Recording audio with your video DSLR, Part II

September 7th, 2010 by Juan Pons

Canon EOS 7D with Rode VideoMic and Zoom H4n

This is the second part of my “Recording audio with your video DSLR” post from a few days ago.

Let's pick up where we left off…


In the original article I talked about lavaliere (or lapel), microphones as well as the microphone built into the Zoom H4n. However there is one other microphone that I use specially when shooting wildlife and that is the Rode VideoMic, this is a shotgun type microphone. These types of microphones are highly directional and are used when you want to isolate the sound that is right in front while minimizing sound coming in from the sides and rear.

This is particularly useful when filming wildlife, however they can also be very effective to record an interview when you do not have a lapel type microphone. I have been using the Rode VideoMic for about a year now and have been very pleased with it. Do keep in mind that as with anything else, there are practical limits to how far a shotgun microphone will “reach”. On occasions what I have done is used an extension cable to place the microphone closer to my subjects. Since the VideoMic using a mini jack type plug, I used a simple mini (3.5mm) jack extension cable from Cables Unlimited.

One limitation to keep in mind in regards to the Rode VideoMic is that like most shotgun microphones this microphone records on only one channel. If you need a stereo microphone, I would recommend the Rode Stereo VideoMic, do keep in mind that this is not a shotgun microphone, meaning that it will capture most of your ambient audio.

Zoom H4n output connected to the Canon EOS 7D

Recording Video and Audio

Now that you have all this gear, you are ready to start recording some video and audio. Although recording on two devices is a bit more cumbersome and complex than recording on just one device, the sound you record will be of much better quality and this in turn will significantly improve your videos.

Sometimes the easiest way to learn is by watching someone doing, or at least understand the steps that someone takes in accomplishing a task. To that end here is a quick rundown of my workflow when recording video and audio on separate devices (canon 7D & Zoom H4n):

  1. Frame, focus, set exposure on the camera
  2. Check sound levels by checking the meters on the Zoom as well as monitoring the audio coming out of the Zoom via headphones
  3. Plug the output of the Zoom (after unplugging my headphones) to the sound input of the Canon 7D
  4. Make a mental note of the sound clip sequence number on the Zoom
  5. Start video and sound recording near simultaneously.
  6. Stand in front of the camera, state the date, time and audio file sequence number
  7. Clap my hands
  8. Record away

This is an idealized sequence of events, sometimes you are not able to perform all these steps, for example when recording wildlife, but for me this sequence makes is very easy to match audio and video clips together, hence the stating of date, time and sequence number. Plus the clapping of the hands makes it very easy to then synchronize the audio and video manually.

I have also been asked by a few dozen people if and why I connect the Zoom to the camera, and the answer is yes, I connect the audio out from the Zoom to the audio in on the camera; and the main reason is to get as clean an audio recording on the camera as I can. I do this for two primary reasons. First, I have gotten lucky and had decent sound recorded on the camera, and in those cases I was able to use that sound and not have to bother with merging the Zoom audio with the video. Second, as a safeguard in case I mess up somewhere along the line, which happens more than I would like.

Connecting the Zoom and the 7D is easy, all you need is a short Mini Jack (3.5mm) male to male cable.

Merging video and audio

Once I am able to download the both my video and audio files, I simply watch the first few seconds of the video files and listen for my bit where I state the audio sequence file, then it’s easy to find out the matching audio file. I will then add an identifier to the filename of the audio file in order to make it match the video file. This step you have to do regardless of whether you are manually syncing the files, or using automated software like Plural Eyes to perform the syncing.

I have tried using Plural Eyes, and while this plug-in performs admirably, I find that I can sync the video and audio very quickly and with little effort in my video editing system, Final Cut Pro, simply by watching for the clapping movement of my hands and matching that to the audio levels peak on the Zoom audio track. It takes a bit of practice but I am now finding that I can perform this sync in less than 30 seconds per video file.

If for some reason I was not able to perform my ideal recording workflow as I outlined above, it may take me a bit longer to do the matching by using both audio tracks as well as some video clues such as lip movement if I am recording a person.

Detail of my zoom to camera mount

My Zoom H4n to camera mount

I’ve been surprised by the number of questions I’ve received about the bit of kit I use to mount my Zoom to the camera. Honestly this is something I put together from bits I already had. A precondition to my set up is to have an L plate installed on your camera. I have the Really Right Stuff B7D-L L quick release plate on my 7D. This is required for this set up since you will be clamping the Zoom setup to the side dovetail mount. By the way, I have found this L plate to be HUGELY beneficial for both stills and video shooting due to the bi-directions bottom dovetail mount. More on this on a future post.

I use a Kirk 1 inch Quick-Release clamp, mated to a Gitzo G0077 ballhead, to mount my Zoom to my L plate.

I hope you found this article useful. I tried to answer all the questions generated by the first part of the article, but if you feel I left something out or did not adequately addressed your question, please feel free to post in the comments and I will do my best to answer them in a timely fashion.



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4 Responses to “Recording audio with your video DSLR, Part II”

  1. David says:

    I have been testing the setup of ZoomH4n live to Canon 7D via the 3.5 male to male jack. When I have my h4n levels set correctly it seems to record very noisily onto the 7D. The only way around this I have found is to bump the H4n levels right down (around -30). Have you had the same problem? Is there a way around this?

  2. Sukhbir says:

    Hi there, I just want to double check. The sound is recorded on a different track? And during the editing process you have to merge the sound and the video together manually? I wish it could record straight into the video like the camera’s built in mic does.

  3. jon says:

    hi! could you suggest the best recording levels on the zoom h4n ( rec level ) on the 7d? i tried recording but the sound is much too distorted

  4. roger says:

    The problem is the audio out on the zoom is line level and needs to be attenutated to match the gain of the input on the camera (which is mic level). There are third party wires with built in attenuation.

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