DSLR Audio

DSLR films present a unique challenge in terms of audio. The ability of the Canon 5d to record HD video in a number of frame rates has launched a revolution in filmmaking. I believe the 5d was the first camera to implement HD video in a way that was professionally viable. (If you’ve never seen the video from a 5d, have a look here… but notice that there’s NO sync sound.) Other cameras can do this now as well, but the 5d still holds a lead in the DSLR filmmaking arena.

The images from these cameras are beautiful,

My audio cart for DSLR production features the R4 and Lectrosonics wireless receivers.

but recording audio was definitely an afterthought at the Canon factory. Early versions of the Canon 5d software offered little more than audio on or off, with no way to defeat the automatic gain control. There were some hacks available, and the new firmware is much better in terms of recording, but this is still an area that requires a dedicated location sound person. The best way to handle audio with a DSLR is doing it “old school.” You use a slate (or clapper) at the head of every scene, and record the audio to a second dedicated recorder. Sound is still captured using the camera’s onboard mic, but this is just a reference track. The resulting files are synchronized manually in Final Cut Pro. (though there are some neat software solutions for this job, such as PluralEyes automatic sync software.)

For Chris’ film, I used my Edirol R4Pro 4-track field recorder. Track 1 was generally reserved for the shotgun mic, while tracks 2-4 were used to record wireless lav mics on the talent, with the occasional plant mic hidden on the set to grab SFX or dialog. The lavs always suffer from the occasional clothing rustle, but having each one on a separate track enables you to mute out offensive noises or wireless hits on the individual channel. Having several audio sources to choose from in post opens up other creative options as well, such as stereo placement and 5.1 surround mixing.

Key grip Glenn Stegall (SamauraiHammer) doubled as my boom operator for some of Chris' short film.

I haven’t gotten the chance to do any of the editing yet with Chris, but I’m looking forward to hearing the footage and playing around with the post production files. This is an area that I’m slowly expanding into here, and I’m setting up a Final Cut Pro postproduction workflow here.

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