Using the Zoom H2n For Great Audio on Your Videos

The built-in microphone on the Canon Vixia HF R600 is surprisingly good. If you’re speaking within eight feet of the camera, if the wind’s not blowing, and if there’s not a great deal of noise nearby, the quality of the audio should be just fine. Sometimes, though, you can’t count on all those “ifs” to be true. Does that mean you can’t shoot? No, not at all.

Don’t let a little challenge like wind noise or distance from the camera deter you from producing a great video. That’s why we have the digital audio recorder. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll have great audio to go with those beautiful pictures even when conditions are difficult.

Turn it on!

It seems so simple, really. But the most oft-repeated mistake with using the Zoom H2n is to forget to start it recording when you begin to shoot. It’s a 2-step process. First you turn on power to the recorder, and then you press the red button just below the display to start it recording. Get into the habit of checking each time before you begin shooting to make sure the digital time stamp on the H2n display is advancing.

Set the gain on the H2n

The camcorder’s audio volume will be adjusted automatically for the best sound, but you need to do it manually with the H2n. While your talent is speaking from the same distance and at the same volume as will be used when you record, adjust the audio gain on the side of the H2n until the signal peaks reliably at or near -3 db. If possible, keep an eye on the meters while you’re shooting to make sure you’re still shooting at about the right level.

Use the camcorder’s microphone too

You don’t need to do anything to make this happen, because whenever you shoot video with the Canon HF R600 it will record audio with its onboard microphone. And you may find for any number of reasons that the camcorder’s microphone is better for some or all of your program. It’s a great insurance policy.

Control handling noise

The Zoom H2n is a high-quality recorder, and it’s extremely sensitive. Unfortunately, that sensitivity extends to the case; if you touch it or rub it in any way while it’s recording, you’ll hear it on the recording. You can easily prevent handling noise either of two ways:

  1. Use the lavalier microphone (see below)
  2. Use the “handle” (actually a tiny tripod with one of its legs broken off) in the front compartment of the equipment case. Even when you use the handle, the H2n will pick up any movement of your fingers against the handle. So hold your fingers still!

Make it easy to sync in post

The Canon HF R600 will automatically synchronize its audio with its video, so you won’t need to worry about it when you use the onboard microphone. When you use the H2n, though, the audio signal produced by the H2n will need to be synchronized with the Canon’s video for you to be able to use them together. The easy way to do this as you are shooting is to remember, every time you stop and restart either the camcorder or the H2n, to create an audio slate mark. With both the camcorder and the digital audio recorder running, get your production assistant to use our slate board to sync up the audio and video. You’ll be able to use the audio and video in post to line them up with each other.

If you have an editor that provides visual waveforms for audio files, you can line them up visually. If not, you can synchronize them using the technique described in this video. Make sure you view it full screen and using the highest resolution. After the video and the audio are synchronized, you can vary the volume of the camcorder and the H2n as you see fit to get the best, most useful sound.

Using the lavalier microphone

Camga owns a tiny but decent quality lavalier JK Mic-J 044 lavalier microphone. You’ll find it in the pill bottle in the front pocket of the video equipment case, and it plugs into the receptacle on the side of the Zoom H2n that says “LINE IN.” Set the H2n on XY, and don’t worry about the fact that the signal shows up on only one channel; that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You can place the H2n in the talent’s pocket and thread the lavalier microphone cord up through their blouse or shirt so that the only thing that shows is the microphone itself, clipped onto the talent’s clothing. The microphone works fine without the black foam windscreen, but please leave it on so we won’t lose it.

Dealing with wind noise

h2n with windscreenThe lavalier microphone always has its windscreen attached, so if you are using the lavalier microphone, you’re already doing everything you can do to control wind noise. If you’re using the H2n’s onboard microphone, you can attach the windscreen stored in the front pocket of the equipment case. The windscreen for the H2n works well. Yes, it’s grotesquely ugly, but you’ll be far better off with your audience seeing an ugly windscreen than hearing ugly wind noise. The windscreen does nothing to prevent handling noise (see above), so you’ll still need to use the “handle” even when the windscreen is attached.

Recommendations for Stubborn Old Gardeners Videos

For single talent, we routinely use the H2n and its lavalier microphone. The talent carries the H2n in a pants pocket or the pocket of their CAMGA red apron as described above, and they thread the lavalier up through their blouse or shirt and clip it to a collar or some other part of their clothing that doesn’t rub back and forth on their skin. Avoid clipping the microphone to the strap of the red apron. We often experience a rubbing noise on that. Make sure the recorder is rolling before you start shooting, sync it up using the slate board. And of course, when you start recording again, you’ll need to record a new audio slate.

If you are shooting a conversation between two persons, don’t use the lavalier microphone. Its sound varies in quality too much from that of the Zoom H2n onboard microphones. Instead, screw the broken tripod from the CAMGA equipment case into the bottom of the Zoom H2n and use it as a handle to hold the H2n. SOG viewers are totally comfortable seeing the recorder in the frame, because these are instructional videos. But be careful about handling noise!

Rotate the top arrow of the H2n toward MS, and then hold down the up/down switch on the side of the H2n until the triangle becomes two circles beside each other. You have now set the H2n to record in bi-directional mode. One of the speakers should hold the microphone using the handle. Do not pass the recorder between speakers, and there’s no need to move it back and forth between speakers. Instead, just hold it in one place at about chest height between the two speakers, with the display facing exactly away from the camera. If one speaker has a softer voice than the other, hold the H2n slightly closer to that speaker. If there’s any chance of wind noise, use the ugly H2n wind screen.

Avoid trying to pick up sound from more than two persons at once. In addition to being extremely hard to do well, it’s too busy for Stubborn Old Gardeners videos.

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