Monthly Archives: February 2011

Zoom H1 battery & sound problem – Samson we have a problem here

I’ve recently noticed that my Zoom H1 drains the battery, even when it’s not turned on. But I just figured it was me, and worked around the problem by only putting batteries into the unit when I needed to use it. Then, this weekend, I was doing some sound tests, and inadvertently discovered an even more serious problem with my Zoom H1. As I was recording, I was listening very carefully to the noise floor of the device, and noticed a strange pulsing sound. It was worst with an external mic (like my Tram TR50 lav used to record the sample below). But in fact, I couldn’t get a clean recording out of it no matter what I tried, even with the built-in mics.

Here’s what it sounds like (pay close attention to the silence at beginning and end of clip).

Sounds like a helicopter hovering in the distance, with the woop-woop-woop of rotor blades cutting through what should be silence.

That was enough to send me to Google in search of an answer, and sure enough, I found a few conversations about the issue, but nothing definitive. So I emailed Samson, the maker of the Zoom H1, and and this morning, I got back this definitive email:

We are aware of an issue affecting a limited number of H1’s. If you are within the United States, please call customer service at 1-800-372-6766, 9am-5pm M-F EST.

They will issue a return authorization number and arrange to have a new, tested replacement sent to you.

This kind of customer service rocks: not only do they acknowledge the problem, but they immediately arrange for a swift resolution. Go Samson.

Zoom H4N MixPre audio recording comparison

If you’re a DSLR video shooter using the Zoom H4N, you’ve probably heard the Sound Devices MixPre can take your audio recording to the next level. But what, exactly, does the “next level” sound like? I recently purchased a MixPre, and I’ve been asked by a couple readers of my blog to post sample audio. And that’s what I’ve got for you today.

Here are three recordings which test the following scenarios:

AT875 mic -> MixPre -> H4N line-in with -10db M-Audio attenuation pad (recording level on Zoom H4N set to 19)

AT875 mic -> MixPre -> H4N line-in with -25db Pink Noise attenuation cable (recording level on Zoom H4N set to 27)

AT875 mic -> H4N sans mixer (recording level set to 82)

NOTE: It’s necessary to use attenuation of some kind between the Tape Out on the MixPre and the Zoom H4N’s line-in, because the signal the MixPre sends to the Zoom is too hot otherwise, and will cause the Zoom to clip before the MixPre’s limiter’s kick in. I blogged about this previously here.

The recording environment: my finished basement, which is very quiet and covered in carpet. It was a windy day today, though, so you can occasionally hear neighbor’s wind chimes in the background. For this test, I read the first paragraph of a Paul Bowles short story, so it’s your basic male dialog.

Equipment: AT875R mic on stand, 10″ away from my mouth; Sound Devices MixPre; Zoom H4N (with latest firmware update).

Hypothesis: It shouldn’t really make any difference whether you use a -10db pad or a -25db cable – you just have to raise the recording level a bit when using the -25 cable. But I am wondering whether the -25db cable sample will be noisier because of need to crank up recording level on Zoom H4N. It shouldn’t be, because I’m told that plugging into the line-in on the Zoom bypasses the preamps on the Zoom completely. Finally, the Zoom H4N should be noisier without the MixPre in front of it, because the preamps on the consumer Zoom H4N are said to be crappy by comparison with the professional Sound Devices MixPre.

After reviewing the results, here’s my thoughts:

As expected, the MixPre does improve the quality of the audio recording compared with recording directly into Zoom H4N. There is less hiss, and the sound is richer. Still, the Zoom H4N all by itself is not bad. And to my surprise, the -25db Pink Noise cable seems to have less noise than the -10db pad, although I think that’s down to relative recording levels being different (although I tried to make them the same – the audio waveforms are taller on the -10 pad file). As I’ve posted previously, I far prefer the Pink Noise cable over the -10 M-Audio pad, because of it’s ergonomically angled 3.5mm jack, which allows it to lay flat in my sound bag.

So these test results do nothing to change my preference: recording audio with MixPre in front of my Zoom H4N, connected with Pink Noise -25db cable.

Of course, sound is a very subjective thing. What do your ears tell you?

For sale: JVC GY-HM100U (SOLD)

I’m selling my mint-condition JVC camcorder. It’s tough to part with this great little camera, which I bought less than two years ago. I shot one documentary with this camera, a film that got me into Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School last June. But my workflow has evolved so it’s time to find a good home for this great camera, which is today selling new on B&H Photo for $2,795.

So here’s why buying it from me is a killer deal: I’m including a whole bunch of extras like batteries, filters, pack and wetsuit, stuff you’d need to buy anyway. When you total up the price of everything I purchased to go with this camera new, it comes to $3511.57.

I’m pricing everything for $2,300.00, firm (please don’t ask me to sell items individually – it’s a package deal). I’ll update this listing with “SOLD” when it’s been sold – email me at dan at danmccomb dot com if you’re interested. Here’s some photos:

What you get:

JVC HM100U with 237 hours on meter (new cost $2,795)
JVC Batteries (2) (new cost $84.94 each)
Pearstone Batteries (2) (new cost $49.95 each)
Moose’s Filter Warm (81A) + Polarizer 46mm (new cost $50.85)
Hoya Skylight 1B (HMC) 46mm (new cost $19.35)
Kata Pack (Kata R-104) (new cost $207.59)
CamRade WS GYHM100 Westsuit (new cost $169.00)

The JVC GY-HM100U ProHD Camera is a revolutionary product which incorporates many aspects of major broadcast camcorders packaged into a lightweight, handheld camcorder. Modesty ends there however, as the camera’s capabilities far exceed models in its class. With the ability to shoot high definition footage up to 35 Mbps, the camera ushers in a new level of quality, eliminating many problems associated with other methods.

At its core, the GY-HM100U builds on the success of JVC’s previous tape-based ProHD cameras, instead recording footage to SDHC cards. Solid-state recording increases workflow speeds; shoot and start editing in minutes! Additional features include a sophisticated focus assist, uncompressed audio capability, optical image stabilization, and 2 hot-swappable SDHC slots. All these things make the GY-HM100U HD an ideal ultra-compact video camera for enthusiasts and professionals.
Note! Class 10 SDHC cards supported only by cameras with most current firmware. If your GY-HM100 contains older firmware, please visit manufacturer’s upgrade page to download and install most recent version.

Compact Frame

The camera’s compact frame makes it easy to venture into uncharted territory. Long gone are the days of lugging around a brick with one hand. The GY-HM100U’s lightweight body allows for long run times without the fatigue. Whether you’re shooting a documentary, wedding, or grabbing the news, both your wrists and your arms will thank you.

Sophisticated Format

JVC’s proprietary HD format is based on industry standard MPEG-2 compression, used for both HD broadcasts and DVD videos. By using the same basic technology as HDV and incorporating some advanced industry know-how, the GY-HM100U can shoot 720 at 19Mbps and 1080 at 25Mbps. The major difference, however, is the ability to shoot both resolutions at 35Mbps, producing the highest quality MPEG-2 video available! The format can be recorded in .mov form, making it easy to ingest into Final Cut Pro for quick direct-to-edit flexibility. For PC users, video can be recorded as ISO Base Media, which is compatible with virtually all major Non-Linear editors.

Recording to SDHC

Unlike other cameras that record to expensive proprietary memory cards, the GY-HM100U shoots to the abundant SDHC standard. Recording hours of high definition footage across two slots; both are hot-swappable and can be quickly ingested into any computer or device with any inexpensive SD card reader. How’s that for cost-effective?

Cutting Edge CCD Technology

The 1/4″ progressive scan CCDs produce stunning images with picture perfect color accuracy. The sensors incorporate spatial offset technology, which places the red and blue sensors 1/2 of a pixel in respect to the green sensor, increasing effective resolution without sacrificing image quality or by using interpolation.

Fujinon Lens

The camera comes equipped with a 10x HD lens developed by Fujinon, the leader in broadcast-level video optics. The lens takes advantage of a compact 3-aspheric element body, which decreases both size and weight. The lens exhibits exceptional quality while showing less distortion, color aberration, and flare. Additionally, the lens comes with a built-in lens flip-up cover so users don’t have to keep track of those pesky lens caps.

Optical Image Stabilization

The Optical Image Stabilization incorporated in the lens helps defeat camera shake from handheld shooting, as well as turbulence produced from a moving vehicle. Since it’s an optical function, OIS can compensate for a greater amount of problems while avoiding any loss in image quality, which is common when using more antiquated electronic or digital stabilizing methods.

High Quality Digital Signal Processor

The camera’s digital signal processor encodes all formats from a pristine 1920 x 1080 signal, ensuring all footage is of the highest resolution and quality. By starting with the maximum amount of color and spatial information the recorded footage will prove crystal clear every time. Additionally, JVC has incorporated a series of noise reducing technologies that take the entire process to another level.

Professional Audio Capability

Just because the camera is small doesn’t mean its audio capabilities are. The GY-HM100U has audio control and capability almost exclusively found on ENG camcorders! Located just in front of the handle are 2 standard XLR inputs with phantom power. Unlike its MPEG-2 HDV counterpart, JVC has upped the ante by electing to use LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulated) uncompressed 16-bit audio, taking productions to that coveted ‘next level’. To ensure you get the most out of their sound system, JVC has provided a high-quality shotgun microphone to accompany the already sublime internal bi-directional microphone.

Focus Assist

Taking its cue from JVC’s ProHD line of camcorders, the GY-HM100U uses an edge-detection technique for image focus-assist. With the increasing importance to verify one’s focus on lower resolution LCDs, focus-assist has become incredibly important. Unfortunately, it can be tricky at times. Some methods even obstruct the view of a frame, which can be both tedious and useless. The best part of the GY-HM100U’s method is that it doesn’t hinder the operator’s ability to frame a shot or follow the action, which in the end, is most important.

LoLux Mode

JVC’s exclusive technology allows users to shoot in extremely low lighting conditions. Whether you’re making that next great reality show or simply need to grab something in a dark room, LoLux mode has it covered.

For sale: Petrol Sound Bag (SOLD)

Update: The bag has been sold.

I’m selling my Petrol sound bag. It’s a great bag, used very lightly. I upgraded to a larger bag recently and no longer have a use for this lovely agile one. Details:

Petrol PSDMB-302, is a professional field recording mixer bag designed for use with sound devices SD302, SD-744T, SD702T, or Sonosax SX-R4. It also works great with smaller mixers such as Sound Devices MixPre. Organizes gear so its safe and workable on the job. Free access to all mixer panels-side,back top. Ample pockets hold batteries (especially NP-1 type), connectors, etc. Movable dividers, padded shoulder strap. Two allow for expandable snap-on pouches house transmitters or receivers. Features that can be added are the raincover (PERC) and the harness (PEHR).

Price is $90 firm and includes shipping via UPS ground within US. Unless you’re local to Seattle, I’ll require payment via PayPal. I will ship within 24 hours.

Here’s some pics:

Shoot me an email to dan at danmccomb dot com if you want it. I’ll update this post with “SOLD” in title when it’s been sold.

Economist Film Project

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I hate internet advertising. And I know hate is a strong word. But let’s face it: advertising sucked in newspapers, and who reads them any more? It sucked on TV and it sucks on billboards. Advertising is the primary reason I almost never listen to the radio (but joyfully listen to podcasts), and don’t EVER watch TV (No, I don’t count watching Battle Star Galactica on Netflix as watching TV).

When I was running Biznik, we experimented with advertising as a business model. It failed utterly. So few people clicked the ads, that we didn’t even generate enough revenue to operate the servers. It’s my opinion that advertising as a revenue model works on only the largest of sites. I doubted it would ever work on Facebook, and it didn’t for the longest time. But then Facebook became so big that even a ridiculous, antique business model that depended on them annoying their members could, and does work for them. But I’ve never clicked on a Facebook ad.

Until today. This is the ad that caught my eye:

I was reading a post that my friend Hazel Grace made about my film, Shine: The Entrepreneur’s Journey, which became available online last week (thanks Hazel for posting that!) and the words “Economist,” “independent” and “film” entered my consciousness somehow from the right sidebar that I normally tune out completely. Just goes to show that advertising does penetrate our consciousness on some level. So I click on the ad, and discover what is perhaps the PERFECT venue for my film: The Economist, in partnership with PBS NewsHour, is looking for films that they can cut into 6-8 minute segments for airing on NewsHour.

“…the project will feature films whose new ideas, perspectives, and insights not only help make sense of the world, but also take a stand and provoke debate.”

Well I read that and immediately realized SHINE is a perfect fit for this venue. 15 minutes later, I’d submitted the film at the Economist Film Project website, which makes it a snap (allowing the submission of films posted on Vimeo, thank you very much).

If my film gets aired on PBS as a result of this ad, I may have to amend my hardline position against internet advertising. If advertising can help an indie filmmaker find an audience for a niche film, is it totally evil?

Life Flashes before my eyes

I almost never post rants. But today I’m going to make an exception. Because there’s really no excuse for seeing this when you go to to a major website:

I read about the slick new Life in a Day channel that filmmakers Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald set up to showcase their crowdsourced documentary. I go there, and it won’t load in Safari without installing a Flash plugin. So I go through the steps to install Flash, getting highly annoyed. Then I’m redirected to Adobe’s website when the player is finished installing, instead of the site I want to visit. I go searching through my history, and find the site. I open it. And I get this. What the fuck. This is the state of the web in 2011?

OK here’s a promise: No matter how slick my films are, I guarantee they’ll never be so special that they require Flash to view them.

My 24-min film about entrepreneurship, SHINE, is now online

I’m pleased to announce that my first film is now watchable online. I made this film with co-director Ben Medina, from whom I learned much of what I know about filmmaking. It’s a talkumentary about the elation, fears, dreams, and tears that accompany anyone on the entrepreneur’s path.

We had a nice review of shine today on, who sent a reporter to our premier of the film which happened Sunday evening at a small theater in Seattle.

Through intimate interviews with entrepreneurs, experts, and educators, the journey of entrepreneurship unfolds revealing the challenges, pitfalls, rewards and successes of self employment. SHINE encourages you to ask yourself what kind of entrepreneur you are, and inspires you to think about what kind of entrepreneur you want to be.

The film includes interviews with typical entrepreneurs as well as a handful of high-profile entrepreneurs including iStockphoto founder Bruce Livingstone and Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve and author of 13 books about entrepreneurship.

Connecting Zoom H4N to Sound Devices MixPre – Part II

In part 1 of this post, I outlined the problem of connecting the Zoom H4N to Sound Devices MixPre. In a nutshell, the signal the MixPre sends via it’s Tape Out is too hot for the Zoom’s line in. I posted a workaround that allowed us to get by, and a proper solution using a -10db inline pad. Since then, sound recordist Lisa Cooper and I have been using this combination on an almost daily basis shooting a documentary called Beyond Naked. And we’ve hit on an even better solution that truly kicks ass and makes us smile. Here it is:

The problem with these lightweight 3.5mm jacks is that, when we used ones that go straight in, they tend to stick out and get knocked around in the sound bag (see photo below):

Because it’s coupled with the -10db pad at the critical connecting point, it tends to lever itself loose, causing static, or worse, it could break off or damage the internal jack on the MixPre. The right-angle connector, on the other hand, lies flat, which gives everything a safe, low profile in the sound bag.

The Pink Noise cable is the way to go. Because it’s -25db, you have to set the recording level on the Zoom H4N a bit higher. We’ve found the best setting is 28. (The best setting is 20 with the M-Audio -10 pad). Any higher, and it’ll start to clip on the Zoom before the MixPre limiters kick in. The best thing about the Pink Noise cable, besides the fact that it makes the tape out signal usable, is that it has a right-angle connector that allows it to connect to the MixPre without sticking out.

Here’s the parts list:

Hosa Right-Angle 3.5mm to Right-Angle 3.5mm Stereo Cable ($3.99 at B&H Photo)

1/8″ Stereo Phone Coupler ($3.99 at Radio Shack)

Pink Noise -25db DSLR Cable ($54 direct from Pink Noise Systems in UK)

Live Wire 3.5mm TRS to dual 1/4″ cable ($8.99 at Guitar Center)

If you order the Pink Noise cable, make sure you email and ask to have the VAT tax dropped (you don’t have to pay it if you’re ordering from US). They have great customer service if you ask, but you’ll get overcharged if you simply place the order via the web form, since there is no option to not pay VAT on their order form.

And finally, here’s why it’s such a big deal to have the right-angle connectors: because sound bags in real life look like this! Cable management is very important to getting the job done.

Color grading with Colorista II

I’ve been using Colorista II for pretty much all my color grading ever since it was released a few months ago. Why? Because it’s awesome, and I know it’s awesome because of Stu Maschwitz’s killer video tutorials. He posted an unusually long clip earlier this week: a full hour color correcting session with a client. To watch the tutorial is to be right there in the room, listening in on their conversations, learning the steps to get perfect color. Thanks Stu!

I had a chance to put everything I learned to work on Thursday, when I shot a series of series of brief interviews, called 619 Stories, for a Seattle startup called Intersect (which has posted many of the finished clips in the 619 Building Timeline). The lighting was abysmal in the venerable artists building (which I myself once briefly lived in nearly a decade ago). I knew I was going to need to augment the light with something on-camera at least for fill, and I found a decent way to configure my custom shoulder rig with LitePanels Micro Pro just to the side of the camera, off one of the rails:

What I like about this is that it’s true quick release. I can instantly remove the LitePanel just by squeezing the clamp, which grips it with plenty enough force that I don’t have to worry about it coming loose accidentally.

I used Colorista II to do the grade, and Magic Bullet Looks to drop in a vignette and spot exposure. I could have done all of this in Colorista II by stacking additional Colorista filters, but Looks and Colorista work fine in tandem.

Here’s what I started with:

And here’s what I finished with:

I shot this interview with one knee down, which gives her the hero pose, with the lens angled slightly up at her. Shooting with a shoulder rig off one knee pretty much gives the same perspective you’d get holding a camcorder football-carry style, which was my preferred method of carry before DSLRs made me never want to touch a camcorder again.

And finally, here’s the finished video:

While editing this piece I accidentally discovered a (possibly gimmicky) solution to the dreaded jump cut problem: I inserted a cross dissolve between questions, and in Final Cut’s Motion tab, I set the clip to scale 100 percent at beginning of transition; and 200 percent at completion of it. The result: The old clip flies up at you, revealing the new clip underneath. It wouldn’t work in every interview, but I kinda like the effect.