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DSLR Video Question: Prime lens or microphone and recorder?

A reader just asked:

I just got a T2i kit (18-55mm). I also got a zoom lens (EF-S 55-250mm) and I considering buying some more equipment. I’m a high-end amateur photographer and in the past years fell in love with video editing too. I use to do my short movies on my Canon HV-10, but I always missed some of the more advanced options (such as a mic input). I plan to shoot most of my videos on the T2i now and I was wondering if I should invest in an mic + ext sound recorder or mic + prime lens? The options I’m considering are “Azden SMX-10 + Zoom h2” or “Azden SMX-10 + Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II”

Interesting question! Plugging any microphone directly into the Canon T2i is going to result in an audio track that is noisy and poor quality. I’ve tried it and, from my point of view, it’s not usable audio for anything more than a reference track.

Plus, any microphone mounted on the camera will not capture the sound of your talent several feet away. The microphone needs to be as close to the talent as possible. So the Azden SMX-10 into the Canon T2i is not a good choice.

The 18-55mm kit lens and the EF-S 55-250mm will not shoot good video in low light. My recommendation would be to go for the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II prime lens for low light video.

For a recorder/stereo microphone I would get the new Zoom H1, which includes a nice stereo mic built-in plus has a 1/8″ microphone input, “VU” meters, and a headphone jack for $99.

I would also recommend a wired lavalier microphone like the Audio-Technica ATR-35S for $29. Plug it directly into the H1 hit the record button and drop the H1 into your talent’s pocket just like you would with a wireless transmitter. You’ll get great sound with no wireless interference.

The Zoom H1, Audio-Technica ATR-35S and Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II will cost around USD $240 total. All three for less than the cost of the Azden SMX-10 and the Zoom H2. You’ll get high quality audio and a prime lens for low light video.

Just keep the mic as close to the source of the sound as possible and check everything with headphones or ear-buds.


{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Ernani July 15, 2010, 9:32 am

    Adriel, if you had to choose between the Zoom H1 and the Zoom H2, which one would you pick and why?

    • adriel July 15, 2010, 10:41 am

      I haven’t used the Zoom H1 in person yet – it’s just become available. But having used every other recorder in the Zoom line and from what I’ve read about it I believe I can make an educated guess.

      If you need a stereo microphone, a digital audio recorder that records high quality audio, an external mic input, and headphone output either the H1 or H2 will do the job. The H1 costs around USD$100 vs USD$170 for the Zoom H2 so for less money it is a better choice.

      Also, the H1 mounting adapter screws in so the recorder is held horizontal – like a shotgun mic on top of a camera. The H2 mounting adapter is on the end opposite the microphones so it mounts on a mic stand like a stage mic. If you mount the H2 on an adapter so it will fit into a hot shoe on your camera you block the access door for the SD card. I use my H2 all the time like this with no problem but it is a bit of a hassle to take the mounting adapter off just to get the card out.

      I plan to buy an H1 for these reasons, though I’ll keep my H2 as there are times when having two recorders make a lot of sense – like having two cameras is a good idea.

      So the H1 is my recommendation. Unless…

      1. You need line level input. The H1 does not have a line level input. If you need to record from a mixer you probably want line level input, though most mixers provide mic level output.

      2. You need a recorder that will stand up on a table by itself. The H1 will need some sort of stand to hold it up. I use a small Gorilla Pod with my H2 and it works great.

      3. You need to record ‘in the round’. The H2 can record front and back at the same time. The H1 is stereo only.

      As most video sessions don’t have these requirements the H1 will do a great job for less money.

  • gerry Loew July 15, 2010, 12:11 pm

    I would rethink the low light lens. I think if you really want to start shooting video, you’ll do better with a zoom – and the biggest zoom possible. Next, start thinking in terms of avoiding low light situations by either supplementing light or shooting with ample ambient light. Even with a fast lens, low light video has no punch, no color, and lacks a professional look.

    • adriel July 17, 2010, 9:36 am

      That’s all true Gerry. You’ll get ‘home movie’ looks with low lighting in a normal home.

      Then there are times when I’m shooting where I want the look of a wide open lens in low light. There’s nothing that looks quite like that and I like having that shot in my tool kit.


  • John July 26, 2010, 3:37 am

    Just found your site and I love it, keep up the good work.

    I’m also waiting for the H1 to come out for my 550D, but long term would the H4n be more future proof for my audio options? I know it costs a lot more.

    What sound setup would you recommend for Film Festival quality short films? (Thats what I’m aiming for down the line) H4n and Rode video mic seems to be a common choice. What would you recommend?



    • adriel July 26, 2010, 10:28 am


      Audio recorders are like lenses – you can’t have too many!

      The only reason you will need the H4 is if you use XLR mics and even those can be handled with an adapter or (better yet) a pre-amp/mixer.

      As for Festival quality audio, most pro sound guys learn how to hide lavaliers on speaking talent so they get that great close up sound. They also mic with a shotgun or hyper-cardioid then record everything to a separate tracks so you can chose in post.

      Also, make sure to grab some “room tone” in every location. Right before or after rolling, record the sound of the environment with no one talking for at least 30 seconds. If you need to over-dub a line later in the studio you can use it to match the sound perfectly.

      Here’s a link to an excellent article about using lavaliers.
      This link is to a shorter article with good ideas about hiding lavs.

      Thanks for the comment. BTW – your site looks great – http://www.visualrebel.com

  • John July 26, 2010, 11:19 am

    Thanks for the quick reply Adriel. I’m still trying to get to grips with all the different aspects of indie filmmaking. (A lot to learn) Will check out those links and keep a close eye on your site in the future.

    Thanks for the shout out for my own site. Its still pretty new but I’m getting there.



  • Chuck July 28, 2010, 12:18 pm

    Concerning shooting in low-light; certainly there are disadvantages but it all comes down to either necessity or choice.
    If you’re in a situation where you can control the lighting scheme by adding key and/or fill… by all means. But if your subject matter doesn’t allow for it then a faster lens is the way to go. Most pro & pro-sumer video types will find ways to upgrade the image by some form of FX processing. While it’s preferable to start out with the best captured image / video as possible, in video (motion pics ) you can employ built-in level adjustment in the NLE software or apply a third-party package like “MagicBullet”.

    If you use a slower lens, make sure you shoot on a steady camera mount (tripod, etc.) but I’d recommend a faster lens ( anything under f2 is considered “fast”… but even with that expect some image level manipulation…especially for montage sequences.

  • Tati August 16, 2010, 7:01 am

    Hi! I love this site, it’s really helping me allot! We have a videography company and are now really interested in using my nikon d5000 as a video recording device as a backup for some of our events. What kind of lens would be good to buy in this case? Would the 55-200mm give me good picture?


    • adriel August 16, 2010, 10:08 am

      Thank you for your comment, I’m glad the site is useful for you – and welcome to the world of DSLR video!

      The Nikon D5000 has an APS-C sensor – this means that lenses will have a 1.6x telephoto effect on your camera. The 55-200mm will look like an 88-320mm (if such a lens existed!)

      To answer your question I’d need to know what kinds of video you’re planning to shoot. You may need something much wider than 55mm or it may be just great.

      Also, you need to consider the f/stop on the lens. If you’re shooting outside in sunlight you’ll be okay with f/3.5 and higher. If you’re shooting inside you may want to stay below f/3.5 or you’ll need to increase the ISO on your camera, which increases the noise in the video.

      The final decision usually can only be made by shooting some test footage in the location and lighting you plan to shoot in so you can see how well it works.

      Let me know if you have more information and I’ll see what I can do to help you decide.

  • Sahas Katta October 2, 2010, 8:51 pm

    I’m fairly new to this stuff and I’m finding your tutorials quite handy. One question thought. (Might be a stupid one.)

    I was going with the Sennheiser MKE 400 until I read this. I’m assuming it will face the same issues with poor audio quality like the Azden or even the popular Rode shotgun.

    I’m planning on using my T2i to film HD video for multiple purposes. It could be for a sit down interview, on the spot stand up interview (reporting style), someone speaking on a stage, or even filming friends and family at home.

    If I were to get a device like the Zoom for recording audio, a few questions:

    How will I initiate audio recording at the same time as video recording? If I do it off-sync manually, how will I match the audio with the video properly?

    • Adriel Brunson October 31, 2010, 11:11 pm

      Check out this post – it should answer your questions. http://dslrhd.com/2010/10/how-do-you-sync-sound-from-a-zoom-with-a-dslr/#more-2096

      • Sahas Katta November 1, 2010, 3:06 am

        Thank you so much for writing that! I bought a MKE 400 and used it for a few days. It has a very noticeable hissing sound, which was very apparent to my sensitive ears. In a quiet room with someone speaking just a few feet away, the internal microphone would actually sound better than the MKE 400 when hooked up to the T2i.

        I had a return policy, so I choose to return it. The MKE was quite convenient, but it didn’t sound good enough for the price.

  • J. Walter Swartz June 16, 2011, 3:45 pm

    I am looking at the T2i as a camera for a film shoot. I was thinking of going old school 3 primes shooting. My initial instinct was 24mm, 50mm, 85mm but then I read about the sensor ratio issue where a 30mm reads as roughly a 50mm. The ratio of 1.6 leads me to believe to get the set I planned I would need to go 15mm, 30mm, 50mm. Is this correct? What 3 primes would you choose?

    Using zooms instead of wireless is a brilliant idea btw the only thing I would worry about is the recordist not being able to monitor the sound.

  • Adriel Brunson June 16, 2011, 11:50 pm

    You are correct. To match the old school set of primes with a T2i you’d need a 15mm, 30mm and a 50mm.

    Of course, that all depends on the scenes you’ll be shooting. You may find the look of that classic portrait lens – the 85mm – is perfect. You’ll need to back the camera off a few feet more but it may be worth it.

    And you are also correct for being concerned about the recordist not being able to monitor the sound with a Zoom locked in record and dropped into your talent’s pocket.

    My solution is to play it safe with levels. Test everything with a good set of phones monitoring the Zoom before you lock it down and keep the peak levels under -12db. I also like to have more than one track so let your recordist work their magic with a shotgun on a boom. It’s always great to have more options in post.

    Thanks for dropping by, I look forward to seeing your video on the web.

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