What Works for You? A Guide to DSLR Audio

If you gather ten sound engineers in a room and ask them what’s the best way to record something, don’t be surprised when you get ten different answers.

One thing that makes sound engineering such a fun field is that all ten answers will probably be right. With audio, you quickly find there are many ways to accomplish a given task, and which of those techniques you use should be decided by the circumstances. With that said, not every engineer performs the same task the same way, and many have completely different setups and approaches that all result in great-sounding audio.

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One field in which this is especially true is DSLR audio. It is accepted that the built-in mic on your DSLR is notgoing to provide you with great sound. This leaves you in need of some other way to capture audio when filming. The decision not to use your camera’s built-in mic is an easy one, but the task of figuring out what to replace it with can be daunting, thanks to the vast number of mic and recording solutions available.

It is best to start by thinking about what your audio needs are by considering what you are going to be filming and recording. If you already own a few mics, your needs are going to differ from those of someone who doesn’t. By looking at a range of typical setups and examining some of the solutions that are available, you can find out what is going to work best for you.

DSLR02If you find that you generally film one or two people at a time and don’t require close-up miking, it probably goes without saying that you aren’t spending money on a dedicated soundman and will be handling both the filmingand the audio. An uncomplicated means to capturing great-sounding audio in this scenario is with a camera-mounted shotgun mic. While there are countless shotgun mics available, the Shure VP83F Lenshopper is a straightforward, all-in-one solution. The unit has an integrated Rycote Lyre shockmount that helps prevent vibrations and movement from affecting your sound. What makes the VP83F stand out from the pack is its built-in recorder. You can track your audio in 24-bit/48kHz directly to a MicroSDHC card. It also features a headphone input for monitoring, and a camera output so you can send audio to your DSLR to create a reference track for post. It takes 2 AA batteries that will give you about 10 hours of recording time.

Let’s say you have a more intricate miking scenario but you are still going to be handling both the filming and audio by yourself. Maybe you require a multiple-mic setup, such as a combination of wireless lavalier mics and a camera-mounted shotgun. Since you are one person handling the filming and the audio tracking, you will definitely want a recording device you can attach to the DSLR. Having the recorder attached to the camera will help you keep your sanity in the long run, as it will let you keep your attention focused on one area.

DSLR03If you already own lavalier mics, you should check out the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder. It provides 4 combo XLR/TRS mic inputs and includes swappable XY and Mid-Side mic capsules, allowing you to employ whichever mic technique will work best in a given scenario. You can also pick up a shotgun capsule, which is ideal for DSLR audio applications. The H6 can track 6 channels simultaneously, in up to 24-bit/96kHz WAV quality or as MP3s, if that’s your preference. All your audio is recorded to an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card. Gain control for each of the 4 combo inputs as well as the mic capsule are right at your fingertips. Monitoring is provided through the 3.5mm headphone jack, and a second 3.5mm output provides a line level signal that you can route to your camera to create a reference track. The H6 has a color LCD screen that is angled downward, allowing it to remain visible even when you have it connected to your camera with an optional hot-shoe mount. It is a good choice for an initial audio investment, as it includes two mic capsules to get you started and has the additional input to let you expand your mic collection without outgrowing your recorder. The H6 is powered by 4 AA batteries or an optional AC adapter.

Maybe you are in a similar boat as far as your miking needs, but already own a few mics and do not have the need for any more at the moment.The Tascam DR-60D 4-Channel Linear PCM Recorder has a feature set that caters to you, and will work well with a dedicated sound person or a multi-tasker. It can track up to 4 channels of audio simultaneously and is designed to be screwed to the bottom of your DSLR, but can just as easily be attached to a DSLR mount if you have a more complex rig. If you do happen to have a sound engineer, the DR-60D can easily fit in a field case. The dual combination XLR/TRS inputs and stereo 3.5mm input keep you covered for most sorts of mic connections.

DSLR04Tascam has a hard-earned reputation in the recording world, and not surprisingly, the quality of both the mic preamps and the conversion in the DR-60D really shine. Thanks to ample connectivity, you can monitor the live mics, the recorded content from your SDHC card, and even the audio from your DSLR (via the camera input jack), all from the 3.5mm headphone out. Separate camera and line outputs allow you to send a reference track to your DSLR and a separate recorder for redundancy, if desired. The DR-60D lets you track in up to 96kHz/24-bit and switch between 24- and 48-volt phantom power to save battery life. Like most devices, it records to SD or SDHC cards. A useful feature on the DR-60D is its built-in USB po rt that allows you to upload your tracks directly to your computer, especially beneficial if your computer does not have an SD slot.

DSLR05With a dedicated sound person, it can be a very different game. You no longer have to look for a recording device that will attach to your DSLR, as it is likely going to be worn in a field case. The Roland R-26 6-Channel Field Recorder is an all-in-one solution similar to the H6, but it is optimized to be worn during recording. The R-26 can track 6 channels simultaneously and has a built-in omnidirectional stereo mic and a built-in XY stereo mic. You can integrate your own mics via the dual combo XLR/TRS inputs and the 3.5mm stereo mic input. The majority of the unit’s controls can be adjusted with the large touchscreen LCD, but the gain control for inputs 1 and 2, as well as the transport, are still old-fashioned knobs and buttons—having tactile control over these parameters is integral (you won’t always want to look down at the device to make a quick adjustment). The R-26captures your audio either as WAV/BWF files in up to 24-bit/96 kHz quality or as MP3s up to 320kb/s, and writes to SD or SDHC cards.

Now, an external recording device might not be ideal for everyone. When you track your audio to an SDHC card, you’re going to have to line the audio up with your video in post, and for some, this can honestly be a hassle that isn’t worth the time and effort. Recording your audio directly to your DSLR in this case will work just fine… but not with your built-in mic. The BeachTek DXA-SLR PRO HDSLR Audio Adapter is a high-quality, 2-channel audio mixer that will connect to the audio input on your DSLR. While the concept may sound simple, the DXA-SLR PRO provides enough connectivity to serve as a multipurpose audio hub. The unit itself mounts on the bottom of your camera and has two Neutrik XLR inputs that it will mix down to a stereo signal to be sent to your camera’s audio input for recording.

DSLR06If your DSLR has an audio output, you can connect it to the DXA-SLR PRO and have playback monitoring as well as input monitoring available to you with the flip of a switch. Since most DSLRs will record a bit of hiss during quiet moments, BeachTek integrated a feature called AGC Disable, which sends an inaudible tone to keep the camera from increasing its gain (and thus hiss) during silence. The DXA-SLR PRO is really geared toward a “set it and forget it” type of operation, with its integrated limiters assuring your input levels will stay below 0dB. A setup like this would work well in scenarios where the audio capture might not be as pressing a concern, such as filming wedding parties or crowded outdoor events.

A good sound engineer is going to make use of the tools on hand, and should always have a back-up plan ready to go at a moment’s notice. Even the most reliable gear can break down, and you don’t want to be caught on a shoot with no way to capture audio. As it is safe to assume you will have some sort of smartphone or iPod with you, a simple adapter cable such as the Sescom iOS Adapter will allow you to connect the 3.5mm output of your microphone to your phone for recording. It even has a second 3.5mm jack for monitoring.

All these different methods have at least one thing in common, and that’s the quality of results you will be able to get from them. Whether your setup is straightforward or requires multiple mics, you can obtain professional-quality audio by figuring out what will work best for you.