Digital Video Production Sound



This is often a sore spot in video work. Professionals still use double system sound, even in video work, where a separate digital recorder is used to record the audio with one or more microphones held close to the actors.

You might want to consider doing both. In camera with a digital audio back-up. Any DAT or Mini Disk recorder can be used, as can a laptop computer with a USB audio capture (we covered these in the March Music Special issue under audio cards).

In any event you generally need to move the microphone closer to the action and not every video camera will let you do this! On the low end, the first unit I found with an external microphone input was the Canon ZR-20 ($700 retail) which also support both in and out for analog Y/C using the S-VHS connectors, plus the digital FireWire.

Only high quality studio microphones work well past 1 foot in distance and no video camera comes with something like a Sennheiser 604 or 804 shot gun mic ($600+) which is what the professional often use on a fishpole or boom mic rig held a few feet over the actors heads and turned or moved from one actor to another as they speak.

Most video cameras have a little $20 condenser mic that isn’t much better than the one on your computer for video conferencing! This mic will work ok in quiet room for a close up interview with someone seated only a few feet from the camera. But if you get back 5 feet or more the sound gets hollow, reverberations off the walls are heard and the bass response drops considerably.

One of the best ways to improve your audio is to bring the mic closer to the actor and a little peanut tie-tack mic is great for this! Professionals use Shure ECM (50, 55, 60, etc.) models priced from $300 but you can get nifty little tie-tack mic from Radio Shack for $25 with a 6 cord and a 1/8” plug (the Shure ECM series use an XLR connector, which will require several Radio Shack adapters to convert to 1/8”). You can add their shielded 16 foot extension cord to get almost 20 of distance or go with a wireless transmitter.

A guitar model will probably work the best and these are not cheap. Shure, Samson, Audio Technica and other companies offer these starting around $200 for a belt pack transmitter and receiver with 1 antenna. You will need step up and step down adapters from Radio Shack as these lower price wireless transmitters use ¼” plugs for both ends and your mic and camera generally use the smaller 1/8” mini plug.

Some of these wireless rigs have adjustable frequencies so you can put one on each actor and set it for the same frequency so that one receiver can pick up all the voices. Or you can put these into a mixing board, but you must be careful as the signal from that mixer is far more than the signal from a single microphone, so you will need to pad the output down with a volume control or L-Pad before feeding it into the Camera. Be careful as this can burn out your mic input circuit if the signal is way too intense! Use extreme caution.

You put the tie tack mic on the actor and either string the wire down their back or pants leg or put it into the belt pack of the wireless unit. You can’t get much more than 20 feet away with a wired microphone before noise starts to form due to the cord length, so for great distances a wireless is the only way to go!

You can also work with a portable DAT or MINI disk recorder and hold a microphone closer to the actors, but still off camera. Above their heads or under them. Mount this on a pole with a spider shock mount and turn it or move it to favor the person speaking.

Because DV movie camera are digitally clocked and DAT or Mini Disk records are digitally clocked, they will generally hold synchronization without the need for a time code control track. You simply mark the shot with a clapboard so you can see the “slap” of the clapper on the audio track for your video as well as the separate digital audio track. You then position these adjunct to one another on the video editing software and use the digital audio to replace or beef up the video audio track.

The concept of close micing will enhance home and wedding videos as well as scripted productions. For $300 you can get a wireless rig and put the microphone on the picnic table then shoot from any distance (some cameras also offer headphone monitoring, which is a plus as it verifies the wireless track is actually being recorded). For the more expensive wedding videos the bridge, groom and clergy person can each have a wireless and feed this to separate video cameras in the church. Or you can use one mic on a stand near them and feed it to one camera and use the internal mics on the other cameras as back up.

There is nothing worse than paying $500 for a wedding video in which all of the audio sounds like the boy locker room after High School PE is over! Close mic placement will eliminate the reverberations, noise swell and standing waves.

Doing Video On Your Computer | The Pinnacle Capture Card | ATA Hard Drives

Hard Drive Terms | Western Digital Drives | Producing A Scripted iMac Video

Audio For Video | Lighting For Video | Digital VHS | Removable Hard Drives

Our expanded Video and Television coverage continues with these offerings from September 2001 Issues:

Buying a Camcorder | Producing A Cable Access Show | Producing Broadcast TV

A Technical Look and History of Film, Video and TV | Stream Video and Webcasting | HDTV


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