A shoot with equipment problems is like a swift kick in the crotch, it’s even more painful after the initial shock of the kick. Ugh, my gut felt sick after loading up video footage from our Oklahoma shoot with zero audio. With every click of a new video clip came an overwhelming dread that I would not hear anything. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that silence can be better than hearing blown out audio that is also unusable.
I can already see the audio professionals reading this post, shaking their heads in shame. As big a mistake as we’ve made, there is nothing we can do about it now, other than figure out the problem and fix it so it doesn’t happen on future shoots.
The scenario is this. The Canon 5D Mark2 camera we are using has very noisy internal audio. So most people who shoot on this camera have a person on crew dedicated to capturing audio into a separate device. Later in the post production process someone must sync the audio files back up with the video. While I’d love to have a dedicated audio person with us to record audio there isn’t enough money in the budget (flights, food and lodging add up ya know) and I’m wearing way too many hats to worry about all the separate media files that would need to be synced with that work flow.
The solution I found was to use Magic Lantern, a firmware addition written by Canon enthusiasts that allows additional functionality to a number of Canon cameras. We utilize it to disable the 5DM2 automatic gain control. In other words, by using a pre-amp, we can get “clean” audio into the camera. While this sounds great, Magic Lantern is a hack (an elegant one at that) and thus unsupported. The version we’ve been using has been crashing our camera after a couple of takes. To be fair, we don’t know for sure if it’s the firmware hack, because these camera’s run extremely hot when recording video and they have been known to shut down from heat issues. But my guess is that it is the version of the firmware we are using. That is issue number one. Luckily, with a small donation I can get access to the most current beta version of Magic Lantern, which I’ve read is much more stable. Hopefully that will take care of the camera shutting off intermittently.
Not only is it crashing the camera but we can’t hear the audio that the camera is recording loud enough to know if its good clean audio. That is issue number two. The problem came after I had read that the Juicelink DT454 (our audio pre-amp) also has a headphone amp, which can make the output signal louder. Unfortunately I didn’t understand that it was to be used during playback only. So while recording we thought we were listening to the audio being recorded to camera, but it was actually the audio before it hit the camera.
Having these types of audio problems is extremely frustrating. While I’m asking I’m asking a lot of Ty to run this Franken-cam, where everything is pieced together and we are pushing the boundaries of what the camera is supposed to do, we don’t have much choice that this is the way it has to be. I will end up buying a small dedicated headphone pre-amp and with magic lantern we’ll be able to monitor audio levels on the back lcd of the camera. So in theory that should take care of problem number two… SIGH… live and learn.
Time will tell soon enough at our next shoot in New Jersey.
A bit more about Magic Lantern.
- Magic Lantern is an open platform for developing enhancements to the amazing Canon 5D Mark II and 550D/T2i digital SLRs. These cameras are “game changing” for independent film makers:
- It allows the use of a wide range of lenses (anything that can be adapted to the EF mount).
- The 5D’s 35mm full-frame sensor is larger than the RED ONE’s sensor, Super 35 film. It is approximately the size of VistaVision. (This means shallower native depth-of-field than almost anything on the market).
- The dynamic range and latitude are close to the capabilities of high-end HD cameras.
- The low-light performance is nearly unrivaled
Magic Lantern turns the 5D Mark II into a 5D Mark Free. The group writing the code have written extensions and widgets that fix many of the annoyances in working with the 5D Mark II. The first set of fixes were targeted at the audio limitations of the camera, but there are some video enhancements included, too:
- On-screen audio meters
- Manual gain control with no AGC
- Zebra stripes (video peaking)
- Custom Cropmarks for 16:9, 2.35:1, 4:3 and any other format
- Control of focus and bracketing