Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tascam DR-40 Linear PCM recorder

A slight departure from photography for this entry.
My main occupation is video production, I shoot with dedicated HD and 4K video cameras and have never embraced the DSLR video revolution. I have shot video with DSLR using my Canon 5D2 and the results were very good. However I found the workflow rather slow when compared to using dedicated video cameras. 
The main problem was with audio, I shoot a lot of interviews and having XLR inputs on the cameras able to take the wireless microphone transmitter and record top quality audio together with the video greatly simplifies the workflow during ingestion and editing.
When I shot with a DSLR I recorded the mics onto a borrowed Zoom H4n and synchronised the audio and video files in Final Cut Pro X. Additionally setting all this up, often lighting as well, and then monitoring two pieces of equipment while recording and directing is a lot to deal with when I'm usually a single shooter. Add to this time constraints often present with these shoots and it has meant I have opted for the simplest solution that gets the job done.

I really like the look of DSLR video though, and the shallow DoF available looks good, especially for interviews.

I was idly browsing the internet recently and up came an article about DSLR video where the audio had been recorded on a Tascam DR-40 recorder. It looked very much like a clone of the ever popular Zoom H4n much cheaper. I investigated further and the reviews were very positive. The DR-40 lacked some of the features of the H4n (mainly effects and the ability to be used as a USB audio interface) but these were features I'd not use, effects I'd add in post and I already have several USB audio interfaces.

Tascam is a name I trust and respect in audio, I used their open reel recorders extensively back in the 80's and 90's and they were superb. I was tempted; then I saw the deal clincher, Bax Music were offering the DR-40 for £136, a good price, then on their website there was an offer of an additional 20% off ending that day, free postage as well. I pushed the button. After VAT has been claimed back it came to a bargain price of £101!

The DR-40 arrived 3 days later from Holland. I unpacked it, installed the batteries and went to record a concert that evening. 
I set the DR-40 up in front of the small vocal ensemble, set the levels and pressed record. The result was a very accurate recording of the event.

The following day I updated the firmware and tried the DR-40 out in 4 channel mode with a couple of Oktava P48 mics, which worked well. I also tested the safety record option whereby a second recording is made at a level -6dB to -12dB lower than the main one, This is a really useful feature, especially in situations when you don't have 100% control over the levels.

Compared the the Zoom H4n the construction uses more plastic, it lacks effects section and the USB interface as I've already mentioned. Sound quality is pretty much identical, and I strongly suspect it shares a chipset with the Zoom and other similar devices. 
The Tascam does have a few features not on the Zoom, the mics can be switched from X-Y to A-B as opposed the the 90 or 120 degree option on the Zoom. There is also a nifty rubber foot in the Tascam battery compartment that isolates and raises the device when placed on a flat surface such as a table. 
Another feature, which brings me back to where I started this entry, is that when the audio output of the DR-40 is connected to the input of your DSLR the DR-40 can be set to generate a tone at the start of each recording for easy sync in the edit. I also find the menu system easier to navigate than the Zoom menu.

So, I'm now hoping to use a couple of DSLR, with lovely Canon L glass and the DR-40 on an upcoming project. I'll post here on how that goes. 

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