Review

 

A

s those that have been reading my articles and product reviews know, I have been going through a learning process to enable me take advantage of the potential I have with my HDSLR camera.  Many years ago I shot video, it was easy, everything was automatic from the built in mic to the zoom lenses with auto focus and exposure and even with some cool special effects.

I was the first kid on my block with the Sony Betamax and their camera system that included a heavy recorder connected to a video camera.  In those video days, I even worked on a number of projects with a medical malpractice attorney who had me shoot  “Day In The Life” videos. These videos were shown in court and demonstrated how his clients lives were impacted after a serious medical blunder.  I did this part time, but shot these and other personal or travel video for many years.

I stopped shooting video many years ago because I had no real way to edit them and returned to being a photographer. As we all know the newer HDSLR cameras and easy to use video editing software sparked my interest in shooting video again.  Unfortunately, unlike my older video cameras, shooting video with my DSLR camera still had many challenges but  I was determined to learn how to get the best videos possible with the equipment I had.

When I purchased my Nikon D7000 camera a couple of years ago, I found that taking some great video was possible, but the sound was a problem, especially in challenging situations, like shooting in a noisy trade show environment. As I shot more of these videos I knew there had to be a better way.

With the support of RODE, I was able to get better sound with their Videomic, which I have reviewed for IMPress. But even with this uni-directional mic that would eliminate some of the ambient sound at a trade show, I was still not there yet. At the April NAB Show in Vegas, I started to understand the importance of being able to actually monitor what I was recording, something I couldn’t do with the Nikon.

As I wrote in previous articles, shooting a video with a DSLR camera and not hearing the sound you are recording is like taking a photo and not seeing what you are shooting.

Beachtek DXA-SLR-Pro Audio Adapter

I begin to look for a better solution and found  Beachtek, the only company I know,  that has solved this problem and the reason for this review. The Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro is an audio adapter made specifically for DSLR cameras and the only real solution for anyone serious about getting quality sound to match the quality video one can take using some of the better DSLR cameras.

I don’t want to go over everything I wrote in my other reviews, so you can click here to read more about the Beachtek unit there.  I have included a video review of this unit at the end of the article by B&H Photo that goes over every feature of the unit and its settings. Be sure to watch it.

This product review is really about using the Beachtek and understanding how to set it up for professional sound on your videos.

Beachtek DXA SLR Pro

Product Highlights

  • For HDSLR Cameras
  • AGC Disabling Feature
  • Transformer Balanced Inputs
  • 2 Balanced XLR Inputs
  • Mic / Line Switchable
  • Built-in Limiter
  • Switchable 12 and 48V Phantom Power
  • Headphone Monitor Output
  • Mono / Stereo Output Switch
  • Low Noise Preamps with Gain Settings
     

My Trade Show Rig

The Beachtek unit is compact and is made to fit comfortably below your DSLR camera. It is such a nice fit that I found it easy to mount on a tripod or accessory bracket and it only added about 18 ounces to the weight of the camera set-up.

The case is a nicely finished black metal die cast aluminum housing with a rubberized front grip and camera mounting platform with a large camera mounting wheel that makes attaching the unit to your camera a breeze.

The power source is a 9 volt alkaline (about 3 hours of use) or lithium battery (8 hours of use) and the battery compartment has easy access from the front of the unit. You pull out the battery holder, pop in a new battery, insert it back into the battery opening in the adapter and you are back in business.

Unlike many other accessories I have, you won’t struggle changing batteries and you won’t waste valuable time doing it. There is a battery indicator light on the unit which is the On/Off switch that will turn red from green when the battery is low.

The two inputs on the side of the unit is made to accept most pro mics and are two transformer balanced XLR connections.  To enable use of the 3.5mm mini plugs on many videomics, is easy with a simple mini to XLR adapter.  On the same side you will see a Monitor In jack which will enable you to connect the AV cable to the camera (some cameras will require another adapter to enable monitoring recorded sound from your camera).  The Out jack connect to your camera.  It is that easy.

See What This Unit Looks Like Here

 
Two Examples Of Sound At Trade Shows

I have two videos that will show you the differences.  The first one was was shot at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Vegas with a RODE Stereo Videomic connected directly into my Nikon.  Although much better then my built in Mic, it still had limitations and I had no way to control the sound levels. Watch the Kata Bag video in my Mic review at NAB here. Notice all the ambient sound.

The second video was at the International Gift Show in New York.  Watch that video and you can see I was using the Beachtek with a RODE M1  live performance dynamic mic.    Rock-solid quality,  high-power microphone designed to provide the very best performance in studio or rugged conditions.  I chose this one because it is easy for those people I interview to hold and also enabled me to use our company Mic Flag on it so the viewer can see our IMPress and IPA logos which is a great way to brand our videos and prevent others using our clips without proper authorization.

Notice how clean the sound is and the absence of ambient sound.  Remember, I was still testing this system and for a first time out of the box, with the correct settings on the Beachtek, I think you will agree is is far better then any of my previous efforts.

 
My Beachtek Settings

The RODE M1 has the standard XLR output, but I purchased an XLR to mini cord and ended up having to attach that mini to a mini to XLR adapter for the Beachtek.   A bit strange, don’t ask, but it worked just fine.

Since I was only using one mic to record my subjects, I used the Right input jack on the Beachtek and on the control panel set my recording for M (monaural), on the M/S switch. I would then be monitoring the levels on the right channel only.   I had my right  LIN/MIC/PH switch to MIC.  Since this is a dynamic mic, I didn’t need to use the PH or Phantom Power.  The Phantom switch was set to 12V to conserve battery life. There is no Off setting here, but when you set your LIN/MIC/PH switch to MIC, it shuts off the Phantom power.

My gain Limiter switch on the right channel was on and the gain was set to HI.  The Beachtek instruction manual will explain these settings and the B&H video will show you in great detail too.  The AGC DSBL switch was off, and I went into my Nikon’s Movie Settings and set the Microphone from Auto to Low, the best setting using this unit.  I was going to control my levels through the Beachtek. I had my Monitor setting for REC, if I wanted to playback the clip I just recorded I would have to set this for REC.

Beachtek has a great video that explains the features of this unit too…watch it now

Ready To Record

Once I was ready, I did a sound check. Watched how the subject held the mic, corrected this if need be and set my right input level to or around -12db.  This is a good spot to get the proper sound.  I watched the levels as I was recording to make sure it didn’t drop because the subject moved the mic away from their mouth  or if they changed the volume of their speech. Without the meters, you could end up recording very poor sound which I did on a previous show review. You can see some issues on this Lingerie Show video after the first company I interviewed.  I totally lost the sound and wasn’t sure why.

Power switch was on, mic plugged into the unit properly and tight and head my Sensheiser Headphones comfortably on my head.  On a later shoot, I decided to go light and used a nice pair of ear buds instead of the headphones. It did the job and I will use the headphones when moving fast and light is not a priority.

In one situation, I recorded a speaker, twice and when I played it back couldn’t hear her.  I checked all my setting and the mic connection and all seemed O.K., then I noticed the mini plug from the unit to my camera was not plugged in. No wonder I got no sound. Fast fix and off we went again and I was able to record perfect sound.

Videomic Pro set to record speaker, reversed in shoe to record my voice.

My Rig  – One-Man-Band

Now I decided on another configuration that would enable me to use two mics, one was the Rode Videomic Pro on my cameras hot shoe and set toward me (backwards). I would use this mic to record my voice in an interview situation. Since I am a one man band with no assistance, I need to stay behind the camera at all times.  So this Videomic would be my mic.  I used the M1 for my subject and that would be in the second line input.  Now I could record both Left and Right channels, set my Beachtek for both and set each channels levels properly.

Now working with the Beachtek was a breeze.  Once I was able to get all the switches set properly with the help of Harry Kaufmann at Beachtek, who walked me through the initial set-up, I was good to go.

I shot with the Beachtek using a K-Tek, Norbert Sport bracket that allowed me to add two LED Lights, one was a Manfrotto and the other was the LitePanels Chroma.  On one assignment I set this rig up on my Manfrotto Carbon Fiber tripod, but found the entire set up was bulky, heavy and hard to carry from one exhibit at a trade show to the next.  The Norbert Bracket was designed for hand held shooting as you will see on their website, but I wanted to give it a try for my assignment.

On my second outing to the International Gift Fair in New York, I decided to use my Manfrotto Fluid Monopod with a video head, both with and without the Norbert bracket. I was trying to keep this set up as light as possible and to keep the profile small as I ran through the aisles of this enormous show.

With little or no time for preparation or pause I have to “run and gun” on my video productions. This technique is becoming more common for video producers who are looking to capture real-time quality content. You have seen this raw technique in film and video productions today.  It is a way of preserving the authenticity and realism of what you are shooting and is always used in reality based videos and films.

I found mounting the camera and Beachtek directly on the monopod and then using only one light mounted in the cameras accessory shoe was the perfect way to run and shoot set up for me.  It was much lighter, I could quickly disassemble the rig, taking the light off the camera and the Beachtek and camera unit of the monopod and back into my camera bag a better way to cover these shows.

Since I spend part of the time at the shows interviewing company spokespersons and the other part shooting still images and video clips of the shows to include in my finished video, this seemed to be the best way to travel. I did put my camera and tripod bag on a small aluminum folding cart I purchased for around $30 that made it easier for me to move quickly through the show without getting fatigued half way through the day.

I am confident now that I have the basics I need to get the job done.  Can I do better in the future, you bet, but for now, this one man band is playing a pretty nice tune.

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

 DXA-SLR Pro Specs
Maximum Input Mic: -3 dBu
Line: +14 dBu
Output Level Nominal microphone levels
Frequency Response 20 Hz to 20 Khz, +/-0.5 dB
THD less than 0.01% @ 1 kHz, -30 dBu input
SNR 85 dB @ 1 kHz, -30 dBu input
Gain LO Gain: 0 dB
HI Gain: 15 dB
Phantom Power Dual regulated 12 or 48 V power supplies 1
VU Meter -18 dB to +3 dB in 3 dB increments
Power Requirements 9 V alkaline or lithium battery
Battery / Runtime Alkaline: 3 hours typical (no phantom)
Lithium: 8 hours typical (no phantom)
Dimensions (WxDxH) 6 x 3.75 x 1.75″ (152 x 95 x 45 mm)
Weight 18 oz (510 g)
 
First Look – October 1, 2012 –  DXA-SLR MINI

All you DSLR users with small budgets that still want quality sound and audio control, read what is coming soon from Beachtek.  If you already own a VideoMic, or need to go out and buy a good one like the RODE Videomic Pro, Beachtek’s newest entry the DXA-SLR Mini is what you need.

Same great features as its big brother DXA-SLR PRO with low noise preamps, limiters and a VU meter but have removed the phantom power and line features which are not needed for these mics. It is also ideal for wireless mics as well.

 Lighter, less expensive and now has replaced the two XLR inputs with the 3.5mm inputs and was designed to work perfectly with Rode VideoMic, VideoMic Pro and Stereo
VideoMic as well as most other  video mics.

I will be using one and reviewing it in October for my coverage of the PDN PhotoPlus Show.  You will be able to see actual footage from the show review to show you just how this new unit performs in this difficult shooting environment.  This is the perfect marriage for those Run and Gun, One-Man-Band guys with a tight budgets and demanding assignments.

 


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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.