Reviews

May 2, 2012

Mics For Your HDSLR Camera • RØDE VideoMic’s & SHURE FP Wireless

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t the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, April 2012, we did an informal test of the new SHURE FP Wireless mic system. This package was designed for the HDSLR users who need better sound then the built in mics in their HDSLR cameras.

RØDE Microphones – VideoMic Pro

Since we came to the show with two RØDE VideoMics, which we love, we decided to look for a wireless system to add to our growing sound equipment list.  Since RØDE doesn’t make wireless mics and are known for their excellent on camera mics we decided to look for a system that would be affordable and offer the same high quality we have become used to, using the RØDE mics and our Nikon D7000.  We have always been a fan of SHURE products so it was a natural to visit them at the show and check out their wireless systems.

A wireless system becomes important for the DSLR user when the subject is not close to the camera or mic or when you simply can’t be tethered to a line cord.  I recently did a review of a new Holland America Lines cruise ship , the Nieuw Amsterdam.  I found I had limitations with my RØDE Videomic, because of the subject matter and location of my assignment, not the quality of the sound I would get with the mic.

I would have loved to tour the ship with a wireless mic in my hand, while my camera man was following me around the ship. Would have been great to have a wireless as I was sliding through the jungles of Jamaica on a Zip Line.  But the best thing I can think of is being able to talk to my audience as I walk toward the camera from the ships deck.

The Videomic is mounted on the hot show of my camera and is a shotgun or uni-directional mic. The problem with this set up is that  each time I panned away from my subject, I lost the sound. You can find out more about this issue in my review of the RØDE VideoMics.  Going to a wireless system would have been better especially when interviewing some of the people we met on the ship.

RODE Stereo VideoMic

When doing my interviews of the ships hotel manager and then their culinary manager, I would have liked to have clipped on a little cordless lavalier mic. If you view my interviews you can see that I probably should have set the RØDE video mic’s input level at +20db to boost it up while making proper adjustments in the Nikon menu to the cameras sound level adjustment. If I was able to actually hear what I was recording it would have been a no-brainer, but that was not the case.  If I had a boom on a stand or a sound person to get the mic closer to my subject that would have worked as well.  Not having any way to determine the sound I was actually getting was basically, working blind. This is not a smart way to work with new equipment on a critical assignment, I simply wasn’t prepared as much as I would have liked.

So I believe that if you are a “One Man Band” as many of us are, you may want to own both systems.  I do understand cost is another important factor in making decisions on new equipment today, but the RØDE Mics are priced right for just about anyone that wants great sound on their videos and is truly a must for anyone serious about their work.

The RØDE VideoMic which we reviewed on IMPress retails just under $150, their newer RØDE Video Mic Pro which has the ability to adjust the gain and input levels easier then the Videomic, and is much smaller,  is about $80 more. The RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro is again one step up and retails for just under $300, but remember this is a broadcast quality stereo mic and many use it when they need that wider sound source. Great for recording musical performances or when you need to pick up the ambient sound in a shooting environment.

The video below is raw, unedited right from our SD card as it was recorded at the show. You can see Doug Feldner Product Manger for Manfrotto Distribution, USA talking about their new Kata bags. He is holding the RØDE Stereo Videomic.

Compare this to our video at the end of this article. You can see how important it is to monitor what you are recording.  This is acceptable to me, yet the SHURE interview is not. Point I am trying to make in this article is that the equipment is not the problem, the lack of being able to monitor what you are recording is.

So if you are with IPA or cover media events, trade shows and other projects that are filled with lots of loud ambient sound, you need to select the mic that will do the job for that particular assignment. It is no different then selecting the proper lens for your camera.  I want you to think of sound the same way you would think of the visual portion of your project, both sound and picture are the two equal components in a video project.  Great shots or video footage and poor sound can ruin even the most beautiful projects.  So for all photographers who want to transition, you need to have a selection of mics and recording equipment similar to the selection of photographic equipment you are now using.

Now Lets Talk Wireless

A decent wireless set-up, of course has many more components to their systems, (click here to see press release on the new SHURE FP System). They will probably have a cordless mic that will transmit the sound to a receiver mounted on the camera and in some cases, other optional items like a plug in transmitter that will work with any XLR mic.

The cost to go wireless will be greater of course, but you can’t really compare a wireless set up to a wired mic, they are two different animals, although sound quality is one thing they share.  So depending on what you are shooting, you will need to make a decision which mic or mic’s to purchase or take with you on an assignment.  Both systems are great and will do the job, so it isn’t easy to make a fair comparison because sound quality is not the only factor. We use a zoom lens to get close to our subject, but if you use a shotgun or on camera mic, you may not hear your subject from a distance, so wireless becomes your mic of choice in those situations.

Tamron 10-24mm Zoom Lens

I shoot with an 10-24mm wide angle Tamron zoom lens and an 18-270mm Tamron telephoto zoom lens.

I realize now that I may need to pack a couple of mics based on what I will be shooting and which lenses I will be using. For me, it is a matter of trial and error now and a learning process that I want to share with my readers. As I have read other articles, I see most of us newbies to HDSLR videography seem to have the same questions and I hope I can give you some clear answers as I experiment and try new techniques and new products.

At the NAB Show we had our RØDE Mics set with their High Pass filter on and  levels at -10dB PAD, because we were told that this would limit the very loud ambient sound on the convention floor and if our mic was close to the subject we would still pick the speakers voice.  You will see how this worked on some of our show interviews.

Tamron 18-270mm Zoom Lens

We left our Nikon D7000 mic setting on auto which was probably a mistake, but we are still learning. Might have been wiser to set the Nikon level at medium. The Nikon D7000 has the following mic settings, Auto, High, Medium, Low and Off.  Doesn’t have a levels meter or any way to determine what is coming into the camera, so once again it is all trial and error and not easy to control the sound quality you are recording…but we do have a solution, read on.

SHURE FP Wireless System

We were very impressed with the SHURE FP system which is brand new and designed for the HDSLR user.  It gives us wireless capability and at a cost that is less then a decent camera lens. The RØDE VideoMic Pro was used on camera in the camera’s hot shoe for the first test we did with Bill Oakley at SHURE. We then decided to try it with our RØDE Stereo VideoMic which is an omni-directional mic which we placed on a RØDE handle and handed to Bill to hold close to his mouth. The mic was then connected to the Nikon D7000 who’s internal mic levels were also set at AUTO, High Pass filter ON and -10 dB input level (PAD).

Beachtek DXA-SLR PRO audio adapter

Unfortunately there is no way to monitor the sound on site, other then trying to listen on a direct playback from the camera body, which is a very difficult way to tape these shows because of all the ambient noise. We were told about the new Beachtek DXA-SLR PRO audio adapter that will offer the user the ability to record with two mics,  monitor the sound input, adjust audio levels to prevent clipping or other issues and basically have total control of our recorded sound.

Harry Kaufmann at Beachtek describes this unit as…”A compact adapter that docks to the base of the HDSLR, providing XLR inputs for professional mics, VU Meters to monitor signal strength, tactile control of fade and gain, and most importantly, an AGC disable feature that enables certain HDSLRs to record noise-free audio”

See a great review of the Beachtec from B&H Photo Here. IPA members email us for a special offer to our members from Beachtec.

Conclusion

I believe both systems are necessary because sound quality is not only based on the mic you are using but on the assignment.  There are so many factors dealing with sound. This is no different then a photographer dealing with light, composition, color balance and his equipment.  In order to be prepared for each challenge you will probably end up using various sound equipment and may even use two mics with your DSLR.  But one thing is certain,  you must be prepared for any situation when you go on an assignment.

Remember, we are comparing apples to oranges here and it is not fair to compare a $150 wired mic to a $600 wireless system, but we learned a lot about the limitations with our current set up.  The overall results of all three mics, was good, not great, but we know what to do the next time out of the gate.  So it isn’t about the cost of these mics, because as we see, each one is capable of doing a great job, provided we know what we are doing. One thing I have learned, you must be able to monitor the sound you are recording when you are on assignment.  Some cameras, especially the latest ones make this easy to do, but most of us, won’t have this ability in the cameras we are using.

You can get great sound with these and other mics, but you must have the Beachtec adapter, or trade up to a current, high end camera or be prepared to test each mic in the actual working environment and know exactly what the results will be when you finally set up to do the actual shoot.  With the Beachtek, even a beginner can get the correct settings on his mics and monitor the recordings on-site.

Because our incorrect settings on the RØDE mics and on our Nikon, we didn’t get the results we could have gotten. It probably would have been better if we knew what we were doing before hand.  For the sake of this article we can’t really make a fair comparison, but I will be adding some other video clips to give you a better idea of the RODE mics at other booths at the show that are much better then this one.

We had no idea what the settings were on the SHURE FP Wireless system, but as you will see in our video tests, the sound  seems cleaner. levels are better, but still a bit off.  I blame this on our inability to monitor the sound on location and make necessary corrections in our settings, this is why I have left this video in this article to point out how important it is to monitor the sound on location. From what we saw at SHURE and the many videos we saw using this new FB system, this appears to be a winner and we look forward to future tests in actual challenging situations using our mics both wired and wireless with the Beachtec adapter. I can guarantee we will get it right.

Being free of wires, that don’t appear in our video’s or tangle, plus offering us the ability to record the speaker only and eliminate most of not all of the ambient sound are two advantages of this system when covering our shows.  I can see my camera bag growing as I keep adding new equipment, but if you want to do the job right, you need a few good lenses and now a few good mics, it is, what it is.

Although the complete SHURE wireless system can cost more then a couple of great RØDE mics, either system can cost you less then a decent lens for your camera.  It has become clear to me that having the right sound equipment,  either wired or  wireless,  will give you the ability to get the clean crisp sound that will  match your HD video, and once you see and hear the difference using this system you will appreciate the value of shooting this way and will never go back.

If you are on a tight budget and still want a quality mic, buy a RØDE videomic, either the mono or stereo version, they will do the job.  If you have a larger budget, or require the ability to get great sound, need the freedom wireless will give you and need to be mobile, then you want to add a wireless system. We recommend the SHURE FP Wireless system.

Now if you really have even more bucks, hit the lottery or the family wants to know what you want for your birthday, then you can buy the RØDE Videomic Pro and the SHURE FP Wireless system. Of course by now you know you also must have the  Beachtek DXA-SLR PRO too.  One last note, many videographers will use a stand alone recorder that has its own mics and can also accept external mics. One of the downsides of having the recorder is dealing with syncing the audio track to the video track and that is the subject of a future article.

This article was intended to give you, the beginner, enough information to get going on the basics of sound recording with your DSLR. I wanted to point out some of the restrictions you will have with many HDSLR cameras and how to overcome them. It is meant to get you thinking a bit more about the quality of your images and  video, but also the sound.  Watch our video of Bill Oakley using all three mics in this article and talking about the new SHURE FP Wireless system.

Note:  Because we had no way to monitor the input levels of our mics during this interview, or a way to even test different settings on the mics and the camera, this video will not be as impressive as it could be.  None of the three tests offer superior sound although they are so much better then the sound we got from the internal mic on my Nikon.   I was not completely happy with these results, but from our experience with the RØDE mics around this show, we found them to work perfectly and look forward to using them when our Beachtec unit arrives.  Please visit our NAB Show Review and see our full video there. Please pay attention to the sound from our Videomics. We tried a number of different recording options, to see how they would perform in this difficult environment.  Even though our mic and Nikon settings might have been less then ideal, I learned a lot from this assignment.

Watch for a more extensive review on the new SHURE FP system as we put it to the test at other events we cover. ipaimpress.com

Big thanks to our sponsors, especially our friends at RØDE and Beachtek, who have been so generous with their time, products and advice.

 


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About the Author

Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 40 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.




 
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