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Old August 28th, 2006, 03:36 AM   #1
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Audio for Documentary

I have just spend the last hour or so reading up on past posts in regards to audio set-ups for documentaries. Unfortunately though, I still not 100% of the best way to go about achieving high quality audio.

As part of my university course, I am required to make a 10 minute documentary. As I'm heading overseas for work-related reasons next month, I have decided to take my camera along and kill two birds with one stone.

The trouble is, I won't have any crew. Therefore, no boom operator. I'm hoping that most of the time that will not be an issue, as I can put a microphone on a stand to conduct various interviews, whilst I stand behind the camera. However, there will be times when I can't set up a microphone stand. For example, I'm thinking that some footage will be on a bus; very handycam style.

I will be shooting using a Sony Z1P. I currently own a ME66 (for outdoors), Rode NT3 (for indoors) and have been borrowing various other mics (Shure Beta 58s, 57s, PG81s, 416s, studio condensors, etc.) when appropriate, as the ME66 and NT3 don't always achieve good results in certain environments. However, I will not be able to borrow microphones whilst I'm away.

After reading heaps of various posts (and from a limited personal experience), I have come to the conclusion that the Sennheiser 416 is a fantastic microphone to have in your inventory. It's really expensive - but from all accounts, well worth the additional cash. That said, it does have its shortcomings. A lot of people have said that its not great for indoor shoots (although others do disagree). Almost everyone has said unless the cameras really close to your subject, it sucks for on-camera use. The general consensus is its a industry standard microphone for ENGs, and mid-budget outdoor film shoots, but isn't really up for doing high-quality indoor recording (a Schopes hyper cardiod is the prefered choice, if you have the money).

Oh, and it's also worth mentioning at this point, please, please correct me if I'm talking rubbish during at any time during this post! If I write something you disagree with, please tell me! I'm still learning and I'd hate to pick up wrong information...

Anyway, I'm now wondering if I should bite the bullet and purchase the 416. My reasoning is, for a lot of the interview shots, I will be able to put it on a microphone stand out of shot. I have seen the 416 used in radio and televisions interviews before on stands, and the sound quality has been very impressive (despite the fact that they were shot indoors). For shots, such as on the bus, I'm hoping that I can get the camera, with a 416 attached, really close to the subject. For other, more "landscape" shots, I'm thinking that the 416 should be able to pick up some fairly good atmos just to give the footage a bit of life. I understand that shotguns arn't really appropriate for capturing atmos - but I think it should do the job. Or at least, better than the ME66! Not sure if it would "beat" a NT3.

OK. Question time.

Firstly, do you think the 416 is a worthwhile purchase for this particular project? If so, then what is the best method to attach it to the Z1P? I think it would pick up too much camera noise if inserted in the Z1Ps standard mic holder. I know Rode make a shock mount clamp adapter that fits into the Z1P holder, which may be appropraite?

What other options are there? Ideally, I would have a sound person with me, but it just isn't going to happen! I also seriously doubt I'll be able to get people to help out, holding booms, etc. So it's basically just me, which is unfortunate, but something that I will have to make work!

One thing I haven't been able to find in this forum is how do all the solo-documentary filmmakers out there handle audio? I know there are a lot of people who go out by themselves, without any crew and achieve good results. What kinds of microphones are they using on-camera? From all the posts I've read they basically concluded: "GET A BOOM OP!!!". That doesn't really help me.

I have concidered using wireless lapels - but I hate the idea. I would much prefer to have everything on cables. That said, I don't really want to use cabelled lapels, as that will just annoy my interviewees.

Is it best to have a microphone on camera that captures pretty much everything (a general atmosphere kind of deal), and another microphone that specifically tries to capture whoever is talking (ie. a 416)?

Finally, I have also been seriously concidering purchasing a field mixer. I would REALLY love to buy a Sound Devices 442 or 302, but at over AUD$2500, I REALLY can't afford it (being a uni student and all!). The MixPre is also a lot of money, but at around AUD$1300, do-able if I really felt the need to purchase it (but don't tell my bank!). It looks like a fantastic unit, and would fit in quite well with my Z1P setup. But, is it worth the money for my situation? It's really money that I shouldn't spend - but you know how it is. Video toys always defeat financial sense. I would love to have the control of a field mixer (as opposed to the fiddly Z1P audio controls), and from most reviews the limiters are quite good in all the Sound Devices products. It would also be a good investment, as its the kind of product that will last forever.

Anyway, to sum up, a single person documentary - how do I get sound that will match or go above and beyound the quality of a prosumer HDV camera?

Thanks to anyone who has been bothered reading this long post!

Chris!
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Old August 28th, 2006, 11:43 AM   #2
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First, the MKH416 and MKH60 work great indoors. One of the good features for both mics is that you can put them in really close to the subject with no difficulty.

Second, unless you have lots of money to spend, it seems to me you can get good audio with what you've got. True, better mics are better, but it's more about placement than it is a quality mic. This may be heresy, but I'd rather have a soundman who knows what he's doing with a cheap mic than an incompetent with a great mic.

For doing your own work with no soundman, as you said, if you can mount the mic on a fishpole on a C-stand, you'll get good interviews. For those kinds of situations, I use one of the shortie Matthews C-stands with a bracket for holding the boom. Set up the stand, put on the boom, extend it out so the mic is a couple of feet over the head and pointing properly, and you're there.

If you have to shoot a hand held interview with the on camera mic, it can be done. It's not wonderful, but you can get by with it if you have to. Shoot at a fairly wide angle and get in close, and have the person talking as closely into the mic as practical. You probably want him talking off camera instead of into the camera, but if you shoot so he's talking just off camera, not too far, you can get good sound if you're in close enough. It may be a bit intimidating for the interviewee to have a camera 3 feet from his face, however.

If I were you I'd get a fairly inexpensive wireless lav for those situations. I'd rather have the mics you have, plus a wireless (or even a wired lav) than just the MKH416.
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Old August 28th, 2006, 01:27 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hocking
...
OK. Question time.

Firstly, do you think the 416 is a worthwhile purchase for this particular project? If so, then what is the best method to attach it to the Z1P? I think it would pick up too much camera noise if inserted in the Z1Ps standard mic holder. I know Rode make a shock mount clamp adapter that fits into the Z1P holder, which may be appropraite?
K-Tek has some interesting shock mounts and camera mount adapters you might want to consider ... http://www.mklemme.com/pole/dvcam.html

Quote:
Finally, I have also been seriously concidering purchasing a field mixer. I would REALLY love to buy a Sound Devices 442 or 302, but at over AUD$2500, I REALLY can't afford it (being a uni student and all!). The MixPre is also a lot of money, but at around AUD$1300, do-able if I really felt the need to purchase it (but don't tell my bank!). It looks like a fantastic unit, and would fit in quite well with my Z1P setup. But, is it worth the money for my situation? It's really money that I shouldn't spend - but you know how it is. Video toys always defeat financial sense. I would love to have the control of a field mixer (as opposed to the fiddly Z1P audio controls), and from most reviews the limiters are quite good in all the Sound Devices products. It would also be a good investment, as its the kind of product that will last forever.
A mixer implies a mixer operator to work it while you give your full attention to the camera. Since you'll be a one-man band, juggling the audio controls while operating the camera is just not going to work out. As good as they are, you're probably not going to see any big advantages to the 302 or 442 mixers because of that. OTOH, an improved front in to the in-camera audio isn't a bad idea and either a MixPre slung over your shoulder or a MM-1 preamp/headphone amp clipped to your belt might be worth the investment.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 08:54 AM   #4
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In my experience, boomed mics almost always sound better than lavs. That being said, if you are doing a lot of sit down interviews, especially as a one man band, a wired lav really has a lot going for it. It will be dependable, relatively good sounding, and very easy to set up.

On the doc I just finished working on, we used a wired lav for many of the interviews. Set up the camera, light the scene, the person sits down, and you clip the lav onto their shirt. Hiding wires isn't important if it's just a talking head shot. It worked rather nicely for this doc especially since the shots were framed tightly and the subjects spoke directly at the camera, so the "intimate" sound provided by the lav was acceptable. On the gigs I couldn't make it too (I did sound) and the filmmaker was alone, she was able to set up the lav with out too much difficulty.

Especially if your travelling, lavs are real small. The big problem in my mind with them is you get the sound of clothes rubbing and body movement.

That being said, when I was there, I usually strung up the boom with an MKH50 and the lav and we used whichever sounded better (many times the boom).
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Old August 29th, 2006, 09:56 AM   #5
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I agree that a boomed mic is always better, but he really needs a lav too for those situations where a boom is not practical. Last week I shot an interview with an Irish musician in an Irish bar. We wanted the bar activity in the background, which meant the shotgun mic would have been aimed in the direction the noise was coming from--no good. So we switched to the lav. I let the mic show but ran the cord inside the guy's shirt. Almost all the shots were tight enough to not see the mic, but I had one long shot where it was in. However, It was pretty wide and hopefully not really noticeable. We made the decision that it was better to gamble on seeing the mic than have it buried, because the background was pretty noisy.

For lots of interviews, a wired lav is fine too--no need for a wireless. If the interviewee is just sitting or standing, and you're fairly close, it's faster to plug in a wired lav, and you can get one for about half the price of a cheap wireless. Wireless is good too, but if money is an issue, consider a wired lav for special situations. I always have mine with me, and it's saved me more than once. I recall one shot where I had to interview a guy outside. I had been told it would be indoors, but it wasn't. It was way too windy for the shotgun, so having the wired lav in the bag was a lifesaver.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 11:15 AM   #6
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Best thing I did to improve my audio in run 'n' gun documentary shooting situations was to get a wide-angle adapter for my lens. No, seriously. This lets you get a camera-mounted shotgun (your 416, for instance) within 2-3 feet of the subject's mouth (almost ideal placement) and still have a good shot in a nice frame. Just make sure your microphone doesn't dip into the shot. Rode makes a nice hotshoe-mounted shockmount that is tall enough to get my Sennheiser out of the frame on my PD-150 with a .6 WA adapter, even at full wide. You may want to zoom in a bit to avoid barrel distortion.
Helps enormously with camera-shake, too. If I were going to be shooting on a bus, I'd consider a wide-angle an absolute necessity.

Otherwise, if you are shooting solo, I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about a boom mike. Boom mikes sound great if you've got a dedicated sound recordist who can focus only on doing that job. On the other hand, a wired or wireless lavalliere placed at sternum level will give you all the sound you'll need, with a lot less hassle. This will allow you to focus on the six other things you need to worry about!
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Old August 29th, 2006, 11:24 AM   #7
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Getting in close is necessary if you're shooting with the mic on the camera. It's certainly do-able and people do it all the time, but I wouldn't make it a first choice. You wouldn't believe how many otherwise decent documentaries I've had to dump from our festival list over the years because of crappy audio.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:26 PM   #8
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I don't think this has been mentioned yet, but let's remember that a really good mic camera mounted on a bus is going to pick up the same engine, road, handling and other noises as a cheap mic. This is another of those situations where you probably can't beat a $150 Rode VideoMic.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 03:48 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Gray
That being said, when I was there, I usually strung up the boom with an MKH50 and the lav and we used whichever sounded better (many times the boom).

How far from the subject did you usually have
the MKH?
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Old August 30th, 2006, 12:00 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hocking
What other options are there?
Would agree with your view on the 416, and that the 66 is very harsh. I ended up with the Sanken CS-1 short shotgun. 10% less than the 416 for half the price. Added to this is a COS-11 wilred lapel mic and an AKG reporter's mic.

The CS-1 is mounted to the Z1 using a Rycote bracket thing, which keeps the whole ensemble manageable:

http://www.mdma.tv/images/cs1-front.jpg
http://www.mdma.tv/images/cs1-side.jpg

The accessory shoe remains free for a wireless kit.
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Old August 30th, 2006, 07:29 AM   #11
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Thanks EVERYONE for your help and suggestions!

After reading through your posts I'm started to think a wireless lapel mic isn't such a bad idea after all. Despite the fact that wireless mics just scare me, it would make life a hell of a lot easier! You can pick up a Sennheiser ew 122-p G2 Wireless Lapel Kit for just under AUD$1000; I'm thinking that might be a worthwide purchase. Any objections? I don't like the idea of a wired lapel, as I think it will be a pain in the butt for this particular project.

Matt, what do you mean by "10% less than the 416"? Thanks for the photos - your setup looks quite cool! I think if I do go ahead with the wireless lapel, I'll use the ME66 on camera as a backup/atmos using one of those Rode-type adapters. However, would a ME64 capsule be more appropriate? If I'm going to fork out on a wireless kit, that counts out purchasing a 416. Other suggestions?

I'm hoping that for at least some of the interior shots I can just use a NT3 on a mic stand out of frame. I think that will sound better than a wireless lapel.

The wide angle lens is also a really great idea; one I've thought a lot about in the past. But it is also a lot of money. It's on the wish list...

I think I'll hold off on a field mixer for the time being, as I can probably make do with just the Z1s control for this project. However, I think a MixPre would be a great tool to have. It's on the wish list too...

Tim, slightly off topic, but anyway: how does the MKH50 indoors compare to a high quality lapel? From what I've read and to some extent experienced, a [hyper]cardiod would sound superior to a boom in, say a bathroom.

Again, thanks for all your assistance! Hopefully I can return the favour at some stage!
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Old August 30th, 2006, 08:00 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Hocking
Thanks EVERYONE for your help and suggestions!
...
Matt, what do you mean by "10% less than the 416"? Thanks for the photos - your setup looks quite cool! I think if I do go ahead with the wireless lapel, I'll use the ME66 on camera as a backup/atmos using one of those Rode-type adapters. However, would a ME64 capsule be more appropriate? If I'm going to fork out on a wireless kit, that counts out purchasing a 416. Other suggestions?
...
Tim, slightly off topic, but anyway: how does the MKH50 indoors compare to a high quality lapel? From what I've read and to some extent experienced, a [hyper]cardiod would sound superior to a boom in, say a bathroom.
Hypers are preferred to shotguns for almost all interiors, not just highly reverberent spaces like bathrooms.

Before making your final choices, visit fellow DVInfo member Ty Ford's website, www.tyford.com. He has extensive sample files of various mics posted and in the video section of his download library there is a tutoruial comparing the results obtained inside a typical living room with a shotgun, a hyper, and a lav. Absolutely a "must see" for everyone purchasing mics for a gig.
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Old August 30th, 2006, 08:33 AM   #13
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Since you mentioned that you're heading "overseas" for this project, be sure to purchase a wireless set that has the appropriate frequencies for the area you'll use it.
I think Matt meant that in his opinion the CS-1 has 90% of the performance of a 416 at about half the price. It would also be considerably shorter physically. The last time I checked prices, which was awhile back, the 416 was available under $1000US and the CS-1 was closer to $700US. Has that changed more recently? The CS-1 would be a good candidate if you can afford it.
I definitely wouldn't invest in an ME64 for this set of circumstances. It has a very wide open pattern and has a peaked frequency response. It does have less off-axis coloration indoors than a 66, but that's because it's not trying in the slightest to reject those reflections except for a small null area directly to the rear. The peaked response can also make post-production more difficult because of all the high frequency content above the voice range that has been captured. Personally I'd only use a 64 if internal battery and very high sensitivity were absolute necessities. An AT3031 at about the same price for a complete mic as the Senn capsule costs, will be more pleasing.
However I wouldn't recommend a cardioid for your situation.
There are many hypercardioids that are less expensive than the CS-1, but none of them are without a deficiency. I think one that would be most promising for you would be the AKG SE300b with CK93 capsule. With some good wind protection and shockmount, it would work for on-camera atmos and run&gun to back-up the wireless lav. It might also replace the NT3 indoors but I haven't compared them directly and I do very much like the NT3 for many indoor activities.
The wide angle lens is a good suggestion, especially if you can afford a good one with zoom-through capabilities. Cheap ones can work too, but outdoors can give noticeable wash-out due to internal reflections.
A camera bracket is also very nice. Even substitute or home-made solutions can be beneficial, don't cost much and take up minimal room in your kit.
They allow much steadier shooting as well as extra separation for your on-camera mic and clearance for your wireless receiver antenna. The drawback is not having full finger-tip control of camera functions from your left hand.
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Old August 30th, 2006, 10:29 AM   #14
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I just recently picked up an NT3 and wanted to
add my impressions, even though I haven't
used it much.

It rejects off-axis sound surprisingly well.
Tried it on a singer on a mic
stand from about 6 feet out and
was impressed with its reach. (Next
time I'd bring it in to about 4 feet.)
Seems to pick up voice well but for some
instruments it may not be smooth.
Not real sure if it's harsh or not on
instruments. Need to use it more but
on a piano it seemed okay; on
strings it didn't seem smooth.
Might be a bit low in the bass pickup.
I have heard it's very good on acoustic
guitar.
I've heard various opinions on whether
it's good for close-mic'd singing. Haven't
tried this but it might be sibilant, not sure.

Anyone have any experience using the
NT3 on strings?
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Old August 30th, 2006, 12:49 PM   #15
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I haven't used my NT3's on musical intruments because I do very little close-up musical intrument recording. They are a little light in the bass region.
They do very well at cleanly rejecting ambient sound and reverberation, especially between 130 and 150 degrees to the side of the mic.
Makes for a good crowd mic facing away from stereo PA speakers when you're also getting a direct board feed. There is minimal leakage and what does get in is clean and uncolored.
They do have good clarity on voice from 18 inches to 5 feet in a clean environment. Close up they can reproduce mouth noises and I imagine string and playing noises that might not be flattering. Maybe that's some of what you're hearing. They've always sounded "smooth" to me and never harsh but like I said, I haven't used them for close-up instruments.
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