How to Use a Digital Recorder as a Camcorder Microphone

I’ve been shooting videos for YouTube for about three years, experimenting with point-and-shoot digital cameras and two Panasonic consumer camcorders, one a standard definition one that uses mini DV tape,  and the other a recent HD model.  Although the quality of the visuals is important in web video, equally if not more important is the sound quality.  If the sound isn’t clear, dialog is hard to make out, and then you can’t follow the story. And video is all about telling stories!

With inexpensive video gear, good sound is hard to capture.  The on-board microphones in small cameras generally don’t work well.  The fidelity may be all right at close distances, but it deteriorates greatly as you move away from the sound source.  So, if your camera has a sound-in jack, an external microphone is definitely recommended.

Not wanting to spend much on extra hardware, I decided to try my Olympus LS-10 digital sound recorder as an external microphone.  I placed it on top of an old pistol grip (see the rig at this link) to which I then fastened my camcorder on the side, running a 3.5mm stereo cable from the earphone port of the LS-10 to the mic-in port on the camcorder.  I found that when I shoot outdoors wind noise can be cut considerably by putting the low cut switch on the LS_10 to the “on” position.  This eliminates almost entirely the rumbling sound of wind passing over the dual microphone LS_10_as_external_mic (Medium)heads.  I also made a “dead cat” wind screen with some air conditioning foam and fake fur from a fabric shop.  I slip this wind screen cap over the forward half of the LS-10 (see picture at left), which leaves me just enough room to access the on-off switch, the recording level wheel, and the start and stop buttons.  Finally, I set the mic sensitivity switch to “low,” the recording level wheel to mid-level, and the mic zoom setting to “narrow,” (which minimizes the sounds coming from the sides and behind.)

The video below, using this sound rig, shows that it works well. The narrow setting kept the sounds of nearby passing traffic to a manageable level.  Dialog can be heard at a fair distance, and the fidelity of sounds is excellent.  If I want, I can set the LS-10 to record in addition to transmit the incoming sound.  This gives me a backup sound track, from which sound bites can easily be copied, such as the truck starting up (used during the title clip of this video.)

Part of the fun of piecing together a thrifty and effective rig is experimenting with what works, and eventually finding satisfactory solutions to all the problems that arise.  I worked on this rig for several weeks, and am very pleased with the outcome.  Maybe you’ll find different solutions with different equipment.  Maybe my experiment will give you ideas.  Have fun!


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