Are you a photographer or writer looking to upgrade your on-camera audio for basic video clips and interviews? Check out some basic hardware and software essentials to improve your basic audio workflow for transcribing interviews and simple video clips.
Keeping up with the evolving demands of technology can be wearing, and the rabbit hole into the world of audio quality is eternally long. Finding a simple starting point will let you begin the journey to better audio.
As a photographer first, I’ve been working to step up my audio game on two fronts. First, I'm a writer conducting a lot of interviews for my editorial and magazine work. Those interviews are always referenced and often end up transcribed. Clear audio is a time saver when using transcription services like Trint, which so far is my favorite online (paid) service for its follow-along features. Second, I want to create moving images with better sound if for no other purpose than for use on my own Instagram channel. DSLRs are not known for their built-in audio quality, on-camera audio isn't the pinnacle, either, but it is an upgrade. Attaching better quality sound to a video clip without much work is of value to me. Sure, a shotgun mic might look cooler but an audio recorder can serve both of my needs well, so that's where I started.
In the past, I've used a Tascam DR-07 (no longer available) until it had a sudden and unfortunate ending that crushed the display. The Tascam DR-05 Portable Handheld Digital Audio Recorder feels just as familiar in a slightly smaller footprint and is what I'm now using. For interviews, a favorite feature is the ability to add up to 99 mark points to return to later.
Tascam offers a Handheld DR-Series DSLR Filmmaking Accessory Package which includes may of the following accessories that can quickly enhance audio workflows.
Micro SD Cards
The Tascam DR-05 includes 4 GB Micro SD card, and only recognizes up to 32GB Micro SD memory cards. Capacities beyond 32GB will be unreadable by the DR-05, so check the specifications before buying an audio recorder and memory cards. A Micro SD to SD card adapter that is usually included when purchasing a Micro SD card is useful to import quickly to computers with a built-in SD card slot. Pelican's 0915 Memory Card Case is my favorite storage solution to keep from losing Micro SD and SD card adapters
A fancy word for a 3.5mm line to microphone cable, this lets you plug into a modern DSLR that can capture video. In this way, audio from the recorder is sent to the camera, overriding the built-in microphone for an external source providing better quality sound.
Headphone Splitter Cable
If you're interested in monitoring your audio as you record, a splitter allows headphones to be connected with a 3.5mm port while an attenuator is attached.
Tabletop or Mini Tripod
A small tripod can be helpful to elevate an audio recorder to a higher position for interviews or sound recording. I found two small Joby GorillaPod original tripods at a thrift shop for $2 each and thought they might come in handy some day. The gamble paid off and the 1/4" tripod attachment screw mount on the Tascam DR-05 is a perfect fit. I can wrap the GorillaPod around an object or set it on a table as a simple microphone holder. I may add a mouse pad as a base to reduce vibration.
Shoe Mount Adapter
A hot shoe mounted adapter with a 1/4” tripod thread can attach the Tascam DR-05 to a camera hot shoe, functioning like a boom mic in terms of on-board positioning for run and gun use.
Powerex Padded Accessory Bag
Designed for flashes, chargers, and battery storage, the Powerex padded accessory bag makes the perfect home for a lean audio kit. It has room for cables, audio recorder, earbuds, and adapters to stay lean while keeping your audio gear safe.
Powerex Pro AA Batteries
Powerex's new Pro Rechargeable AA NiMH Batteries (1.2V, 2700mAh) are my go power source to for all AA and AAA powered devices. 2700 mAh NMH rechargeable batteries have a long life and hold their charge for a long time. Toss in a couple of these with your audio recorder and you're set.
While there are tons of paid applications out there, Audacity is a free, open-source application on Mac and PC, serving as a "multi-track audio editor and recorder.” It is widely regarded as one of the best free audio applications available.
For additional resources, check out Mike Wilkinson's article on Fstoppers, "Audio Recording Basics: Using Shotgun Microphones for Documentary Video Production." B&H Photo also has great resources, "What Works for You? A Guide to DSLR Audio" and "How to Use a Portable Audio Recorder on a Video Shoot."
This setup is almost certainly not where you’ll finish, but it is a start. Once you better learn the needs of your workflow, perhaps adding a boom or lavaliere mic, perhaps a field mixer, this kit will be just as useful. I'm just getting started in the world of audio, and this is what I've found useful so far as a photographer first and a writer second, with nominal motion capability in my toolkit. What tools are helpful for light and simple, yet effective, audio recording? Let us know in the comments below!