theCameraClass

with award winning documentary team tony wilson and leo sullivan

SONY XDCAM-EX1 AND EX3 AUDIO SET-UP,  LEO SULLIVAN - JULY 2009

There are many different video camera models on the market and Sony make a lot of them. They have a camera for every occasion. The EX1 and the slightly larger, shoulder-mount style EX3 are similar in size to the Sony Z1P, Sony Z5P and Sony Z7P range. The main difference being that the EX models only record to memory cards.

Sony seemed to have listened to practitioners when designing this camera, at least from the Sound Recordist's point of view.

LINE/MIC SWITCHES

The first improvement I noticed is that items like the LINE or MIC option and AUTO or MANUAL controls have been moved out of the MENU to physical switches on the exterior of the camera, as they are on the Sony V1P and Sony Z7P models. In some earlier models there have been a variety of options, some of which meant going through the time-consuming process of stopping the camera and drilling down through the MENU. Now, the audio settings that you are most likely to want to change frequently are easily accessible and simple to use.

INTERNAL MIC

Another great option that they have included in the Sony EX1 and Sony EX 3 is the ability to switch either channel to the INTERNAL mic quickly - through a switch on the rear of the EX1 and on the side of the EX 3. This has been an option on PANASONIC P2 cameras for some time, but the Sony version is simpler and quicker to use on the EX cameras.

Unfortunately, as I discovered when doing a quick sound check on a recent shoot, some of these switches can easily be 'bumped'. In this instance the EXT/INT mic switch on the EX 3 had been accidentally moved to INTERNAL! The problem is less acute on the EX 1 as the switches are on the rear of the camera. To avoid the problem completely, I recommend taping over the switches of these functions.

Another issue is the location (on the EX 1) of some display (DISP) buttons under the carry handle. These are also easily 'bumped' during camera handling which can lead to great frustration for the camera operator. Due to the button design however, they cannot be taped down like the INT/EXT switches noted above.

MIC INPUT CHANNEL SELECT OPTION

Once we examine the few things that are left to the internal AUDIO MENU, we see that on the Sony EX 1 and EX 3, Sony have taken some quite radical steps. The first and most major change is in the MIC INPUT CHANNEL SELECT option. On all previous DV and HDV cameras (from the Sony PD 150 and the Sony V1P to the latest Sony Z7P), the INPUT CHANNEL SELECT switch could create great difficulties for an inexperienced operator.

Previously, if you wanted to use two separate inputs and control them separately you would choose the setting CH.1. - NOT the more obvious or logical CH.1/CH.2. This caused much grief when people returned to edit their programme to find that ONLY ONE microphone had been recorded ( to both CH.1 and CH.2 ) and the mic in INPUT 2 hadn't been recorded at all. This counterintuitive system wasn't just a Sony issue but also existed on most comparable cameras like the PANASONIC P2 and Canon XH A1 and Canon XH G1.

On the Sony EX1 and EX3, it appears the designers have again listened to complaints from practitioners, and now the correct choice in the MENU for operating two separate inputs IS the CH.1/CH.2 setting. I suggest you be very aware of this 'improvement' if upgrading from one of the earlier DV or HDV models - or you may come to grief again!

TRIM ADJUSTMENT

The other change in the AUDIO INPUT settings is quite baffling. This time, it's in regard to the TRIM function. The TRIM allows you to increase or decrease the AUDIO coming into the camera before it gets to the normal LEVEL setting controls, and is especially useful if you wish to operate a mic in the AUTO setting. Using the TRIM, you can pre-set an average level for a particular microphone, thus enabling good levels in the AUTO mode.

Audio level is measured in decibels (db) and TRIM operates by moving to the minus (-) or plus (+) side of '0'db. On previous models, to increase the level coming in, using the TRIM function, you changed the setting in the MENU to a higher number like + 6db and to decrease the INPUT volume, you would set the TRIM to - 6db or -18db. Note that - 18db is less volume than -6db. I know that this had been confusing to some people until they realised that it is a minus (-) number.

This is where it becomes strange. On the Sony EX1/EX3, when you alter the TRIM from -23db to -53db, it actually INCREASES the volume coming into the camera. I can only assume this was done to try to avoid the earlier confusion. I'm afraid that this attempt failed, and it has only added to the confusion.

HEADPHONES/ALARMS

Volume of the headphone output on Sony handycams has always been a bit of an issue. The main problem being that they are just not loud enough. On the EX 1 and EX 3, Sony has fixed this issue with its strongest yet headphone output. One thing to watch out for on this model that didn't exist on previous Sony models is the 'warning' alarm. The problem comes if you are shooting without your headphones plugged in (which should never be the case) as there is an audible 'end of battery' warning 'beep' which can then be recorded onto your sound track. This can be avoided by going to the AUDIO OUTPUT part of the menu and turning the ALARM 'off'. The moral is, use your headphones. Do you ever shoot images without looking at the screen?

LIMITER

In the simple tests that I conducted, I found it very difficult to overload the recording and cause distortion. I was unable to detect any 'pumping' when recording in AUTO as long as the levels aren't pushing the end of the meters. I could not find an option to turn a LIMITER 'on' or 'off' that exists in some earlier HDV models (when you are operating in MANUAL), but I believe there is one built into the system that cannot be turned off.

Even when operating in MANUAL any LIMITER will cause some compression and possible 'pumping' if the levels are consistently too high, but levels recorded normally are not a problem as a LIMITER does not come into operation until the signal peaks.

SUMMARY

Overall, without examining the technical specifications of the Sony EX1 and Sony EX3 in detail, I found the recording quality, once you become aware the new changes, to be very good. These two models offer several functional improvements over previous Sony models (and some of the competition), with a couple of baffling changes thrown in for good measure. It must be a Sony!

AND A VERY SOUND UPDATE FROM LEO

Noise Reduction and the Sony PD150

During our recent workshop, I did get some sound feedback that I thought I should pass on to you. One of the participants who uses a PD150, mentioned some problems he came across using the NS (Noise Reduction) setting. Basically his experience was that when recording with the AGC and NS menu settings both set to ON, he was getting some peculiar distortion, particularly when the levels were high. If anyone has had similar problems please let me know, but in the light of that information, I would like to review my recommendation and suggest, unless you have a good reason to - leave the NS set to OFF.

Noise Reduction and the Sony Z1

Using the NS (Noise Reduction) in the 'ON' setting for the Sony Z1 camera can sometimes eliminate 'hum' which occasionally occurs when using the Rode microphone on the camera. A contradiction I know - but I don't make the equipment - I use it!

Call it synchronicity but a few days after Leo wrote this I was recording some narration on my Z1 and getting a similar distortion. It was in a dead quiet studio otherwise I may not have noticed it, and was like a build up of electrical interference that at the end of a sentence quickly died away. I tried lots of different things including bypassing the mic extension lead I was using and a different mic. After much faffing around the problem was finally solved - by turning the MIC NR (described in the Instruction Manual as 'Select to reduce noise from the microphone') to OFF. Without actually hearing the noise myself on the PD150 I can't be sure it was the same, but it does seem rather a coincidence. TW