. The assumption is that this input jack is for wired lavs that don't have a power source (battery compartment, pack, receiver, etc.). These small lavs take +3V power while the big shotguns take +24/48V. Also keep in mind that the Zoom will allow you to set one record level for both built-in mics. Which means that if you are splitting the 3.5mm jack to 2 XLR inputs, both inputs will be recorded at the same level. In this case since you are using only one shotgun, it shouldn't be a problem.
The main thing to keep in mind if you decide to use the NTG-1 in addition to 2 lavs is: what is the purpose of your documentary? Do you need to get background noise? Or is the focus on the dialogue audio? The lavs will pick up the dialogue audio perfectly fine. They will also pick up some background noise, but not much. But the only reason (from what I can see) to use a shotgun in addition to a lav is to get background/ambient noise to use in editing. But if you go this route, make sure the shotgun doesn't dip into frame. You want it above frame.
Lastly, regarding Plural Eyes, it works when the video clips have built-in audio to sync up with. So you will have to either record a scratch track or, if you use the NTG-1, run that into the camera. But I think I heard in a Youtube video that FCP has syncing capabilities too. Perhaps it's the newest version of FCP?
I'm glad my lengthy explanation helped you :).
David H. Watson
Good notes yet again David - thanks. I think I'll stick with 24/48 if for no other reason that it would probably require an engineer (as opposed to an audience) to hear the difference. And the NTG-1 to get the cleanest possible track (as opposed to the in camera mic) for the wave form sync. And who knows, some of it may even be useable. The Sennheisers will be here Friday - I'm psyched!
Happy Trails, SG