Olympus LS-100 Field Recorder
I recently bought and used one of these and thought I might share my experiences.
Firstly I have to say that it does its basic job of recording clean audio alongside the video being shot on a variety of cameras including DSLR. I have used it with a studio condenser mic and, a more usual for video, shotgun - both using phantom power. It is small and although it feels robust for what it is it is not a throw-it-around sort of piece of kit. I tend to use it mains-powered.
The recording quality is pretty good by which I mean the pre-amps while not the lowest-noise are still fairly low noise and there are no buzzes or other interference. From my experience this unit will make you very good audio recordings and that earns it a whole lot of marks out of ten from the start.
Battery life is good and getting a recording going is pretty simple. I cannot be bothered thinking about the filing system in detail and the Olympus suits me pretty well here. There is a bit of a ritual to get into the mode where you can record but once there you simply prime the recording by pressing the button once and then again to actually record. A nice touch is that the record button not only flashes to say "you have not actually started full recording yet" but also there is a beeping noise in the headphones too. If I was being picky I would wonder why it cannot just record when I press the record button first time however.
I have found that setting the mic gain switches (in the menu) to low and setting the record volume controls to around 5.5 provides a noise floor that cannot be improved and a good deal of headroom for anything I am going to record. For me then there is no need to adjust recording level. Both the studio condenser and the shotgun simply raise the noise floor if the record level is increased - and given I can shout into the mics from close distance without appreciable distortion there is little need to reduce (on dialogue). This is fantastic because it makes set-up so easy. However the level meters and monitoring jack become irrelevant. There is not enough sound level through the headphones at maximum volume (I have tried a selection) and the meters barely register. I fear we have digital recorders being built by people who are stuck in an analogue world. Why anyone thinks they should simulate 1940s metering technology on a 21st Sentury recorder is beyond me. Being critical I would say that these two parts of the user interface encourage the unwary to fiddle with recording levels even though it is a pointless exercise which will only lead to reduced audio quality (higher noise floor and lower headroom).
Too much of this recorder is set in menus for me. It would be far superior to have key core functions like samplig rate and mic gain selection on well shielded switches. Most of the competitor's units are the same of course.
The display turns off after a few seconds. This is annoying and especially when the unit is mains-powered. The display houses the meters for goodness sake! For me this is the biggest nonsense I have found so far. While I mention the display; it is rather small. Nor is it all that bright which has been difficult when recording in good weather.
The case smacks of design over substance I am afraid. It does not protect knobs like the record levels as well as I would hope yet it does intrude on simple operation of the controls. The headphone volume is particularly difficult to change for example. Controls are small and awkward. Everything is just a bit dictation recorder and while that is where these units originated from they are allowed to evolve.
I do not use any of the fancy functions like metronome or multi-tracking. I just use it to record one or two audio channels.
Would I buy one again? Yes. I would still be bitching about the downsides though. I know some of them are because this model has to fit across a number of uses to keep production volumes adequately high. I still think the user interface could be improved quite a bit. So while I would buy one it is the audio quality, battery life and the small size (if I needed it) that would persude me and not the user interface.
Panasonic Camcorder 1080p, Nikon SLR with video acquisition 720p, Sony Vegas editing software.