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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: Well, in our last movie we talked all about looking at the VU meters, setting your levels visually. Of course, looking at them and seeing them from a visual point of view still doesn't really matter. It's how they sound, right? Robbie Carman: Yeah, I got to be honest with you, Rich, I've seen more productions literally ruined because nobody was actually monitoring the audio on-set. And they said, oh you know, the levels look fine, but then when they got back to their studio and started post-production, there was things like power line hum or AC noise, or worse yet, audio that's over-modulated and distorted and things of that nature.
Rich: I got even simpler than that. I was on a shoot and I had two crew people and I turned to both of them. I was directing, not shooting, I said, are we getting good sound? Robbie: Right. Rich: And he had headphones plugged in and then one guy was listening to what was going into the mixer, he is like, sounds great! And the camera operator said I got good levels, he was just looking at what was bouncing. Well, they had things patched incorrectly, while he had the cable going into the back of the camera, he had the camera set to shotgun mic. So all that audio, the boom mic, the lav, none of it was getting picked up by the camera, instead it was like--sounded like we were in a tin can from far away.
It was so bad that we had to go back and re- shoot the whole production, and can I just tell you, that was 3 years ago, I have not hired that crew person ever again. Robbie: And you're obviously still mad about it. Rich: I am still mad about it. Robbie: I get it. Well, this brings up an interesting point, Rich. On a lot of DSLRs, you're not going to have a dedicated headphone output. So you're not going to be actually listening to what's going to the camera itself. And then when you factor in that a lot of productions are using a dedicated digital audio recorder, all you're really doing on most DSLRs in a dual system shoot will be monitoring reference audio, which don't get me wrong, is still really important to monitor.
So a better option when you use a digital audio recorder is to monitor directly from the recorder itself. Now, how do you do this? You don't just stick your ear up to it and try to listen. Rich: So you take your iPod headphones out of your pocket. Robbie: No, we don't do that Rich. What we do is we invest in a good set of high-quality headphones. Now when you choose headphones, you have a couple of options. You can get ones like this that are over the ear that fit right over, and they provide a nice amount of sort of noise cancellation or sort of at least isolation from the rest of the set.
You can also find headphones kind of similar to your iPod or iPhone ones that go actually in your ear canal, and what those do is they really isolate and really block out the environment. The point is when you're monitoring, you need to have a good way of doing that by isolating yourself from the other noises that are going around on set. So even if that means backing away from the camera and the rest of the crew for a little bit so you can actually hear what's going on. Rich: Now, how do you feel about the true noise canceling headphones, like the ones you might wear on an airplane? Robbie: I have mixed feelings about them. I think in certain situations, for example, like a concert or something like that where somebody right next to you is screaming I love you to the lead singer.
Rich: I get that when I walk down the street. Robbie: Right, well yeah, they might be a good choice there. But a lot of times they are potentially masking true audio problems, right? HVAC noise in a room or something like that. So I tend to find that I like headphones that are giving me a truer representation of the sound without doing any cancellation, but again, it's one of those things that you sort of have to test on your own. Now the only other thing about this, again, is just how do you get the headphones to the audio source? Well, that's easy, Rich. Simply come over to the actual digital audio recorder and plug in.
Rich: Now with this a lot of times you'll find a volume meter for the headphone jack, and it gets kind of tricky, like I've seen people go, oh, it sounds too low and they start cranking the levels up, not realizing that the volume was set to like 3. Robbie: That is a fantastic point. On most digital audio recorders, you're going to find separate input level controls and then headphone or sort of monitoring controls. And it's really a good idea to make sure you're pushing the correct button for either inputs or for your headphones because that exact problem that you just described can happen and next thing, you know, oh, the audio sounds low, so you click one button and the next thing all of your audio is over-modulated and distorted.
Rich: Yeah, I tend to set my output volume in the middle or around if it's a 10-point scale, 6 or 7, so I'm not blasting it. Robbie: Right. Rich: At the same time I want to actually hear that. And a lot of times if you got it set really low, you might start adjusting the volume, inadvertently changing the quality of audio recording. So pretty straightforward stuff, invest in a pair of real monitors. These are going to be anywhere from $80 up to several hundred dollars. Robbie: Yeah, absolutely. Rich: It just really depends on the quality you want. But something better than your typical music headphones or phone headphones just aren't going to cut it.
If your camera does have a headphone jack, the big thing to be careful of is that usually it will only send out audio when you're playing back the clip, not while you're recording. And if you don't monitor while you record, you don't know if you miss something. Robbie: Yeah, and the thing about recording audio--and I say this to a lot of people who ask audio questions related to DSLR cameras--is that when you're monitoring audio--I'm not kidding, this is probably the biggest thing that can you know sort of crash and burn a production. So when listening to audio, make sure that the person who is monitoring audio is empowered to say everybody, let's stop. There is an audio problem, right? Because if they don't, it can be very difficult to fix later on in post-production.
Rich: Now to that end, I generally go and have a conversation with my audio person before the shoot and I say don't interrupt me for every single thing like the rumble of a truck going behind or if somebody coughed in the background. I'll usually hear that. But when we get to the end of a take like a question or a scene take, let me know if you really think we need to do that one again. A lot of times it's a passing issue. Now if it's a constant issue like a big hum or a buzz and the whole take is a waste, then do politely interrupt me and just say I'm having a small issue here we need to address.
Be careful not to point the blame and be careful how you bring it up on set, because if you're working with amateur talent, you can make them feel uncomfortable. Now there's one more thing here to talk about, which is we've got all of these different devices, we got the camera, we got the audio recorder, we got the microphones, we got to sync all of these up. Robbie: That's right. Yeah, this idea of sort of putting in your video that you record on your DSLR right here and then the audio that you record on your digital audio recorder and putting it together. And of course that's done mainly in post- production, but in the next episode we'll talk about a tool and a technique that you can use while on set to make your life of syncing these separate files up together in post, much, much easier.
Rich: Alright, so come right back, and we'll talk all about sync sound workflow for the field.
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