Microphone 101: An introduction to capturing audio

Failure is an Option
I’ve been wanting to put together video reviews for a while, so I tried a quick test by shooting a chat about my DJI Phantom 3 Pro.  As you can see (and hear), it did not go so well.  Actually, it went significantly worse than well (arguably, it went significantly worse than bad!).  The footage itself was good, but the audio left a lot to be desired.

So, audio became a quest; I wanted to capture good audio and I was going to get to the bottom of it – one way or another. This video is the result of that quest: a brief tutorial and intro for anyone asking themselves the question: how can I record good audio for video?

What’s out, What’s in
You can flat-out forget about relying on your camera’s built-in mic: whether its on your phone, iPad or mirrorless/DSLR.  Built-in mics are designed to pickup everything and anything.  Audio, in a sense, is similar to photography.  It’s  said a good photo is more about what is left out than what is included.  The same applies to capturing audio: it’s what’s left out that makes good sound.  You only want to hear what you want to hear – not everything else in the environment.

Mics: some options
In short, you have 3 options: lavaliers, shotguns, and boom mics.

Lavaliers are what’s commonly known as clip-on mics.  They sit close to speaker’s  mouth to capture the audio.  This allows for the ambient noise to be left out (though a lavalier can be lowered on the wearer to allow more environmental sounds to be picked up).

Shotgun mics are mounted on top of the camera and are used commonly when you have multiple speakers talking directly at the camera.  In such situations, you don’t want to capture and mix audio from multiple lavaliers.  A shotgun is what you’ll go for.  Keep in mind that a shotgun mic is directional: it’ll capture what’s in front of it.  The better it is, the better it is at keeping the “cone” small.

Boom mics are basically highly directional shotguns on an extension pole (aka the boom).   Just about any mic can be a boom mic really- the boom just gets you closer to the speaker and allows you to turn the mic sensitivity down so it picks up less of the sound in the environment.  Just about every movie you’ve seen has used a boom mic for the audio.  Booms are great, but not very practical for most YouTubers as booms are typically at the higher end of the price scale- not to mention you’ll also need an assistant to hold the mic and keep it pointed at you.

Let’s not forget HandHeld mics: handhelds are great because you can be right up to the speaker and eliminate ambient sound.   They also allow you to a great deal of mobility and the ability to pickup audio from multiple speakers (i.e. they’re great for interviews).  They suffer, however, from the disadvantage of being, well, handheld!  I can never use a handheld, it would drive me insane as I am pretty animated and use my hands a lot when I speak.  You’d never hear me because the mic would be everywhere except near my mouth.

What’s In the Tutorial
Lavaliers

Shotgun Mics

Booms

I also also had a couple handhelds, most notably the Sennheiser MD-46.

Notes on the Audio
You can hear the lavaliers and shotguns in the video- be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.  My two favorite mics were the Rode SmartLav+ and the Sennhesier Clip-Mic Digital (powered by Apogee).  The Apple EarPods were a surprisingly passable option – just about everyone has a set and using them to capture audio is way better than just relying on your camera’s mic.  If you’re the “I like life hacks” type: you now have a new trick up your sleeve!

The SmartLav+and Clip-Mic Digital were pretty close.  The Sennheiser was the stronger mic, but if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the SmartLav+.

As for shotguns, the Rode VideoMicro and VideoMic Me are basically the same mic with different mounting/connection options.  They were pretty close in sound.  I did prefer the Rode VideoMic Go even though it is the largest of the three.  I also think the two other mics would benefit from a windsock (aka windscreen aka dead kitten) and would yield better audio if used with one.  The said, the nice thing about the VideoMic Me is you don’t need a mount for it – just plug it into your phone/iPod and you’re good to go.  Keep in mind you can easily use any shotgun with your phone if you use something like the iOgrapher.

iOgrapher with Mic and Light

As expected, the Rode NTG3 performed exceptionally well.  I didn’t demonstrate this in the video, but even a small turn of the mic resulted in a change in amplitude.  Be sure to correctly point the mic or your audio will peak and valley all over the place!  Incidentally, the Auray ABP-47B boompole was fantastic.  The built-in cable made connecting, and handling, the NTG3 a breeze.

And, while we’re on the subject of boompoles, the Rode Micro Boompole Pro ($99) was incrediably  light!  You barely know it’s there – especially when using it with the VideoMicro.

What should you buy
This really depends on what you’re doing.  If you’re just starting out, I’d say start with your earbuds and see if they meet your needs.  From there, you really can’t go wrong with the Rode VideoMicro (if you want to go the shotgun route).  The Clip-Mic Digital, again, would be my choice for a lavalier.

Let me know what you end up with, or just ask any questions you have below in the comments.

Syrp Genie Mini: Motion Control that won’t break your back or your wallet

A Portable Motion Control Head
Motion control gear for video and timelapse isn’t known for its portability.  Motion control heads have been getting smaller, and more portable, in recent years.  Yet, finding a solid, small, but easy to use motion control head isn’t, well, easy.

New to the fray is the Syrp’s Genie Mini.  Priced at $249, it’s  relatively inexpensive for a feature-rich single-axis motion control head that can handle 8.8lbs panning and 6.6lbs titling (more than enough capacity for most camera bodies) .  It’s also small (really small).  It’s Just take a look at how it compares to its big brother (sister?) the Syrp Genie, Radian from Alpine labs, and an iPhone 6s.

From left to right: Syrp Genie, Alpine Labs Radian, Syrp Genie Mini and iPhone 6s

From left to right: Syrp Genie, Alpine Labs Radian, Syrp Genie Mini and iPhone 6s

Elegant Design
At 3.6” x 1.56” it doesn’t take up a lot of room in my camera bag.  It’s also pretty light (8.1oz/230g) and doesn’t add much weight to my gear bag.  That’s awesome for long hikes making it easy to want to bring it along.

It also sports an attractive design aesthetic.  The rubber shell is thick, yet smooth, and soft, to the touch.  I was initially put-off by the cork top (preferring the minimalist black rubber top of its larger sibling,) but the mini’s cork retro styling grew on me.  From a feel perspective, it feels solid and has a nice heft to it.  There’s also no wiggle/play in the head which makes it well suited for captures on windy days (something the Alpine Radian struggled with.)

Bluetooth Everything
Looking at the Genie mini from a features perspective, one stands out: and that’s Bluetooth programmability (with the free Syrp provided iOS and Android apps).  All programming, including firmware updates, is handled by your phone/tablet.  The app even tells you how much battery you have left- a nice touch.

Programming Features
If you’ve used the Genie, the Genie mini will be very familiar to you from a programming perspective.  You can use the app to create a timelapse sequence or video.  You can decide where the mini begins the sequence and ends it.  You also have options for easing-in and easing-out and, when shooting timelapses, you can specify how long the mini will hold the shutter down (allowing for an HDR sequence to be captured.)  Also, if you get confused along the way, Syrp included tutorial videos in the app.  So if you’re setting up a timelapse and get a bit lost, just click on “More Info” and watch a video to figure out what you need to do.

Take a look below at the app screens.  I have screens below for timelapses and video to give you a feel for how the app works.

Single-Axis is cool, but Multi-Axis is Cooler
The mini is a capable device in its own right, but pair it with its larger sibling and you can pan and track.  Syrp even offers an interface cable allowing the two heads to talk to one another.

Track and Pan

The Genie paired with the Genie Mini

That’s pretty cool, but add another Genie mini, and Syrp’s Pan and Tilt Bracket, and you’ll be able to create multi-axis sequences. Both Genies will pair with your phone and the app will identify one as the pan head and the other as the tilt head.  From there, you can program your sequence and be off shooting.  Take a look at the video from Syrp explaining all this.  It’s seriously cool.

Should you buy it?
Put the Genie mini in the highly recommended category.  It’s small, elegant, feature-rich, and can be used as part of an ecosystem of devices allowing for a wide range of multi-axis captures.  Start with one device and add-on as needed.

Syrp has been around for a few years now and has been releasing one solid, well-thought-out, product after another.  The company has an eye for design and it shows.  The genie is an amazing little device for your gear bag.

Where to buy
B&H $249

Canon Plays Catch-up With 35 1.4L II and EOS M3 Mirrorless

Another Canon Me too

What was Canon’s big announcement yesterday?  The release of the 35 1.4LII (since the 35 1.4L has been trounced by the Sigma 35 1.4 DG HSM A) and the release of the Canon M3 (as Sony runs away with the mirrorless market).

I have no doubt the 35 1.4LII is going to be a strong contender.  I’m sure the reviews will show a marked improvement in sharpness and construction.  What I do have doubts about is the Eos M3.  Scratch that, I don’t have doubts, I’m calling it now: the Eos M3 is yet another disappointment.  Take a look at the how the camera is described by canon:

“Designed to inspire, the EOS M3 digital camera brings true EOS performance and image quality to a compact, stylish and elegant package. A pleasure to operate, with the sophistication to create stunning still and moving images, the EOS M3 is an ideal EOS for many applications, such as portraiture, landscape, travel and everything in between.”

In a world: boring. The M3 is basically a T6i sensor in a small form factor and still lags behind offerings from Sony and Olympus.  You want a viewfinder? Slap it into the hotshot!  Full Frame Sensor: no.  Max frames per second: 4.2 (compare that to the Sony A6000’s 11fps, for example.)

A sign of things to come?

The only good silver lining here is htis could be Canon waking up and realizing it needs to up its mirrorless game.  But will there be anyone with Canon glass around to care?  There’s no doubt there will be Canon shooters out there, but will those who made the “switch-to-sony” come back?  Switching systems only happens for drastic reasons (who wants to sell their lenses and start all over?).  Can Canon release a mirrorless that’s worth it? That remains to be seen- the M3 isn’t it.

Canon: we’ve hit a roadblock. And, it’s over…

I never thought I’d write this post.  I’ve been with Canon for years; my first ‘real’ film camera was  a Canon, my first DSLR and every camera since until this week was a Canon.  I owned several L lenses; I never thought I’d be here writing about switching platforms and ‘going Sony’, but here we are and that’s exactly what I’m writing.

Three days ago, Canon marked down its 3rd quarter outlook due to weak digital camera sales.  How big was the hit? Just a minor $10 Billion dollars!  Now, I’ve been thinking about writing my “breaking-up with you Canon post” for a few days, and now with the Canon earnings outlook, I thought: “yah, I better get on this”.  I figured I should tell Canon why just a few thousand dollars of the big $10 Billion were not coming from me.  So, how did we get here?

I remember when the first few micro 4/3 cameras made it to market in 2005/2006.  “Mirrorless, bleh,” I remember thinking.   Sure these new-fangled mirrorless cameras were small and light, but micro 4/3?  I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a sensor even smaller than APS-C.  Who would want a smaller, noisier, sensor just to save a bit of carry weight?  Besides, how good could the lenses be- Canon has a history of excellent lenses?  I rightly outright dismissed the early Olympus and Panasonic cameras.  No serious photographer would really go mirrorless.

In June 2010, though, Sony released the Nex-7 and things got interesting.  APS-C sensor, 10 frames per second, OLED viewfinder, in-camera HDR, whoa. Sure the lens collection wasn’t big, but Zeiss lenses…now we’re talking!   Tempting, but still just APS-C (I wanted big, clean, pixels!).  I’m wasn’t about to dump my 5D Mark II.  The Nex-7 was compelling, but it wasn’t compelling enough.  Besides, I had a big Canon lens investment.  I wasn’t going to switch but, for the first time, I thought:  “not bad mirrorless camp, not bad.”

As one Sony Nex camera after the other was released, I thought: “Canon is going to respond- there’s market here.  I wonder what Canon will do?”  And, what did Canon do?  Canon waited a full two years after the Nex-7 before announcing the EOS M- a camera as compelling as dental surgery.  It was as if Canon said: “Let’s think of the worst camera we can make, and let’s make it mirrorless.  Maybe then those kids out there will see the error of their ways and buy DSLRs.”  Predictably, no one bought the EOS M.  The AF was slow, the ergonomics were less than impressive, and no one was interested- at least I wasn’t

Things got more interesting just a few months after the announcement of the EOS M.  In September 2012, Sony announced the first full-frame mirrorless: the RX-1.   Ok, it had a fixed 35mm f/2 lens, but still: it had a full-frame sensor (and that was a Zeiss lens boys and girls.)  What did Canon do? Canon waited a full year before releasing the less than compelling EOS M2 (a me-too 18megapixel APS-C with slightly improved AF and built-in wifi).  Mind you Canon announced the M2 just 3 days before Sony announced the A7 and A7R (24 megapixel and 36 megapixel full-frame pro class cameras that turned the world upside down).

Some would call the A7R the iPhone moment for the Canon blackberry.  I wouldn’t go so far.  Canon still has a fantastic product line, but Canon was dug in and, it seemed, worried about cannibalizing its own product line.

Sony A7II

Sony’s A7II full-frame mirrorless just made it into my camera bag

Canon, it seemed, just wasn’t seriously interested in the mirrorless market.  But, guess what, photographers were.  Specifically, I was.  I wanted a small, light, full-frame body- not to mention the host of features Sony was touting (focus peaking, manual assist, OLED EVF, the list goes on).  Canon, wants me to buy a DSLR.  I looked at the 5D Mark III many times, but I can get a larger sensor, excellent image quality (not to mention fantastic dynamic range) and a host of features from the Sony A7II.  And so, I write this as the last few bits of my Canon gear sit on eBay.  Last week marked the farewell to my 5DMKII and all my L lenses.  It also saw the purchase of a Sony A7II and Zeiss lenses (Zeiss 16-35 f/4 FE and Zeiss 24-70 f/4 FE.)

Canon: I wanted it to workout, but it didn’t.  Maybe one day our paths will cross again, but right now, I don’t see it happening.  Switching platforms was not easy and if Sony keeps on innovating like Sony has been (hello A7RII, you beautiful beast), I won’t switch back.  Canon now has 10 billion reasons ($) to build a pro-grade mirrorless camera and I hope Canon does as competition can only make things better.  Who knows, maybe I’ll pickup a Canon again someday, but not now.  Now, I’m building my  Zeiss lens collection.

Alpine Labs Radian Motion Control Head Review

Not too long ago capturing motion control timelapses meant spending thousands of dollars. Sure, you could “DIY it”- it didn’t cost you much to put your camera on an egg timer and wait for the “spin cycle” to complete, but good luck programming that setup!

Looking around these days, though, you can easily find a motion control head under $250. The options and features abound, and many, like the Alpine Labs Radian Motion Control Timelapse head ($249 over at B&H) we’re going to look at today, started their life on Kickstater- this means there’s a community there out of the gate tinkering and making suggestions to improve the product. But how good can a sub $250 motion control head be?

What is it it?
Radian is a lightweight single-axis motion control head. Single-axis means you can capture tilts or pans, but you don’t get linear motion on a slider.

Radian is, light, light, light. It weighs just 15 ounces (425g for ye metric folk) and measures 4.57 x 1.77” (116 x 45mm). It fits very easily in my camera bag and I don’t mind carrying it along a hike.  To put this in perspective my Canon 24-105 f/4L weighs 1.47lbs (670g).  Think of Radian as a light 2nd lens you’re bringing along. This is a big deal! When you’ve walked 13 miles with food and water strapped to your back, you’re thankful for every ounce you’re not carrying!

It’s light, but it’s also all plastic.  I wouldn’t call it flimsy, but I also wouldn’t call it a bullet-proof all metal design- keep this in mind if your’e hopelessly rough on your gear.

Using it
Setting it up is straight forward: Radian attaches to a 1/4″ screw (no 3/8″) so just turn Radian onto the bottom of your camera then attach it to your tripod head.  Radian includes a little bubble level in the package.  This is nice, but I really wish the bubble head was integrated into the unit – one gust of wind and that bubble level is gone!

Software
Radian doesn’t have an LCD screen -you program it using your iOS or android device. What this means is the programming user interface is easy to use and, more importantly, Radian’s functionality is constantly being tweaked through Alpine Labs app updates.  What’s also nice is you only program Radian using your phone: your phone doesn’t have to remain connected to execute the timelapse like other apps such as TriggerTrap.  You just plug-in your phone, program, and disconnect.  Once your phone is disconnected the Radian app keeps track of your timelapse’s progress. This lets you walk away and just pull out your phone to see if you need to go back to your tripod(s).

Take a look at images below to get  a feel for the user interface.

One of the really cool things about the Radian app is queuing.  Queuing, let’s you create a sequence of commands for Radian to execute.  This allows you to shoot a timelapse, bulb ramp, then shoot another sequence at a new interval. The sky’s the limit with what you can line up and it’s a really nice feature to have.
Speaking of bulb ramping: I really like Radian’s bulb ramping setup screen.  Most bulb ramping implementations give you a start exposure and an end exposure.  Radian however, lets you set a delay before bulb ramping begins- this means you can shoot a timelapse at a pre-defined exposure for a set amount of time (pre-sunset), decide when bulb ramping begins and ends (i.e. ramp for sunset), then continue shooting your timelapse at the final exposure (i.e. night exposure).  What it all adds up is bulb ramping that works.
By the way, you can also directly control Radian – this is nice if you’re shooting video.  You just tell it the direction you want it to go (clockwise or counterclockwise), the total angle, and the amount of time you’d like the motion to take.  This ability is also helpful in setting up your timelapses.
Now, I liked having an intuitive user interface to program Radian, but I didn’t like having to remember to pack the cable necessary to do so.  It’s also a little cumbersome to plug, program, unplug, wait: plug back in to tweak something.  Is it the end of the world (no- and you can tell me I’m whining?)  Put that down as: this should be wireless (Radian 2, by the way, will bring bluetooth connectivity).
Wind is not your friend
The one bad thing I have to say about Radian is it does not like wind.  Radian works just fine when the weather is calm, but wind will turn your camera into a sail that pulls Radian around.  I’ve had a couple of occasions where I just couldn’t use the head because it was too windy.  This may not matter for your application, but if you’re outdoors on the seashore all the time, this may be an issue for you.
Ok, this is a lot of talk, let’s see some video
You can talk about a device all you want, but in the end the question is: can it perform the job it was designed to perform?  With just a little more ‘talk’, I’ll say yes.  Take a look at the video below:

Like
  • It’s light
  • Easy to program
  • Battery lasts forever (it’s rated for 100 hours!)
  • Fits easily in my camera bag
No Like
  • Industrial design doesn’t scream elegant.  It’s functional but not pretty.  Also, materials could be more robust
  • Susceptible to wind
  • Bubble level should be integrated into the unit’s body

Should you get it ?
For $249 it’s a good timelapse device to have.  It’s small, lightweight, and easy to bring along.  If you’re shooting atop of mountains, or anywhere where wind is pervasive, I’d say look at something else.  Outside of that, it’s well worth the investment for a single-axis timelapse head.

Where to buy
B&H – $249

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (16)