First thoughts on the new Zoom H4n Pro Recorder

Zoom just announced the new H4n Pro Handy Recorder, and I wanted to share my initial thoughts on it. The original Zoom H4n has been a popular choice for many, many years, so an update is important news and merits deep analysis.

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Zoom H4n Pro was how closely it resembles the original. The overall shape, as well as the buttons and controls all look very familiar. It’s clear that the significant changes to this device largely apply to what’s inside. Continue reading First thoughts on the new Zoom H4n Pro Recorder

Audio Test: Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-40

I recently published a post where I carefully explain the differences between the Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40, two competitively-priced portable digital recorders that both feature dual XLR inputs.

In this post, I compare the actual performance of these two models by testing the quality of their built-in mics, how well they perform with a phantom-powered external mic (a hyper cardioid Audio-Technica 4053b), and also how they sound when connecting directly to a camera using a Sescom attenuation cable Continue reading Audio Test: Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-40

Tascam DR-40 vs. Zoom H4n

If you need a portable digital recorder that features XLR inputs, and you don’t have lots of cash to spend, there are two options that stand out: the Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40. I created this post to help you clearly understand the differences between the two, and to share my opinion as to which is the better choice.

Continue reading Tascam DR-40 vs. Zoom H4n

How to Set Audio Levels

People regularly ask me how to adjust the settings on their audio equipment so they can record the best sound on their productions. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, however, I can never supply the answer they want. I can’t instruct them to turn the gain on their audio recorder to 7, and set the camera input level to 3. Why? The variables will often be different, and where these adjustments need to be set will change. There is no short and sweet answer. What’s needed is real instruction, so, instead of authoring a paid eBook on the topic, I’m going to try to spell it all out in this blog post, using language that camera people can easily understand.

Continue reading How to Set Audio Levels

Can’t find a Bag for Your Zoom H4n? Try a Neck Strap!

Canon Metal Neck Strap 1Folks have been on the hunt for a case for the Zoom H4n for a long time, but so far I haven’t found any viable options. I’m not talking about a case that you can store it in, I’m talking about a field case that would allow you to use the recorder as you work.

However, one option is to use an inexpensive neck strap to harness the H4n to your body. This makes it possible to easily access all of the controls, while keeping both of your hands free to operate the boompole or camera. Have you ever watched a video about a neck strap before? No? Well, all of that is about to change!

The strap I ended up buying was the Canon Metal Neck Strap 1. I liked that it had a plastic coating around the metal band. As you can see in the video, it was really easy to attach to the Zoom H4n. Another option is the Olympus Metal Neck Strap. This one doesn’t have the plastic coating, and it’s a few bucks cheaper. Price shouldn’t really be an issue here. Both of these options are super affordable.

I had heard the people were using regular camera straps for their Zoom H4n’s, but when I looked into this I quickly discovered that the average camera strap isn’t compatible.  Continue reading Can’t find a Bag for Your Zoom H4n? Try a Neck Strap!

An EZ Guide for Updating the Zoom H4n Firmware

Zoom H4nThe new firmware for the Zoom H4n with dual level control capability has been available for a while now (it came out in November of 2010), but if you’re like me, you’ve been too busy/lazy to get around to doing it. Welp, I finally got around to it, and I figured I’d write a post explaining the process to make it easier for you.

It’s not clear where the firmware is located on Zoom’s website. There isn’t any mention of it on the H4n’s product page. The easiest way to find the firmware update is to Google the words: zoom H4n firmware update. Doing so will lead you to this page: Continue reading An EZ Guide for Updating the Zoom H4n Firmware

Using a Zoom H4n as an On-Camera DSLR Mic Part 2

There’s been a lot of interest in a recent post I made on Sescom cables, and how they help you get good audio inside a camera when working with a portable digital recorder. Well, it turns out that Sescom makes another variation of this cable which makes it possible to also monitor your audio on headphones as you record. A company called Markertek was kind enough to send me one of these cables to test out. As usual, I figured I’d share my findings with you.

The problem with using a regular Sescom cable is that it consumes the headphone output on your portable digital recorder, leaving you with no way to listen to the sound. That’s why they make special Sescom cables with a headphone tap. Instead of it just being a straight cable with a -25dB pad, it’s a Y-Cable with a female 3.5mm headphone jack. This enables you to feed the sound from your portable digital recorder directly into your camera’s mic input, while listening on headphones at the same time.

People often worry that if they split an audio signal, it will degrade the quality of the sound. This is a legitimate thing to worry about. Continue reading Using a Zoom H4n as an On-Camera DSLR Mic Part 2

Using a Zoom H4n as an On-Camera DSLR Mic

DSLR and Zoom H4nThe 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. Continue reading Using a Zoom H4n as an On-Camera DSLR Mic

More Thoughts on Using Stereo Mics on Camcorders and Video-Enabled DSLR’s

I’m going to use this post to go a little deeper into the subject of using a stereo microphone on video cameras, DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras.

The first thing to keep in mind is that when I suggest using a stereo mic on a camera, I’m not saying that it’s a better than shooting with an external audio recorder. Using a stereo mic on your camera is just another way to work; another arrow in your quiver.

If you get overwhelmed when operating an external audio recorder and a camera, there are many situations where shooting with good audio can be simplified. That’s what this practice is all about.

For years I used a Sony ECM-MS908 external stereo microphone on my camcorder. It’s an awesome little mic, that seems to be somewhat extinct today. B&H no longer sells it, and I didn’t find any other reputable dealers online that had them in stock. If you can get you hands on this mic somehow, grab it! It sounds great, and it has two pick-up patterns. One pattern is more of a wide stereo spread, and the other is a more direction pattern for dialog.

Sony ECM-MS908
The Sony ECM-MS908 on a small camcorder

Here’s the horrible thing that still keeps me awake at night… I LOST MY ECM-MS908!!! Ouch. It always burns when you lose equipment, but when they discontinue the piece after you lose it, it hurts a lot more. The Sony ECM-MS907 is still around, which is pretty much the exact same mic. But the 907 has a much longer cable, and it doesn’t come with the camera shoe mount. Bummer.

The nice thing about the ECM-MS908 and 907 is that they run on standard AA batteries. Which brings up an important workflow point:

When you use an external microphone, chances are that it runs on batteries, so you must remember to turn the microphone on before you begin shooting.

That’s a big thing to remember here. If you have an external microphone plugged into the 1/8″ mic input on your camera, and you forget to turn it on, you won’t be recording any sound at all. Plugging a microphone into you mic input automatically defeats the internal microphones on your camera. Avoid this at all costs. Get into the habit of turning your mic on every time you power up your camera.

Canon 5D Mark II with Pro-24CM mic

The same rule applies to the Audio-Technica Pro-24CM. It too runs on a battery, and you must remember to turn it on when you work. Equally important is getting into the habit of turning the microphone off when you’re finished. Otherwise it will remain active and burn through its battery when its waiting around in your camera bag. An important factor to keep in mind is that the Pro-24Cm runs on a watch battery (an A76 LR44 to be exact). If you plan on getting this mic, I suggest stocking up on a few of these batteries and keeping them in your bag. It’s a more difficult battery to find in a store, in the event that it dies on you in the field.

Don’t let the odd battery type of the Pro-24CM scare you off. I’ve never owned one, but if I were to buy a video-enabled DSLR today, I would also purchase this microphone with the WindTech MM1 Windshield. Audio-Technica is a name that I trust. There are lots of positive customer reviews of the Pro-24Cm. Without a doubt, this combination was the real star of my article. Many people were under the impression that the Rode Stereo VideoMic was the only way to go for external microphones for a DSLR. To me, the Rode Stereo VideoMic sounds great, but it’s far too bulky. As an old school user of the ultra-compact Sony ECM-MS908, I knew there was a better way.

If you have any further questions or comments, I’d love to hear them!