Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Challenges of Recording Sound with DSLR Cameras

I am getting lots of experience shooting with DSLR still cameras, such as the Canon 7D, 5D and 1D, and the Nikon 7100. These cameras are very popular with independent filmmakers because they shoot in high definition, are compact (which allows you to be stealthy), and they are affordable. I also love that they shoot beautiful stills, which come in handy when you are trying to promote your videos.

A major downside to using DSLRs is recording sound. It's essentially impossible to record quality sound with picture. And sometimes I'd like the ease of shooting something with all the media in the picture so I can quickly edit and export. Recording external sound and syncing means extra steps and equipment that sometimes, I'd love to avoid.

However, the in-camera sound on DSLRs is unusable. Sure, if you are fine creating videos and not worrying about a tinny, low quality sound then you're fine. I've watched a ton of videos online that have racked up the views and have low quality sound. I'm not recommending this path but the popularity of your video does not necessarily hinge on having perfect sound.

As a professional filmmaker, I do try to get the best quality sound I can manage in every circumstance. Of course, depending on the situation, the equipment, the resources, some shows will have the high-end professional sound mixing and some will have to be what we can pull together for no money.

For one of our low-cost shoots, i.e. free, we wanted to try to achieve the best sound with our Nikon 7100.  We have a Rode NTG-2 mic and thought it should capture the sound in higher quality. That's what you would assume, right? So we tried using it direct into the camera. Unfortunately, when we played back the sound we noticed an audible hiss in the recording, which actually sounded worse than the in-camera sound. At first, we thought it was our settings or our equipment but then we started to do our research and lo and behold, using external mics with DSLR cameras can introduce a hiss.

It's true that you can try to lower the hiss in post but we were so shocked to even hear a horrible hiss in the first place. Why do these cameras even allow for an external mic if you're going to get sound with a terrible hiss? Boggles our mind.

To address the hiss, some users have recommended using a pre-amp between your mic and camera to try to remove the hiss. We tried it with our Nikon 7100 and Rode mic and it didn't help. Perhaps this might work with other set ups but it didn't work with the Nikon 7100 and Rode mic.

Next we tried using our H2 Recorder as the pre-amp between the Nikon 7100 and the Rode mic and that didn't work either. The hiss was still there.

Finally, out of frustration, we decided to record the sound externally through our H2 recorder. We thought, well hey, why don't we try to use the Rode mic with the H2? Perhaps that will help make the recording even higher quality. Wrong... The H2 wouldn't even recognize the Rode mic.

Ahhh! We did so many tests and consulted so many videos and manuals and the end result was using the H2 recorder on a boom. It's not the best solution for capturing sound but it's definitely better than using in-camera sound or an external mic direct into your DSLR.

So for now, when the economics don't make sense to hire a professional production sound person, we are using our H2 recorder and having the extra step of syncing sound in editing. I was hoping to not have to sync sound in editing, as it's an extra step and can be frustrating as well, but if it means better quality sound than the in-camera sound, I'm willing to do it. But I will be on the look out for a better solution!

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