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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.
Robbie Carman: So Rich, how many times have you heard something like this? Well I was on set and everything looked good with audio meters, but when I came back to the studio and I was listening to my audio it was muffled or you know there was some other noise in it or something like that. Why does that happen? Richard Harrington: It happens from carelessness really, and I have actually had some crew that are on my blacklist, because sent out a two person-- Robbie Carman: You will never work again. Richard Harrington: Never work with me again actually, yes because they went out and they had the camera up, and they had the mics plugged and you know on a Pro video camera there are little switches on the back that make it easy to change between the camera's shotgun mic and the lav mic, so they had all the mics running in and the VU meters were bouncing, but they were getting the wrong mic feed.
And you know while DSLRs don't have as many inputs, I've have seen plenty of instances where the VU meters were moving, but it was because the built-in mic was picking it up. They had a loose cable or the cable had popped out. You know, I have seen instances like whole scenes have run and you've got a shotgun mic on top and the cables dangle at the side, or the power was off you know and you're like you think you were recording and you weren't. Robbie Carman: So if I understand you correctly, there is a technical reasons and problems that might happen, but the real crux to the problem is that we weren't listening and monitoring the audio.
Richard Harrington: Well yeah, you know audio is not something to look at. Robbie Carman: Right. Richard Harrington: Audio is something you listen to. And in normal people's defense, on a DSLR that's kind of hard, as we mentioned, that camera doesn't even have a headphone jack. Robbie Carman: No, headphone jack. So I need to find another way of monitoring. Richard Harrington: Yeah, and this one, same sort of problem, can't play it back. I can't listen to the audio while recording, only when playing back. In that case it means after a take, go into the Menu, play the clip back, listen to it, plug your headphones in and hear it.
Or pop the card out, plug it into a laptop and watch it back. I see a lot of people carrying around like a MacBook AIR or a light weight Tablet computer, yeah and you can pop it in, even an iPad. A lot of the DSLR formats, if you are shooting on an SD card, or you've got the iPad adapter that lets you plug in, you can get the camera kit adapter for an iPad, plug into the bottom and plug into your camera, and just transfer a video file over and watch it on your iPad. Robbie Carman: Yeah, absolutely. So I think you are hitting on a couple things that I want to expand on just a little bit. Richard Harrington: Yeah. Robbie Carman: The first is how do we actually monitor and obviously that's done while using headphones, right? Richard Harrington: Yes.
Robbie Carman: And so, I have a set of headphones like this, right or little--you might have those little white ear-buds that you get with your iPod or your iPhone. Richard Harrington: Yeah. Robbie Carman: This is not what I am talking about for a good monitor. Richard Harrington: No, no, no. Robbie Carman: You know these little guys, even though you know they are okay, they came with your iPod, they are not the type of headphones that you want to use. What we really want to use is some headphones like you have there. Richard Harrington: Yeah. Robbie Carman: Most of the time sort of these circumaural ones that go over your ears are sort of the best headphones to use on set, because they block sort of ambient sound out. So when you are listening to audio you want to try to be isolated as possible.
There are noise canceling options that work very well. And if you like the ear-buds style there are also some inner ear headphones that actually go into your ear canal a little bit, and again, those will isolate you. The point is, you want to be isolated from the sound that's going on on set to be able to monitor. The other thing that's kind of important other than this-- Richard Harrington: Can I take these off? Robbie Carman: You can take them off, yes. The other important thing that Richard has pointed out is that not every camera is going to have a microphone input. In fact, most of them do not. So we need to be able to find a way to be able to monitor the audio while recording.
Now the best situation of course is to be monitoring audio directly from the recording device, a.k.a. the camera. But there are other ways that we can monitor. For example, on some of these little shotgun mics, you have a headphone input so you can monitor directly from say the shotgun mic. Not the same as monitoring from the camera but at least you are still monitoring-- Richard Harrington: It's a start. Robbie Carman: It's a start. The other thing that we could do is use something like a microphone preamp where we can plug in professional microphones here and we can monitor directly off of the preamp. Again, that's feeding the camera but again we are still listening the audio--the path.
Richard Harrington: And a device like that, you have the chance--in a normal audio wiring situation, there is lots of ways things can go wrong. Something can be wrong with the mic itself. Something could be wrong with the cable from the mic to the device, or going out of the device, or the cable from the device to the camera. In this case, we have eliminated 3/4ths of the problem and we are just hoping that that last little jump from here to there-- Robbie Carman: Is working. Richard Harrington: Is working. Robbie Carman: Right. Richard Harrington: Now that's still hoping. Robbie Carman: Yeah, and I mean that's unfortunately that's kind of where we are at the moment. I mean obviously just the digital audio recorders that you might use in a dual system setup, same thing. You can monitor audio directly from here, which is actually better, because this is where you are recording your actual audio to.
Richard Harrington: Well there is two benefits to that. One is that you actually have better monitoring controls and the ability to adjust while recording, but also these record a higher quality audio file. Robbie Carman: That's right. Richard Harrington: And I do think it's important to point out that camera manufacturers have started to figure this out. The new crop of DSLRs coming out are starting to add audio monitoring abilities. Not universally and I am still not ready to give up a sync sound workflow, but let's be clear, even on sets where they are using Red and Alexa, it's still a sync sound workflow. Robbie Carman: Yeah I mean that's a good point. I mean even though we are getting to better audio monitoring capabilities, headphone jacks, and stuff like that.
You know one of the big problems with the DSLR form factor is, where do you put all this stuff? Richard Harrington: Right. Robbie Carman: You know people are asking for so many features. Where are you going to put the headphone jack? I mean I doubt that we'll see in this current kind of form factor, XLR inputs or any other type of microphone inputs, because it's simply not a whole lot of real estate going on these cameras. And that's why we have seen Canon and others go to slightly modified form factors, like the C300, and stuff like that, that are sort of have DSLR sort of heritage to them but are not exactly what you would say is a DSLR.
Richard Harrington: Well I'd like to a see a battery grip size device that just screws on the bottom, but we will continue to see improvement. In the mean time you can get an L bracket for your DSLR camera like that you'd normally use for panoramic or portrait shooting, and that will make it much easier to attach it right on the side, or you could attach this to your tripod or your rail system. There are lots of ways to mount this. Although let's be clear, nothing says you have to have the audio controller attached to your camera. Sometimes there is the benefit of just leaving it really close to your subject tether it with a wire, hide it behind them and who cares. You know you don't necessarily need to have wires running 30 feet from your subject sitting way over there, to the camera over here. Just let it go right to the recorder that's just off to the side.
Robbie Carman: Yeah, I think that's right. So let's just recap here. I think there is a couple of things to point out. First, we can't tell what's going on with our audio unless we are monitoring it, and monitoring on set usually means using headphones. And try to avoid the cheapo ear-bud style headphones and go more towards the professional level over-the-ear headphones or in-the-ear headphones like that. And monitor at different parts of the signal path if possible. Most of the time we are not going to be able to monitor directly from the camera, so the next best bet would be to monitor from the microphone, or from the preamp, or from a digital audio recorder, or somewhere in that signal chain.
Until you are able to monitor directly from the camera that's about as good you are going to get. Richard Harrington: It's not a bad idea to pop that memory card out of the camera after you have done a take, put it in your laptop or transfer it to another device, and just play it back and listen. The key here is to realize, you know I think that popping the card is good for two reasons. Not only can you check your audio but you could put that clip into a laptop and play it back on a HD screen and check focus at the same time. Robbie Carman: Absolutely, all good points. Richard Harrington: Great!
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