It’s been pretty clear that RED was thinking of feature filmmakers when they designed their cameras. That’s to be expected given the size of the market but I live in the Doc world and we often live and die by the interview. This past week we shot a series of interviews for National Geographic on behalf of the American Prairie Foundation. The shoot was indoors and we used Arri tungsten lights for a couple and available light for a couple. The camera handled the imagery wonderfully as expected but we made some discoveries that had serious ramifications with audio.
We went into the shoot clearly understanding that the Scarlet had limitations we would need to work around. We have done plenty of interviews in the past with other cameras recording in-camera audio tracks and others recording to second system sound. Because we typically work with a small crew of three or less (occasionally as a one man band) we prefer to be able to record interviews directly into the camera when necessary. Having not used the Scarlet in an interview situation before we decided to play it safe and have a second system as the primary recording option to make sure our clients got what they needed. We had of course read up on the Scarlet and some of its audio challenges and we’d had no problem in a previous situation where we'd had a sound recordist feeding a signal into the camera so we went in with confidence. In the end we got what we needed with only a couple of surprises and some good lessons learned.
(Note: We were using firmware build 3.3.14. Build 4 is imminent and may change various bits of the camera’s functionality)
We decided on a setup in which we would use a Senneheiser ME-66 mounted on the camera via a RED Arm as well as a Senneheiser G2 wireless receiver for our redundant test setup. We paired this with the second system using another shotgun on a c-stand above the interviewee and another Senneheiser G2 receiver on the same frequency as the camera mounted unit. This allowed us to use a single wireless mic for both systems. I was a little surprised at how that worked in retrospect. Every take was slated for synching in post.
The first thing we learned while doing our research is that the Scarlet will not take a Line level audio signal without using the PRO I/O or other adapter which we do not have. We discovered this when we first tried to feed a signal in from the mixer and it was a primary reason we recorded dual sound. Apparently you can use a -40db pad to bring the signal down, but we opted for safety and ran a separate off-camera recording. We had previously purchased an XLR adapter from Wooden Camera called the A-Box [ http://woodencamera.corecommerce.com/A-Box-EPIC-SCARLET.html ]. It’s a handy piece of equipment and my only complaint might be the two feeder wires got in my way a lot. I’m hoping a different mount point might help this. The A-Box allowed us to connect XLR to the 3.5mm mini inputs on the camera (seriously RED? 3.5mm mini?)
One of the many downsides of trying to record audio to the Scarlet is the fact that you have to go into the menu system to set levels. The touch screen system not only means you can’t ride the levels while recording but if you have blunt tipped fingers, getting the right setting can be a challenge. I’ve learned to use the side handle wheel to do most of my menu changes. The levels meter is also a bit vague and so I went with my best guess which worked out ok.
While setting up lights we left the camera on so we could get the the look we wanted. This had the downside of letting the camera core’s temperature rise which would make an appearance later. The camera temp was fine during setup but the mean temperature of the body, core, and chip raised enough that the core temp rose easily after the fan stopped cooling it. Actually, you can’t turn the fan below 25% but that was enough to allow the temp to change. There’s a moment of panic when your camera system you’ve invested so much in unexpectedly starts roaring its fan in an emergency cool down procedure. It was pretty clear what was happening though and the moment quickly passed.
Here’s what happened. The fan on the Scarlet and Epic is notoriously loud. You can set it to slow down to as little as 25% when recording which is almost noiseless, at least on our system. You can do this by going into the menu under Settings-->System-->Fan and set the drop down menu to “Manual”. You then change the record fan levels to your desired speed in percentage and the desired levels when not recording. The caveat is that the camera heats up more quickly while recording and at 25%, the fan is obviously less effective at cooling it down. When the core reaches the magic number of 74C, the fan kicks off at up to about 100% to prevent damaging the machine. In extreme situations, the camera will apparently shut itself down. I haven’t experienced this myself but I imagine there is a certain amount of nausea when it does. The good news is that the fan cools the core and quiets down again in a matter of seconds. The bad news is that the camera just heats up again. You can buy yourself some time but stopping record and letting the fan cool the camera back down to a much lower temp. The camera will eventually come back up to 74C and you can either pick a time to cut and cool prior to that or let the emergency sequence fire off again.
Our “solution” to this was to go in and set the fan settings to manual and the record speed of the fan to 40%. The onboard shotgun could pick up the fan noise at that level but the lav system and the redundant shotgun mounted above the interviewee were still clean. At that speed we get plenty of time to record before the camera temp reaches critical. This time is relevant to ambient temps of course and you will want to keep a close eye on the handy temperature meter on the display.
One more thing to mention. You will probably need to go in and make sure that you add the fan settings into your presets. Otherwise, the fan settings will reset every time you turn the camera off. To do this go to Presets. Tap the Create button. Make sure you set a name in the text box at the top by tapping in it. Go to the system tab. Add the Fan Control Mode. This will make sure your settings are persistent. You might also want to add the Fan Speed Record option. This will make your record fan settings in auto mode the same as what you’ve set as manual. Click create. Make sure you transfer this preset when upgrading your firmware or you’ll lose it.
Another handy option is to map one of your side handle buttons to “Toggle Fan”. This will allow you to toggle between auto fan and manual fan settings. I’ve read a couple comments on the boards implying that you can do this while recording but I haven’t been able to make it work yet.
In the end, the on-camera audio tracks came through very well. It’s no substitution for having an experienced sound recordist but I found it to be perfectly useable and having worked through the fan issues I no longer face the prospect of recording audio on the camera with fear.