When it comes to filmmaking, audio is a vital part of the process, just as important as video. Bad audio is the first sign of novice filmmaking and can distract viewers from the most stunning visuals. Any filmmaker looking to capture clear, clean audio on their shoots should consider adding a high-quality field recorder to their gear.
Field recorders work to capture audio directly from microphones for things like dialogue, sound effects, and ambient noise. While so many options are available, narrowing down the right field recorder for you can be overwhelming. In this blog, I’ll explore what field recorders are, how they work, and talk about three of the best field recorders for film today. Let’s dive in!
What is a field recorder?
A field recorder is a device to record audio. Field recorders, typically consisting of two parts, the recorder, and the microphones, capture the audio signal and convert it to usable audio formats. When working on films, filmmakers capture audio and video on separate recorders, video through the camera and audio through an external field recorder. A field recorder captures audio directly from an internal or external microphone.
Most filmmakers use an external microphone to control the recorded audio better and tend to use field-recorded audio as a reference for replacing ADR in the final version of their film. Here’s a great resource about how to record audio outside with your field recorder.
In the past, field recorders were bulky, heavy, and expensive, requiring specialized technical expertise. With the technological advancements of the last few decades, modern field recorders are small, portable, and easy to use. Most importantly, field recorders for film have become much more affordable, making them accessible to filmmakers of all levels.
As previously mentioned, field recorders convert audio signals into a usable audio format. Typically, the most common formats are WAV and MP3. WAV is a lossless format that captures every detail of the audio signal. These files are larger and better to work with. Filmmakers looking to save space may opt to record their audio in an MP3 format. While producing smaller files, MP3 files compress the audio and cause sacrifices in audio quality. If you want to dig deeper into the difference between WAV and MP3, watch this awesome video by our friends at Riversidefm.
Microphones for your field recorder
What type of microphone should you use with your field recorder? You can use almost any kind of external microphone, depending on the type of audio you are looking to record. However, most filmmakers use directional microphones designed to pick up sound from a specific direction. Directional microphones are best for capturing dialogue and isolating sounds for things like sound effects. Here’s a great resource about microphones and pick-up patterns.
What to look for in a field recorder for film
When looking for a field recorder for film, you should keep a few things in mind. Here are some key features and considerations to consider:
Number and type of inputs:
The number and type of inputs you will need for your recording setup is an important first thing to consider. XLR inputs are standard in the film industry and are compatible with most professional microphones. If you plan to use more than one microphone, especially for boom, plant, and lav mics, ensure the recorder has enough input to accommodate them.
Recording quality and format:
Look for a recorder that captures high-quality audio in the best format for you. Standard audio formats for film include WAV and MP3. Using a lossless audio format like WAV for the highest-quality audio is best.
Built-in or external microphones:
Some field recorders have built-in microphones, while others require external microphones. Although you’ll likely use an external microphone with your field recorder, check if your recorder comes with an onboard microphone.
Check the battery life of the recorder, especially if you plan to record for extended periods. Make sure to check the cost of external batteries and, depending on your use of the field recorder, a wall charger.
Portability and durability:
We don’t mean to, but sometimes on set, accidents happen. Consider how portable and durable the recorder is. It should be easy to carry around, withstand harsh conditions and not overheat with constant use.
Ease of use:
Having many features is fun, but if the interface is hard to navigate, you’ll likely lose time finding what you are looking for. Think about the size and clarity of the display screen as well as the ease of accessing and adjusting settings.
Most importantly, consider your budget for your field recorder. There are many options, but consider the cost of additional items you’ll need, such as XLR cables, headphones, memory cards, batteries, and carry cases.
Best Field Recorders for Film
While there are tons of great field recorders on the market for filmmakers, here are three popular options that might catch your eye:
1. Zoom H6 All Black Handy Recorder
My favorite, the Zoom H6, is a versatile and powerful field recorder widely used in the film industry. It has six XLR inputs and can record up to six audio channels simultaneously. The H6 features interchangeable microphone capsules, which means you can easily switch between different types of microphones depending on your needs.
I’ve used this recorder both on set and stream to record high-quality audio of music covers. It also has a clear LCD screen and various input and output options, making it a great all-around choice for filmmakers.
2. Sound Devices MixPre-6 II
The Sound Devices MixPre-6 II is a high-end field recorder with exceptional audio quality and advanced features. With four XLR inputs and two 3.5m mini-jack inputs, this recorder can record up to 6 channels simultaneously. Via Bluetooth and their downloadable Wingman app, you’ll have access to wireless control and a timecode generator.
You can record high-quality audio in the studio or field, equipped with Kashmir microphone preamps with 48V phantom power. With a lightweight, durable metal body built to withstand the harshest conditions, you can attach it straight to your camera, on a tripod, or keep it portable in an ORCA.
3. Tascam DR-70D
Designed for filmmakers and videographers, the Tascam DR-70D is a compact and versatile field recorder with four XLR/TRS combo inputs and a stereo 3.5mm input, allowing you to connect microphones, line-level sources, or instruments. Able to record up to four audio channels simultaneously, it excels at capturing ambiance and dialogue together.
One notable and unique feature is the “Dual Recording” mode which records two simultaneous copies of each channel at different levels, providing a backup in case of distortion or unusable audio. Other features include a built-in mixer, a headphone jack with a separate volume control, and an easy-to-read display. With the “Dual Recording” mode and numerous features, the Tascam DR-70D is a fantastic choice.
These three field recorders for film are all great choices, but remember your budget, how many inputs you’ll need, the type of microphones you’ll be using, and any additional features that could be useful for you and your production needs.
With the technological advances of the last few decades, field recorders for film are more accessible than ever before. For filmmakers of all levels looking to capture high-quality audio, field recorders for film help filmmakers capture clear audio that helps level up the overall quality of their films. Designed to be easy to use, portable, and affordable, field recorders have dozens of features to help filmmakers meet their individual needs on and off set.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about field recorders for film. Let me know in the comments below what your favorite field recorders are. Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to keep sharing more about filmmaking.