Here is another post on DSLR sound recording setup. This time instead of going the cheap route, I hired a bunch of sound equipment. And it was totally worth it. Here is the final video:
My task was to shoot a “walkthrough” style video. The subject was walking from one room to another … speaking about the room features and facilities. There were no cuts so we had to make sure we did it right all the way. To stabilise my shoot, I used an extremely cheap version of Glidecam … the Flycam Nano. It costs around $250 (without the vest support). Its far from the perfect stabiliser but does its job for casual shoots.
Since the subject was always moving around and at variable distances from the camera, it was not a good choice to use DSLR microphone … even a Rode Videomic. Clearly, I needed a lavalier mic with a wireless recording kit.
In search of the right sound setup
After a quick search online, I decided to get the Zoom H4n. People have been talking about using a lavalier mic with the Zoom H4n with very good results (Zoom H4n has two input XLR connecters that can be utilised to record audio from an external source, such as a lavalier or standard mic). Zoom H4n is a fine piece of equipment and has an amazingly good condenser stereo mic built into it. Unfortunately, this microphone was of no use to me as I was restricted to using a lavalier.
I called a few companies around Brisbane for quotes/advice and finally chose Pro-Cam as its located pretty close by to where I live. They advised me to use the Sony UTX B2 / URX P2 Wireless Lavalier Microphone System with the Zoom H4n. I was charged $103 AUD/per day for everything (including GST and insurance).
- Lavalier mic (connected to the transmitter via a screwable 3.5mm male audio pin)
- Sony UTX-B2 Transmitter
- Sony URX-P2 Receiver
- 3.5mm male audio pin to male XLR converter
- Zoom H4n
- Roland RH200 Monitoring Headphones (not included in the rented kit)
Tying Everything together
Connecting everything together is pretty straight forward (as from the photo above).
- Once you have made the right connections, turn everything on.
- Make sure the transmitter and receiver are at set at the correct frequencies.
- On the ZoomH4n, press the input button to change the audio source to XLR input. You should now be able to see levels on the screen. Its very likely that you will only hear audio in the left channel. This is because the default input mix is set to stereo and you have audio coming into the Zoom H4n from only the left XLR input.
- Pressing the record button once will show you a preview of the audio levels. You will have to press the record button one more time to start recording.
- The audio is recorded into the Zoom H4n SD card as a .wav file.
Changing Zoom H4n input mix from Stereo to Mono
This is very easy to fix. Press the menu button located on the right side of Zoom H4n and goto Input Setting. From there, scroll down to Mono Mix and turn it on. thats it !
Set correct recording levels on Zoom H4n
Make sure the recording levels are set properly on the Zoom H4n. Somewhere between 60 to 70 worked right for me. The input level needs to be such that it doesn’t touch 0 (zero) and at the same time, have enough SNR (signal to noise ratio). It is a good idea to advise your subject to keep their voice level constant if you don’t have an assistant who can adjust audio levels for you in realtime. Some people tend to speak louder (due to nervousness) when the recording begins and that can saturate your input signal.
Zoom H4n battery life
When I was handed over the equipment, I was told that the Zoom H4n had a fresh pair of batteries. I came back home and used the device for about 10 minutes. On the day of the shoot, after about 20 minutes of usage (recording and playing back with headphones on), the battery fell down to the last level (there are 3 levels in total). I was lucky to have another set of batteries available which helped me get through the shoot.
I shared my experience about the battery life with Pro-Cam. They advised me to turn on “Stamina” mode on the Zoom H4n which helps last its battery longer. I don’t know how much difference it makes and what its effects are on the device performance but just keep in mind this feature is there. The stamina button is located next to the battery compartment. You will be able to see it once you lift the battery lid.
Another important thing: If the Zoom H4n battery dies while its recording, you will lose the whole audio clip. It seems like it doesn’t write to file while its recording. It only finishes writing the file once you hit the stop button. You will be able to see a file on the SD card for the interrupted recording session but it will show as a zero KB .wav file and there is no way to recover it (as far as I know).
Use the right headphones for monitoring
Use close-ended or ideally studio quality monitoring headphones for testing audio level, especially if you are in a noisy environment. Avoid earphones as they perform poorly when it comes to flat frequency response.
A few more photos
Back view of Sony UTX and URX
The Zoom H4n. What you see on the bottom side are the XLR inputs.