Better audio for #DSLR beginners

Better DSLR Audio
Better DSLR Audio

Here’s an understatement for you… “DSLRs are all lacking on the microphone side of things”. There shouldn’t really be any surprises here as they were never designed to capture proper sound alongside their stonkingly good pictures. You’d therefore be a little naive to think you’ll be getting anything other than a crappy, inaudible and muddled soundtrack by relying on their internal mic solution. It’s naff – totally – well maybe just OK as a guide track for linking up pictures in post with your externally recorded soundtrack.

For years serious sound recordists have even mocked those who used proper video cameras with their relatively sophisticated on-board microphones. You can imagine the sniggering that went on when the DSLR hit the scene with their invisible in-built mics and users started moaning about the awful sound they were getting. What a surprise!

Cam with myk
Better DSLR audio

Unfortunately, curing the sound problem isn’t just a case of plugging in a better quality microphone. Circuitry noise in these cameras is heightened by in-built and over active AGC (Audio Gain Control) which boosts the recording level during quieter moments of recording – and in doing so introduces the hissy pre-amp noise. Some later cameras overcome this and there are also modifications such as Magic Lantern which enable you to override the AGC (as well as many other shortcomings on DSLRs).

These shortcomings generated a whole new market in DSLR sound accessories – including camera-top mics, under-camera mixers and external recording devices to fulfil part or, collectively, all of the audio misgivings of DSLRs. Many chose to separate the audio recording process from the camera altogether – but then you’re left with an additional stage in post of bringing the pictures and sound back together (albeit that there are clever bits of software to do this for you).

Australian manufacturer, MyMyk, has recently added to this bunch of solutions with a compact, low profile camera top mic (Smartmyk) and an equally compact adapter (Smartlynk) that has more than one trick up its sleeve. Both can be used independently and both bring new features to the photographer or videographer looking to up their audio recording capabilities.

MyMyk Smartmyk

The first thing that strikes you about the Smartmyk is its size and profile. Attached directly to the DSLR via a cold-shoe connector with its own coiled cable stereo mini-jack, it adds very little to the overall weight of your rig. The low profiling is also neat as it takes up little room on a fully pimped-up DSLR and doesn’t get in the way of the cameras main controls.

SmartMyk
The SmartMyk running bareback on your DSLR

The condenser-type mic has a shotgun directional response. It’s long, thin interference tube helps eliminate off-axis sound – whilst basic wind protection is offered via the slip-on foam cover. To overcome camera handling and any camera motor noise the mic pickup is isolated from the camera body via an internal synthetic rubber shock-mount system. Power is provided by a standard 3V watch cell-type battery which will give around 40hours operation.

There are two basic controls on the rear of the mic – namely an on/off switch and a three position gain switch (+15dB / 0dB / -15dB). This enables you to adjust the output from the mic to match your recording device or camera.

MyMyk Smartlynk

Smartlynk is very compact mic mixer and output device that can be fitted to the cold-shoe connector on top of your DSLR – with an additional cold-shoe mounting slot on top to add your Smartmyk. Again, the unit is extremely lightweight and will add very little to your overall rig – even with the Smartmyk attached.

Smartlynk
Smartlynk giving you additional control

Powered by two AAA batteries (providing around 30-hrs of use), the Smartlynk gives you two mini-jack mic inputs – each with independent level adjustment. The unit provides three outputs including a headphone output, a mic-level output and an APP output (which I will go into more detail in a mo). There are two main controls on the rear of the unit – ‘AGC Block’ and ‘Main Output’.

The AGC Block utility overcomes the AGC issue on DSLRs by sending an inaudible tone down the left channel of the output which stops the AGC within the camera from hunting for a signal and increasing input level (and thereby increasing the hissy noise) in quieter environments.

The Main Output switch has three positions – ‘Off’, ‘Mix’ and ‘Split’. In the Mix position the unit will take the mixed input from both mics and send them to all three outputs. In the Split position the signal from Mic 1 is sent to the Mic output and the signal from Mic 2 is sent to the APP output.

Smartlynk connections
The in’s, out’s and control of Smartlynk

The APP output is designed to work in conjunction with the MyMyk Camera Audio App for iOS (about £3 I think). Connecting the supplied 4-pole mini-jack cable (TRRS) to an Apple device (iPhone/iPad/iPod etc) you can record the output from the Smartlynk (either Split or Mix) and then add recording notes, geotag information and export the audio files back out for further processing and editing. The APP connector has a two-pole switch which enables you to alter between monitoring the input to the App or playback from the App through Smartlynk’s monitor output.

Conclusions

The untested MyMyk App
The untested MyMyk App

As an Android user I wasn’t able to test the iOS App but if it works as stated then it will add another really useful dimension to this combination. The benefits of having a secondary recording of your mixed sound are easy enough to understand, but the added benefit of being able to split the sound coming from the two mic inputs off to two separate recording devices would be a great advantage. Unfortunately there is no news on this App being available to Android users – which is a real shame as I don’t think I’ve yet experienced the best bit about the MyMyk combination.

There’s no doubt that the Smartmyk on its own is a massive improvement over the in-built mics found in DSLRs and would therefore be an excellent option for the relative video newbie. However, it’s not the best mic in the world and, apart from its clever compact design, offers little to those who already have a reasonable collection of quality microphones. Compared to my RODE video mic it seemed to me to be quite tinny and not as responsive to low frequency sounds.

The unit I had for review was quiet susceptible to wind noise. I understand that this is partly addressed by an optional Rycote softie but in my tests the wind noise could be heard when gently blowing on the side of the main body of the mic and not just at the pickup end. Looking at the MyMyk website the Rycote softie only covers the interference tube so the wind hitting the side of the body of the Smartmyk will still be an issue.

Also, whilst the pickup pattern is described as directional the mic also picks up a fair bit of sound from the back of the unit. Talking to MyMyk about this it is apparently a design feature to enable the camera operator to add narration whist filming – but that’s such an infrequent requirement that this drawback would totally outweigh its limited benefit.

Using a combination of both these products will certainly address the common audio shortcomings of your DSLR – and at the same time add some really useful benefits too if you can utilise the iOS App. You can of course feed whatever self-powered mics you already have into the Smartlynk which in itself is a useful addition to any DSLR user.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: More information is available from www.proav.co.uk

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Filming a Corporate Away Day

I had a really busy June this year including filming a corporate away day at Highgate House, Creaton, Northants for CAT Publications Ltd – the publishers of M&IT magazine (Meetings and Incentive Travel).

The event was sponsored by the Norway Convention Bureau and Visit Norway and attended by event organisers from various companies across the UK. The purpose of the event was to introduce delegates to the various regions and conference/event facilities in Norway so that they might point their clients towards holding events there.

The underlying theme to the day was the work of the famous Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch and his iconic painting, ‘The Scream’. Apart from formal classroom-type presentations on the various Norwegian venues and regions, delegates were divided into teams to take part in fun and challenging activities including painting their own version of The Scream, making a short film based on the painting and taking part in an extreme crossing activity.

Painting like Munch
Painting like Munch

Video Artisan was brought in for two reasons. Firstly, CAT Publications wanted to produce a short overview of the event to help them promote future events and give an insight into their unique approach to managing corporate away days. The second part of the brief was to supply camera kits for the teams to produce their Scream films and to provide them with technical support. In addition, each team’s film had to be edited by the end of the day for a screening and judging session.

Filming a Corporate Away Day
Delegates shooting their Munch Film

Filming a Corporate Away Day

Having had previous experience in filming a corporate away day the short promo film wasn’t going to be too challenging on its own, but the addition of supporting the delegate teams in making their own films and then editing them together meant bringing in two additional crew members (Dilip Patel & Martin Baker). This left me to concentrate on managing the delegate teams and trying to get them to keep their ideas simple and easy to churn out on the edit suite within the given time. Earlier on in the day they had all watched a fantastic film that was commissioned by Visit Norway based on the same theme – so they were already building up some ambitious ideas for their own creations

In the quieter periods (there weren’t that many) I was also able to shoot interviews with the organisers, sponsors and delegates to help me tell the story for the promo film. I also used these moments to pick up on some establishing shots of the venue as well as more abstract coverage of the activities.

the Interviews
Filming a Corporate Away Day – the Interviews

Apart from the usual mass of filming equipment I take on these assignments I also had to rig up my old Edius 4.5 edit suite in a separate room away from the main conference area. This had to be able to output to DVD for the screening session and possibly a number of other digital formats just to be sure that the delegate’s films could be seen and judged when they needed to be.

The camera kits (two Canon XF105s) were supplied by Hireacamera and were been delivered on the previous day. I chose these cameras as I’d used them on similar events last year and they’d been incredibly easy to use in their ‘Auto-everything’ mode. The MXF file format that they record to is also ideal as my Edius system (as old as it is) can use these files on the timeline in their native form. I used Hireacamera because they are both dependable and really understand my needs – and they didn’t disappoint on this occasion either.

Another satisfied customer

After a couple of minor tweaks the promo film was signed off last week and I’m sure it will not be long before CAT Publications are pumping it out there to promote their next event. Following the event I’d also encoded the delegate team films to MP4 so they could be screened on their YouTube channel (Green Team, Blue Team, Yellow Team and Red Team)

The client certainly seem to be very pleased with the end result and have said there’s more work in the pipeline that they want to get me involved in. That’s exactly the response I aim for on every project and I hope to be filming a corporate away day for them again very soon.

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Mogopod Review

Mogopod review

 

What can you say about a monopod? They are after all a one-trick pony aren’t they? Well the guys at iFootage have taken the monopod to a whole new level – if you’ll pardon the pun.

Monopods have been with us for some time now but haven’t really moved on much from providing camera operators with a light, portable and small-footprint aid to keeping the camera steady. Most are simple multi-stage telescopic poles with a rubberised foot at one end and a basic camera screw head on the other. I already have one of these and it works perfectly well – so what else could iFootage do to make a monopod more useful? The UK distributors, Proactive in Hemel Hempstead, Herts were keen to let me find out.

Mogopod with camera
Mogopod fully extended

The Mogopod

The first thing that differentiates the Mogopod from other monopods is its unique twist-lock/release and single-action telescopic extension. One of the reasons why users opt to use a monopod is for their quick deployment but this requires the user to release and lock individual brakes on each extension segment. The Mogopod is much simpler and quicker to deploy to the required length – ranging from 77cm to 165cm fully extended.

The extension action is smooth and easy to operate and there’s a centimetre gauge along the side of the inner extension to enable you to repeat the extension length from shot-to-shot. The outer extension tube has a thick foam rubber cover which not only protects the unit in transit but also gives you a firm grip for releasing the locking collar and comfortable grip for using the Mogopod in its various configurations.

At each end of the system there’s a standard ¼” screw fitting – but in addition one of the ends has a wider base and is reversible to reveal a 3/8” threaded stud for attaching a fluid head to the Mogopod. The standard attachments include a screw-on rubber foot, an intermediate ball-levelling head and a rather neat and lockable tri-leg base unit which helps with stability. Whilst I wouldn’t leave a camera atop the Mogopod unattended, the tri-leg base does enable you to store the unit in a standing position ready for the camera to be attached. With the addition of a quick-release head on it this could be extremely useful in run-and-gun situations.

The ball-levelling head section has a male thread connector at one end and a female at the other. It can therefore be connected to either end of the Mogopod and coupled to the camera or the tri-leg base. This enables the Mogopod to be used in situations with varying floor levels and still maintain a true vertical – or not if you desire. This ball-levelling head is locked into place with a simple thumbscrew knob – or left lose so that you can alter the camera’s angle of view as you film.

Proactive sell the Mogopod on its own or bundled with the E-Image EI-717AH flat based fluid head. When used with this head, with the tri-leg attached to the ball-levelling head at the base of the Mogopod, you’ll have a very flexible and stable platform for your camera allowing you to pan, tilt and lean all in one smooth movement.

E-Image EI-717AH
The additional E-Image EI-717AH head

More than a monopod

As with other monopods the Mogopod can be used as a simple camera boom pole. Weighing in at under a kilogram without tri-leg base this can be useful for gaining a higher filming position or filming from a point of view that you are unable to reach (albeit that you’d need some way to remotely monitor the camera’s output). The ball-levelling head will enable you to quickly and easily alter the camera’s angle of view from -75°/+90°. In the demo video on the Proactive website they demonstrate this configuration being used by a cameraman filming himself spinning around with the camera looking back at him which looks very effective.

With its lightweight construction the Mogopod could easily double up as a short mic boom too – and with the tri-legs attached it would also make do as a mic stand if you were shooting solo and needed to get a shotgun mic closer to the action than the camera.

Mogopod extension
Mogopod single action extension and lock

Conclusion

Proactive sell the Mogopod bundled with the E-Image EI-717AH flat based fluid head at £145 plus VAT. The Mogopod on its own (which includes the tri-leg base, ball-levelling head and rubber foot) costs just £115 plus VAT. With a maximum payload of 3.5Kg it’s not going to be suitable for all cameras but perfectly capable of taking a fully-loaded DSLR or small video camera.

Like other iFootage kit the Mogopod is well thought out, neatly designed and constructed to a very high standard. All the clever moving parts that create the single-action extension are neatly hidden away within the unit so I see little chance of it going wrong.

Mogopod base
Ball-levelling head and tri-leg base

I only have two slight concerns about the Mogopod. Firstly, and acknowledged in the operating instructions, is that you have to be careful not to pinch your hand as you collapse the unit back down – a lesson I learnt within the first few minutes of using it! The only other concern is that the rubber foot becomes redundant when you have the tri-leg base attached so it might easily become lost. It would have been nice to have an additional ¼” stud on the side of the unit somewhere to store this foot when not in use.

These are only small issues and do not detract from the Mogopod’s usefulness, ease of operation and build quality. For the extra thirty quid I’d recommend getting the E-Image head too as it makes for an even more valuable addition to your shooting kit.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

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Nipper Clipper gets a website video

It’s fantastic when you work for a company that really understands the value of commissioning a website video.  We all appreciate the important role a website video can play in intelligent search engine optimisation, but it can also be a fun and creative way to communicate with customers and augment your brand.

My latest film for Tom Pellereau at Stylfile is a short website video introducing their revolutionary new Nipper Clipper nail clippers for babies and toddlers.

Making of the Nipper Clipper website video

What is it they say about working with children and animals? Thankfully the only animals involved were the animated kind included in the devilishly clever Timmy Tickle Baby Distraction Ap.  Created by the amazingly talented and creative Harriet Pellereau, this provides parents with a colourful and engaging distraction whilst they trim and file their baby’s nails – the little wrigglers!

I’m happy to say all the “nippers” were perfectly behaved on the shoot and made it easy for me to capture the moments of distraction.  The wonder and excitement of finding themselves on a small film set soon wore off – and Timmy Tickle did the rest.

Timmy Tickle Baby
Timmy Tickle helps out on the website video shoot

Filmed at the Monkey Puzzle Day Nursery in St Albans – parents were invited in to take part in the pre-launch demonstration and filming of the Nipper Clipper in action.  There are two features of the Nipper Clipper that set it above normal baby nail clippers – namely the curved scissor-action blades and the extremely reassuring spy hole which shows parents exactly what they are clipping (the horror stories are true).  The retail pack also contains a baby-soft mini Stylfile with it’s unique s-design.  The ap makes the whole process that much easier – and I dare say it could contribute towards early learning too.

The filming at the nursery took a morning to complete (Canon 5D mkii with EF 24-105mm 1:4 USM lens).  This was another day where myself and my client were extolling the virtues of my new cool-running, battery powered Lishuai LED lights.  With little people on set (often little/bigger brother/sister was present too) we had to reduce the risk posed by trailing cables and potential accidents from hot tungsten lamps.  Using the cable-less, heat-less LEDs meant we could relax and concentrate on the job at hand – not to mention the benefit of cooler working conditions for the older talent.

Tom Pellereau
Tom Pellereau – a big advocate of website video

Whilst we did managed to capture the spy hole and blade design in action on the day we always knew there would be a couple of studio shots required to demonstrate these features fully – in a more controlled way.  The “studio” was in fact my edit desk where we once again used a Lishuai LED to close-light the Nipper Clipper and carry out some macro filming using an adapter and vintage Fujinon 50mm f1.8 lens.  That thumb is mine – and had to be polished up especially for its Hitchcock.

Macro filming
Do you need macro filming on your website video?

Follow-up website video

It’s not all over for Video Artisan and the Nipper Clipper as I was asked to film the launch and press day in Central London earlier this week.  A mass of press photographers, baby bloggers and media-types turned up to see Tom and his business partner (Lord Sugar) cut the ribbon on a pop-up shop in Neals Yard, Covent Garden so there’s at least one more website video to come.

So yes – I can now honestly say I’ve worked with kids and babies and survived.

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New website promo film for HRS

I’ve just completed a website promo film for another BBC Apprentice winner, Ricky Martin, for his specialist recruitment company HRS (Hyper Recruitment Solutions) based in Loughton, Essex.

Ricky Martin runs HRS in partnership with Lord Alan Sugar.  The company has a wealth of recruitment expertise in placing jobs within the science and technology sectors.  The website promo film was produced for the HRS website front page and also the HRS YouTube channel in order to give visitors an introduction to the range of expertise and unique recruitment services they offer.

Not only do HRS recognise the huge importance of commissioning a website promo film as part of their general marketing activities but also the major role that video plays in efficient SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).  In a nutshell, if all else is equal a website that includes video it will rank higher in Google searches than one that doesn’t.  Google’s ownership of YouTube has an influence on this but any properly site-mapped video content will help your website climb the rankings.

Not only that but a well produced and properly indexed website promo film will drive more relevant visitors to your website – and keep them there longer.

Short lead-time website promo film

This video is a good example of what can be achieved in a very short space of time.  From the initial approach by Ricky this website promo film was screening on the HRS YouTube channel within a week.  And within a week of going live it had already attracted over 2,500 views – and the audience figures are still growing.

The video was shot in the Video Artisan edit suite against a chroma key background and superimposed Ricky over a stock office shot from iStock.  We then added the HRS logo to one of the office walls in order to personalise the scene. XY zoom was applied to this background image to match the cuts from the medium to close shots.

HRS website promo film
Background image for the HRS website promo film

The instant success of this website promo film has inspired HRS to commission more video content for their website going forward.  More details will follow soon but we hope to be creating some content that will help those looking for jobs within the science and technology sectors to be more successful in gaining employment.

Also keep an eye on my blog for news on more work we’ve produced for BBC Apprentice winner, Tom Pellereau and his amazing Stylfile collection.

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