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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.
Rich Harrington: So we have established that you can get good audio by using an external mic like a Shotgun--okay, audio--barely passable audio using the built-in for reference purposes. But sometimes you want to plug in external mics. Now we're going to explore different mic types on an upcoming episode, but today let's talk about pre-amps. The idea of getting audio from an external mic right into the camera. Robbie Carman: Yeah, and I'd actually even throw in the idea, not just of a pre-amp, but also of a dedicated mixer itself. Now you can see here I have a little portable field mixer by Sound Devices.
And this guy is kind of neat, because I can plug in XLR, I can plug in a whole bunch of different things, I can control my level directly on it. Rich: Runs out on battery power so you're portable. Robbie: Right, and the beauty about this is that I can plug in professional level condenser mics, dynamic mics, whatever it may be, and I can actually feed this signal directly to my camera. And this is essentially what a mixer or a pre-amp does. Now there is a lot of people that make these, Sound Devices make them, the pre-amps that screw directly on to the camera, some of the... Rich: Beach-Tek. Robbie: Beach-Tek, juiceLink, there is a few out there, but essentially they all serve the same purpose, allowing you to connect a professional level mic directly to the pre-amp or the mixer itself and then feed that signal directly to the camera body, and this provides you a whole lot more flexibility for interfacing with better quality mics and different types of signals.
Rich: Now, what we can do here is we could patch in. So in this case I have got the ability on the side here--you can go ahead, that's going to be reference in, so I could take that, that's going to feed that out, or we can go ahead off the front, on the headphone port, that's going to work, too, and plug that in and then take it right into the camera body. Now that works pretty well. I just make sure I'd go into the mic, not the headphone jack, there we go, and then set my levels. Now, newer DSLRs are having better audio controls, they are letting you get past the Auto Gain, and in fact like this D600 has a 20-point audio level control, so I could really make fine adjustments.
What you want to think about here is that you want a nice constant signal coming out from the mixer to the camera body itself. Of course, we just have a potential problem there, and that is just because the VU meters look good there, it doesn't mean that I am getting right levels here. Robbie: Well, yes actually, two important things to bring up there is that you might be thinking to yourself, okay, well, where do I set the levels? Do I set the levels on the pre-amp or the mixer, or do I set them on the camera? Rich: Both? Robbie: Yeah, exactly. My personal opinion is that you always want to sort to check wherever your audio is signaled, in places that you can check it. So place number one would be the pre-amp itself.
And you notice on this guy it actually does have a couple of little VU, meters here, so you plug it instead of headphones, listen to the levels, look at the VU meters and check that. However, because we are not recording directly to this device and we are running out to the camera body itself that's where the audio is actually being recorded. So it's also a good idea if you can to plug in to your camera and listen to the audio. Bad things happen when nobody is listening to audio. And as Rich mentioned, some of the newer camera for more updates and some of the newer bodies themselves actually allow you to see VU meters and levels on the actual camera, so everything might sound good here, but something might be wrong with your cable or the adapter, and by the time it gets the camera you can have a bad audio.
Rich: Well, and let's start to talk through the logic here. You've got a couple of choices that you're going to have to make. First off, look at the camera body itself. If it doesn't have a headphone jack, and many of the earlier generations do not, that's tough. You don't actually know what audio you're getting here. So in that case, you need to go back to the source. If you are going to be going out of the mixer or perhaps out of your external audio recorder, that's okay. What I would recommend in that case is, let's say we were going into a Zoom H4n. My primary audio is in here but I could loop this out to the device.
Now, I only have one headphone jack, that's where a device like what we have here can come in handy. You see in this case I've got 8 outputs plus 1 plug, I could take that into the jack, just simply plug that in, and now I could run this out to multi-cameras. So if I am on a multiple shoot with several cameras I can go ahead and tap out, let's see, we've got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so pretty good here. Plug a pair of headphones into monitor and I could run that out to four separate camera angles to make sure that they are getting good reference sound. This is my primary source, but I could loop that out to the camera bodies and feel reasonably confident if I am recording it and listening here that I'm sending good audio, but I would still recommend you do a test and play back the audio either off the card or pop the card out and put it in a computer and look at it, because just because you are sending good audio does not mean you are recording good audio.
Robbie: I mean, like I said before, unless you're monitoring, you are never going to know what you're going to get. You actually raised a really interesting point about this recorder, Rich, is that typically people are going to use a digital audio recorder which we've talked about in previous episodes, I am sure we'll talk about in future episodes as well as the primary place to record your audio. And of course that's what these audio recorders are good for, but they are essentially microphone pre-amps and mixers themselves. So if you're in run-and-gun situation and you don't have the ability to be paying attention to the digital audio recorder, you just want to patch things in. You can absolutely do that.
Plug your professional microphones into the XLR inputs in here, use one of the little adapters like this, or just the headphone jack itself and then run out to the camera. And essentially you can use this guy like a microphone pre-amp or a mixer before you feed the camera if you want to get your audio directly to the camera. Of course, though, you can record the audio directly to this, which is another nice point. You can have a back-up, right? Rich: Well, even itself as a true back up I've been on set and the cable gets ripped down on the Lavalier microphone, these do have built-in mics. Now the thing is, you don't hold it this way, the mics actually point so the person could hold it out at camera like a stick microphone and talk into it, this is going to sound a lot better than the camera mic itself.
So all in all, pretty straight forward here, what you're thinking about is, can I get better audio to the camera? To do that make sure you have some sort of splitter as well as the ability to plug in headphones and properly monitor your sound.
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