Recording Great Sound for DSLR Media Productions

Coming from a film background, the idea of shooting dual system sound has never seemed foreign to me.  In fact, it was one of the things I loved when I started shooting with my HDSLR camera-that “film” feeling.  For the first time, even on a lower budget, I felt like a filmmaker again… and not just a filmmaker with a video camera.  Even the idea of the file size limitation at 12 minutes of shooting felt like I had just put on 1000 foot magazine.  The entire feeling of shooting with a DSLR feels so much like shooting film-I find it intoxicatingly exciting, exhilarating and creative.

This is why I find it interesting when people complain about having to record sound separately.  Pretty much every feature film is shot using a dual system recording and, ultimately, this serves to get better sound in the end.  Of course, the newer DSLR cameras like the Cannon 5d Mark III have a much better sound system that is adjustable but, I still feel that if you want the best sound, you’ll record it separately and, if your production can afford it, you’ll have a sound mixer/recordist on set to do the proper adjusting.

For the purposes of this post I wanted to share what we use when doing a lot of our corporate promotional work.  First, let’s talk tools.

Whether you’re shooting with a Cannon t2i, t3i, 7d, 5d, or pretty much any camera out there, you should record reference sound into the camera for syncing purposes as well as back up.  In order to create a sync point it’s best to use a slate that you can clap.  This will serve as both a visual and audio reference.  I also recommend adding a shotgun microphone like the Rode mic to your camera, but if you can only afford to use the on-board mic recording that comes with your camera, it will do the basics of the job.

To achieve the best sound possible it’s best to record onto a separate sound recording device using a lavaliere microphone (either hard lined or wireless, although wireless does cause some challenges).   If you’re shooting a narrative you may want to opt for a shotgun mic and boom as well as a boom operator, depending on your budget.  At the end of the day, the sound should be recorded into either a laptop with some type of breakout device (ie Mbox, Presonus, etc.).  Of course, your sound recordist will be keeping an eye on the actual levels going into the computer.

If you’re on your own, you can still achieve great sound recording separately by attaching your lavaliere system to your mac/pc, getting initial levels from your talent, and then hitting record on both the laptop and then your camera.  You may want to set your initial mix at a little lower level than your initial levels because on camera talent often give you a different level than what they perform at once the camera rolls.  You can record sound into a Presonus USB device which can handle XLR balanced audio input or the M series which does the same thing and is tied to ProTools.

We’ll cover the workflow for the post production process with this system in a future post but for now this should give DSLR users some ideas about how to record dual system sound as well as reminding the DSLR filmmaking community that this tried and true way of recording sound has been around for a long time and will continue to be the go to for high quality production sound recording.

20 thoughts on “Recording Great Sound for DSLR Media Productions

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