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Video Toolkit

Recording Audio with a Canon 5D Mark III

My philosophy for video production at Wistia is quite simple: keep it simple.

A simple setup makes it way easier to spin up and just start making a video. It's why we've chosen to turn a conference room into a studio, it's why I love using a shotgun microphone, and it's the main reason why we use the Canon 5D camera.

The 5D is my favorite camera for a bunch of different reasons, but I'm not going to write (yet another) love letter to Canon. Instead, I want to share how we get around the Canon 5D's greatest downfall: capturing audio.

The equipment

The workflow

Quick start: the settings

This is a super speedy breakdown of the settings we use. If any of this is unclear, read on for a longer explanation!

  • H4n powering microphone with phantom power enabled +48V
  • H4n input volume is around 40-50
  • H4n headphone volume is around 60
  • 5D Mark III sound recording is on manual, dialed way down
  • Record simultaneously on the H4n as a backup
  • Monitor the 5D audio by plugging in headphones

The longer explanation

I run the ME-66/K6 microphone XLR into channel 1 of the H4n audio recorder. With the H4n turned on, I make sure to select the "1" input button. This activates the XLR inputs, as opposed to the built-in mic input.

The ME-66 requires power from either a AA battery or from what's called phantom power. I use the latter. Head into the H4n menu and enable phantom power (or +48V). This will save you from having to turn the microphone on and off. Using phantom power, the microphone will receive power only when the H4n is on.

Now, it's time for the mic test! Adjust the H4n headphone volume to around 60. This controls the volume of sound going to the headphones.

Arm the H4N by clicking the REC button once. It'll start flashing (but it's not recording). Put some headphones on and plug them into the H4n to ensure a solid baseline test of the levels. Don't just have your talent say "test test test"; rather, ask them to speak with energy, as they're going to speak in your video, to ensure realistic levels.

Adjust the rec volume (using the buttons on the right side of the H4n) so that the levels are hitting around the 75% mark on the meter. We're usually at around 40 for the rec volume.

Once we have good levels on the H4n, I run the sound directly into the 5D by exiting the H4n through the headphone jack and plugging into the 5D microphone input. Then I plug headphones into the 5D to monitor the sound. Make sure to turn the microphone volume on the 5D way down to avoid distortion. The goal is to have the levels on the 5D match the levels on the H4n (both hitting around the 75% mark).

Record simultaneously

This Canon 5D audio setup gets the job done, but it's far from flawless. That's because the audio capabilities on the 5D are limited beyond just the plugs they give you on the camera. The actual guts of the camera seriously limit the quality of sound the camera can record. This means that the sound is way more likely to distort or flatten sound than if you were recording with a proper video camera with professional audio capabilities.

For this reason, as a backup, I record on the H4n simultaneously. In most cases, I end up using only the audio captured on the Canon 5D. But in the rare cases where someone laughs really loudly or says a line with extra excitement, causing the audio to peak and distort on the 5D, chances are good that superior sound quality from the H4n will come out crystal clear. In this case, I sync the good sound from the H4n with the bad sound from the camera.

Recording audio on other DSLR cameras

This general setup works with other DSLR cameras as well! But there is one giant downfall to using just about any other video-capable Canon DSLR (60D, 7D, 5D Mark II) besides the 5D Mark III: the lack of a headphone jack.

The 5D Mark III's headphone jack allows you to confidently record audio on the camera by monitoring exactly how it sounds. This will indicate whether something distorted and you need to turn the microphone volume down, or if someone is too quiet and you need to turn the volume up.

Older and less expensive Canon DSLR cameras all have the same microphone input as the 5D Mark III, but lack a headphone jack.

If you have a camera without a headphone jack, here's what I suggest. Follow the same principles and settings for the microphone and H4n, but pick up a headphone splitter and plug that into the headphone jack of the H4n.

Plug your headphones into one jack, then plug the other jack into the cable that runs into the DSLR microphone input. This will allow you to run sound into the camera while monitoring the audio you're recording on the H4n. In this case, make completely sure to record sound on the H4n, as you have no way to tell how the audio you're recording on the camera is coming out.

A letter to Canon

Dear Canon,

Hey! How are you? I am well..

I love your cameras and lenses. Especially my 5D Mark III. But for the love of all things holy, could you please put a headphone jack on all of your cameras? Start with the SL1. The T4i and 70D would be nice too.

See you soon!

Love, Chris xoxo


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