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Help! Camcorder w/ good microphone.. ?!

Short question: Any camcorders/cam companies especially good with audio.. either integrated mics or compatibility with wireless systems?
~500 price range.

Without getting into a horrible level of detail.. I've been charged (IT guy..) with finding a setup for recording training/presentations/etc. in one controlled room at work. The organization is well funded and large, but the budget is small ~500. (incl. mic/tripod/bat?, but I can stretch that a little.
They want to be able to separate audio after recording, and would like video as well.
So my first thought is a DVD/HDD camcorder, since it would be easiest for them to work with after recording. DVD looks bad since recording times are around 15-30 minutes per dvd and sessions are going to be 1-1 1/2 hours.
So my charge to you is..
Are there any camcorders under 500 with good microphones? I don't want an incredibly omni-directional mic that's going to pick up every ambient whisper near the Camcorder.
The real focus is getting a good audio recording, with great video quality only being a plus.

If anyone can help, I'm hitting a wall here and you'd make my intern-noob-persona here jump up a notch.

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The trick with camcorder built-in mics

In reply to: Help! Camcorder w/ good microphone.. ?!

is getting the mics - therefore the camcorder - as close as possible to the audio source... in your case, a person speaking. In a quite office environment, placing the camcorder - therefore the mics - withing about 5 feet of the audio source will be about as good as it gets. The real heads up here is that the low-end camcorders use an "auto mic gain" mechanism that constantly listens for audio. When it hears the audio, it works to make the low volume and high volume as close to "normal" volume as it can. When the audio is really loud, it will overdrive the the auto-gain resulting in muddy, unusable audio. When the audio is really soft - or between sentences, the gain listens for... nothing. There is a characteristic whooshing sound that can be edited out - or some ambient noise can be produced so the mic gain has something to hear.

There are those who say that there is no such thing as a good mic in a camcorder. Obviously, a stereo built-in mic in the camcorder can't be *that* great when you consider that a mid-range external stereo mic (like an Audio-Technica AT-822) can cost as much as an entry level camcorder... That said there are not very many camcorders that include a mic-in jack.

If you are recording presentations, basically talking heads with chart decks, a wireless lavaliere would be great - but based on your shopping list, I would say you are severely underfunded.

The Canon ZR800, 900 and 930 have a mic-in jack. The bad news is that they do not have manual audio control. They are miniDV tape based camcorders (and as the IT person, you can appreciate the least amount of compression on DV or HDV results in better video quality than other methods that compress a lot more - this includes hard drive and flash memory based camcorders. DVD based camcorder compress the most and should magically find their way into the nearest e-waste recycling facility).

Because the above listed Canons do not have manual audio control, I would not recommend them and because good wireless mics start at about $300, there is nothing to recommend, so a very directional mic would be easier...

My suggested packages:

Low end (not suggested, but it almost fits your budget):
Canon ZR800, 900 or 930
Audio Technica AT55 mic
Sunpak 9002DX tripod

Strongly suggested:
Canon HV20, HV30, Sony HDR-HC7, HC9 (these have a mic-in jack and manual audio control)
NRG Research SA-568 or RODE Video Mic
Sunpak Ultrapro 757

Since you will be in a room and controlled environment, you will have power, so additional rechargable batteries are not needed. Typical office lighting will be sufficient - learn to use the white balance setting.

Because you are in an office setting, there are florescent lights that provide EMI. Any wireless gear should be in the UHF band and Shure makes good stuff, but I *think* it all requires an XLR adapter... this option gets expensive really fast.

Getting video from the miniDV tape into a computer will use a firewire 400 port on the computer connected with a firewire cable to the DV port of the camcorder. Please do not go down the path of "transferring HDD video over USB is easier" - it is not. It may be faster, but not easier. Explain to me where the archived video is. With miniDV tape, the tape that captured the video IS the archive. Stay VERY far awy from DVD based camcorders.

Good luck.

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In reply to: The trick with camcorder built-in mics

I knew someone would have a rational answer that would save me days or weeks of looking up what in theory becomes obvious in practice.
Indeed, the HR department wants a lavaliere microphone, but I told them.. I told them.. it would be totally out of budget.

So thanks for the great options.. I had just started looking back at Mini-DV and the ZR-800 was what I was looking at. I'll head down that alley and see if they bite.
Thank you!

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Just in case...

In reply to: Thanks!

This is the least expensive 1/2 decent lav I can find...

You want full diversity (two antennas on the base station) and UHF. VHF is OK but not best. Any others (900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5.4 GHz) are "shared ISM bands" that compete with garage door openers, WiFi and home cordless phones.

Wireless is good for larger rooms where the camera is at the back of the room and there is an audience in between the camcorder and the person speaking. If the person speaking is five feet away from the camera, then the lav is not needed and a shotgun or tele mic is just fine.

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and again..

In reply to: Just in case...

thank you. I would personally rather have the guy use a wired mic considering a wireless mic is so much more expensive for the value, especially anything other than a standard microphone. Also wireless has all those signal issues you spoke of, though there are no garage openers around here, there are plentiful wireless signals of every band in the area.
Though thanks for that find, I didn't expect to find a wireless lav mic for that cheap!.. I had looked around as well.
You've been quite a bit of help boya, cheers!

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In reply to: Just in case...

How do I know if these mics/recievers will be capable of working with the ZR800/ZR850 (little cheaper).
They are dual antenna, UHF, wireless mics. They're a bit cheaper and look like I might make my mark.. thanks to you!.

is it simply a matter of radioshacking the appropriate conversion cables? If so, great =).
$139.95! - (too good to be true?)

Let me know what you think if you have time, otherwise I think I might have this ball in the pocket.
Thanks a ton for the advice.

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I regret that I

In reply to: Microphones

cannot recommend Nady or Samson (you did not provide a link, but I thought I would address them anyway). I have been bit with poor quality from both a couple of years ago and just won't touch them. It is entirely possible their quality is much improved, but I have no idea. (I use Shure and Sennheiser lavs...)

That said, in the case of the Audio-Technica ATW-251/H92 and Nady UHF-4 UHF Headset Wireless Microphone System they are headset systems - not Lavalieres... Lavs are clip on lapel mics.

You *should* be able to get away with this:
and if I could suggest that you get the ATR-55 bundle deal, you would have both wireless lav and shotgun... I know the lav base station is not diversity - BUT, in your controlled environment - in close quarters (body pack within ~25 feet of the base station), you should be OK. What will also be advantageous is that the base station is made to be portable and is AC or battery powered (as opposed to the AC power only requirements of the three to which you provided links).

You won't be able to use both mics at the same time unless you get some sort of adapter, and since the ZR family does not have manual audio control the mic levels will not be controllable.

This is where is gets icky. The good mics/base stations usually connect with XLR adapters. In order to connect them to a camcorder with a 1/8" jack, you can go the XLR cable to 1/8" jack tail route - or you can get a proper XLR adapter like those from BeachTek or juicedLink. These real adapters have 2-4 XLR inputs and individual mic gain gain control knobs for each XLR plugs.

BUT, the XLR connections also can be used with proper PA systems (which you are not using).

There are several very good 1/8" jack - made for camcorder - mic systems... from Sennheiser and Sony and a couple of others. They are $600+...

If you want to use more than 1 mic at the same time, you need a method to connect them AND adjust their volume levels. So the "field mixer XLR Adapters" and XLR cabled mics are suggested. If you use only 1 mic at a time, then the 1/8" jack connection is fine - you just need to keep your limitations in mind.

XLR - also called "Balanced" cabling is REALLY useful for long runs (over 15 feed or so) because they are shielded. As an IT person, you know what unshielded cabling can pick up in the way of EMI and RFI. With wireless, the cable run from the base station to the camcorder (or PA mixing board) is typically short because it is the mic is connected wirelessly...

I also suggest a camera bracket for your set up...
You can mount the battery powered base station and/or the shortgun mic to the accessory shoes... There is a screw hole under the camera mounting screw so you can still mount this to a tripod.

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In reply to: I regret that I

Yah XLR is my old boy, I used to have a band, etc. and I know the equipment well enough to use it, but I ended up in IT. I was trying to stay in the simple dept. because the people using the equipment are going to be "rocket scientists" by comparison to yours truly (see: sarcasm).
I was looking at some of the less expensive VHF's as well. The one you reccommended seems ideal since the more I get this stuff tied together the better off the end user will be.
They only need one mic, though I'm sure they'll want to have the questions brought up mic'ed, but they won't realize that until after the fact, and at this point I'm not going to deal with it anymore. They want to penny pinch, I told them with 200-300 more dollars they really could have a system worth keeping.
Despite deep pockets, it just doesn't seem a priority to them. So they'll get what they pay for, and I'll ensure they at least get what they asked for on a functional level.
I was told about this yesterday with a deadline of thursday and it's not even really my job =).
So thank you, thank you so much for all the info, you've saved me countless hours and I hope someone has this problem soon and stumbles here to their pleasure.
Let me know what you think about this one last mic. by Sony. I'm a Sure/Seinheiser (spelling..) guy myself when I was in a band and now when it comes to headphones. I have been happy with Sony though.

All the best, and as usual thanks!

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That's more than just a little scary...

In reply to: noted.

I used to play bass in jazz and cover bands, ended up with a PA system (because no one ever had one), was IT manager for a large telecom company. I got into video (to tape my kid's middle and high school activities)... it is still a hobby...

I would not do that particular Sony wireless unit - it uses FM for the wireless link.

The Sony wireless lav I meant is:

And just to be complete, the Senheiser wireless lav I meant is:

They are designed to be used for "Electronic News Gathering" (ENG) camcorder environments, hence the much more portable base stations than the Shure gear (which is geared more toward PA system XLR connections). I suspect the Audio Technica lav posted previously is targeted to the consumer camcorder market - as is the ATR55.

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Oh... and another thing...

In reply to: noted.

"and it's not even really my job"...

You know as well as I do that if "it" plugs into ANYTHING, then the IT folks must know...

I used to get calls about copy machines and shredders while working on servers and routers and hubs (OH MY!).

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In reply to: Oh... and another thing...

That sounds like yesterday! wow, lol.
And yes, I guess it is my job despite it's total lack of being in my job description!
Cheers, take care man and thank you so much for all the advice. My old band was totally plugged in and that was years ago so I knew my info had to be abysmally out of date.
I owe you one!

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