The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Answers to Sound Problems with the Flip Cam May 14, 2010

I love my Flip Cam. It’s no secret. I should have a t-shirt or a tattoo that says “I heart Flip Cam.” But my main beef with the camera is, and always has been, the sound. When I do one-on-one interviews, I can manage, I bump up the sound in IMovie, and usually it’s okay, but last weekend, I was trying to shoot video in an environment where there was a lot of ambient background noise, and the result made my videos basically unusable.

I put out a help tweet. and the answer came from Nikolas Allen. I asked him if I could share it with you, and he said yes, so here it is:

Regarding your recent tweet about minimizing ambient noise when shooting video, YES, Poor sound can kill an otherwise excellent video.

1) The main key is to shoot in a controlled environment.

Of course, the beauty of the new pocket video cams is that you can shoot anywhere, on the go. But, while these cams allow you to thumb your nose at controlled environments, ambient noise WILL be an issue.

A minor fix for that is to get close to the camera. Ditch the Wide shots and go for Med and C/U shots. Then, even if there is ambient noise – she who’s closest to the mic wins!

2) Your next best bet is to have a camera with an external mic jack (unfortunately Flips don’t have this feature, which is the main reason I’ve decided against this otherwise great choice).

An external mic such as a shotgun (uni-directional) mic with a windscreen, or better yet, a wireless lavalier,  will reduce ambient noise considerably.

In addition to an external mic jack, a headphones jack is also a great feature to look for in a camera. The tiny playback speakers on cameras don’t always indicate how much ambient noise you’ve picked up. A good pair of headphones (think DJ-style, not earbuds) will let you know if you’ve got the quality of sound that you need before moving on to the next shot or setup.

3) A third option is to purchase a small, digital audio recorder. Place that close to you when speaking and record audio with that while simultaneously shooting with your Flip cam. When editing, sync up the separate audio track and either ditch or minimize the audio track from the Flip.

TIP for Option 3: While filming and recording, do a handclap before you start talking on each take. This will make it easier, when editing, to align the audio and video tracks (essentially you’re mimicking the clapboard that Hollywood shooters use before each take).

I’m considering the Kodak Zi8 HD pocket cam. It’s under $200, plus it’s got ext. mic jack. Here’s an Amazon link if you wanna check it out.

So, the lesson here, is, if you know you are going to be using your camera to shoot in environments where there will be lots of ambient background noise, the Flip may not be for you. If you already have one (like me) and want to make the best of it, shoot as close as you can to your subject, or try the trick with the digital recorder (which a lot of folks have anyway, these days, for podcasting).

Happy shooting!

Nikolas Allen is a contemporary pop artist currently based in Mt. Shasta, California. His background is in advertising, music and video production. He is passionate about both art and business and is creating an educational program that teaches Branding and Marketing to Ambitious Creatives.
You can find him on Twitter: @nikolas_allen

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4 Responses to “Answers to Sound Problems with the Flip Cam”

  1. Rebecca,
    Thanks for turning my reply into a guest post!

    Good sound is a tricky beast to tame, but it’s worth spending the extra time (and money) on getting it right. People are forgiving of poor-quality video if it has good audio, but they will not even tolerate great video if it has poor audio.

    And, of course, if both elements are quality, you’re golden!

    Keep me posted on your progress. I’d love to hear what works for you in your quest for improved audio tracks.

  2. nancykenny Says:

    So would a Flip camera be a bad choice then for a publicist? I’m budgeting for my theatre company and I’m wondering what camera to go with.

  3. I love mine. An 99% of the time, it’s not a problem. It’s just when I was in an environment (trade show) where there was tons of ambient noise that it really was a problem. Most of the time, when I shoot interviews, I shoot them in a controlled environment, and it’s all good.
    But do your research! Make your money go as far as possible! 🙂

  4. @nancykenny – another option you may want to consider is a combination still/video camera. As a publicist, having an all-in-one tool for photos AND video might be a perfect solution.

    The Panasonic DMC-FX37 is a popular choice for this. It has a wide-angle lens for great 10MP photos AND shoots HD video.

    No external mic jack, but the wide-angle lens allows you to get close to your subject to capture good audio.

    Many choices to consider, so as Rebecca suggests – research! Here’s a link to the camera I mentioned:

    Good luck! @nikolas_allen

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