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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hi-Tech Studio: Doing Sound Right

HD video DSLRs do a lot of things very well, but as a group, audio capability isn’t a strong point. Try using a separate recorder to get professional results

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Professional photography can be divided into two distinct eras: BR and AR (Before Reverie and After Reverie). Vincent Laforet showed what one motivated photographer could do by combining a video sensibility with a DSLR that has some unique capabilities. With the EOS 5D Mark II, Canon didn’t invent video, but it did invent a camera that could produce a beautiful image in a form factor that suddenly turned every still photographer into a potential Hollywood cinematographer. The economics of professional photography have made it particularly important to be a multitasker, and having a camera that can produce feature film-caliber video enables pros to branch out and offer more to a client than ever before.

In DPP’s coverage of HD DSLRs, we’ve noted how good image quality is. On the other hand, we’ve also noted that while their internal microphones can record sound, those internal mics aren’t in the same class as the rest of the camera. The simple fact is that the whole form factor of a DSLR is geared around still capture, and these mics have been shoehorned into a design that makes them inherently weaker than the rest of the system. Did you notice that Laforet’s Reverie has a music track through its entirety? We don’t think that’s purely a coincidence. The internal mics may be okay for a hobbyist shooting video snaps of a child’s birthday, but for pro-quality work, you need to be thinking about a different solution.

The camera manufacturers have done an excellent job of building in the necessary hardware and interfaces to give you the option of attaching external microphones, and for some applications, that’s all you need. But to get the most control over the audio capture and to give you the most options, a separate recorder is the best choice.

Among a cadre of filmmakers, the Zoom H4n has become the go-to external sound capture device. It’s excellent, and it has a loyal following for good reason, but there are a number of other options as well. For maximum versatility, a recorder with built-in mics and XLR inputs with phantom power for external mics gives you a lot of sophisticated abilities. On the other hand, a recorder that only has built-in mics still will give you dramatically better results than the camera’s mic.
Very few still photographers are fluent in audio. That’s why sound designers and engineers exist. But with a recorder and software like PluralEyes, you can free yourself from the confines of the DSLR’s mic and give your video work the kind of high-quality sound that will match your high-quality images.

Alesis PalmTrack

Alesis PalmTrack
Despite its low estimated street price of $129, the Alesis PalmTrack is far from a low-end portable recorder. With four built-in microphones, the PalmTrack can record in several different modes, including omni and stereo, and you can plug an external mic into the 1⁄8-inch jack for more flexibility. The PalmTrack records WAV files up to 24-bit/48 kHz or MP3 files at 64-320 kbps, and it takes SD cards.

Foster FR-2LE
Fostex FR-2LE
Fostex designed the FR-2LE for on-the-go field recording. Its rugged construction withstands rigorous usage, and its estimated street price of $599 gives you ample features. The FR-2LE has two built-in stereo microphones and two XLR/TRS inputs with phantom power. You can record WAV files to the CompactFlash card at a rate of up to 24-bit/96 kHz. You also can record in MP3 format. There’s a two-second “pre-buffer” that records the two seconds prior to you hitting the button so you won’t miss anything. The FR-2LE also has Fostex’s one take=one file system, which is designed to prevent you from overwriting a file.

The Korg SOUND on SOUND is favored by musicians for its ability to record multiple parts on top of one another unlimited times. For work in tight locations or for traveling photographers, the most attractive aspects are the built-in, high-quality stereo microphones, compact size and reasonable cost ($299 estimated street price). The SOUND on SOUND records to microSD or microSDHC cards, and it takes AA batteries.


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