November 2, 2015 at 10:35PM

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Best Dslr audio setup for wilderness travel doco

Ok so I'm about to embark on a pretty big project and I'm after other peoples opinion on a good all round audio setup for a feature documentary about walking the length of New Zealand. I will be on the road for 5 months shooting on a Sony A7s ii. There are 3 others with me and I will be filming them and sometimes all of us on a tripod. I really do want to capture the best audio possible but I am obviously aware of the many limitation this project has in regards to audio.

I figured for all of the walking and more impromptu shooting stuff I will just go for the old Radio Mic Pro. I know its not ideal but I think that it will be just too much trying to sync 5 months worth of footage.

However, there will be plenty of time when we arent walking and we are around camp, chilling out etc and I would like to have a slightly better audio setup here. Im thinking sometimes I will just have the camera on a tripod and have us talking and sometimes I will get the camera in close on others. I also want to do some interviewing too. So Im trying to figure out what the best solution is here...I dont mind doing post sync in these situations if I need to.

I was thinking maybe a Zoom H4n to capture the camp stuff and maybe have another shotgun that I can use for interviews. Or I could go for a wired Lav into the H4n for interviews but I may want to sometimes have a few people at once being interviewed so the Lav will be too restricting.
Man oh man, its a mind f**k. The thing is I dont have a super huge budget to be honest. Like maybe $1000.

I will only have access to power spiradically. Sometimes 4,5,6, even 8 days apart. Sometimes its less too.

Weight is a big one too. I have to keep the weight to a reasonable level because I'm carrying it all 3000km.

Sorry for the essay. Any ideas would be hugely appreciated.

Thanks:)

3 Comments

I would guess that a Zoom H6 is the ticket. You can capture ambient audio via the built-in mics, plus a single dedicated mic for each of the four of you. As long as you don't need to weave in and out of each others' way, four lav mics *can* work.

November 3, 2015 at 2:57AM

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The Zoom H6 that Michael suggests is a good unit. I don't know about battery life, but as long as you bring along enough batteries you should be good.

The big issue for any mic is how close you can get it to the person speaking, because you don't want to be recording audio from more than 3 feet from the person's mouth. This often means using wireless lav mics or small recorders like the Tascam DR-05 with a lav mic plugged into them. ( the DR-05 costs about $100 and you can get decent lav mics for about the same amount, so $200 for a DR-05 and lav mic )

For lav mics I recommend the Oscar SoundTech lav mics that cost less than $100 each. You have to buy them directly from Oscar SoundTech, but they are excellent mics and a bargain compared to TRAM TR50 lav mics which run about $250 each.

If you're shooting outside, then you want to make sure you've got good wind protection for all your mics, including lav mics. Wind can totally destroy your audio recording, so having micro "dead-cat" wind protection for your lav mics is key.

If you want to shoot with a shotgun mic, then you're into a boom set-up and a blimp to protect your mic from the wind. Again, you still want to record audio no more than 3 feet from the person speaking, so don't expect a shotgun will help much over well placed lav mics.

As for recorders, when it comes to lav mics you want anything that has a 3.5mm mic input and can supply proper 5 volt "mic power" to power the lav. The Tascam DR-05 I mentioned is probably the cheapest good recorder to use with lav mics. They are small, they're about $100, they have a low noise-floor ( about -75 dB when used correctly ), and they run for about 20 hours on one set of batteries. These recorders are for lav mics and ambient audio recording only, so they won't accept an XLR mic input.

For the shotgun mic you want a recorder with XLR inputs, phantom power, and clean audio gain. I would NOT recommend the Zoom H4n ( it doesn't have a great noise-floor rating, it can't take a full LINE level audio signal without a 20 dB inline pad ), but the Zoom H5 and H6 are excellent. On the low cost side of things the Tascam DR-40, DR-60D Mk2, or the DR-70D are all quite good. ( pricing ranges from $180 - $300 depending on the model )

Another option for XLR mics is to outfit your camera with a JuicedLink Riggy mic pre-amp, which is ONLY a pre-amp but it produces up to 30 dB of clean gain for your camera. So you don't have to deal with syncing your audio tracks with your video, as your camera will record both video and audio when used with an XLR mic like a shotgun mic.

For low-cost shotgun mics my first pick would be the Sennheiser MKE600 which works pretty well indoors and outdoors ( just make sure you have proper wind protection outside ), and does not cost much more than the Rode NTG-2 mic. My second pick would be the Rode NTG-1 or NTG-2 mics, they are cheap but produce good sound when used outside. Indoors can be a problem with these mics because they pick up a lot of sound reflecting off the ceiling or walls of most rooms, where the Sennheiser MKE600 is less sensitive to audio reflections.

If you can, make sure you test everything properly before your trip, so there are no surprises once you start filming.

November 3, 2015 at 6:44AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
33044

Hello,
since we are in a similar situation, I will try to answer based on my experience. However I just started with video, so my experience is not so huge.
I had problems similar to yours, making video in the wilderness (in the Alps, Italy). My basic setup is Nikon d7200, 3-4 lenses, Rode ntg-2 and tascam dr40. As you stated, your biggest problem making video in the wilderness will be battery consumption and unfortunately the weak point will be the sony a7sii. I try to run the most I can on rechargable AA batteries (the NTG-2, Tascam and even the D7200 when I will get the battery pack). It depends on how many days you will be out, how many batteries you want to carry and the season/place you will be in, but a solar charger could boost your autonomy, at least for all your audio setup.
I don't comment on the interview stuff or the lavaliers since I don't use them, but I recommend you the setup NTG-2 + Tascam DR40. The NTG-2 is a good mic, and, unlike the NTG-1, it runs also on a single AA battery, so you don't need phantom power from the recorder. You could also take a look at the new Rode NTG4 plus, which has an internal rechargable battery, but since it's quite new there are not so many reviews. I like the NTG-2, it's light and good for outdoor stuff. However, it prefers 1.5V batteries, while most rechargable ones are 1,2V. I don't have some precise data on autonomy, since I never bothered to measure it and I use my AA batteries for other needs like my Tascam, head lamp and so on, but using the Tascam along with the NTG-2 with its own battery, I could have several hours of audio autonomy, way more than the camera's one. I used the ntg-2 to record some ibex and I could easily listen to them about 50-70 meters away. You could use the Tascam for camp recording. Also, do get the appropriate deadcat/windscreen for all your mics!

I don't know about prices in New Zealand, but here in Italy you can find a full setup for the NTG-2 (the mic itself, blimp, deadcat, pole, etc) for about 400 euro and the Tascam DR40 for about 150 euro, so within your budget.
When I was looking for an audio recorder I also faced the choice Zoom H4n vs Tascam Dr40 vs Dr100. The H4n and the Dr40 are very similar in specs and functions, so I went with the DR40 since it was about 80 euro cheaper.

One last advice. You will be backpacking, go to a constuction/do-it-yourself store and get one of those 30cm plumber pipes made of hard plastic. For about 1 dollar you will have a good case for the mic!

November 15, 2015 at 1:17AM

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