After years of pretty poor quality audio RecordProduction.com has found the perfect mic pre / interface for location sound recording with our DSLR's.
We know, it's ironic. RecordProduction.com is here to promote great recording engineers, recording studios and music producers yet the site's videos suffer from pretty lousy audio. Picture quality has been getting much, much better but despite various attempts to get better audio with the DSLR's that we use, things could be much better.
Before we switched to DSLR's (which enable stunning video quality due to the large sensors and fast prime lenses that we can now use) the semi pro camcorders that we used had XLR mic inputs with phantom power. We could select any nice looking mic (Neumann FET 47 being a favourite) and plug in. Sadly, despite the excellent visual benefits that DSLR's bring, a big down side when recording video is the audio with poor built in microphones or less than great shotgun mics that attach to the hot-shoe. To try and get around this we have used a variety of microphones that sit on top of the camera and while they do give better results than the built in mics they suffer major drawbacks; handling noise, frequently they're situated too far from the subject (depending on the lens required etc) and they tend to pick up GSM phone signals.
Another way to beat some of the sound issues can be to use a separate audio recorder that enables either built in mics or external mics to be employed. In many ways this is one of the best ways to record but it's yet another box to carry around, and then, in our case, there can be hours of frustration trying to sync the audio with the picture - we're using the latest Final Cut Pro. It can prove so annoying that it's tempting to just use the on camera audio. Not great.
There must be a better way to work and we think we've found it. On a video shoot a while back the engineer we were interviewing thrust a Redshark Audio RA 90 in to our hands and said to go try it saying it's probably what we've been looking for....
Unfortunately, as is often the case, video features seem to go in bursts, several one month and then none for a few before doing another bunch. We received the RA 90 just as we went in to one of those quiet periods and combined with a house move didn't get time to really try it out well enough to write a report. Fast forward to now and we have recorded several features with the RA 90 and are so pleased want to pay for it, we couldn't do without it now!
Being typical 'blokes' no manual was read, everything is pretty much straightforward. Mic input using one of those combi jack/XLR connectors, mini jack output to go to the camera, level controls, led meter, phantom power on/off. All pretty simple. Actually, we should have read up first because on the first few recordings there was trouble getting the meter to show anything before blowing the socks off the camera audio stage. Only after a few attempts the discovery was made that on our Nikon D800e audio input needs to be set to its lowest level. Naturally compression on camera was disabled.
Once understanding how things worked it was a dream to use. The only exception was the 'finger trouble' experienced early on - the phantom power switch when the RA 90 is mounted as shown on the pictures is on the other side of the unit on the lens side of the camera. It can be missed and in the stress of a shoot. Once fully learned the RA 90 produces excellent visual feedback with the meters and the audio quality is excellent. At last we can pick a tasty microphone to record with and now audio matches the excellent picture quality.
It's hard to write much of a 'wordy' review really because what this unit does is simply let you use high quality studio microphones with a DSLR. Once you know to set the camera input to its lowest setting everything just works and then you're simply trying to select the right mic for the session. Noise is very low, audio is superb and it's like night and day with on-camera and hot-shoe video-mics.
The beauty of the Redshark is that it's a nice light box that sits on top of the camera. You can monitor your picture on the DSLR screen, monitor the audio meters above and in our case, monitor via headphones pluged in to the camera - just to be sure that signal really is getting through.
Over the years the RP camera rig has gone from a domestic camcorder to a big lighting bag, several camera bags for extra camera bodies and lenses, several tripods etc. Climbing a studio staircase with all of that can be a challenge and so is the set up. Typically setting up lighting, cameras, microphones etc takes half an hour and frequently there is only a lunch break to set up, interview, take photos and then tear down. Having just a few minutes to be able to take stock and think about camera positions and lighting is important and there's no space in the kit for fiddly and troublesome gear.
The less complex the equipment the better as the job is usually to set up, get the interviewer in to position with the subject and not waste time. The RA 90 is just right, it bolts on to the camera quickly, all controls are in the right place and it's easy to monitor. Sound quality is excellent, the noise is low, battery life is good, controls and metering are spot on and it's light. Best of all, the video files now have excellent audio so there's no issues with sync in post/editing.
We will do a more technical review when we can but if you're looking to improve your audio with a DSLR check the Redshark Audio RA 90 out!