Recording Sound on a D-SLR is one of the major drawbacks in the otherwise rose tinted world of D-SLR Film making.

There are 4 key considerations:

  1. On Camera Solutions
  2. Dual Sound Solutions
  3. Audio Monitoring
  4. Learning to ‘think’ in sound

So let’s begin by looking at the 3 on camera solutions.

  • Built in Mic

So this is a real ‘only if there’s nothing else’ option.  The built in mic is really only any good for picking up a reference and unfortunately due to it’s location  and sensitivity to wind, in most cases any audio recorded will most likely be unusable.  This is because the mic picks up all the handling noise from the camera and generally sounds pretty bad.

You can get a free video tutorial on sound if you enter your email in the box up on the top the right of this page and you’ll be sent the Basic Audio section of the D-SLR Video on Assignment training, for free!

  • External On Board Mic

This certainly improves the audio quite dramatically.  The first thing you notice is that you completely eliminate the handling noise and the microphone will give you some directionality,  i.e. will record audio mostly from the front.

These mics also are sensitive to wind noise. However due to their shape, you can use a wind gag like this to shield the microphone from wind.

However it’s important to bear in mind that gun microphones do not only record audio from the front and so if you are talking behind camera while recording, you will pick up that sound also.

This diagram illustrates the polar pattern of a gin microphone.  While the majority of the sensitivity is towards the front, you will notice the ‘figure of eight’ pattern that still provides a sensitive area to the rear of the microphone.

  • Radio Mics

Radio mics offer a low cost solution to getting the mic close to your subject if you are working alone and without the luxury of a sound recordist.

Now these mics vary from a few hundred dollars to many thousands.  But importantly when plugging directly into a dslr, you have to ensure the mic has a mini jack output from the receiver (known as the RX) so you can connect it to your camera.

But… and this is a big but.  There is no way of monitoring sound coming ‘off the camera ‘. Now before I clarify this further, there are solutions that bolt on the bottom of the camera and provide a mini audio mixer facility.  However they still require you to connect the output via mini jack and that still leaves 2 problems.

  1. This cable can be pulled out and disconnected when you are out shooting and if this happens you’ll have no way of knowing that you’ve lost audio until it’s too late
  2. and as has happened to me, the battery can run down on the mixer and the result is just noise that is recorder.

Neither outcome is any good when you get back to the edit.  By that time it’s too late.

Now, back to that monitoring from the camera question.  The Eos movie function was never created as an end too end ‘pseudo video camera’  and as such there is no means of monitoring audio from the camera using headphones.  That would be like trying to shoot a photograph without using the viewfinder, not recommended if you want a half decent image.

So what’s the alternative?

Dual Sound Solutions.

This is essentially where you record audio entirely separately from the camera sound and then sync it back up afterwards in post production. Dual sound involves using a separate high quality digital recorder to record ‘clean’ audio.  The recorder has a built in microphone and also 2 professional grade XLR connectors which allow you to connect professional audio plugs that are shielded from electrical hum.  Thus improving greatly the quality of  sound you can record.

The Zoom H4n is the recorder as used by Dan in the DSLR on Assignment Tutorial and he  shows you how his rig is configured in the Advanced audio recording Chapter.

Monitoring Your Audio
The single most important aspect of recording audio is being able to hear what you’re recording.  If you tried to take a picture without looking through the eyepiece then the chances of getting the image to work out exactly as you wanted, without something messing up the frame would be pretty slim.

So why record audio and leave what the mic is picking up to chance?

Dan & Den both use Broadcast Industry standard Sennheisser HD-25’s

Closed Cup headphones are essential when monitoring sound because they help isolate ‘exterior’ noise so that you can only monitor the sound you are recording.  Closed cup means that the pads around the ear fit very snugly to your head and feel slightly tight when worn.  This minimizes the unwanted ‘exterior noise’.

In addition these particular headphones are what many professional television and film sound recordists use.

Please don’t skimp on a really high quality set of headphones.

I’ve had my HD-25’s for over 10 years…..

Like any equipment, if you look after it well they’ll last you for years.

Don’t scrimp on good quality headphones!!

And Finally…

So what do we mean when we say Think in Sound?

Well consider this:

A blind person and a deaf person go to the movies, after the 2hr experience, who do you think out of those two will have a greater understanding of the story and the emotion of that story?…..

Sound is half of the film experience and in some cases it can be more important than the picture if you want to pull a viewer into a strong emotional reaction.

Here’s the trailer for D-SLR Video on Assignmen , I purposely used audio only with simple graphics to introduce the film.

Watch it here and  listen to the use of sound.