Audio Equipment For Videographers

 

Getting good audio quality for your video productions is almost, if not equal to, getting the right lighting and exposure!

Viewers may be tolerant of out of focus or badly lit shots but poor audio quality is likely to be a big turn off.

 

It needn't cost a fortune to improve the audio quality of your productions and in this section I will introduce you to a few ideas that might help you do this.

 

 

The biggest improvement that you can make is to use an external microphone. The internal mics are omnidirectional and pick up sound sources all around the camera. Handling noises, the image stabiliser whirring in the lens barrel and generally they are too far away from the subject in an interview type situation. They are good for providing a perfectly synched audio track from another external recording source such as a portable audio recorder.

 

The external mic ideally should be "off-camera" and close to the sound source however even a directional "on-camera" mic can make a vast difference to your sound production.

 

Let's begin by looking at the cheapest option and one, which surprisingly, gives really good audio quality for interviews, voice overs and commentaries etc.

 

A simple £3 ($) electret condenser lavaliere (tie clip) mic can be plugged directly into the mic port of the FZ300/330/1000/2000 or with a 3.5 to 2.5mm adaptor into the FZ200.

 

They usually come with just a couple of metres (6 feet) or so of cable so it might be necessary to add a 3.5mm extension cable to allow you to rig the mic without danger of pulling over the camera!

I have used over 6 metres (20 feet) of cable without any noise/hum pick up. 

When positioned about 20cms ( 8 inch) from the mouth and clipped to a shirt/blouse/coat etc will give surprisingly good audio. because of the close proximity to the sound source the mic level can be turned down in the camera and this will help to reduce other ambient noises.

 

The mics are omni-directional so will pick up sound from all directions. You can mount the mic with the front port facing down and this will help prevent "popping" noises on some syllables.

 

A step up in quality is the use of a self powered electret condenser mic such as the one shown opposite - the Audio Technica ATR3350

(or the Boya mic http://amzn.to/2mHAdPZ) £16 ($).

This mic has its own inbuilt silver oxide battery which lasts for ages and has abot 6 metres (20 feet) of cable terminating in a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) plug. 

 

It will work directly with cameras with the 3.5mm mic port or via a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adaptor on the FZ200.

 

 

Sound quality is excellent with very little electrical noise. Again the mic level can be reduced to help with ambient noise reduction. 

 

 

 

 

If you are worried about the possibility of walking away from the camera whilst still attached via the lavaliere mic (yes it does happen)

then the next alternative would be a "wireless system" like the one opposite. Its a UHF system so wireless interference is very much reduced. The range is over 80 metres (200 feet) outdoors.

 

Again audio quality is excellent and it gives you a lot more freedom during your presentations etc.

 

For isolating unwanted sound a "rifle" mic is often recommended such as the one shown opposite the Boya BY PVM1000

This is a self powered (single AA alkaline battery) electret condenser microphone with XLR (and phantom 48v power) connection.

 

Although this isn't the ideal location for this type of microphone it is better than the internal mics.

 

The ideal placement for such a mic is directly overhead the subject with the mic pointing down.

The front lobe pickup from the mic then picks up the voice whilst the super cardioid pickup pattern (where the side of the mic are largely insensitive to external sound) help to reduce any other ambient sounds

 

For videos or podcasts where the mic being in view doesn't really matter then the studio condenser mic is a good choice. The BM-800 is only about £23 ($) and comes with its own shock mount system. Some suppliers also offer table stands or full mic stands to support the mic.

It can be powered from the camera by the slight bias voltage which appears at the mic input port but best operation is attained by using a phantom powered pre-amp system.

 

Again because of the close proximity to the speakers mouth the sound is rich an d golden and again ambient noise is reduced by being able to reduce the mic input gain level.

Above is one of my recording setups for use with the FZ2000 but it could be used on any camera system.

A BM-800 studio mic, the ATR 3350 lavaliere mic, the Saramonic smart rig+ for the phantom power and mic pre-amp and a pair of headphones for audio monitoring.

An alternative system utilising the Boya BY-PVM1000 rifle mic and the Saramonic SR-AX100 power supply/pre-amp unit.

  • Two-channel active audio mixer with pre-amplifier and phantom power
  • Accepts signals from a wide variety of mic or line level sources such as balanced xlr microphones, 3.5mm microphones, wireless microphones and external audio mixers.
  • Attaches to the base of the camera and there is a threaded socket on the mixer base that allows for mounting on a tripod or case

LED Light Panels - Looking at what they exactly offer the stills or videographer.

 

I think we can all agree that natural daylight is probably the best light source we can use to create our images and video clips. Even in harsh sunlight we can employ techniques to tame it into the quality that we might need for a particular photoshoot. The use of reflectors and diffusers are some of the techniques that I have previously covered to show how to do this - particularly when photographing flowers as too much contrast kills the delicate tonal shades and destroys the very fine detail that we can see in petals etc.

But what about indoors when sunlight is not available such as after darkness fall?

Traditionally this was the place that tungsten lighting was employed. Photoflood bulbs and reflector lamps were the key components and I can  still remember many a burned finger trying to adjust the position of these lights!

but today with advancement in LED lighting more and more studios are converting to LED light panels if they do not shoot with studio flash equipment. Running costs are more lower, the heat generated is far less and some can be self powered meaning there is less likelihood of trip hazards from trailing power cables.

 

 

This is a typical 10 x 12 inch LED light panel from Yongnuo.

It has 600 LED's and can be adjusted fro 0 to 100% brightness in fine incremental steps.

 

At first you would imagine that the light output from these large panels would be adequate for both stills and videography as they do look very bright when turned on and set to maximum intensity.

In reality the light output is actually quite low and two or three lights may be needed, especially for video work where we need to use shutter speeds of around 1/60 second. For commercial work where the subjects are static then long exposure times can be used. However for portraiture type work large apertures may be required, or higher ISO settings, in order to make these work in this situation.

 

Apart from light intensity there are two other factors which must be considered when choosing and using these lights; colour temperature and colour rendering index (CRI).

 

Having just acquired a new app for my smartphone it makes it very easy to measure colour temperature now rather than having to shoot an image and look at it photoshop or lightroom

It was these two later parameters that I wanted to investigate more so I did a series of tests on the LED lights that I most frequently use and which are still generally available for sale on Amazon or Ebay.

To do the tests I used the Canon 5D mark 3 as Canon digital colour science, in my opinion, is extremely good.

I shot a series of test images using a 18% grey white balance card and a colour checker patch in daylight and with each of the LED's. I kept the LED's at exactly 1 metre from the subject to that I could get a comparative Light Level reading in LUX and translate this into exposure times at f5.6 and ISO 100.

 

 

This is a typical image from the test series:

 

Using the camera in AWB (auto white balance) enabled me to also see the range of automatic adjustment made by the camera in each colour temperature situation.

 

The meter shows the measure light level in Lux (x10) and I have indicated the camera exposure to give the correct exposure for the gray card. The colour patches show any variation in light output in terms of RGB as traditionally low CRI LED's may have green spikes or low red outputs.

 

here is the full gallery of the test images.

This is the Aputure AL-528W by Amaran:

It measured 5200K, so pretty close to daylight and produced 3000 lux at 1 metre with the diffuser fitted. Without it there is a slight noticeable fall off in this image set but the light increased to 4460 lux giving 1/3 stop extra light.

When the 3200K CTO filter that is supplied was fitted the light level dropped dramatically to just under 1000 lux and just over 1 f-stop needed to correct the exposure. Note how this shift was not accurately corrected by the Canon 5D mk3 - quite a surprise! it took a further adjustment in adobe photoshop to render the gray card correctly as seen in the last image.

This is the MCOPLUS LE-520B, soon to be replaced by two more powerful units.

I note I have made a mistake in labelling the lux output - it should be 780 and700 Lux, not 7800 and 7000 in images 1 and 3!

This is a two bank LED system, one bank made from 3200K LED's and the other one 5500K. This obviously drops the power output as only half the lights are on (unless you switch both banks on)

the measured colour temperature was slightly warm at 5130K with the 55K bank on but pretty close at 3140k with the 3200K bank on.

Again the %D was not able to correct the white balance and post processing was needed to bring the white balance back to neutral.

Exposure times were down to 1/13 sec to produce the correct exposure at 1 metre distance.

This is the Yongnuo 300 LED panel which is just one colour temperature. Again it measured slightly warm at 5060K in the supposed 5400K daylight mode. Quite a good output from this light although it is more compact and casts stronger shadows as it is more of a pin point light source compared to the larger panels. With the diffuser removed it gave 1/3 f-stop increase in light.

The two remaining lights were the typical small 32 and 64 LED lights sold as hot shoe mounted video lights.

With outputs down at 1/3 second these are really totally unsuited to video work unless the camera is within a few inches of your subject. They hardly produce enough light for fill in if used on camera in bright conditions out doors and at 67K are too cold to try and mix with tungsten light if filming indoors. They can me used as small accent lights in some scenes but not by any means key lighting.

So in summary what have I learned from this testing?

Well it confirmed that the newer light panels are now pretty close to their advertised colour temperatures and don't need colour gelling to get the right temperature. Colour rendering across all the lights now looks perfectly adequate for most amateur lighting use and when a manual white balance in camera is performed should give some very accurate colour reproduction.

What was a total surprise was the fact that the Canon 5D mk3 was unable to apply enough correction in the AWB mode to correct for scenes shot with the CTO orange filter fitted on the fixed temperature lights or with the 3200k LED lights.

 

The final composite is a sample of the LED lights showing the relative outputs, colour temperature and colour rendering