Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Makeshift Field Recorder - Your Digital Camera

While working on an animation project, I really needed some wide open sounds, ambiance, street sounds, basic background stuff. Field recording. I tried using my phone's memo function (not great), and I tried using a hand held voice recorder (also not great and surprisingly expensive for very little storage). It started to look like I would either have to lug my laptop, soundcard and mics somewhere (inconvenient and I don't like calling that kind of attention to myself), or I'd have to drop $300+ on something like a ZoomH4 or Microtrack, and I didn't want to do that.

I was getting really frustrated, until I realized I had a gadget ready to help.

If you're anything like me, you probably have a ton of gadgets and kit lying around for those "just in case" situations, and if you're a lot like me, then you probably also collect hobbies. Over the last year I've really gotten into photography, and by "really gotten into" I mean I like to take pics of my dog sleeping and stealing the remote.

Biggelow the SharPei - Stolen Remote AGAIN

While I've spent a lot of time figuring out how to use the photo features of my camera (a Powershot S2), I haven't spent very much time on it's other settings. My camera actually has a pretty decent camcorder setting with, wouldn't you know it, built in stereo mics and a wind filter. Digging into my camera's manual a little deeper, I found it has a stand alone sound recorder setting, with a TWO HOUR limit per recording (and I can record several times over on my 2GB memory card, WAY more than I would ever need for ambient noise). The recordings aren't compressed either, and are a standard 16-bit .wav which can be edited in any standard audio editor.

What's great about cameras, is that they also have pretty standardized accessories. My $9 mini-tripod became a great stand to minimize bouncing and bump noises, and in a pinch can be used as a makeshift short boom. You could even go mono-pod if you wanted to.

On my camera, the lens doesn't engage when recording sound, so I left the lens cap on, and recorded totally anonymously. No one was the wiser, and I got exactly what I needed.
Get it? Batman. Cuz I'm all teh-stealthy-recording-McBat-guy.

The only drawback I could find was the fact that these mics are WIDE. They pick up EVERYTHING. I had to sample a couple different street sounds as I was picking up people's conversations. You certainly wouldn't want to use this if you needed something tight and directional, but if you need something wide, it's worked better than any other gadget I've tried so far (short of actual field recording kit, picture not of me).

To wrap up, I wouldn't recommend going out to buy a camera just to do this (you'll end up spending almost as much as you would've on an H4 or Microtrack), but if you already have a digital camera with a camcorder mode, than your bang for buck is WAY higher than buying something else (like a crappy voice recorder), and should totally hold you over until you need to buy something more sophisticated.


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