SOUNDWhile the visual results from hybrid cameras can be stunning, all HDSLRs need external microphones or recorders for the audio to live up to the picture quality. A common statement from those in the movie industry is that people can tolerate a less-than-perfect picture, but not bad sound.
In his book, DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Kurt Lancaster divides sound recording setups into three basic categories: recording with a mic into the camera; recording into the camera using an XLR mic with an XLR adapter; and recording onto a high-quality external recorder such as the Zoom H4n or the Tascam DR-100 using the on-camera mic for reference and backup. Whichever method is used, he suggests turning off the camera's AGC (Automatic Gain Control) if possible to avoid sound fluctuations.
High-quality on-camera mics that slip into the camera's hot-shoe or a bracket with a cold-shoe (if a light is taking up the hot-shoe position) include the 9-volt, battery-powered RØDE VideoMic Pro and the AAA-battery-powered Sennheiser MKE 400 shotgun microphone. Both plug into the camera with a stereo mini-jack and make a huge difference when it comes to sound quality. For optimal dialogue quality, I keep people talking to the camera within five feet of the mic. To expand the recording range when needed, a boom pole or a wireless lavalier system can be useful, especially when someone is playing an on-camera host.
The RØDE VideoMic Pro has a selectable high-pass filter that can be turned on to reduce low-end noise such as air-conditioners and traffic. Along with that control are the level settings. The -10 dB level attenuation (or PAD) is ideal for recording loud sound sources such as live music. The +20 dB level boost is designed for use with DSLR cameras. This allows the user to reduce the camera's mic-input level, effectively reducing the amount of noise generated by the camera's audio circuitry.
When using XLR mics or a wireless mic setup, I mount the BeachTek DXA-SLR Adapter under the camera. The DXA-SLR has Good/Peak signal indicators and a headphone output, allowing me to monitor the recording. The AGC Disable feature works effectively at controlling the wild swings of the Auto Gain Control that can plague HDSLR camera recordings. BeachTek suggests using Sescom's 25 dB padded output cable from the adapter when using any Nikon HDSLR camera to match the levels properly, since the DXA-SLR is primarily calibrated for Canon cameras. Sescom also makes a splitter cable that allows for both monitoring and recording from a single output jack.
OTHER HELPFUL GEARFor bigger productions, external monitors made by companies such as ikan and Marshall are often used. In addition to seeing what the camera sees on a larger HD screen, the monitors can display color, gamma and histogram readings.
If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are apps to help you, too. For Apple iOS devices, check out MovieSlate, which contains a digital slate, clapper board and shot log, and Cinemek Hitchcock, a mobile storyboard and previsualization composer. These apps not only make you look cool, but they're two of the most useful for our HDSLR pursuits.