The microphones built into portable digital recorders typically sound pretty good, and if you use a recorder to capture the sound for a DSLR video shoot, you may be tempted to mount the recorder directly on top of your camera and use it as an on-camera mic. But here’s the problem…
Plugging the headphone output of the recorder into the mic input on the camera won’t sound good. The mic input on a DSLR needs a mic-level audio signal, and the headphone output on the portable digital recorder is line-level. Mic-level signals are very low, and line-level signals are very loud. If you just used a normal 1/8″ to 1/8″ mini-plug cable to connect the two, you’re likely going to get a nasty sounding distorted recording. What you need is an 1/8″ to 1/8″ cable with a built-in -25dB attenuator. And wouldn’t you know it… such a thing exists.
It’s called a Sescom LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N cable. I recently had the chance to test one out on a Nikon DSLR and a Zoom H4n recorder. This Sescom cable has been designed specifically so you can mount a portable digital recorder on top of a DSLR, and plug the headphone output of the recorder into the mic input on the camera.
I was impressed with the sound I was able to get using the Sescom cable. The full instructions are found in the YouTube video below. Check it out:
While using this Sescom cable is a nice solution, and more affordable than buying a good on-camera microphone, there are a number things you should consider before going this route. You need to understand how to set up the recorder, and be aware of the drawbacks of this workflow (both of which I discuss later in this post).
If you want to try this at home with your DSLR, you’ll need:
2) A VariZoom Shoe Mount (to mount the recorder to the camera)
3) A production slate (handy if you want to sync the file in the recorder)
3) …and the lovely Sescom LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N cable
To understand the simplicity of using the Sescom cable, just look at its official model name. The “LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N.” Pretty intimidating sounding, eh? If you break down the model name, the true simplicity reveals itself. LN2MIC, that just means Line-Level to Mic-Level. The model name is saying “Hey, I convert audio signals from Line to Mic.” ZOOMH4N, this just means that it’s targeted at Zoom H4n owners. Don’t let that scare you. It will work just as fine with the Zoom H1, the Tascam DR-40, and so on.
There are a few things you should be mindful of if you go this route. One downside is that because the Sescom cable occupies the headphone output of the recorder, you won’t be able to monitor the audio as you shoot. However, there are Sescom cables available that feature a spliced-in headphone jack, such as the LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON cable, which eliminate this problem.
Another thing to take into consideration is battery life. A portable digital recorder burns through a lot more power than an on-camera microphone. You also have to realize that the recorder adds weight to the camera, and (in the case of the Zoom H4n) the rear of the recorder juts out a bit (see the photo below).
Another thing to keep in mind is that having stereo mics mounted on top of your camera isn’t going to yield the best sounding results in many situations. Often times, you’d be better off using a dedicated shotgun microphone. It all depends on the kind of video you’re shooting. But, if you just need a quick improvement over the lousy built-in camera mics, then using a Sescom cable makes total sense.
What were my settings?
I got nice sounding results with the microphone level on the Zoom H4n set at 80, and the headphone output set at 50. If you’re using the XLR mic inputs with external microphones, these settings may differ.
Are there any other brands?
It’s worth mentioning that there are other brands that make these kinds of cables besides Sescom. I think Sescom was the first company to manufacture these, and others brands followed behind. For example, the Kopul ACH4-25MON Line-to-Mic Attenuator cable is pretty much the exact same thing as the Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON (the one that has the headphone jack). The Kopul ACDR-35 Line-to-Mic Attenuator cable is pretty much the same thing as a Sescom cable with 35dB of attenuation.
Sescom also makes dedicated a cable like this for the Sony PCM-D50 (it’s called the LN2MIC-PCDM50). There’s one for the Tascam DR-100 called the LN2MIC-TASDR100. There’s even one for the Marantz PMD620 called the LN2MIC-PMD620. The only difference between these cables, as far as I can tell, is that the DR-100 cable and the PCM-D50 cable are -35dB, and the others are -25dB.
If you have any questions about this stuff, please post there in the Comments section below. If reading all of this has convinced you that getting an on-camera mic is the way to go, be sure to check out my on-camera mic shootout.
You should also make a point of checking out my follow up post on Sescom cables. Here’s the link. In Part 2 I test out the kind of Sescom cables that have headphone jacks.
Thanks for dropping by!
Sescom LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N Cable - Amazon USA, B&H Photo
Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON Cable (with headphone jack) - Amazon USA, B&H Photo
Zoom H4n - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-40 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr