DSLR Video – Sound Monitoring for the Nikon D7000

Guest post: DIY sound monitoring for the Nikon D7000

DSLR Video – JP Soars 20 Minute Jam on the Didleybo/2-string Cigarbox Guitar

It’s been a busy week, so not much time for blogging. To pass the time here’s one of my favorite recordings.

I’ve listened to this half a dozen times in the last couple of weeks. The sound of JP Soars’¬† cigarbox blues guitar really gets to you.

JP Soars 20 Minute Jam on the Didleybo/2-string Cigarbox Guitar

He starts with “Can’t Trust a Woman,” takes a couple of detours, then goes into “Gangster of Love.” The recording ends sort of abruptly when the camera hits its 20 minute continuous recording limit. Jump to 1:36 for the music. There are closeups if you’re interested in his technique.

Recorded live at Brackins Blues Club in Maryville, TN. September 29, 2011. Show sponsored by the Smoky Mountain Blues Society, who brings some great talent to East Tennessee.

JP Soars Web Site (music starts playing automatically)

DSLR Video – Video Software Baby Steps & Rode Stereo VideoMic with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

Jenna and Her Cool Friends “I Can’t Be Satisfied” Muddy Waters Cover:

I’ve been meaning to get some movie editing software. I remember how much difference photography editing software made with my pictures. I knew software could make a big difference in my movies. But which software?

With all I’ve had to learn with recording video and audio I just haven’t had time to research movie editing software. I’ve read a little here and there. I even downloaded a couple of demos. The demos mostly convinced me that even if I bought something I didn’t have time to learn how to use it. So I did the easiest thing to do, which is nothing.

One night as I was reviewing videos in QuickTime I noticed some of the optional QuickTime Pro editing features. Editing the video beginning and ending points. Controlling brightness, contrast, color, and tint. Adjusting bass, treble, and volume.

They weren’t rocket science, but they were things I didn’t have and sure could use. Like right then. I got the debit card out of my wallet and gave Apple 30 bucks for an activation code. There was no learning curve, so I was able to edit the videos from Jenna’s show before I uploaded them to YouTube. It’s a start.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends “What a Life”:

Rode Stereo VideoMic

On the hardware front, I used the new Rode Stereo VideoMic in these videos. The sound is very good (best audio yet, again), though that’s also a credit to the excellent sound at the show. I go back and listen to shows I’ve recorded. One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that the quality of my recording is heavily dependent on the experience of the person who sets up the band’s sound. So much so that what they do is often a bigger variable in my recordings than what I do.

The Stereo VideoMic does exactly what I wanted it do compared to the Zoom recorder’s built-in 90 degree stereo mics. It isolated the sounds of the performers from the sound of the crowd. Recordings since then confirmed it. With the new mic I get a clean sound with minimal crowd noise. Yee haw.

I noticed on the last recordings from the riverboat that the bass and drums didn’t seem very prominent. I made a point of closing my eyes at this show and paying attention to what the live sound was like. That gave me a reference for when I listened to the recordings later on. Sure enough, the bass and drums on the recording didn’t match what I heard at the show. For these videos I boosted the bass end a little in QuickTime Pro, but that’s part of my recording technique that needs work.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends “Satisfy You” Sara Jordan Cover:

Jenna and Her Cool Friends “I’d Rather Go Blind” Etta James Cover:

DSLR Video – JP Soars on the Didleybo/2-string Cigarbox Guitar

JP Soars “Can’t Trust a Woman” on the Didleybo/2-string Cigarbox Guitar (music starts at 1:36):

PreviouslyJP Soars & the Red Hots “Sam’s Boogie”

DSLR Video – JP Soars and the Red Hots

JP Soars & the Red Hots “Sam’s Boogie”:

We spent all weekend out of town going to a friend’s wedding. So instead of a blog post enjoy this tune from a show last week by JP Soars and the Red Hots, winners of the 2009 International Blues Challenge.

DSLR Video – Learning from Focus and Depth of Field Mistakes at Monday Night Acoustic Jam

Doug Harris and Mike McQueen “Ophelia”:

I like to go back and watch videos I’ve made. I love Doug and Mike’s singing on this one, but my camera work is embarrassingly bad, particularly the focus. (I’ll cut myself some slack because this was my first time trying to film live music.) Part of the problem was that I was naively using autofocus, which doesn’t work well with video on DSLRs in poor light, but that isn’t what I want to talk about right now.

My big mistake was that I was using a 70-200mm F/2.8 telephoto lens at 12 feet. With long focal lengths, wide apertures, and short distances you don’t get much depth of field. It’s just the laws of optics.

(If you aren’t familiar with depth of field, here’s a quick example. Imagine you’re on the stage of a theater looking out at 100 rows of seats. You focus your camera on a person in the 50th row. Obviously that person will be in focus, but how many rows in front of or behind them will be in focus? That’s what depth of field calculations determine. You get more depth of field with shorter focal lengths, smaller apertures (bigger F numbers) and greater distances.)

Here are the depth of field values for a few focal lengths from the DoF calculator at DOFMaster. The other variables I plugged into the calculator were an aperture of F/2.8, a distance of 12 feet, and a Nikon D7000 as the camera. Those were the variables in the video above, except that I think I was using autoexposure and the camera was (thankfully) using a smaller aperture). Notice how quickly depth of field (the part of the picture that’s in focus) falls off a cliff as the focal length increases, from 10 feet to a little over an inch.

Lens Focal Length Depth of Field
24mm 9.81 feet
35mm 3.89 feet
50mm 1.97 feet
70mm 1.00 feet
100mm 0.48 feet
150mm 0.21 feet
200mm 0.12 feet

Let’s say I was using that 70-200mm lens at 100mm. The DoF would have been just six inches. But wait, it’s worse than that. DoF doesn’t start at the point of focus. It’s centered at the point of focus. Roughly half of the DoF is in front of the point of focus and half is behind.

If I focused on a person’s nose at those settings I would have 3 inches of depth of field in front of his nose (in thin air, basically) and three inches behind his nose. That would barely reach far enough back to get his eye in focus. With the way people move when they sing and play that’s a hopeless situation for trying to maintain focus in a video.

There’s a reason 24mm and 35mm lenses were so popular with photojournalists and street photographers before the invention of autofocus. Those wideangles give plenty of room for error when you’re manually focusing in a hurry.

Needless to say, DoF is even more critical for video. With still pictures you only have  to maintain focus for a small fraction of a second. With video you have to maintain focus for seconds and minutes while people move around.

My favorite lens for video is now a Nikon 35mm F/1.8 that I focus manually. It has a big aperture for low light. For shows in low light I often stop it down from F/1.8 to F/2.8 to get a usable combination of light-gathering ability and depth of field – about 4 feet DoF at 12 feet distance. When there’s more light I can stop down to F/4 and get 6 feet of DoF, or 9 feet at F/5.6.

Doug Harris and Mike McQueen “Soulshine”:

DSLR Video – First Try at Shooting My Kids’ Sports

I shot some test video at my kids’ soccer game last week and learned a few things.

Video Quality – Pretty darned good. I had heard bad things about rolling shutter when panning on DSLRs. There were only a few times I got a hint of what I think was rolling shutter. Then again, I’m not Mister Pan and Zoom Like a Maniac, so I’m the least likely person to get rolling shutter, so we’ll see. The quality will only get better once I add …

Support – I need something to stabilize the camera: a tripod, monopod, shoulder rig, etc. I’m leaning towards a monopod. It has a small footprint in use, is relatively inexpensive, and it’s lightweight and easy to carry to and from the car.

One thing I didn’t know before I started fiddling with video: tripod heads for video typically have some sort of fluid drag mechanism. The idea is to dampen movement for smooth panning, so your pans start slow and smooth and end slow and smooth. I’m leaning towards the Manfrotto 701HD which is small and light enough for my camera bag.

I’ll probably just give my old tripod a go for now. That way I can spend my money this week on a …

Video Loupe – When shooting video on a DSLR the viewfinder isn’t available and the LCD is hard to see in sunlight. For outdoor use a lot of people use a video loupe. It’s an eyepiece that covers the LCD. You look through it with one eye, and it blocks out everything else. Most of them offer magnification that makes confirming focus easier, which I could really use sometimes indoors.

Zacuto is the best-known brand of video loupe, but it’s pricier than I’d like to pay right now. The Hoodman and NEWEER loupes go for less than $100, which is about my speed.

Exposure Settings – I’m used to shooting manual exposure for videos in dark clubs by necessity. That works because the lighting doesn’t change and I’ve got the camera in a fixed location not panning much.

Manual exposure didn’t work at all for outdoor sports. This was a 10:00 am game. Part of the field was in shade. Part was in bright sunlight. I couldn’t get a manual exposure that worked for both. Automatic exposure (the sports scene mode) worked okay.

DSLR Video – I Finally Decided on a Microphone

When I don’t know what I’m doing it takes me forever to decide. Microphones were a case in point. I had never thought about them until last December when I got thrown into a video job at work using a DSLR. After I bought a video-capable DSLR in May I’ve been wanting an external mic.

The two mics I’ve been considering are the Rode VideoMic Pro shotgun microphone and the Rode Stereo VideoMic hypercardioid microphone They have lots in common:

  • They mount on the camera’s flash hotshoe for portability.
  • They output mic level signals on a coiled, 1/8 inch cable that connects to the camera’s mic input without the need for any adapters.
  • Powered by a 9v battery.
  • Integrated shock mount to isolate the microphone from camera movement.
  • -10dB pad to reduce noise in loud environments. The VideoMic Pro also has a -20dB pad for really loud environments and a +20dB boost for quiet sounds.
  • High pass filter to remove low frequency background noise
  • The warranty after online registration is 10 years, which is sweet.
  • The price for either one is around $230-50. The Stereo version is usually about 20 bucks more, but includes a wind muff worth $30.

Most of what I knew about mics and DSLRs came from that project at work. For that project the only available room had a lot of background noise due to the heat and air system. I wound up buying a Rode NT-3 based entirely on a conversation with Guy Cochran at DVEStore.com.

It’s pretty great when you call an online store and the guy who answers the phone says “No, what you need for that environment isn’t a shotgun mic. It’s a hypercardioid mic on a boompole pointed downward at the talent’s mouth. Here. Just go to YouTube and watch my video where I compare all those microphones for recording in less than ideal audio environments.” Everything I’ve read since then has convinced me he steered me right in the overall approach and that particular mic.

The NT-3 is great for what we used it for, but it uses XLR cables and is meant for studio work. I needed something portable and DSLR-oriented for the Nikon D7000.

Guy Cochran/DVEStore Review of the Rode Stereo VideoMic:

Guy Cochran/DVEStore Review of the Rode VideoMic Pro:

Rode’s description of the two spells it out: “The Stereo VideoMic is an ideal microphone for capturing environmental and ambient sounds, as well as live music. For dialogue and directional applications the RODE VideoMic and VideoMic Pro are recommended.” I’m mostly doing live music recording right now, so that sealed the deal for me. I bought the Stereo VideoMic. When I need a shotgun mic I’ll likely get the VideoMic Pro.

My first impression of the Stereo VideoMic is that it’s gonzo well made and durable. The body is aluminum instead of plastic. The switches are metal and have a reassuring build. The shock mount seems good and Rode includes plenty of replacement elastic bands.

I’ll use the Stereo VideoMic at a show this Sunday. I expect it will be higher sound quality than the Zoom H4n with better rejection of side noise. That’s the main complaint I have with the Zoom. Its 90 degree X-Y pattern picks up too much crowd noise at the blues club where I do most of my recording. The proof is in the pudding, so come back for videos next week.

The Stereo VideoMic includes one of Rode’s Dead Kitten windmuffs which normally sell for $30. I bought one for my Zoom H4n and it seems to be pretty amazing. Here’s a video of the Zoom H4n with and without a windmuff, though in this case it’s a Redhead version. Sorry, that’s the closest thing I could find.

Zoom H4n + Redhead + Canon Mark II + 85mm + Windy Maui’s North Shore:

LATER: Here’s a test of the Rode version on a Rode Stereo VideoMic.

DSLR Video – CFL Lighting for Video

At work we’re looking ahead to our next video production and lighting is one of our weakest links. My friend Jim B tells me he and his kids have been using a video lighting kit like this and getting good results.

300 watt CFL lighting setup – DSLR FILM NOOB

Here’s that model on Amazon. It’s CowboyStudio, which seems to be sort of borderline quality-wise. Adorama and B&H carry higher-end CFL kits than Amazon.

The CLF and umbrella thing seems decent for a small space lighting one or two people. It’s portable and because it’s CFL it won’t make the person in front of the camera hot. Need more light? You can replace the socket with one that holds more CFLS – two four, five, or even more.

Couple of downsides I’ve read about. All but the most expensive CFL video solutions aren’t dimmable (though if you’re using a multi-bulb mount you can unscrew bulbs to reduce the light). You can run into banding problems if your shutter speed drops too low – in the 1/160 to 1/250th territory. There are some color issues, but I don’t begin to understand them. Still not bad for the price.

Here’s a Jim B video that uses CFL lights:

DSLR Video – Labron Lazenby on the Sundown Blues Cruise with the Zoom H4n Audio Recorder

Labron Lazenby “Boogie at Midnight”:

Best audio so far. Just like at the Microwave Dave and D.J. Morrison shows I’m using the Zoom H4n microphone/audio recorder to monitor and limit the input levels to avoid distortion.

The new new thing for this show was that I’m no longer letting the Nikon D7000 set automatic microphone levels, which is the factory default. Instead I manually set the Nikon’s audio level to 1 (the minimum) so the Nikon isn’t doing any amplification. That’s a good thing. Everything I’m reading says that DSLR audio circuitry is terrible, so the less the camera processes the sound, the better.

Instead, I’m controlling the audio levels by setting the output volume level on the Zoom. I just pump up the volume to whatever I need it to be on the Zoom side to get a good sound. Getting the camera’s amplifier out of the way has eliminated the boominess I could hear in the D.J. Morrison recordings. The sound’s getting better and better. Once I add a good mic and post-processing audio software into the flow I’ll be there.

After listening to this show afterwards and looking at the levels on the computer I see I ran the mix a little too hot. Next time I’ll mix the levels a little lower on the input side of the Zoom and boost the output to the Nikon a little higher, around 45.

Labron Lazenby “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”:

I connected the Zoom and Nikon with an ordinary male-male 1/8 inch cable running from the Zoom’s headphone output to the Nikon’s microphone input. That isn’t supposed to work, BTW. The Zoom’s headphone output is line level and the Nikon’s mic input is mic level. I spent 35 clams on this schmancy Sescom Zoom-to-DSLR cable to fix what turned out to be a non-problem. The result using the Sescom cable was a nearly-inaudible signal and sound on only one stereo channel. The cheapie 1/8 inch cable I had laying around worked perfectly. Go figure.

Labron Lazenby and Chelsea Samples “Chain of Fools” (guest-starring Katie!):

Labron Lazenby “Ain’t Nobody”:

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DSLR Video with the D.J. Morrison Trio

Brian Abbott was in town, so we caught this show Friday with my friend Jay at Brackins Blues Club. Good meeting you, Brian. Hope you enjoyed East Tennessee.

This was my second show using the new audio recorder. (I need to write that up this week.) The sound here is pretty good, but I made a minor change in recording Sunday night at the Labron Lazenby show that seems to have made a big difference. More later.

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out:

Heard it Through the Grapevine:

Friend of the Devil:

More on my YouTube channel as I upload them.

Summary of Nikon D7000 Video Settings


DSLR Video – Joby Gorillapod with Lil’ Malcolm and the Zydeco House Rockers

(I’ve been promising a DSLR video post for weeks. I finally realized I was trying to pack too much into one article. I’m breaking up my original long post into smaller topics.)

Joby Gorillapod for DSLR Video

A few weeks ago I finally brought some camera support – a tripod and a Joby Gorillapod. I decided to use the Gorillapod wrapped around the back of a chair. Pretty stable, just needed to adjust the legs every so often. I’m using the Joby BH-1 ballhead and using that for fine adjustments. For gross adjustments just shift the chair.

The Joby is much less conspicuous than a tripod, both in place and in transit. Going into the blues club I can have the camera strap across one shoulder with the camera hanging on my hip behind my arm, and with the Gorillapod in a pants pocket.

I like the results with the Gorillapod. It sure beats using a tabletop of camera bag for support. The chair weighs more than a tripod, so it’s more stable. When dancers start shaking their bootie too close to the camera I just put my arm on the chair for extra protection against tipping. I had to do that at the 3:30 mark here when Lori #1 came by the camera playing washboard.

Lil’ Malcolm and the House Rockers “My Toot Toot” with Lori #1

Interestingly, whenever I’ve tried using the Gorillapod as a regular tripod – on a tabletop or on the ground – I never liked it. Too saggy. I’m using the DSLR Zoom model, which was the most heavy duty they made when I bought it. But even with a D40 (Nikon’s lightest DLSR ever) and a 16 ounce zoom lens it was too droopy.

On the other hand, the Gorillapod works really well when wrapped around something. I’ve shot it off of balcony railings a dozen stories off the ground and not worried about it. Just keep the tripod head vertical and directly above the support surface you’re using, wrap the legs securely, and recheck the legs every so often.

Joby has a newer, bigger version – the Focus. The legs are longer and part metal. It’s supposed to be much stiffer than the DSLR Zoom model. There’s also the BH2, a newer, stouter ballhead with a pan control.

There was one song in the show when the BH1 ballhead apparently got loose and flopped over. I was away from the table, so my friend Jay propped the camera back up. It happens at about the 2:00 mark in the next video.

Lil’ Malcolm and the House Rockers “What’d I Say” at Brackins Blues Club:

With the BH1 ballhead and the quick release plate it’s easy to remove the camera from the Gorillapod. I did that in this final video to show some dancers who were getting down on the floor.

Lil’ Malcolm and the House Rockers “Let the Good Times Roll” at Brackins Blues Club:

And one more, because I liked the song and the color.

Lil’ Malcolm and the House Rockers “Hot Tamale Baby” at Brackins Blues Club:

The camera plate has a spirit level, which is handy for video. It’s easy to straighten a still pic, not so easy with a video. I bought a Manfrotto hotshoe mount spirit level and promptly misplaced it after one show. For Lil’ Malcolm I used the electronic level built into the Nikon D7000. While in LiveView press the Info button to cycle through the display options, one of which is an artificial horizon.

DSLR Video Quickie – Locking Down ISO on Nikon Video to Prevent Exposure Shifts

It’s a slow week here for various reasons, but I’ve shot lots of video lately I’ll write up soon enough.

In the meantime, here’s something I haven’t covered. Thom Hogan mentioned that the Nikon D7000 will automatically adjust ISO in one third stop increments while filming to keep the exposure consistent.

I was watching one of the first Brackins Blues Club videos and realized I was seeing ISO shifts. It’s more noticeable with Mike McQueen (the guitar player on the right), but you can see it happening once or twice on harmonica player Doug Harris. I think it happens more with Mike because he’s next to a high tech jukebox that keeps changing colors, which affects the ambient light levels.

(LATER: You can really see it when someone walks in front of the camera at the 1:40 mark. When they step away the camera does a pronounced ISO shift.)

Guitar and Harmonica Cover of The Allman’s “Soulshine”

The fix is to set Auto Exposure Lock before filming. Just program the AE-L/AF-L button to “AE Lock (Hold)” and then hit the AE-L/AF-L button before before pressing the Record button. Ending the video releases the lock, so hit it again before the next recording.

That’s for automatic video settings. If you shoot video with manual exposure settings the camera keeps the ISO constant.

P.S. I just remembered that I now keep Auto ISO turned off under Shooting menu -> ISO sensitivity settings. That may also be part of the formula for preventing ISO shifts.

“I Wanna Be Sedated”

Moonshine Cherrys “I Wanna Be Sedated” at Brackins Blues Club featuring the Solid Gold Dancers: