OF ALL THE areas that concern experienced photographers who are considering adding filmmaking to their offering, it’s the thought of having to master audio that tends to create the most alarm. While the camera being used might be familiar and the whole concept of lighting and composing a scene could be second nature, sound is an area that many will have never encountered in a professional capacity before and suddenly they’re back to being a novice and unsure about the gear they’ll need to invest in or the techniques they should be using.
There are a few ways to go if you find yourself in this situation. You could take a crash course to pick up the skills you need, you could call for help and add a professional sound recordist to your production team or you could simply avoid the issue and go down the route of producing visuals and adding a sound track, so that audio never becomes an issue. Or you could head to a specialist filmmaking retailer such as CVP, where no-one will make any judgements about your lack of audio knowledge and you’ll be guided through the options and only sold the kit that’s essential to enable you to make a seamless move into sound.
That latter option is the one that’s proving popular with many, because there are distinct advantages to being on top of every aspect of your video production, and audio is nothing like as intimidating as it might initially appear to be once you summon up the nerve to dive in. Nor, rather surprisingly, is it prohibitively expensive to acquire the kit you need.
Talk through what your requirements are with a specialist and take some time to get your head around the technicalities of recording professional-standard audio and you’ll be ready to take your next step on the filmmaking road in no time at all.
The first thing to realise is that, for a professional production, it’s not an option to rely on the quality of audio captured directly from the camera. While this could serve as a useful guide track if you need one, you’ll require a far more polished end result and there are a number of ways to achieve this.
“The most straightforward method of improving your audio quality while using a stills camera is to employ a supplementary microphone that’s plugged into the camera or an external recorder,” says resident CVP technical expert Jake Ratcliffe. “Built-in camera microphones will deliver quite poor audio quality and they’ll be picking up all of the distracting sounds of the camera, such as AF motors and the rustle of your hands. Ideally you need to separate the microphone from the camera body, and a quick and dirty solution is a device that will simply slot into your camera’s hot shoe, which is great for capturing general audio but it won’t solve all of your audio problems.”
There are plenty of choices out there, and one of the most popular and affordable models is the RODE VideoMic Pro + (CVP price £289), which builds on the success of the original model. One of the crucial things to bear in mind is the need to isolate the microphone capsule itself from the handling noise of using the camera and the VideoMic achieves this by utilising the Rycote Lyre System, a shock mount that absorbs vibration and takes away low frequency rumble. Advanced features of this particular mic include a two-stage highpass filter, to enable such things as passing traffic noise to be substantially reduced or to filter out sounds outside of the human frequency range to ensure an interview is registered clearly above background noise.
Another highly regarded shotgun microphone, and one that could potentially be mounted off-camera on a separate stand or used on a boom arm – a pole that holds the microphone and allows it to be positioned over subjects to achieve closein sound without the mic appearing in shot – is the Sennheiser MKE 600, available from CVP priced £259. The MKE 600 picks up sounds coming from the direction in which the camera is pointing and effectively attenuates noise that’s coming from the sides and rear. The switchable ‘Low Cut’ filter additionally minimises wind noise.
The benefit of these types of mic is that they are small enough to tuck in a gadget bag, can be set up and used very quickly and they also run for ages on battery power. Here’s an experiment: try shooting a sample clip of video using on-board audio and then shoot a comparison clip with an external mic utilised. You’ll notice a whole world of difference, and yet it’s required very little in the way of technical skill or investment to achieve that improvement.
When choosing which microphone to use it’s also worth knowing that there are two main types of connector that are available. The 3.5mm headphone jack is standard and can work really well, but it can cause crackle. The higher up the audio chain you go the more likely you are to be looking at a microphone with an XLR connection, which is more robust and better shielded.
This can create a few issues if you happen to have a camera that features a 3.5mm jack socket but you would prefer to be working with a microphone with an XLR connection. However, there are adaptors available that can get you out of a hole. Saramonic, for example, produces the SR-PAXI Audio Mixer (CVP price £120), which is designed for mirrorless, DSLRs and camcorders and which features dual balanced XLR inputs.
“Cameras such as the Sony a7S III and Panasonic’s GH5 and GH5S cameras also have XLR top units available,” says Jake, “the XLR-K3M (CVP price £578.76) and the DMW-XLR1E (CVP price £319) respectively. These provide more professional inputs, controls and preamps, and they’re a great investment if you’re looking to improve your audio quality.”
There are a number of different types of microphone you can choose from, and each will come with a different set of attributes that might make it particularly suitable for a specific job. As you become more advanced in your audio expertise it’s likely that you’ll ultimately build up a collection of different mics which will be used to achieve the best result in a wide variety of situations.
The VideoMic Pro +, for example, is a condenser shotgun mic, and it’s highly directional so that sounds coming from behind the camera or from either side will be less distinct. Instead, you’ll be picking up the sounds coming from the front of the microphone, the direction your camera is facing, and so models of this type are particularly good in interview situations, where you don’t want the ambient sound around you to become a distraction.
The alternative to a condenser mic is one that’s dynamic, and these tend to be less expensive and they will feature a wide unidirectional pattern of pickup. This makes them particularly good in studio situations where you might be looking to capture the overall sound rather than sound coming from one direction. A good example of a dynamic mic would be the Saramonic SRNV5, which will deliver all of the advantages off an off-camera mic but at a cost at CVP of just £75. It’s a very small price to pay for the increase in audio quality that it enables, and it could be a great first step for those moving into video production.
Another type of microphone that has become hugely popular is the lavaliere, and this is potentially one of the simplest ways to achieve sound right in the heart of the action without an intrusive microphone presence.
“Lavaliere mics are perfect for when you’re recording audio of someone talking and want the microphone close to them but also to be inconspicuous,” says Jake. “When I first started shooting interviews and branded content, the first microphone I picked up happened to be a LAV that plugged straight into my Zoom H4N audio recorder that I was using at the time. It was a wired arrangement but it worked fine.
“LAV mics are so tiny that you don’t notice them when they’re on screen and they tend to be pinned to a lapel so that they’re close to a subject’s mouth. These days there are a number of good wireless systems on the market that make shooting much simpler. Sennheiser, for example, produces the XSW-D Interview Kit (CVP price £138), while its higher end AVX-ME2 set (CVP price £619), features selfconfiguring digital transmission to eliminate time-consuming radio frequency set-up.
“The RODE Wireless GO system (CVP price £195) is another great budget solution, its party piece being the addition of a built-in microphone for those moments where you forget or break your LAV! This ability to pick up a range of decent and highly affordable, but also very good, wireless microphone systems is awesome for owner operators, and it massively simplifies the entire process.”
Zoom has also just announced another option, its F2 and F2-BT Field Recorders, which are designed to clip on to a belt or a strap, and these can be connected to the supplied lavaliere mic to enable the filmmaker to record high quality sound in the field without being encumbered by weighty audio gear. It’s the company’s smallest and lightest recorder with 32-Bit Float Technology, which enables you to record the loudest audio signals without any clipping and
without the need for gain setting or gain adjustment during recording. Recording is direct to Micro SD and SDHC cards up to 512 GB and the power use is so low that you have an operation time of up to 15 hours using two AAA Batteries.
One of the most commonly used audio accessories is the windshield, sometimes charmingly referred to by its users as a ‘dead cat’ – on account of it occasionally looking like a bedraggled piece of fur – or a blimp, a good example of which would be the RODE Blimp 2 (CVP price £229).
If you have experience of recording audio then you’ll be familiar with the buffeting noise that’s created when the wind hits an unprotected mic. It’s extremely distracting and can make your audio track unusable, and the idea of the windshield is to soak up the noise as much as possible. “Windshields are extremely handy to cut down the effect of wind on your sound,” confirms Jake, “and can also help protect your microphone if you’re using it in the elements.” Once again, it’s a very keenly priced piece of kit that can nevertheless make a huge difference.
Another accessory that’s also definitely worth considering is a dedicated external recorder, to save recording direct to the camera. Again, these can be highly affordable pieces of kit – a high end device such as Zoom’s feature-rich F6 Multi Track Field Recorder is available at CVP for £540 for example, while the equally formidable H8 (CVP price £502.80) is also hugely popular – and they can provide everything from simple one-track recording through to a feature set that wouldn’t look out of place in a fully-fledged recording studio.
It might not feature top of the list of accessories that you might consider if you’re a filmmaker capturing audio for the first time, but a set of quality headphones is also absolutely indispensable, and you can’t possibly manage without them. “Being able to focus on the sound your mic is picking up accurately will allow you to really listen to what you’re recording,” says Jake, “and it allows you to make sure that you’re getting the best audio quality possible. It also means that you’re monitoring the audio in case it drops out during a take, or the volume is too loud and you’re getting distortion, and you can fix it asap. If you come away from a shoot only to discover your audio isn’t fit for purpose often there will be no way to fix the problem in postproduction, and so you need to get it right.”
You can pay a premium for the high-end cans that might more normally be found on a Hollywood film production, but there are some far more affordable examples available that will still do a good job. The classic Sennheiser HD 25 headphones, for example, will set you back just £129 at CVP and they’re used by a wide range of filmmaking professionals and can do a great job.
As always, if you’re unsure about what you need it makes sense to get impartial brand agnostic advice, which happens to be something that CVP specialises in. It’s surprisingly affordable to set yourself up with the audio essentials and it’s an area where a little investment and some time spent learning the basics of sound recording will make a whole world of difference.
JAKE RATCLIFFE ONE OF CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
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