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Old April 1st, 2006, 07:56 PM   #1
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GL1 audio improvement for documentary

Background info:
I recently completed a very, very low budget 52 min. documentary, which I shot using my Canon GL1. (You can see what I am referring to at www.contestedterritory.com). I am now preparing to shoot my 2nd documentary, which will be done using the same methods as the first, meaning that I am a one person show--I do everything, from camera operation, to conducting interviews, to editing. I don't do this professionally; I think of what I do from more of an activist type approach--that one person, with a camera, can use the medium to make some sense out of an important issue.

The situation:
I can't afford to purchase a new camera, so I'm looking into making improvements on my GL1, i.e. audio.

I will use the camera for two types of shooting:
1. Interviews with 1 or 2 people shot either inside or outside. I will put the camera on a tripod and sit/stand next to it. In the past, I have hooked the interviewe(s) up with a (Radio Shack) tie clip mic that connects to the 1/8 input on the camera.
2. Outdoor and indoor shots to capture all available sounds. In the past, I used the onboard mic.
3. The new documentary is about animal farming, so most of my shooting will take place on farms, around animals.

The methods I have used in the past were adequate, but I know that I can give my work a better quality with some improvments. Given the way I work (one person), and the type of sound needs I have (interviews + documenting scenes inside/outside), what would be your recommendations for the most cost effective set up?

Thanks in advance for replies.

Last edited by Carolyn McGrath; April 2nd, 2006 at 07:26 AM.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 08:46 AM   #2
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To me, the basic rules in order of importance are:
1. Learn the basics of mic types and their uses
2. Get the mic as close to the source as possible
3. Try to choose or modifiy the environment to reduce echos
4. Use the best quality mic you can afford

You seem to be doing the best you can with what you have, but you didn't indicate whether you can or will invest any more money.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 03:39 PM   #3
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With regards to how much I am willing to invest:
Let me put it this way, I can't afford a higher quality HD camera (over $2000), so I am trying to make improvements on my GL1. At the same time, I don't want to put tons of money into something that will work with the GL1, but won't be compatible with another camera that I will get at some point in the future (when I can afford it).
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 05:06 PM   #4
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Ah, then I have some good news. As all the experts here will tell you, investment in quality audio equipment will outlast and be compatible with a lifetime of camcorder upgrades. Unlike with video, the problem of capturing audio has been defined for a century, and even most of the refinements are now decades old.

Also, if you didn't already know, spending less than $1000 on audio will add more perceived polish to your work than spending $5000 on a camcorder.

In my opinion, the single next step that would get you the most improvement for the least money is a Rode VideoMic for $150. It will do a very good job on your outside sounds, and will give you much better interview audio at, say, five to seven feet than the built in mic. It will sound a bit bassy indoors, especially in small or echoey rooms, but still better than the GL1's and hey, no one mic will do it all perfectly. It's a directional mic, so if you were pointing it at the interviewee in a barn and you wanted to do full justice to an animal cry behind you, it would not be the best choice. To do a good job in that situation, you would need a directional or a lavalier mic for the interviewee and an omnidirectional mic for room sounds.

There are several ways to use two or more mics with one camcorder. You can also use a pocket digital recorder and synch up it's audio with the other in an editing program.

You would notice the dfference that better-than-Radio-Shack quality wired lavalier mics will get you.

Ty Ford's (tyford.com) and/or Jay Rose's (dplay.com) pracitical audio primers would get you a lot of knowledge for little investment.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 08:34 PM   #5
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Thanks for the recommendations Fred. I actually have Jay Rose's book, and am currently reading it!

With regards to the Rode VideoMic (which I have heard good things about)...I don't anticipate needing a camera mic for doing interviews, as I always have used (Radio Shack) lavalier mics for that. The camera-mounted mic would be for noninterview "scenes" where I would want to capture all available sounds (except the camera mechanics)...but not necessarily someone talking.

In that case, would you still suggest the Rode above the Canon's onboard mic? (I expect most would say that anything is better than the onboard mic...)

Doesn't the Rode record in mono? (Whereas, I think the Canon's mic records in stereo?)

And doesn't the Rode also go to a mini output? (I thought better recording devices use XLR connectors...) Maybe the Rode is just the best I can get at that price? I'm guessing here.

Okay. Let's say I go with the Rode videomic for non-interview scenes. What would you suggest for an affordable lavalier mic for interviews?
(I would need a Beachtek device if it has XLR connector...how would that throw off the Rode setup?)

Thanks for the help...this novice is reading up like mad, but it's still not coming together yet...
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 11:05 PM   #6
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The Rode VideoMic is kind of in a category by itself. It's an inexpensive mic but not a cheap one. It's outfitted with a miniplug rather than an XLR connector as a convenience to the videographer for whom it's intended. It is quite sensitive and excellent sounding. On the other hand it is made of plastic, has a rather ungainly appearance and is sensitive to handling noise.

A step up would be the Rode NTG-2. You could get this package from B&H for $269 that includes a shock mount (to help isolate the mic from handling noise). This mic has an XLR connector.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search
But the GL1 mic probably is not bad for picking up general sounds. For that all you really care about is sensitivity. Where built in mics invariably suck is in recording voices. That's mainly because you can't get them close enough to the subject while taping, and they're prone to self-noise and room echo. The main advantage of the NTG-2 over the built in mic for general sounds would be the ability to concentrate on the sounds emanating from the sixty degree arc in front of you and reduce sounds from the sides and rear.

A good lavalier mic would be the AT803b for $140. It has an XLR connector also.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

These would be versatile choices to start and grow with. Besides providing very good sound and overall quality, both of the above mics can operate from either AA battery power or phantom power. So if you intend to use only one mic at a time you can postpone the expenditure for a Beachtek (or equivalent)--you can just get an XLR to 1/8" miniplug adapter cable, preferably one with an impedance matching transformer. An example is the one listed as an accessory for the lav mic above.

And yet both mics would be compatible with any XLR equiptment you get in the future (so would the VideoMic, actually, since you can get a stereo mini to XLR plug adaptor for it).
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 04:15 AM   #7
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Carolyn,
I started with a GL1, and now also have an XL2. We did a political doc in 2001, and my biggest regret was that I had no idea about the importance of the audio side of video.( And me having a back ground in recording and song writing...DUH). The on board stereo mic is basically useless for most applications. It's ok for ambient or close up music, but that's about it.
My first purchase was an Audio Technika 897, a fantastic sounding shotgun.I can't say enough positive about this mic. Then I bought a sennheiser G2 wirless kit with the extra plug for turning any hand held mike into wireless. I bought two Sony used wired lav mics for $150. Lastly, I bought an Oktavia mco12 with the hypercardiod capsule for close dialogue. topped it off with a home made boom and mic cradle, and wind protection for the 897 (still need something for the Oktavia.
This whole set up was less than $1500, and gives me the tools and flexibility to get quality sound.Oh, I forgot the Beachtek box for the GL1.
Just my $.02.
Bruce Yarock
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 05:33 PM   #8
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Thanks for the very helpful feedback!

Two questions, which again, are probably basic, but here goes...

~With a mic mounted on the camera (such as the Rode), will it still pick up the sound of the camera operating?

Since most of my previous documentary's audio was made up of interviews (with the lav mics) and my voiceover (that I had professionally recorded), there really weren't many parts where there was just scenes with "natural" sounds. However, when there was--and I had used the GL1's onboard mic then, you could hear the camera's operating sounds too. Yuck. Would this still happen with a mounted mic?

~Regarding Bruce's choice of wireless lav's...I've heard that they can be tricky. Is that the case? Is wireless or wired preferrable in a lav? I think I can work with either.

~Finally, though I've looked it up, I still am not quite sure I understand what an "impedence matching transformer" is (that Fred refers to). I think this is what you mean...but what does it do?
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...alue=68272_REG
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 06:04 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carolyn McGrath
Thanks for the very helpful feedback!

Two questions, which again, are probably basic, but here goes...

~With a mic mounted on the camera (such as the Rode), will it still pick up the sound of the camera operating?

Since most of my previous documentary's audio was made up of interviews (with the lav mics) and my voiceover (that I had professionally recorded), there really weren't many parts where there was just scenes with "natural" sounds. However, when there was--and I had used the GL1's onboard mic then, you could hear the camera's operating sounds too. Yuck. Would this still happen with a mounted mic?

~Regarding Bruce's choice of wireless lav's...I've heard that they can be tricky. Is that the case? Is wireless or wired preferrable in a lav? I think I can work with either.

~Finally, though I've looked it up, I still am not quite sure I understand what an "impedence matching transformer" is (that Fred refers to). I think this is what you mean...but what does it do?
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...alue=68272_REG
If it's mounted on the camera it will probably pick up camera noises. Something like the Rode will be farther away from the camera mechanism than the in-camera mic and its suspension mount also helps but it's still gonna be pretty close. If practical, mounting it on a nearby mic stand is a better option (you can get pefectly servicable stands for less than $50). Even better is to put it on a boom and have a boom operator steer it.

Wired is better than wireless for lavs if you have the option. You don't have to worry about interference from other wireless units, dropouts, and multipath interference from the signals bouncing around in the room.

The lav mic is a low impedence mic with an XLR connector. The GL1 expects a higher impedence mic on its external mic jack and uses a 1/8 minpolug connector. The transformer both matches the impedences and converts the connectors. I have'nt worked with a GL1 so I'll defer to Fred that is is the right transfer for that camera - personally I'd take a close look at the Beachtek units that can supply phantom power. That opens up a LOT of mic options for you.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 06:38 PM   #10
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As Steve said, picking up camera noises is always a risk with a camera mounted mic. After all, it's their job to pick up nearby sounds. You don't know exactly what you're going to get until you try it. Of the mics mentioned so far, the AT897 would probably be the safest in that regard, because it's the least sensitive, and the Rode VideoMic would be the worst because it is quite sensitive and has low mass due to its plastic construction. The AT897 with a proper shock mount would certainly be much better at avoiding camera noises than the GL1's mic.

I'd second Steve's recommendation for something like the DXA-6 with phantom power if you're ready to spend for mics and an XLR adaptor. You haven't said how much you could spend right now. Besides the phantom power option the Beach gives you options on how to use the two stereo channels, e.g. the ability to easily use two mics at once.

I'll take back my recommendation for the impedance matching adapter. The low price of that new one turned my head. But the two reasons for using one wouldn't really apply to the mics under discussion and the GL1. A plain XLR to mini adapter would be fine. Just make sure it's wired for a mono mic:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...goryNavigation
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 06:45 PM   #11
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When I bought the 897 I also got a holder to attach to my gl1 (forgrt which ad it's packed away). Becuse it suspends the mic in a rubber cradle, the mic doesn't pick up any camera motor sound.
I've yet to have any problems with either the sony hard wired lavs, or the Sennheiser G2 wireless.
Bruce Yarock
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 06:58 PM   #12
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Thanks. Thanks. Thanks! Great info!

re: Fred's comment...
"You haven't said how much you could spend right now."

That's because I don't have a hard figure. I also need to upgrade my Mac, along with FCP, and Photoshop apps. So, I'm trying to juggle those costs with outfitting the GL1 with better audio capacities. (I had to rule out getting a new camera entirely, because that would have put me over the top...)

Thanks again for all the great help.

I'll let you know what I end up doing.

~Carolyn
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