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Camera makers, can you hear me? It’s time to take audio seriously

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Panasonic Lumix DC G100 Selfie
The Panasonic G100 has a clever three mic setup but no means of checking what they’re recording. It’s far from unique in this respect.

Is this thing on? Can you hear me?

I hope so, because I have something to say about camera audio, and I really want the camera companies to hear it: If you’re going to market a camera as being good for shooting video, it needs to have a means of monitoring the audio.

Most audiences, from TV to YouTube, are much more willing to overlook slight sub-par video quality than poor sound. It’s just off-putting.

Audio monitoring isn’t just about setting the mic input level, it’s also about [SSSCHHHHHHH].

Let me try that again: it’s also about checking for distracting background noise that might drown-out or detract from the thing you’re trying to record. A plane passing overhead, a mic cable rustling against a jacket, a sudden gust of wind booming against the mic that you simply couldn’t interpret from on-screen meters.

Optional essentials

Things are a bit better in terms of audio capture, but there are still some odd decisions be made. Look at Nikon’s Z30: a nice pair of stereo mics built onto the top, ready for vlogging. But the ‘dead cat’ wind shield? That’s a $10 optional accessory.

What’s the point? How much of that $10 price tag stems from the cost of designing packaging for it to be sold as a separate item? How much from the planning and logistics costs of producing, shipping and stocking it as its own SKU? And how much is profit margin to justify its existence as a stand-alone product?

Vlogging is pretty much the Z30’s raison d’etre, so why not just include what’s probably a $3 part in the box? It’s like deciding not to provide a lens cap.

There should be some way of monitoring audio in any model that has ‘4K’ written on the box

It was perhaps understandable in the early days, when camera makers didn’t know whether anyone would use video, so didn’t devote the time to considering how they’d use it. So sure, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II didn’t have a headphone socket, because nobody had ever put one on a DSLR before, but this omission was corrected in the subsequent model.

That was over a decade ago, now. And yet cameras such as the Sony ZV-1, Panasonic G100 and Nikon Z30, which are EXPLICITLY MARKETED FOR VIDEO still don’t offer a way of monitoring audio. This is just [Ranting becomes inaudible]

I’m trying not to point fingers at specific brands, but some of these companies also produce camcorders; it’s not as if they’ve never met anyone that’s tried pressing the [REC] button.

In my opinion there should be some way of monitoring audio in any model that has ‘4K’ written on the box.

Obviously there are some models that are small don’t have room for extra ports, and plenty that are being very aggressively engineered to hit a low price point. But even the most basic model today tends to have a USB-C socket and almost certainly offers Bluetooth.

Fujifilm X T4 headphones
Some Fujifilm models can output audio over their USB port. It’s not ideal to have to use an adapter on a video-focused camera but it’d be a lot better than the nothing offered by an awful lot of more basic models.

How much would it cost to program a Bluetooth pairing interface into your camera, which could then be used on all future models? What additional work needs to be done to output audio over USB-C? A fractionally more expensive I/O controller, or just a planning meeting where you commit a team to doing it?

These solutions don’t have to be perfect. Bluetooth connectivity with several milliseconds of lag wouldn’t be acceptable on a high-end video focused camera, but on a budget model, it’d be so worthwhile to avoid those moments where you start to review your footage and are suddenly reminded that you had been vaguely aware of a fire engine passing, just as you were capturing that moment that’ll be a right pain to go back and recreate.

So, while I applaud the provision of 4-channel audio options and XLR mic adapters for high end models, I really hope that camera makers will listen, and let the rest of us hear what we’re recording.



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