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This weekly course covers the most common questions videographers encounter when shooting and editing with DSLR cameras, from choosing a frame size and frame rate to understanding moiré. Authors Rich Harrington and Robbie Carman will also help you understand the impacts of compression and the difference between cropped (or micro 4/3rds) and full-sized sensors in cameras, and much more. This continual FAQ guide is a handy way to find the answers to the questions that plague you the most.
Richard Harrington: So Rob, not all audio recorders are created equal, and I think we've become desensitized as a production community to good audio, because things like iTunes and AAC audio, AC3, MP3; we've taken convenience over quality. Robbie Carman: Yeah, that's right. It's not to say that those formats don't sound pretty good, but there's a lot that goes into good audio and understanding some of the technical aspects of how a digital audio recorder is pretty important.
And so one of the first things that I look at when choosing a digital audio recorder is what file formats that it can record to, and the most common ones that you're going to find are AIFF, WAV and then MP3. Now some of the recorders could also do AAC, but more times than not you're going to find WAV, AIFF, or MP3. Richard Harrington: And there really is no huge difference in two of those. For example, if you're using AIFF or WAV, it's really just a matter of the native platform. The AIFF format was more commonly used in a Macintosh workflow while the WAV was more common in a Windows-based workflow.
But these days they're pretty interchangeable, about the same file size, and it's really just sort of a matter of personal preference. People get hung up on it, but if I see either, I'm pretty happy with the device for a base audio recorder. But you had a good point, if we're working with a higher-end audio recorder, the WAV format does have one additional option. Robbie Carman: Yeah, and typically this is going to be found on higher-end recorders, I just want to clear about that, and that's what's called the Broadcast WAV format, and a Broadcast WAV can actually carry timecode with it.
Now the only thing that this is cool for is that if all your other devices are carrying timecode, just keep in mind that most DSLRs don't have true SMPTE timecode. Richard Harrington: Although we're starting to see them come out. So timecode, you don't need timecode. No, timecode is incredibly useful, especially when you have multiple cameras and you want to sync them up. There are great tools out there. We will explore things like PluralEyes on a future episode. But timecode is truly useful and it is sort of a universal counting number, so you can have very specific notes to exchange with other people; well, about halfway through the clip when Bob says.
Robbie Carman: Right, sure, timecode is very useful for that, absolutely. Now Rich, there are two other things that I look at on a digital audio recorder when I'm trying to make a decision about which one I want to use; are what the maximum sample rate and bit depth of the digital audio recorder has. And what I mean by that is that you see numbers like 44.1, 48 kHz, 96 kHz, and this is the sample rate. As a rule of thumb, the bigger that number, the higher the number, the higher sampling rate is going to give you overall better audio fidelity. Now just to be clear though, there's limits to that. I won't go into all the geeky stuff on you.
Richard Harrington: Well, it's kind of like the Best Buy theorem here, right? In the simplest sense, and what I consider the Best Buy theorem is, if it's got a bigger number, it's obviously better. And this does actually hold up here, right? Robbie Carman: It does. I think as sort of a baseline level, you should be looking at a recorder that can record at least 48 kHz as its sample rate. Even better if it can do 96 kHz. Now if you really want to spend a lot of money, you can find a digital audio recorder that can do 192 kHz, but for a lot of productions that might be overkill. Richard Harrington: And keep in mind, if you're going to go with those higher sampling rates, you might need better microphones and better audio workflow.
If you're shooting this and monitoring and doing all these steps yourself, don't think that extra audio number, that extra quality is going to go anywhere, you're just going to want to probably stick with 48 kHz. But you can go with 96 if it's an option. It's usually built into the menu. Again, anything over than that, you really should be looking at a dedicated audio engineer, with some really high quality microphones and audio monitoring devices to actually hear what's happening. Robbie Carman: And the last thing to look at when choosing a digital audio recorder is the sample size. So we talked about sort of the sample rate; 44.1, 48, 96-- Richard Harrington: How many thousands of time per second it's going to be sampling the audio.
Robbie Carman: Right. And then sort of the related concept is sort of the bit depth, and a good way to think about this is sort of the quality or sort of the gradation between frequencies that are being recorded. So you've seen numbers like 16-bit or 24-bit, and this is definitely a case where getting a higher bit rate is definitely going to be a better thing, especially if you're recording things that are very nuanced, like an orchestra, for example, or somebody who has a very interesting voice. But at a minimum, you want to try to find a recorder that can at least record 16-bit, with an option of 24-bit is a good one to have if it's there as well.
Richard Harrington: So to break this down for those of you with a photography background, it's very much like samples per inch or pixels per inch and bit depth. So a higher PPI, the fact that you have more pixels packed in an inch is really the sample rate; how much information is being gathered. Then the bit depth, 8 bits per channel, 16 bits per channel, is the same thing as the bit depth in the audio; how much information is used to be describing the captured information. So bigger numbers really do come in handy and they're going to give you more accuracy.
Of course if you just want to take all this hard work and throw it out the window, set your device to record as? Robbie Carman: MP3. Richard Harrington: Yeah, don't use the MP3 setting. You need to be really desperate to take advantage of MP3. Robbie Carman: Yeah. I mean, the thing about you're starting with--it's always good to start with a unfeathered or sort of uncompressed audio file. When you start with MP3 as a source, when you get later on down the road into postproduction, it can have workflow ramifications, but also overall quality ramifications. It's going to be more difficult to sort of get the most out of that audio when it's an MP3 versus an uncompressed format, like an AIFF or a WAV file.
Richard Harrington: All right, hope you enjoyed this week's episode. On an upcoming episode we are going to explore the specific settings and things like adjusting levels with your device. So there's more to audio recorders, but now that you know what features to look for, consider picking one up soon so you're ready to dig deeper into professional audio workflow as well.
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