Video Basics 101 #3: External Recorders
Content and Images Contributed By: Richard Newman
Possibly the most important part of creating great video is getting quality audio from the subject or sound source. Here is a diagram of the path that sound can travel until it hits your editing program.
And, here is a breakdown of the gear you’ll need to maximize the quality of your audio. In the future, we’ll discuss each of these steps.
- Microphones — either shotgun, lavalier or handheld
- An audio-storage interface device. This converts the sound into a digital signal, and can be your camera, an external recorder or your computer
- A way to monitor the audio — headphones, not speakers
- Cables to make it all work together
- A way to keep it all arranged on your camera
In the last two tutorials on video basics, Microphone Tips for Video Recording and Mic it Right, I talked about the different types of microphones and their applications. I’d like to take the next step here and discuss how to use an external recorder.
I’ve been using and I highly recommend the Tascam DR-40 recorder. Here’s a picture of how I mount it on my camera: where I use it as a main audio-storage device on all projects.
This recorder creates a WAV file at 48,000KH with a bit depth of 24, which is better than CD quality. I record audio from the microphone to two of the four tracks. If I have a quiet place that I’m working, I can use the stereo microphones on-board and I don’t have to use anything else. The DR-40 has a headphone output jack so I can listen while I’m recording to make sure that I’m getting the results I want.
After I’m through video taping, it’s very easy to sync up the sound with the picture in the “editing bay” (code name for my desk) by using the following method. At the start of recording, I use a production slate, or clapperboard to create a “spike wave,” or click at the “in point,” which is the first frame. This click is recorded by both the mic on my camera and the Tascam recorder. In editing, I look at the audio wave form, find the frame in the recorder with the click, match that click to the same one recorded in the camera’s audio and the sync is perfect.
Here’s what the audio wave forms look like. Notice the two audio tracks in the timeline at the bottom of this image:
The Tascam DR-40 model and their flagship recorder, the DR-100MKR II have some exciting options. Both of these recorders have four channels of audio. I do a lot of live music recording and this feature allows me to use the stereo feed that I get from the soundboard and the two extra channels to get the live-room sound, which adds tremendous depth to the final product. And, because it is four tracks, I can control the levels during the editing process.
Beyond recording the event, I keep this recorder with me all the time for recording sound effects. Since most sound effects are licensed, having original recordings is a real plus. Also, if I’m shooting a two-person interview I will hide the recorder between the subjects and record the audio that way. It gives the recording some “air” or a sense of reality that doesn’t sound so flat. Using both the soundboard signal and the extra microphones for room sound really make it sound like a live performance on the final video.
We’ve just scratched the surface of what an external audio recorder can do to improve your videos but, in my opinion, if you are going to get serious in video, you need to start taking your audio recording options seriously.