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Complete DSLR Audio Kit for Less Than $450?

A reader asked:

I'm putting together a D7000 rig for video shooting and I was wondering what the best approach to audio equipment would be?
My budget is about $450 and I am going to travel to Indonesia to shoot a pilot for a TV travel show.  I was thinking a Zoom recorder (not sure which was is the best), but also a wireless lavalier system so I can be mobile.
I was hoping to record the video with the Zoom for ambient sound while having the lavalier for subject audio.

On first glance, $450 for a complete DSLR audio kit seems too low. I mean, you can easily spend that much on a single professional microphone.

Then I started working through what you'd really need. It turned out that you could put together an pretty decent audio kit for $450. Here's what I found.

First, I'd recommend going the other way around – use the camera to record ambient and the digital audio recorder for your subject. The D7000 audio quality is much lower and offers much less control than the digital audio recorder.

I recommend the Zoom H1 for the recorder. It's great quality, low cost and very portable.

For the lavalier I recommend NOT going wireless.

You can plug the lavalier directly into the H1,  set levels, lock it and drop it into your talent's pocket. Let it run for the whole session and edit it post.

It cost less, is one less device to carry along with fewer batteries, fewer possibilities for interference, and wires are more reliable.

An added benefit of this approach is that you'll capture audio even if you're not shooting video. You never know when something great will be happen. With the audio captured you can put together enough cover shots to make it work.

I like the Audio-Technica ATR-35S and at a price of less than $50USD you might even want two of them.

Budget so far – about $150 USD

I also recommend picking up an inexpensive shotgun mic.  You can mount it on the camera and improve the ambient recording quality significantly.

Also, I like to double mic talent with a lav and a shotgun then choose the best sound in post. This also create a backup track in case you have a problem with either mic or recorder.

I also recommend picking up a small Joby GP1 Gorillapod for a mic stand. It will let you put the mic much closer to the subject, costs very little, weighs a few ounces and can be attached to all kinds of objects.


If you want to do this you'll need a 12ft 3.5MM EXTENSION CABLE so you can position the shotgun closer to the subject.

I like the Rode VideoMic for $149 USD. You could also go with the Sennheiser MKE 400 Shotgun Microphone for about $200 USD. Either way make sure you buy a "dead cat" Wind Muff so you can use the shotgun outside or anywhere there's a breeze. Even the lightest wind will make a shotgun so noisy you can't use it.

Budget so far – about $370 USD

I'd also highly recommend a decent set of headphones or earbuds. You want to check the sound every time before you start shooting. Sometimes a small change in mic placement or closing a window to a noisy street will produce a much better result and save hours in post trying to fix a bad audio track.

Ear buds are easier to carry and you can get great sound from them. For instance, the Etymotic Research MC5 are great as they block most of the ambient sound and, for $80 USD, offer dependable audio quality.

So here's the full kit:

Click here to see the whole list on Amazon.com

I would also recommend picking up a "Y" cable so you can plug both mics into one device, sending each mic to a separate channel. With this in your kit you can record the lav and Rode VideoMic to the H1 and use the D7000 for capturing ambient.

Here's a link to the "Y" cable I use – Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON 3.5mm Line to Mic 25dB Attenuation Cable

Or you could feed the lav and Rode to the D7000 and use the H1 to close mic a second speaker. If the H1 dies you can still feed the D7000 with both mics and create a backup track in one pass.

If you're out in the field, I recommend carrying at least two of every cable, charger and adapter. That will push your budget over the top but you don't want to be shut down because a cable broke.

If you want to be safe, consider picking up two of the lavs. As a backup for a dead mic or to mic two subjects you will get a lot for the extra $50 USD.

Good luck, let me know how it goes. I look forward to seeing your video on the web!

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