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Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?

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Tim Jeng
Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 5, 2011 at 4:10:57 am

Ok, so lately I've been debating whether or not I should go with better audio equipment or better software?

I'm planning to shoot a short film and currently, I'm armed with my camera's built-in stereo microphone and Final Cut Studio 2 (installed courteously of my school).

The problem is is that yes, I realize that audio is just as important as the video, but I also need good software to work with. My problem with Final Cut Studio 2 is that I'm not as comfortable as working in Motion as working in Adobe After Affects for compositing. Not only that, I've also been planning in buying Action Essentials 2 for all of the effects during my film.

However, on the audio side, I am completely unaware as to what I should buy considering I haven't had that much experience in it. Should I buy a shotgun microphone? A boom mic? A field recorder? Lavalieres? Or something else? If anybody can give me a general guideline or help on this, thanks in advance.

So which route should I go through? The software route (Adobe After Effects CS5 w/ Action Essentials 2) OR the audio route?

Thanks!


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Todd Terry
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 5, 2011 at 4:40:27 am

Part of this is, in my opinion, a pretty easy question..

Which do you need, better audio equipment or better software? Well, it sounds like you need both. But which do you need first?

Better audio equipment, hands down.

A camera's built-in mic is pretty much good for shooting home movies of a kid's birthday party, and not much else. If you want to do any serious real project, at minimum get at least one decent mic. As to whether you need a boom, lavs, hardwired or radio mics, I can't say... I don't know anything about your project or what its audio needs are. But I do know that you will shoot the project first before you have to worry about editing and post production. And once you record crappy audio, you've pretty much got crappy audio for good... with limited ways to make it better, no matter what software you buy down the road.

You'll be far better off recording good audio in the first place, rather than recording sub-par audio and hoping for the best later. The old phrase "We'll fix it in post" is much better in theory than in practicality.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Tim Jeng
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 5, 2011 at 4:50:11 am

Interesting take, but as far as microphones go, which type of microphone do you use in which type of settings/situations (ex. boom mics and lavaliers)?

My film will primarily consist of action scenes and dialogue; but for boom mics, what would be a decent setup? So far, I'm looking at the Zoom H1 as the recorder for the audio and everything else (boom mic pole, deadcat, blimp, microphone itself), I'm confused. What would you recommend?

Thanks for the help!


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Todd Terry
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 5, 2011 at 5:27:56 am

Well, personal preferences vary... but as for mine, while we occasionally use hardwired lavs (Sonys) or radio mics (Lectrosonics or Sennheisers), it's pretty rare. We almost always boom mic unless for logistic reasons it's just impossible.

We live and die by the Sennheiser MKH416. It's a very directional shotgun that's just great for booming applications. It's good for "scene dialog," but we also usually prefer it even for "sit down" type interview situations... it just has such a warm and open natural sound... whereas lavs (even really good ones) often have a cold sort of clinical/sterile sound.

One thing to consider is that like most high-end mics, the 416 does require 48v phantom power... so you'll need to use it with a camera that outputs phantom, or with an audio recorder that does (such as the Zoom H4n which we use for audio when shooting 35mm film).

Another upside it to it is double-duty. Although it's not really "what it's made for," the 416 is also a great voiceover mic... and several of the top narrators swear by it and use it in the booth as a narration mic. It was the late Don LaFontaine's mic of choice.

We use it with the shock cradle that's made for it, as well as the "dead cat" for outdoor applications. As far as poles go, we actually use a plain ol' painter's pole from Home Depot... because A), they're cheap, and B), you can get a longer/sturdier one than a "real" boom fishpole, unless you get a really expensive one. There's a seller on eBay that sells these little fittings that will adapt the threads on a painters pole to the standard mic-stand threads so it will screw right into the handle of the shock cradle.

The only downside to the MKH416 is that it's a little pricey... it's about slightly-upper-midrange as far as pricing on higher-end mics goes.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Jason Jenkins
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 5, 2011 at 7:00:51 pm

[Todd Terry] "One thing to consider is that like most high-end mics, the 416 does require 48v phantom power... so you'll need to use it with a camera that outputs phantom, or with an audio recorder that does (such as the Zoom H4n which we use for audio when shooting 35mm film)."

Todd,

Are you running your mic into an amp/mixer of some kind before you go out to the Zoom H4n. Just curious what you are using...

I've been trying to work up an audio system for my Panny GH2. I tried the Tascam DR-100, but found that the preamps are way too noisy to be any good. I'm using a Sony ECM-672 shotgun.

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!


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Todd Terry
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 6, 2011 at 7:24:33 am

[Jason Jenkins] "Are you running your mic into an amp/mixer"

Hi Jason...

No, not at all... we don't use any mixer or amp.

We just plug mics right into either a camera, or the recorder (depending on what format we are shooting).

We almost always just use a single boom mic, so there's no need for a mixer. We've had no pre-amp noise from either camera or recorder, the built-in pre-amps seem to work fine. And the cameras and recorders we use all output 48v phantom power, so they can power the mic without need for phantom power from a mixer (or other phantom source).

The only gear in that neighborhood that we sometimes use is a Shure headphone amp, but that's purely so a boom operator can monitor the sound directly from the mic... the mic level line just loops straight through it before it reaches the camera or recorder, and provides him jacks for headphones.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark Suszko
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:46:08 pm

Tim, viewers will accept mediocre video with good sound, but they will not stand for great video with poor sound. You can suck it up and learn to use Apple Motion, which IMO is far easier for beginners to learn than AE, and it will surprise you how much it can do what AE does. Not everything, to be sure, but a lot.

You DO need to get some mics for serious work with interviews or dialog. IF the budget is thin, consider renting the mics just for the day you need them, until you can save up enough to buy your own. A lot of local music shops often have spare mics and amps and etc. they are willing to rent out, if you don't have a decent AV rental outfit near you.

The stick mic I've used the most in my career is the ElectroVoice 635 A dynamic omni or cardioid pattern version. AKA "The Hammer". Rugged, simple, dependable, clean and uncolored output, performs well over a wide variety of applications... It will outlive YOU by a fair margin. They also hold up their resale value well. It's an investment. My first introduction to the 635 "family" was in junior high B&W Tv class, around 1975, when my instructor, Mr. Delaire, got our attention by smacking the ElectroVoice like a hammer against an aluminum ladder next to him:
"Class, (WHAMMM!) this is a precision (WHANNG!!!) instrument,(BANGGG!) not a hammer, (CLONNG!!!) and you are to treat it with (BANNNG!)care and delicacy!"

I also like hard-wired lavs by EV and Sony for interviews, especially when you are short-handed and don't have a dedicated boom mic operator. Lavs *can* sound a little "dry", but on the other hand they keep a lot of extraneous noise out. I would say even a cheap lav from Radio Shack beats the on-camera mic at much more than arm's length. Lavs can come with built-in battery holders, or run off phantom power from the camera. I prefer phantom powered because it is one less hard to find battery to worry about keeping track of, and if the camera batteries are dead, well, the battery status of your lav won't really matter then anyhow:-)


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Tim Jeng
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 20, 2011 at 7:09:43 am

Thanks for the advice Mark. But quite frankly, I've had experience with Photoshop and to me, it was pretty easy to pick it up (tried a trial version of it in the past).

As far as the mics go, I'll definitely go for the audio and give those mics a look.


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Jason Jenkins
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:21:13 pm

[Todd Terry] "We've had no pre-amp noise from either camera or recorder, the built-in pre-amps seem to work fine."

Todd,

After my experience the Tascam DR-100, I'm surprised that good results can be achieved with the $300 Zoom H4n. Of course, the Tascam was only $290. I guess 10 bucks makes all the difference! I ended up getting a JuicedLink DT454 ($400), which is a box with XLR inputs and active preamps. It has nice clean gain and I can feed the audio directly to my Panny GH2 for recording. It looks like it is going to work out well. Thanks for the feedback!

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!


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Bob Cole
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:38:29 pm

[Jason Jenkins] "that the preamps are way too noisy to be any good."

I've found the Sound Devices MM-1 a wonderful choice for pre-amp, especially when you are taking your sound with a boom (and as Todd said, that's the way to go). It has 48v phantom powering, monitoring, a wide range of pre-amp boost, and even 12v T-power.

And, responding to the original post, Todd is right: you need good audio; you can get by with your existing software.

Bob C


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Tim Jeng
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 20, 2011 at 7:11:30 am

Dang, why do mics have to be so pricey!? I guess once I have enough money, I'll buy the MKH416, but as of now, it is way above my price range.

Thanks for the help!


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Frank Nolan
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 20, 2011 at 3:17:28 am

I am going to play the devils advocate here and ask you this, Do you want to be a Filmmaker or an Audio guy?
I would say forget about buying any audio gear, as that's what audio guys do. Now if you were going out to make documentary's or shoot ENG interview type stuff this wouldn't apply but if you are making a short dramatic/action piece in the hopes of moving on to bigger and better, full length features then I would suggest concentrating on STORY. Leave the audio capture up to someone that already has the gear and more importantly, knows how to use it. There are plenty of people willing to work for cheap to enhance their reels and if you have a great story and you prepare it well with story boards etc., you would have no trouble finding people willing to help out for a credit and a few dollars. Besides what would be the point of spending money on decent gear and then handing it off to someone to help or hold the boom, that has no idea what they are doing. You might as well stick with the onboard mic in that case.
Check at your school or other local colleges, I am sure there are people there that want a career in film sound, who may have access to decent equipment when you need it. If not the rental rate on student packages from even the big rental houses in Hollywood is very affordable.
Good luck with your project.



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Tim Jeng
Re: Deciding Between Buying Audio or Software Equipment?
on Feb 20, 2011 at 7:14:36 am

Definitely a film maker. Call me ambitious, but one day, I want to be able to enter one of my films into the Sundance Film Festival.
And now that I think of it, I'll go ahead and see if I can take out a mic loan from my school. Hopefully their reluctant towards me using it.


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