I will be hosting a discussion panel at BVE on Wednesday 26th February which is being broadcast as a live webstream from the exhibition floor. Please come back to this webpage at 11:30 to 12:00 on 26th to watch it live.
Entitled ‘Videography Today’ this live webstream will include a panel of professional videographers who will share their views and experiences on the industry – covering the creative, technology and business aspects of the industry. The panel will consist of Stuart Boreham, Ben Marlow and Jagvinder Rana.
I hope you can join us for this live webstream on Wednesday. If not the session will also be available from the Broadcast Show website after the event.
I’m massively impressed with my Edius system from DVC – head over heels in love with it to be more precise. It’s as steady and reliable as you can get and does 99% of what I want to do in a quick and logical way. However, the one thing that always fills me with envy is seeing some of the more sexy things other producers seem to be able to do, with ease, with their titles and graphic effects. Edius basic QuickTitler is just that, pretty basic.
Towards the end of last year I came to the conclusion that I really had to start getting my head around Adobe After Effects as it seemed to be the program of choice for the videographers whose work had inspired me. I’d flirted with it for many years previously, in various editions, but it simply wouldn’t stick in my head. Unless I’m using a program day-in day-out it doesn’t take long for me to have to re-learn basics in order to get results out in a reasonable amount of time.
Determined to get going with After Effects I signed up for the Adobe Creative Suite free month’s trial and set myself a challenge. If I could get to the stage of being able to quickly knock up attractive lower-thirds caption backs and animated title sequences within the free trial period I’d take out one of Adobe’s subscriptions. I failed miserably. After Effects simply doesn’t fit in my head – and I doubt I’m the only one to have come to this conclusion.
At that point I had accepted the fact that if I ever wanted anything more than I can currently do using Edius (and a bit of Photoshopping) I’d probably be hiring those services in. Either that or maybe it was time for me to start looking elsewhere.
My route to Vistitle 2.5
It was shortly after my final After Effects experience that David Clarke of DVC approached me about reviewing the latest edition of Vistitle (2.5). When I originally ordered my edit suite from them they’d bundled it up within the quote but it had been one of the cutbacks I had to make in order to get the system that I thought I wanted. Whilst I thought I knew what Vistitle was and how it might help me, I didn’t really fully appreciate how I’d grow to need and want it.
Even though Vistitle was very popular within the Edius community (integrating neatly with it from very early editions) at that time it all seemed a little too template driven to me – and the examples I’d seen produced with it left me a little cold. I really should have given it a go back then as I think I’ve been missing a real gem. What is it they say about hindsight?
With its close integration with Edius, Vistitle hasn’t really gained much take up outside of that community. That’s very understandable, especially in a marketplace where you have such a strong standalone product as After Effects and its complete integration with Premiere. But Vistitle 2.5 has changed all that as it now integrates neatly with Avid and Premiere too giving a really powerful alternative for many more PC-based editors looking for a little more than their NLE’s basic titling package can offer.
The full review pack sent to me by DVC included the five additional plug-ins and retails for around £250 inc. VAT. There’s upgrade paths too for those with earlier versions of the software plus you can also buy the plug-ins separately to keep your initial investment low.
What is Vistitle 2.5
In a nutshell, Vistitle is a PC-based title effects/animation software package. It enables users to quickly create complex, multi-layered 2D/3D animations of text and objects – applying textures, depth, glows, sparkles and lighting effects. It also enables you to quickly add dynamic graphic backgrounds for text and graphics, and with the optional plug-in packs provides particle effects, handwriting animations, 3D charts, converts 2D paths to 3D and there’s also a dedicated Karaoke plug-in should you need it.
Edius users will find the layout, menus and controls very familiar – mainly because it was specifically developed to address that NLE’s titling shortcomings. Whilst Avid and Premiere users might be daunted with this prospect I can only urge you to give it a go (there’s a watermarked demo you can download here). I’ve played with most NLE packages in my time and I think that Edius is, by far, the most intuitive and easiest to pick up. Vistitle follows that example.
The minimum spec for the PC is an Intel CPU with 3GHz processor or faster (Intel i5 or i7 is recommended). You’ll need a Direct3D 9.0c or later supported graphics card, at least 2GB of RAM (4GB if you are running Edius 7) and at least 4GB of storage space for the installation. You’ll also need a spare USB port to connect the USB dongle – and your system must first have either Edius, Avid or Premiere installed.
Vistitle utilises the graphics card to render in real-time – so the better card, processor and RAM you have the better performance you’ll achieve. But even with a minimum specification system you’ll be able to work at full HD and render out complex text and graphic animations – which it does comparatively quickly.
YouTube is awash with free tutorials about After Effects, along with books and online resources aimed at beginners and advance users alike. That’s no surprise when you consider the size of the user base and the complexity of the program. Despite accessing many of these resources by the time I’d reached the end of my month’s trial I was still an After Effects stumbling fool.
Vistitle tutorials on the other hand are sparse – but thankfully most are well thought out and, mores the point, easy to follow. The program comes with the usual PDF user manual but, in addition, you also get a set of mute video tutorials covering most of the program’s features. DVC have also got an excellent collection of beginner tutorials on their website which is where I started and they got me up and running in no time. There’s also a range of more advanced tutorials on DivideByeZero’s YouTube channel which I’m presently working my way through – plus there’s a new set of paid-for tutorials at http://sgdvtutorials.com/ (which will be available through DVC) but I’ve not looked at these at all yet.
The end result for me was that by the end of the first day I’d got my head around basic navigation and controls of the program and had output a rudimentary title with an animation. By the end of a month of using it I’m far from being expert but I am at the stage where I’m choosing to use Vistitle more often that Edius’ own QuickTitle.
Vistitle Interface & Workflow
I understand that there are some differences to workflow between using Vistitle with other NLEs, so anything talked about here is purely relating to using it alongside Edius. Outside of your NLE you’ll be working within the main Vistitle interface, but once used inside your NLE you’ll be accessing it in a number of ways.
Adding a Vistitle is a simple as clicking on the ‘T’ (add title) button in Edius, which will launch you straight into the main interface. Once you’ve created a Vistitle, double-clicking it on your timeline will first take you into the Vistitle Mini interface. In here you can simply and easily adjust the text content of your title (the actual words, font, weight, kerning, layer ordering etc.) without the need to go into the full interface. That’s a smart feature and is great for quickly editing and adding captions of a similar design. For instance, once you have created the look and feel of your captions, added lighting effects and swirling backdrops, logos and particle effects, all you have to do to create another matching caption is to open the first in Vistitle Mini, change the text and then ‘save as’ with a different name.
If you want to change the Vistitle in more detail, such as amending the animation or altering light effects and colours, then you need to click on the button to take you to the full interface from within Vistitle Mini.
Whilst there’s definitely a link to Edius in Vistitle’s layout it is not going to seem too alien to an After Effects user. There’s a timeline, a preview window and a properties/control box for editing the currently-selected object.
The preview window is switchable between the main title graphic design and its effect view which includes the selected object’s animation path. Dividing the views up like this gives you a very uncluttered and easy-to-work-with view of your title and the objects within it.
The timeline area will also appear very familiar to NLE and effects package users with each object having an expandable view for controlling transformations, effects, in & out points and key frames. This window can also be switched to reveal a template library of graphic elements, backgrounds, sub-titles, multi-layered particle effects captions, 3D objects etc. – for you to easily and quickly add to your design and customise as you see fit.
For really quick application you can also call up a template design to drag and drop straight on to your Edius timeline. Once installed Vistitle will add an item to your ‘Tools’ menu in Edius, called ‘Edius Title Template Library’. The library consists of a variety of pre-constructed Layouts, Sub-titles, Images, Movies and DynaTextures.
Layouts include a vast range of lower-third captions, full-screen graphic designs with 3D objects and other demonstration templates which show off all the capabilities of Vistitle. Just drag one to your timeline, double-click to change the text content in Vistitle Mini – or completely change its properties within the full Vistitle interface and then save them. You can also import any previously designed Vistitle projects into this library for quick deployment.
Many of these templates are cheesy – but the point of them is they get you started quickly – and in opening them up and starting to tweak them to your own design is a great way to learn how to create your own Vistitles from scratch.
The Sub-title templates work in a similar way. These give you a range of single lines of text which you can add to your timeline as sub-titles – at timed intervals. Simply drag and drop the subtitle on to your Edius timeline, stretch it out over the video section that you want to sub-title, double-click and then start adding the titles line-by-line and place exactly over the right section of video.
The Image library contains both static images and static graphical elements – which again can be just dragged onto your timeline. You can also import your own TGA, PSD, BMP, JPG, GIF, EMF, WMF, TIF, PNG and ICO images to this library for easy deployment to your timeline.
The Movie library contains a handy set of animated icons and graphics in .VXMOVIE format. This includes spinning globes, explosions and other more obscure objects which can be dragged and dropped onto your timeline. Unfortunately you can’t import normal video files into this such as AVIs or MOVs – but why would you want to? However, if you have an animation created in another program, and can export that out as an image sequence, you can then import these into a separate utility program that comes with Vistitle called VxMvMaker. This gives you the option to output your image sequence in various video formats – including .VXMOVIE.
The final section in the library contains DynaTextures (Dynamic Textures). This wide selection of swirling masses of colours and shapes are ideal for creating backdrops for titles or video. You simply drag them on to your timeline and then stretch them out to the required time length and they automatically animate over that period. You can then of course alter the qualities of these within Edius’ own effects and image adjustments. I’ve used these plenty of times already.
My first Vistitle project
With my head pretty much around the program I set about creating my first Vistitle project from scratch. I’ve wanted to create a suitable video ident or credit for Video Artisan for a while now and it’s the kind of project that Vistitle was created for. News also came in around that time of my entry winning the IOV’s Video of the Month competition so I thought it would also give me an opportunity to shout about that too. The end result can be seen here…
I’m not saying the end result is an amazing, multi-layered marvel that demonstrates everything that Vistitle can do – but it works for me. It does however utilise lighting, animation and particle effects – and the very, very useful DynaTextures. The award wreath is a PNG file with transparent background and was imported as an image into Vistitle. After deselecting the ‘Always Use Image Colour as Face Colour’ option I was able to apply colour, lighting, texture and depth effects to these objects and easily time the glows to coincide with the passing of the 3D particle effect underneath.
Since then I’ve gone on to use Vistitle in a couple of real, paid-for, projects. The most recent is the short doc on the M&IT Agency Challenge which was filmed at the Landmark Hotel, London (https://vimeo.com/85261908). I’ve mentioned this project as it’s typical of how I’ll be using Vistitle going forward. The only Vistitles in this are the interviewee caption backs (the first comes in at 1’ 30”) which have a very subtle 3D particle effect in the background just to help the text stand out.
Final thoughts for this Vistitle Review
Whilst the additional plug-ins do add to the overall cost of ownership I think they are vitally important addition – if only for the ‘3D Particle Effects’. The ‘Handwriting’ plug-in is also really nice to have in your arsenal as one day you will be asked if you can do this. Not only can you use it to reveal text as if it’s being written on the screen but you can also do the same with objects and images. ‘3D Charts’ are also something that your clients will just expect you to be able to do, so again another useful tool to have in your box. I have to admit that I’ve not spent much time playing with the ‘2D path to 3D’ plug-in (enabling you to extrude 2D objects to 3D and add textures, light paths etc.), and I can’t imagine me ever using the ‘Karaoke’ plug-in but suspect there’s a market where this too would prove to be very handy.
I guess that it’s a good sign that I’ve not found much at all to moan about with Vistitle so far. The only thing that had me stumped for a while is that in the full interface, by default, the project layers are displayed back to front – with the top layer being at the bottom! However David at DVC pointed out that if you right-click in the timeline area and select, “track layer matched with object layer” it puts them the sensible way round.
Like all whiz-bang effects you have to learn to use title and graphics effects in moderation. They are never a substitute for good basic cameracraft, editing and storytelling. I would even go as far as saying that if you notice them then you’ve probably overdone them. You must also keep in mind that every minute spent creating a nice title and graphic is costing you or your client money. Even with its simplicity and ease of use, Vistitle will absorb a lot of time in designing, tweaking and rendering out graphics – all of which adds to the production’s budget. Therefore you’ll need to always ask yourself if the film really needs it and whether your client is prepared to pay for the work involved. My own Video Artisan credit piece took about a day to create including aborted designs and fiddling about with the animations and lighting effects.
The big question is, is Vistitle a direct replacement for After Effects? I guess the simple answer to that is “no” – but only because of After Effects’ many years of development and take-up within the creative industries. But for anyone who is starting from scratch or looking for a much simpler and more intuitive title effects package that you can get your head around in a much more reasonable amount of time, then Vistitle is a much better solution. With the introduction of version 2.5 and its integration with Avid and Premiere I can see the user base expanding quite rapidly – and with that I can see Vistitle being developed and improved even further.
AKM Music have added two new albums to their extensive collection lately – ‘Leisure Lifestyles’ and ‘Cut to the Beat Vol.8’. Whilst both albums are aimed at the corporate video producer they’re both going to have an application within other production types too. You simply can’t have too much choice when it comes to your corporate video copyright-free music collection so these two will fill in where other albums fall short.
This album contains ten tracks, each with an additional alternate mix and short version. As the name suggests these tunes are for helping to portray a more leisurely lifestyle with their cool, relaxing rhythms and easy-going beats. The album description suggests they’ll be great for corporate video producer specialising in property or location documentaries and promotional films – and I can’t argue with that. If you are producing hotel or resort promos then this is certainly one to audition and add to your collection.
1. The Perfect Accommodation 2:30
Bubbling synth sounds take us off to a warmer place – certainly warmer than the day I’m looking out of the window at right now! A medium paced track that you can imagine twinkling away under a corporate video narration telling you all about the holiday destination you’re about to experience. Track 2 & 3 are the alternative mix (2:30) and a short edit (1:20)
4. By The Pool 2:36
Slow funky sound which didn’t conjure up visions of lounging by the pool to me, but rather a cool dude striding through a 70’s fancy dress party wearing a dodgy afro wig, moustache and flared trousers. Wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Starsky & Hutch. Track 5 & 6 are the alternative mix (2:36) and a short edit (0:56)
7. Dressed To Impress 2:14
Get down to that that funky beat guitar again. Quite similar to the previous track though a little more purposeful and upbeat. It doesn’t go too far without another funky guitar rift so quite nice to edit to. The alternate version is a little less descriptive so might suit as a corporate video underscore better. Track 8 & 9 are the alternative mix (2:14) and a short edit (0:45)
10. Immaculate Design 2:18
We whiz forward a few decades with this track with a more contemporary slant to the funky medium tempo sound of previous tracks. There are more musical breaks in this track with swishy, swirling sound effects to edit to. Note the alternate mix is short this time too. Track 11 & 12 are the alternative mix (0:29) and a short edit (0:29)
13. Shape of Things To Come 3:07
Again this track has a more contemporary feel with strong drum rhythm and bass percussion driving the score along. Piano provides the main chorus with occasional orchestral stabs. There’s a strange whale-call sound sequence towards the end of the alternate mix so I reckon this would work well with a film with any link to the ocean. Track 14 & 15 are the alternative mix (3:07) and a short edit (1:06)
16. Ahead of the Curve 2:27
I’d call this one medium fast paced with a bit more of an electro beat to it – but still along the lines of a 70’s TV cop show with its funk guitar rifts. I think the alternate mix is a bit more useful this time as it’s a little more nondescript and intrusive. Track 17 & 18 are the alternative mix (2:27) and a short edit (0:25)
19. Designer Shades 2:12
A much smoother love-ballad sound to this medium-slow track. I can imagine Barry White laying his silky voice down to this. Swirling synth sounds lift it here and there mixed with another funky guitar chorus – but generally a steady tune throughout. Track 20 & 21 are the alternative mix (2:12) and a short edit (0:25)
22. Custom Build 2:37
Barry is back in the mix again as we stick with a smooth funky sound with orchestral swirls. Finding it hard not to confuse this with the previous track though – apart from the occasional break into castanets. Once again the alternate version might be a little more useful for corporate video. Track 23 & 24 are the alternative mix (2:37) and a short edit (0:34)
25. Catwalk 2:14
Out and out swing funk in a snazzy, jazzy kind of way. I feel cool just listening to this one. The reference to ‘cats’ in the title must be down to it conjuring up images of a cool cat dude striding confidently through your scene. It’s the kind of track that has you tapping your feet even though you might not want to. Track 26 & 27 are the alternative mix (2:14) and a short edit (0:43)
28. Life Imitating Art 2:30
Tubular bells meets echo-drum beat and funk guitar in this medium paced track. Once again I think the alternate score will be more useful as it’s less dominant than the main track and leans more on the tubular bells sound. Track 29 & 30 are the alternative mix (2:30) and a short edit (0:44)
It’s no wonder ‘Cut to the Beat’ has reached volume 8 as these alums will be the first ones you’ll turn to when you’re looking for something upbeat and driving on a corporate video. AK160 is a worthy addition to this range and will be ideal for corporate films, sports docs and anything where you want to create an impression of movement. Each of the six main tracks has an alternate mix and a sting – which is really handy for editing purposes.
1. Bright Light 4:22
Slow building electronic keyboard sound which builds in tempo. Flute swirls combine with electronic voice effects to give the track a very positive feel. Guitar strumming leads you on and upwards. The alternate score is upbeat from the start but is about a minute shorter. Track 2 & 3 are the alternative mix (3:19) and the sting (0:09)
4. Flyaway 4:23
Fast upbeat sound with slow keyboard passage underneath and lots of electro-pop drumbeats and edit points within it. You could imagine a night club scene with lots of fast cuts, lens flairs and erratic camera movement. It will have you reaching for the ecstasy – especially the alternative mix! Track 5 & 6 are the alternative mix (3:21) and the sting (0:15)
7. Firefly 4:11
This one is rapid – possible too much so. I found it quite difficult to listen to this one as its confusing – and that’s exactly the kind of story it will help you try and tell. I can imagine someone dashing here and there, obviously lost. There’s a hint of Blade Runner in there too and has that kind of futuristic sound to it. Track 8 & 9 are the alternative mix (2:11) and the sting (0:15)
10. Bigspace 4:20
Out and out euro club mix with swirling intro leading to heavier repetitive beat section. I almost broke out into my ‘big box little box’ dance routine listening to it. The alternate version is softer and half the length – and is a bit like the morning after the track before. Track 11 & 12 are the alternative mix (1:55) and the sting (0:11)
13. Stairs to the Galaxy 4:37
This one is upbeat again but a little more serious and urgent this time. It is very repetitive but breaks into a quiet segment halfway through which ends with a bang and back into the repetitive dance beat. Track 14 & 15 are the alternative mix (2:48) and the sting (0:12)
16. Prolever 4:08
Soft upbeat track with breaks into voice-effect sections. I can imagine the sun setting over some Ibiza beach scene listening to this one. Quite repetitive again but I guess most club-beat tracks are. There’s a swirling underscore to this which appears more prevalent in the alternative mix version. I can imagine shots of a production line in a factory working well with this. Track 17 & 18 are the alternative mix (2:48) and the sting (0:13)
I’ve just added the following video review of the Vocal Booth Pro 2 & SL300 Mic bundle to my Kev’s Shed collection. If you’re not familiar with this voiceover recording solution then it’s time you were. If you’ve just got to have one after watching the video see the details at the foot of this post on a very special, one off, deal.
Who will love this voiceover recording solution?
The booth will appeal to a very wide spectrum of user. The video review was obviously produced from a videographer’s perspective but these are ideal for anyone needing a vocal artist or voiceover recording solution. It’s therefore going to appeal to musicians, bloggers, edit houses and pod casters – as well as those who need to record good quality telephone-on-hold messages and recorded public announcements.
Special Kev’s Shed price!
The guys at EditorsKeys funded this production and have offered a 10% discount to Kev’s Shed viewers. Simply email me directly and I will pass your details on to them so you receive the special price – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special note… Watch the video review embedded at the foot of this article!
Tascam DR-60D review
In a world where technology changes at an ever increasing rate it is refreshing to discover something that’s “definitive” in its field of application. The good old Shure SM-58 vocal microphone is a classic example – and it’s pretty much the same today as it was in 1966 when it was first produced. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Tascam have achieved this with the DR-60D audio recording solution.
Though aimed primarily at solving the audio issues facing DSLR users, what they’ve actually created with the DR-60D is professional audio recording solution that takes DSLR sound recording to a completely new level. Actually, it achieves a lot more than this and will provide anyone who is serious about audio with a neat and well-featured four-track field recorder/mixer – regardless of what you are shooting with or if you’re not shooting pictures at all.
Well thought out
I spotted the announcement by Proactive on the availability of the DR-60D and from the blurb I could tell that Tascam had thought through this product really well. With a street price that’s a shade under £300 including VAT the unit addresses all of the limitations of DSLR audio as well as providing the user with a range of additional features which should pretty much eradicate poor or missing audio. It’s everything I wanted it to be – and more.
I’m proof of the fact that you don’t have to be a mastermind to use it either. Even though we must all refer to them at some stage – I hate instruction manuals! But with a modicum of familiarity with professional audio connections and controls you’ll be making your first recording with the DR-60D almost as soon as you’ve taken it out of the box. If you are a total pro-audio newbie then reading the Quick Start Guide (a massive 4-page tome – with big pictures) will have you tweaking the levels and laying down tracks in minutes. Ease of use is another characteristic of an iconic product for which Tascam deserve a massive pat on the back.
Whilst you could simply describe the unit as being box-shaped that would do an injustice to the amount of design and engineering that must have gone into it. The conclusion, I suspect, was that the design guys realised that box-shaped is best when it comes to fitting in with the various cameras, rigs, mounts and shooting conditions of a DSLR videographer – so why complicate it? Every side of the box is employed without waste – with the separated controls, inputs and outputs together in groups positioned where they should be. For me the form factor is totally in-tune with the form factor of DSLRs.
Chiefly made from durable rigid plastic it weighs in at just over half a kilo. The touch and feel of the unit gives you the impression that it’s a tough little nut – and it has to be. Whilst the immediate urge is to mount the unit betwixt camera and tripod (or crane or slider…) like me you’ll soon be exploring the other mounting solutions as well as using the unit completely detached from the camera as an auxiliary sound recording device. The strap attachment bars are in fact bumper bars too and will give some protection to the control face of the DR-60D whilst in use and transit.
It’s hard to list the features of the DR-60D in any logical order because they’ll be valued differently by different users, but here are the things that have impressed me and how I see the unit improving my DSLR audio workflow.
1 – DSLR Integration
My current workflow is to attach my mics (radio or otherwise) directly to my 5DMkii via the mic input. I’m running ML (Magic Lantern) on the camera so I can turn off AGC and adjust the overall analogue level as well as digitally adjusting the L/R channels independently within ML. Whilst this is great, with ML giving me a visual indication of levels, getting the levels perfect can be a little hit and miss. I do use the ML headphone output facility but the signal is pretty thin without another in-line headphone booster and therefore far from perfect for setting up levels and monitoring.
On a straightforward single-handed shoot that’s pretty much what I’ve to rely on. There are of course situations where I prefer to have the comfort of a sound recordist creating an auxiliary recording on a separate device. When someone is purely thinking about sound it should result in a better soundtrack and at the same time give me more time to think about the pictures. I don’t see those situations changing much other than the device the sound recordist uses will be a DR-60D (mine or theirs).
Where the unit will really come into its own for me is on my single-handed shoots – giving me two XLR/TRS inputs (balanced analogue XLR/ ¼” Jack combo sockets) to connect powered mics, phantom-powered mics (+24V/+48V) or line-level feeds. In addition I have a stereo 3.5 mini jack input to which a stereo mic can be added – either self-powered or one which requires powering through the device (menu-selectable).
This obviously gives me a lot more options sound-wise and means I have the best possible control over each of those sound sources and can record them on the DR-60D’s SD/SDHC media drive in either WAV or BWF (Broadcast WAV Format) at up to 96kHz/24-bit. As the unit employs Tascam’s HDDA microphone pre-amps and clean D/A converters this will result in a very high quality recording.
I could stop there, of course, simply using the DR-60D as an auxiliary recording device and then syncing up this with the pictures in post. I’ve done that a few times and whilst it’s manageable it does give me an additional post job which I’d rather do without. However, the full benefit comes when you join the DR-60D and DSLR together through the ‘Camera in’ and ‘Camera out’ mini-jack connections.
The Camera Out connector feeds the DSLR’s external mic input with the mixed signal. The output level of this signal is adjustable so you can match it to the input of your camera. For me this means using one of the ML modifications which enables me to first switch off the camera’s AGC, switch the input to ‘external stereo’ and set the input gains (both analogue and digital) down to zero. I can then set about adjusting the levels of my mic and line inputs, reach a decent mixed level to ensure no peaking, and then finally adjust the Camera Out level until my ML meters are matching the levels on the DR-60D.
The ‘Camera In’ connector takes the headphone out signal from the camera and feeds it back into the DR-60D. The Monitor control on the face of the unit enables you analyse every step of the signal as it passes through the chain by assigning it to the DR-60D’s headphone output. In four channel recording mode you can monitor any of the four input channels separately, Ch.1/2 or Ch.3/4 pairs of channels, your Mix or the Camera In. As the 5DMkii has no headphone socket I use ML to switch the TSSR jack AV out over to a headphone level output – and I give it the maximum 6dB gain in order to feed something reasonable back to the DR-60D. I also have to use a special converter cable to change the 4-pole TRRS mini jack to a standard 3-pole TRS mini jack in order to make the connection back to the DR-60D. If your DSLR has a standard headphone socket you’ll not have to worry about this.
This workflow should result in a good quality synchronised recording being made in the DSLR and we could leave it like that – using the DR-60D purely as an in-line mixer. This will overcome most of the shortcomings of the DSLR but there are further benefits of recording on the unit and camera simultaneously apart from the comfort of knowing that you have a high quality back-up audio track on SD card.
Tascam have built in some really useful tools to reduce the risk of poor or no sound recording at all. Firstly, there are five different recording modes – Mono, Stereo, Dual-Mono, Dual-Stereo and 4-Channel. In either of the two ‘Dual’ modes the unit will record two files simultaneously. The first files will be at your main mix level whilst the second will be recorded at a lower level anywhere between 0dB and -12bB (menu selectable). As we all know, badly overloaded digital audio is impossible to correct, so this feature could well save the day for you. The default setting is -6dB which is fine for general use but it’s great to be able to vary this if you are filming in an environment where there’s the potential for the audio to raise suddenly. When in Dual mode the meter shows you the levels of both recordings – which is really handy.
The only drawback of the Dual settings is that you’ll be limited to using only two of the input sources (just one in the Dual-Mono mode). This can be set to either Ch.1/2 or Ch.3/4 so you’ll be back down to two mics/sources or just the stereo mini jack input to Ch.3/4. In Dual-Mono mode you can record any one of the four channels separately.
There are other features that will help you avoid missing a sound too. The full process of recording requires two presses of the record button. The first instigates the stand-by mode during which a constant buffer is being stored internally. It is not until you give a second press of the record button that the unit stars to record to the SD card. In Prerecord Mode, when you hit the record button, it actually saves the 2-seconds prior to final button press giving you a safety margin when something that needs to be recorded happens unexpectedly.
In Auto Recording Mode the unit is triggered into recording at the presence of pre-set audio levels being detected in the mixer (-6dB, -12dB, -24dB or -48dB). As well as varying the amount of time after the signal has faded that the recording is stopped, you can also set a base input level at which the recording is to be stopped too (-6dB, -12dB, -24dB or -48dB).
Once you are happy with all your input levels and adjustments – and set the unit into record mode (or not if you wish) you can engage the Hold switch. This recessed sliding switch locks out all of the controls and maintains the unit in its present state to prevent accidental operation.
Going forward I will be recording to both camera and DR-60D. I’m sure most of the time I’ll be using the synchronised sound recorded in camera, but I’m also sure that I’ll be reaching for the recording on the DR-60D’s SD card to solve a problem or take advantage of the superior recording quality. There are two features to that will subsequently help me to quickly re-sync the unit’s recordings with those made in the camera – Slate and Auto Tone.
The Slate button applies a tone to the recording at any point during the recording process. This tone is also sent as part of the signal being fed to the camera making it dead easy to line up the tone marks of both recordings on my editing timeline. This feature is really neat for me as a fair part of my work is recording interviews where we pretty much let the camera run. Being able to mark the audio each time a new question is asked, or at the end of a good answer, will speed up my timeline scrubbing quite considerably. If you’re worried about inadvertent Slates button presses you can disabled the button altogether in menu.
The Auto-tone feature will apply the same tone automatically at either the head of the recording or both head and tail. This will be handy on shorter takes enabling even speedier alignment with the camera’s soundtrack once on the editing timeline.
I really like the idea of the Dual recording mode for the safety net it provides, but I could also use the 4-track mode and then reduce the level being fed from Camera Out to my camera to avoid peaking issues. This way I would have the safety net of dual-level recording whilst still being able to input to all four channels.
As for mounting I’ve quickly overcome my initial reservations about attaching the unit under-camera. I thought the combined unit would be simply too tall to be stable on a tripod and too heavy to use handheld or even shoulder-rigged – but it isn’t. The base of the unit has the usual 1/4 “ tripod screw hole and an additional fixed-pin hole which utilised on better tripod head plates and eliminates any side-twist between plate and unit. The top ¼” screw for attaching to the camera doesn’t have this additional pin as most DSLRs do not have a corresponding pin hole – so there is the potential for some twist between the units. However, you can get a fair purchase on the DR-60D’s large tightening wheel to lock the two together.
Using a multi-battery hand grip on your DSLR will take things too far though – and in my case extends the height of the whole assemble by about 5cm. Configured like this it all becomes a bit unstable and unwieldy and certainly not something that I would like to put on a crane or operate handheld for any length of time. Without the battery grip I will have to resort to disconnecting the DR-60D in order to get to the base of the camera in order to change its battery. That’s obviously not a problem when running the camera on mains but that’s a rare occasion for me.
For occasions when I need to keep the battery grip connected I’ll be using the DR-60D mounted separately from the camera. For a tripod or shoulder rig I have a number of magic-arm options for doing this, but I’ve also commissioned Hague Camera Supports to produce a bespoke camera offset plate so that I can mount the DR-60D alongside the camera with battery grip attached. Either way I will try to avoid lengthening the cable run between the two units as stereo mini jacks have a habit of getting knocked out.
Powering & Final Smart Features
Using four standard Alkaline batteries you’ll get around 4.5 hours use. Understandably, this drops quite significantly (2.5 hours) when you are phantom-powering your mic. Using Ni-MH batteries this goes up quite considerably returning about 14.5 hours and 9.5 hours respectively. You can also use the USB input to supply power, either directly from a mains-USB supply or through a lap-top or any other standard USB device.
There are other features of the DR-60D that I will no doubt come to value over time. The Line Out connector will give me a line-level stereo mini jack output to feed to another device or audio chain to which I can apply further level adjustment and EQ. I can also add limiters (to avoid peaking) and Low Cut Filters (to help remove things like the low level hum of air con units). In a multi-mic set up I can also independently adjust the delay between each channel to remove echoes caused by microphones set different distances from the sound source.
There are some features that I’ll probably not be using immediately but it’s nice to know they are there. For instance, the unit can perform selectable mid-side decoding for use with stereo MS microphone setups. There’s also an optional RC-10 Remote control unit and, though I’ve not got my head around the advantage to me, the Broadcast Wave Format might also prove useful.
DR-60D Review Conclusion
I appreciate there are other solutions and combinations of products out there that will give me everything that the DR-60D gives me. However, they won’t be such a neat, well-put together and adaptable package as the DR-60D. Everything about the unit feels right to me, from the general build quality to the metal toggle line level switches and soft-touch knobs and control buttons (aiding silent operation).
The menus are all logically set out and easy to navigate and, when things get a bit more complex, the instruction manual is nice and easy to follow. The ability to add Slate marks is going to be an absolute godsend to me, as is the user-defined word or date file naming format that will enable me to identify files quickly in post.
I’m now looking forward to putting the DR-60D to use on my next film with a new level of confidence and a whole lot more options in my sound recording. I’m sure it will, in some cases, be the difference between hiring in another hand on a shoot or not so it won’t be long before it’s paid its way. But I’m even more confident that it will save lots of time in post and, on the odd occasion, save my reputation by having a clean and unbroken back-up sound recording to turn to.
A big “Well done” to Tascam for producing the DR-60D. In my mind it’s a definitive product if ever I’ve seen one.
Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Notes: More details and specifications on the DR-60D can be found on the Proactive website – www.proav.co.uk/Tascam-DR-60D-Linear-PCM-Recorder-Mixer-For-DSLR/p32972.aspx