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Audio Recording for Documentary

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Brittany DeLillo
Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 2, 2011 at 10:29:44 pm

Okay! The rundown:

We are shooting a short comedic documentary. Very low key, using a T2i or Sony HDR-XR550 for video. We had a cheap Radioshack lavaliere microphone lying around for audio. Then we realized, "Hey, we're going to be shooting two people at a time. How do we mic them with only one lav and one audio input on our cameras?"

Two hours later we walked out of a music store with an H4n Zoom recorder, an Audio-Technica P90 Series Professional VHF Wireless System with lav included, a 1/4" cable and a 1/8" to 1/4" adapter. I've checked out the manuals, followed directions when given. Issues thus far:

1) when I plug our Radioshack lav into the EXT MIC port, I get only the left channel in STEREO and 4CH modes. Is this because it's from Radioshack and a crappy mic?
2) I used the adapter to plug the Radioshack mic into Input 1. No sound. Can't test out the Audio-Technica system because we don't have 9V batteries. Grabbing some tomorrow.
3) Should the P90 seamlessly connect into the H4n's Input 1 or 2 and get two channels?

This is the first time I've ever these sound hurdles. When I was in multi-mic situations, there was an HVX on set and we used the XLR inputs built onto the camera. Going to a music store seemed to be a mediocre decision, but we are shy on the B and H type depots in Boston and we were hoping to walk out and shoot this afternoon. Is what we bought the right thing or did the sales guy talk us into getting something that's better suited for music professionals?

Our goal is to mic at most two subjects with lavs. That's it. That's all we want! What is the best way to do that with a HDSLR?

(Yes, I know. If we could afford all that, why stick with a Radioshack clip-on mic? This video is a quick, run-and-gun, for internal use only piece. Money isn't the issue, it's how quickly we can get this done.)

As always, thank you for all comments, suggestions and criticisms, harsh or otherwise.


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Al Bergstein
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 12:50:44 am

Well, if I read you right, you are plugging essentially a mono lav mic into a stereo port. So right, you'll only get one channel. It's ok. You can cut and paste it into the other at post time.

The lav won't work I don't believe plugged into input one. I don't think it has the power to drive it to that kind of port.

If you have the right cables for the AT to plug the reciever in (i.e. the right xlr or unbalanced, then yes. I have the larger dual reciever product from them (can't remember the part number), but it has rather unique smaller xlr cables that plug into it, but they come out to standard XLR cables. So it should go right in. But I go to a field mixer first, then split to both the Zoom I have and out to feed the camera.

Good luck. Practice with it first!!! (G)

Alf


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Brittany DeLillo
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 12:56:42 pm

I wasn't fully aware the RS lav was a mono input. I should have referenced back to previous projects to see how that audio was dumped in. When I used it with the Sony HD camcorder, it played back in stereo.

Is it best advised to always use XLR as the main connection rather than a "STANDARD PHONE" that is also supports?

Thanks for the advise so far. Does anyone have any other recommendations for lavs or the setup overall?


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Jayasri (Joyce) Hart
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 6:22:54 pm

I wasn't familiar with the H4N Zoom, but I like what I see:
http://www.zoom.co.jp/english/products/h4n/
How about using only the recorder's built-in mics? From what I read, it will take self-powered mics, not phantom powered ones.

And my experence has been that XLR is more trouble-free if one isn't an audio expert. XLR & TRS (tip-ring-sleeve phone jack) are both 'balanced' but sometimes a phone jack carries 2 unbalanced signals(like the TRS in headphones).

Jayasri (Joyce) Hart
Los Angeles, USA
htp://home.earthlink.net/~hartfilms


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Al Bergstein
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 8:29:06 pm

Brittany, I can't be sure that the lav you have is stereo or not, usually i think they are mono, though a few are built as stereo.

As to the Zoom, I have one, and the XLRs can support Phantom, but you should be plugged into an outlet to do that, unless you have a short recording session or you have a box of batteries.

Alf


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Bill Davis
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 10:32:08 pm

The Basics:

You can figure out a lot if you learn to look at plugs and sockets and simply COUNT the number of separate circuits as evidenced by a plugs rings and spacers. If you only have TWO conductors on a plug (two metal barrels separated by a non-metalic spacer) - it MUST be unbalanced mono. This is because you just need a ground and a feed circuit for the electrons to flow.

On a plug with THREE sections (two separating spacer rings) you have the ability to achieve three separate circuits. One must always be the common GROUND. So a three-part plug can carry either a STEREO signal (ground, right, left) or a MONO BALANCED line (ground, signal positive, signal negative)

Musical instrument oriented stores are built around a business model where they sell a lot of stuff that only requires Mono signals. An standard electric guitar or bass are a prime examples. So they have a LOT of accessories and stuff that works in MONO and uses two-conductor cords for connection.

In the video world, a major problem is inducted NOISE infecting audio lines. So most professional gear is built using MONO BALANCED 3-wire connections.

On your ZOOM, you have hybrid jacks that have XLR balanced connections but ALSO 1/4" balanced connections in the center of the same jack. But these are built for 3-conductor plugs. You can easily plug a mono - two connector - 1/4" plug into this and it won't hurt anything, but since there are only two conductors on the plug, the circuit will only see ONE signal.

The weak link in your system is the wireless mics. Wireless rigs, particularly CHEAP wireless rigs, are notorious for causing problems in sound recording. They don't support the BALANCED connections that the ZOOM expects. Cheap wired BALANCED XLR terminated lav mics (even from Radio Shack) would work better and cause FAR less problems for you.

Think of it this way. You give me $100 dollars. In return I can give you a nice mic on 50 cents worth of wire, make a profit and stay in business. OR for the same $100 I can try to provide you with not just the microphone, but ALSO sell you a sophisticated radio transmission and reception system that does the same job as the 50 cents worth of wire? What's wrong with this picture? Is it possible? With modern electronic production sure. But with cheap wireless rigs, they SQUEEZE every nickle they can out of the cost of the goods they're selling to make an attractive price point to compete with the wire. And often they squeeze so much they opt for stuff like unbalanced systems because they're a LOT simpler and cheaper to produce than balanced ones. Oh sure they technically work. But they're also typically so cheap that they break easily, perform marginally, and typically end up on a shelf when anyone who really loves doing this stuff gets frustrated with the compromises they require in exchange for being affordable.

If there wasn't an alternative, that would be one thing. But there is. Stick to the 50 cents worth of wire.

It's a killer deal.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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Al Bergstein
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 11:07:14 pm

Superb response. You win the response of the year award, and it's only June (G).

Alf


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Al Bergstein
Re: Audio Recording for Documentary
on Jun 3, 2011 at 11:28:56 pm

By the way, here is a link to a short video I shot last year with an Azden SMX-10, Stereo $60 mic mounted on my T2i's hot shoe. While not the best, it was, like you, a run and gun day, totally a free shoot, that also was raining for part of the day. The Azden worked fine, I didn't care if it was shorted out by rain, which it wasn't. I still use it occasionally, family shoots, non critical work. Nothing fancy. But the mic is off the camera, and yes, I agree that to plug in a wired lav would also be a way to solve this problem.

http://www.vimeo.com/16861433

I bet a lot of camera stores carry it. It requires a battery, has a low cut filter, power on switch (saves battery life), has a foam wind screen and actually can pick up someone standing in front of the camera, as you can see in the video. This is a great mic that cost Azden $1 to build at most, and actually delivers good cheap sound. My experiences are that it's nominally better than the T2i built in mic (noticeably better), quite a bit less better than a AT897, which I also own. Can plug into the mic jack on your H4N to get a mic you can get off the unit, since the H4N is a nightmare to handhold. Buy a table top tripod (scissors jack style) for the Zoom.

Pair this cheap shotgun with a couple of cheap Radio Shack wired lavs and you are good to go.

Never hand hold the zoom. The built in mics on the Zoom are only useful for recording acoustic music or narrations when there is no other alternative. I"ve to a few great recordings on it, but usually I mic outbound of it. If you are recording live sound, back the Zoom up away from the talent or you'll only pick up the loudest voices. It does better with ambient sound from a bit farther away than you think.

Alf


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