When you’re a hobbyist DSLR guy like me and try to make your first videos, you will most likely be busy getting the visuals right first. After a while, you may have the idea of turning the sound on when whatching the videos you recorded. At that time, you are most likely be shocked by the cruel audio quality of your oh so great and expensive DSLR!
I thought they gotta be kidding me when I first heard it. My thought was like: I spend € 2000.- on a D800 body, and THIS SHIT is what it gives you for audio?!
Yes, it’s true. Audio quality of DSLRs sucks hard. Why? Some of the most obvious problems with the built-in DSLR audio include:
- Handling noise: The mic is directly attached to the camera without any shockmount (and additionally, it is not directional). So it records the handling noise of the camera, e.g., you pressing buttons / moving the camera, zooming the lens, etc.
- Mic quality: The mic most likely has high self noise and/or is not sensitive enough.
- Wind (outdoors only): Even very little wind may cause ugly hissing, because the mic has no dead cat or similar protection against wind.
- Dependent on camera: You cannot move the mic (independently of the camera). Note that this means you cannot ask somebody to talk directly into the mic — he would not be in the frame of the camera anymore (or be VERY close and look very stupid).
Options to solve the problem
So what can you do to get better audio with a DSLR? This depends on what you want to record, which quality you need, etc. But the general options include:
- Ignore / circumvent the problem: Decide that audio is not that important or convince yourself that the quality you have is good enough. Or decide to simply not use the recorded audio at all — use background music only for the videos, or whatever. Pros: Dirt cheap, little work! Cons: Crappy or no audio.
- Buy a video mic: buy a standard, rather cheap (€ 80 — € 200) video mic (like Rode VideoMic, Shure VP83 or similar stuff from other companies). These get mounted in the camera hot shoe, the data is send to your camera for recording via the 3.5 mm jack. Pros: Improves problems 1, 2 and 3 listed above. Rather cheap, medium amount of work (audio is part of the video). Cons: Does not address problem 4. Whether the other problems get solved or only improved depends on your application.
- Record with an external device: Get a handy recorder (Zoom H4N, Tascam DR-40 or similar stuff from other companies). These are devices with a size between an old cell phone and a Game Boy — you may be able to force them into your pocket, and it is possible to attach them to a DSLR. They have a built-in microphone and they record to internal SD cards these days. Priced between € 180 and € 400. If you don’t go for the cheapest ones, they usually have 2 XLR inputs — this is interesting for high quality audio, because XLR is what professional microphones use! Pros: Possibility to get very good quality. Cons: Expensive, more work (handle 2 devices, sync audio to video later, post-process audio to get even better quality?).
Actually, the last option could be subdivided further.
- Record with an external device, but not to it. That is, use the mic of the device, but not the recorder (and storage). Instead, route the audio signal back into the camera for recording (from the monitoring output of the device to the 3.5 mm mic input jack on the camera). Note that this requires a special cable: the mic input on a DSLR requires a mic-level audio signal, and the headphone output of a handy recorder is line-level (see this article by Sam Mallery for details). Pros: Uses good mic of external device, no need to sync audio. Cons: ?
- Also record to the device. Pros: No need for special cable, can use advanced features of the recording device, e.g., audio filters. Cons: Need to sync audio later
That’s it for now. You now know some options to get better audio when filming with your DSLR.