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Audio Recommendations for Short Documentaries

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Lauren Brinkman
Audio Recommendations for Short Documentaries
on Apr 8, 2018 at 8:26:51 pm

Hi everyone,

I am shooting several short documentaries this year and am looking to invest in a few audio pieces for my kit. Currently I own a canon C100 Mark 1 (with two XLR inputs on handle) and have using a borrowed shotgun mic attached to the handle, as well as 1-2 rented Sennheiser G3 ew-100 lav sets plugged into the camera or a borrowed H4n/H6n recorder.

I'm looking for a professional/semi professional kit so that my end products can be submitted to reputable film festivals. Here's the kit I'm considering investing in.

- 2x Sennheiser EW 100 ENG G3's - ~600 used, if lucky?
- 1x A-Band 518-554 MHz, 1x b band
- 1x Sanken or Countryman mic (for better quality audio on main character) - ~300 new
- Sennheiser shotgun on camera (i've done the least about of research on this) - ~300 used
- Zoom H4N - ~150 used

I'm looking for the best possible audio and I understand that at some point I will have to upgrade beyond the Sennheisers, but at this point I feel it's the best for my budget unless there's something else out there for slightly more that's a noticeable quality improvement. I often film subjects in their homes, out and about in the world, etc, so the environments vary a lot. Sometimes we're run and gun.

Does anyone have any suggestions, revisions, recommendations for this kit?

Happy to provide more information about application if needed.

Also is there a quality difference in audio if I mount lavs to the XLR on the camera versus the H4n?

Thanks,
Lo


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Bruce Watson
Re: Audio Recommendations for Short Documentaries
on Apr 8, 2018 at 10:15:02 pm

[Lauren Brinkman] "I'm looking for a professional/semi professional kit so that my end products can be submitted to reputable film festivals. Here's the kit I'm considering investing in.

- 2x Sennheiser EW 100 ENG G3's - ~600 used, if lucky?
- 1x A-Band 518-554 MHz, 1x b band
- 1x Sanken or Countryman mic (for better quality audio on main character) - ~300 new
- Sennheiser shotgun on camera (i've done the least about of research on this) - ~300 used
- Zoom H4N - ~150 used

Does anyone have any suggestions, revisions, recommendations for this kit?"


Some things to know. First, rumor has it that Sennheiser will announce the G4s, perhaps at NAB like... tomorrow? IDK. This will put downward pressure on the prices of the G3s. Also, if you're in the USA, for G3s I'd look for A-block and G-block. I'd avoid B-block as the 600-700 MHz range has been sold off by the FCC and won't be legal for wireless microphone use after sometime around June of 2020 IIRC. That said, wireless is a last resort, not a first. Use an XLR cable if you can. But wireless is always nice to have in your kit when you have to have it.

Lavalier microphones are sorta religious objects. People have their favorites and defend them vigorously. Thus the Sanken and Countryman references. Nothing wrong with these mics if used properly. But they are expensive, and one can make the argument that they are overkill for Sennheiser G3s. I wouldn't make that argument if we were talking Lectrosonics or Zaxcom. But like you, I'm using the Sennheiser G3s. And I took a chance on the Oscar Soundtech mics and have been really happy with them. They are as good as their hype; they sound great and are a serious upgrade from the Sennheiser kit mic (ME2? I forget). Anyway, something to consider.

If you're ever going to run your lavs directly into your camera, you'll need to 1) convert to XLR, and 2) convert phantom power to plug-in power for the mic. Usually companies that sell lavs sell these converters. Just make sure you have them if you need them. Do not try to power a lav mic directly from XLR phantom power.

I'm not at all a fan of a shotgun mic mounted on camera. That's almost never a good spot for a microphone of any kind. If you're going to insist on it (and we know you are) you will be wasting your money on a top level mic. For that duty I'd be looking at something like the AT875R which punches way above it's weight class. But don't expect miracles -- an out of position mic is going to sound out of position no matter how much you pay for it. And if you're going to literally be running with the camera, you'll need wind protection for the mic too.

Rather than an H4N I'd go with something that had better (less noisy) preamps. Perhaps the best bargain out there right now is a Zoom F4. The problem is that inexpensive microphones tend to be less sensitive and therefore need more (clean) gain from a preamp. And inexpensive preamps tend to have less clean gain to give, so they want a more sensitive mic. IOW: inexpensive mic + inexpensive preamp = noise. If you want good sound, you've got to get out of the mud, and the F4 is in my estimation the minimum required to get there in a recorder.

Another way to go is to find a used Sound Devices MixPre-D (not at all hard to find used) and use that to feed your camera at line level. The MixPre-D has excellent mic preamps, excellent limiters, and excellent metering (once you understand it). And they make a bracket for it that lets you mount the camera directly on top of it which makes it particularly attractive to one-man-band types. This is how I do it, so I know it works.

The thing missing from your proposed kit is a good hypercardioid mic. For sit down interviews I'd much rather have sound from a hyper on a boom poll on a c-stand where the mic is just barely above the top frame line of your camera, out in front of the subject pointing toward the mouth at roughly a 45 degree angle (basically as close as you can get it without it being seen). Usually considerably better sound than a lav, no matter how expensive the lav or wireless radios are. Hypers beloved of the indy film makers include the Audix SCX1-HC, and the AT4053B, both of which can be had used with some effort.

Finally, good sound doesn't just happen. It takes at least as much effort as good picture. If you aren't willing to spend the same amount of time and effort on the sound, your odds of matching your picture are low. Which is why you'll keep running into the advice to hire a sound person and leave the sound (and equipment) to them. It's good advice. My experience with indy films and documentaries is that the audience will forgive all kinds of video flaws, from grainy washed out footage to shaky-cam, but if the sound is bad they'll get up and walk out. If they can't understand the dialog, they are gone. Just sayin'.


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Ty Ford
Re: Audio Recommendations for Short Documentaries
on Apr 11, 2018 at 5:49:06 pm

"And I took a chance on the Oscar Soundtech mics and have been really happy with them. They are as good as their hype; they sound great and are a serious upgrade from the Sennheiser kit mic (ME2? I forget). Anyway, something to consider."

Hey Bruce,

Which Oscars did you get?

Yes, the G3 comes with the ME-2. The MKE-2 is a good upgrade as are Countryman mics.

Yes, mic mounted on cameras are seldom good choices unless the environment is amazingly friendly.

The G4 is due very soon. It looks like they have rolled it out.

https://bhpho.to/2GQYAlv

Regards,

Ty Ford

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


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Bruce Watson
Re: Audio Recommendations for Short Documentaries
on Apr 11, 2018 at 7:31:10 pm

[Ty Ford] "Hey Bruce,

Which Oscars did you get?"


I've got a pair of the 802s, which are designed to be mounted over clothing (visible, like the newsreaders on the nightly news). They also have the 801s, which have sufficient high frequency rise to compensate for being hidden under clothing, but I don't do much narrative work, so don't have much call for 801s.

I think the OST lavs are one of the great bargains in audio. They just crush the Sennheiser ME-2 kit mics for not a lot of money; they are a significant upgrade to the G3s and perhaps the G4s as well if they still come with ME-2s. That said, these lavs aren't going to challenge a Sanken COS-11d or a DPA 4060 in ultimate sound quality. But for the price? These things rock.

On top of that dealing with OST is easy and painless. Tell them what system you want to terminate for (Sennheiser, Lectro, etc.) and they'll do it, and you can get their "Power Supply-XLR" (XLR phantom power -> plugin power converter) terminated the same way. So you can quickly and easily switch between wireless or wired as the situation demands. I didn't think I'd use the XLR converter much, but I find I use them most of the time now. I only use the wireless radios when I have to.


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