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Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

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Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby Filmschool » Thu Feb 22, 2018 11:51 pm

We are a small group who are doing short film shoots. One person is experienced in filming but not sound, another of our group (a musician) has a Zoom H1 (which I gather is good for recording music indoors) but we have been struggling with sound outdoors or in a hall with many people. When we used the H1 attached to the end of a pole it was ok outside, except for picking up distant noise. A camera mic was hopeless in a room of ambient noise. The camera man has bought a directional mic to attach to his camera but apparently there are still problems.

Does anyone have experience in this sort of area just to give a view? We'll be filming indoors (mostly quiet areas, but potentially sometimes in a hall with the public) or outdoors (with just a few actors). We may possibly record instruments but that will be later.
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Re: Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby Matt Houghton » Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:57 am

I'm sure there'll be people with more experience of film sound than me along shortly. But...

What kind of sound are you going for — one-person dialogue, many people, atmosphere etc? Do you have any budget available? What other equipment do you have available?

The ultra-budget approach for dialogue would be to use only one channel from the Zoom — it's currently arranged as two cardioids in XY, so if you point it in the right direction you could use one mic as a mono cardioid dialogue mic, and mix that with a stereo ambience track from the camera. Like I said, that's the ultra-budget solution; it's not the one I recommend.

Camera-mounted mics aren't the best IMO. For one thing, you need to operate the camera, which can mean handling noise. For another, the camera's rarely placed where you want the mic. Fine for home videos, or where you just need dialogue intelligibility for what the camera's pointing at (eg TV reporter), but of little use for anything else. A shotgun on a boom will be a better option.

If I were trying to set up a budget film recording rig from scratch, I might think about using a DSLR (a cheap 2nd hand one like my Canon EOS 550D or the later 600D would do the job — and maybe look up 'Magic Lantern' firmware, which can disable things like auto gain correction, to make it a better audio recorder...). And pairing that with an audio recorder like the Tascam DR70D or DR60D, or cheaper than those the Marantz PMD706 or PMD 602A. They allow you to plug in any professional mic to their XLR inputs, and they can be mounted beneath the DSLR so one person can operate both camera and recorder.

A cheaper approach for amateur productions on a budget still would be to shoot with iPhones or decent Android phones, and use some form of audio interface for better mics — not perfect by any means, but sufficient to learn the important stuff about setting up the shot, lighting, placing the mics etc. before upgrading to better kit later.

As for the mics, it all really depends on what you're trying to record, in what sort of environment. Don't forget that a lot of pro productions feature extensive ADR, with voices recorded in a studio. And for outdoors, there are accessories such as windshields to consider...
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Re: Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Feb 23, 2018 11:53 am

Filmschool wrote:...we have been struggling with sound outdoors or in a hall with many people.

I'm not surprised. Capturing good location sound is massively more difficult that getting pretty pictures. There is no microphone equivalent of the zoom lens, despite the claims and presumptions over 'rifle mics'.

Basically, you need to get a mic as close as you possibly can to the person talking, and that means either a mic on a 'fishpole' boom swung directly overhead literally just out of the camera frame, by someone who knows what they're doing, or using lavalier mics on the actors connected to radio packs or pocket-recorders like the H1. The third option is not to record usable location sound at all, but to fake it all in post production... which is sometimes done, but it is equally challenging and much more time-consuming.

When we used the H1 attached to the end of a pole it was ok outside, except for picking up distant noise.

Yes... well it will do that because it is a stereo array of XY cardioids, so it has a pickup area which is more or less a hemisphere. Not the ideal tool for the job... but you do have the right idea with placement.

A camera mic was hopeless in a room of ambient noise. The camera man has bought a directional mic to attach to his camera but apparently there are still problems.

Yes, there will be, because the on-camera mic is miles away from the people talking. The mic might be 'directional' but it won't be directional enough to work from that kind of distance!

However, if you attached that mic to the pole and swung it over the talking heads, pointing it as necessary you might be able to get something much more usable.

We'll be filming indoors (mostly quiet areas, but potentially sometimes in a hall with the public) or outdoors (with just a few actors).

If you're filming outdoors, decent windshielding is absolutely essential. A bit of foam over the mic won't be enough by a long margin.

There are countless video clips online showing professional film and TV crews at work. Take a look and see what they are using and how they're using it. That will give you some good clues.

If this is a one-off thing then, rather than buying inadequate equipment, I would recommend hiring some basic but decent professional gear.

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Re: Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 23, 2018 1:35 pm

I've been doing similar budget video stuff at work recently and, unsurprisingly, I'm largely just going to parrot Matt and Hugh's comments above. If you're in a controlled environment you can get perfectly good quality with your kit but I would also invest in a shotgun mic.
As soon as you start straying into public rooms then it's going to be a nightmare for anything other than close miking. We have a cardiod lavalier mic for this kind of stuff.
Going outside adds another level of technical challenge, even on the calmest of days. You'll probably get some benefit from a 'dead cat' wind device but it can't work miracles.
What can do wonders (not quite miracles but quite scarily impressive) is Izotope's RX elements. It has a variety of audio clean up tools (and comes in a more extensive/expensive version as well) and some of them are very effective. Where we're shooting we have a lot of air-con noise which, being broadband, can't be defeated with a simple high-pass filter. The de-noise feature on Elements was so effective at taking this out that I tend to dial it back from what it's capable of because it sounds creepily like the interviewee is speaking directly into your ear.
You can download it as a trial version first as well so no purchase is necessary to see if it's going to help you out, and it works as a plug-in directly in Final Cut Pro so you don't need a standalone DAW.

For the record, I have no connection or affiliation with Izotope or any related company etc etc etc. :)
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Re: Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby Filmschool » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:31 pm

Thank you to everyone for all this, it is very interesting. I've asked other members of the 'team' to take a look, so may come back to you, but in the meantime - thanks!
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Re: Zoom H1 / directional mic for small film sound?

Postby The Coastal Path » Sun Feb 25, 2018 2:35 am

Lots of good advice. Getting good pictures and good sound are both tricky. You should certainly record the sound to a separate recorder and use a slate to sync the picture and sound afterwards.

My experience tells me problems often start before filming: it is easy to look at visually good locations and forget to use your ears when choosing where to shoot. After 30 years I still make this mistake. Part of the audio decision is aesthetic - I generally like my dialogue to be recorded with a perspective that matches the camera - so that might mean lots of room ambience and the mic a distance from the cast. But typically in a film mix, this sound is reinforced with each actor’s voice reinforced with an individual lav mic.

On a budget, I would invest in one decent shotgun mic recording to a simple digital recorder (always likely to be better than a lav) - and more importantly a slave/trainee with a long fishpole who is willing and able to learn each scene and swing the mic into the optimal position to capture optimal sound depending who is speaking . And that is a skill in its own right...
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