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With the advent of Digital Stills Cameras (DSLR) such as the Canon EOS D5 and D7 now capable of recording full high definition video it brings with it a new era of video production technology. We have seen a rolling back to processes of the good old days of film production. Along with the re-introduction of the Camera Assistant albehe (or her) now being given a brand new hi-tech title of D.I.T. (Digital Imaging Technician) or Data Wrangler, there has also been a propagation of new associated production technology doing the work of, well to put it bluntly, the old NAGRA tape recorder. Whereas video camcorders are able to record full quality sound onto either videotape or solid state media the DSLR does not enjoy the same high quality reputation when it comes to recording sound. Frankly, you’d be better off recording silent movies as the sound capture is so poor. This means that the sound has to be recorded totally independently of the vision and re-sync’d back at the edit suite. To do that you need a good reliable sound recorder.

So there has been a requirement for a relatively inexpensive way to record good quality audio on location which would match the superb quality of the DSLR’s video imagery. Herald the entrance of the ZOOM H4n (STOP PRESS: soon to be replaced by the H6 but at over twice the price of the H4n).

The ZOOM H4n is a delight to use, light weight but tough robust construction and delivering broadcastable quality sound onto SD cards in either WAV or MP3 file format with a nice choice of sample rates. A good, highly visible display and clear intuitive controls allow this little beauty to sit happily in the camera bag taking up no space at all. The ZOOM H4n is a mobile recording Jack-of-all-trades (pardon the pun!) that includes built-in stereo microphones, a novel integrated professional XLR and 1/4-inch microphone jacks, Phantom power and a headphone monitor out as well as a small built in speaker. Best of all, at around “200, the H4n doesn’t break the bank.

If you’re familiar with previous ZOOM handheld recorders, such as the H2 and H4, you probably know that the company’s excellent track record. We had an H2 for years and it served us well for recording audio for later transcription but this unit takes it to a whole new level. Design features such as microphones encased in solid aluminium and a spacious 51mm screen may be the first details to catch your eye, but it’s the small things that really make us love the H4n. Little details such as an offset record button that’s easy to feel in the dark, or the built-in speaker on the back that lets you listen back to recordings without having to plug in a pair of headphones, demonstrate that the designers really did their homework with the H4n.

Recording resolution ranges from a maximum of 24-bit/96kHz to as low as 48Kbps MP3, with selections for just about everything in between (such as 320Kbps MP3, or a Pro Tools-friendly 24-bit/48kHz). Microphone gain adjustments are made using a clearly labelled rocker switch on the right side of the recorder, and features such as auto-level adjustment, multiple compressor, and limiter settings help to prevent recording levels from overloading.

While most people will only use the H4n’s stereo mode, the recorder’s four-channel mode distinguishes it from the competition. With four-channel recording, the H4n lets you record from the built-in microphones and external microphone inputs simultaneously as two separate stereo files. How useful is that, Not even a Nagra could do that!

The H4n runs on two AA batteries, or a mains adaptor and includes internal settings to maximise performance from either alkaline or rechargeable batteries. At its default setting, you can expect around 6 hours of continuous WAV recording. For longer recording times, you can switch the H4n into a “STAMINA” mode, and although I haven’t tried it out, in this mode it apparently offers up to 11 hours of WAV recording.

The only slight down side is the lack of SMPTE timecode generator which can be genlocked to the camera which would have made it absolutely perfect, but you can’t expect everything for under £200.
Meanwhile long live the clapper board!




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