Audio Advice from a Sharpshooter

Here are a few tips on ensuring that the quality of your audio is as good as the video.
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Audio rules! Really. Truth be told, it’s often more important than the pictures. Here are a few tips on ensuring that the quality of your audio is as good as the video.

  1. Make a set of earphones or earbuds part of your basic kit and use them whenever you are shooting scenes that include dialog or other critical sound. Interference from high-powered electronic sources such as radar systems and radio transmitters, break-up or hum picked up by defective cables, and problems with a wireless mic may otherwise escape notice... until you get to the screening room.
  2. If your camera allows it, activate the option that displays a VU indicator in the viewfinder. This provides visual confirmation that your levels are neither too high nor too low as well as assurance that background audio is being recorded when you are shooting cutaways.
  3. Automatic Gain Control (AGC) will generally do a better job than you can in maintaining proper audio levels but remember to switch it off whenever you are recording dialog or shooting a live shot. Even a slow decay setting will not prevent ACG from cranking up the gain during extended periods of silence, such as when a field reporter is waiting for her cue, and the result will be a high level of background noise just before she speaks.
  4. The internal mic built into most video cameras is almost always a poor source of audio. Better suited to picking up the sounds of a shooter’s breathing or his hands on the camera than those coming from what’s in the viewfinder, such an infernal mic should never be counted on for critical audio. A pole-mounted shotgun or lav mic on each subject are the best ways to pick up clean, intelligible dialog.
  5. Broken connectors can be avoided if you provide some manner of strain relief for the cords that are connected to your camera. Use a piece of gaffers tape or a Velcro tie to fasten audio cables to the camera handle or base. This will keep the weight of the cable from damaging the mini-jacks on the camera and prevent accidental disconnects as well.
  6. Minimize the potential for damage to the cables themselves by looping them in a gentle circle when packing up. Disconnecting both ends of a cable prevents bending the wire where it exits the connector, which is the reason so many cables fail at this very spot. This is especially true for wireless mics; many users wrap the mic cord tightly around the transmitter, stressing the cable repeatedly in the same place as well as creating kinks and bends that make it difficult to dress the cable neatly under the wearer’s clothing.