Like lenses, when it comes to quality with sound, you get what you pay for. Since the DSLR revolution began, cinematographers that have usually spent their careers hiring sound mixers and renting gear have suddenly become one man band owner/operators. They are spending tons of money on lenses and cameras bodies but buying the "best cheap option" when it comes to sound. I've used Rode Mics, Zoom Recorders and Sennehiser G3 lavs with mixed success the past few years. The quality is more than good enough and the price point is hard to beat but once you get to post, those extra dollars in savings come back to haunt you on every project.
WONDERBLOG 'ZAXCOM IN ACTION' shot/edited by Mike Solsky
Think of the hours you've spenting syncing clips or begging pluraleyes to work. Think about the time where you just had to use your onboard mic because your lavs got interference and hits. After a few years of rough shooting I decided enough was enough and I wasn't going to waste thousands of dollars in labor and time just to use a $300 sound recorder.
My current Zaxcom collection: (top row) 2x TRX900LA wireless transmitters (with built in timecode recorders), 2x ERX2TCD IFB recievers (bottom row) QRX100 ENG reciever (that can monitor up to 2x transmitters at once) with IFB option
Working with the kind (and patient) people at Gotham Sound and Cory Choy at Silver Sound, I was turned on to Zaxcom and their line of products. What sets Zaxcom apart is their patented technology that puts timecode RECORDERS in every lav transmitter. That means no more drop outs and no more range issues. In a way you could say their lavs have INFINITE range. This also means that each transmitter becomes it's own one track recorder and you use the reciever just to monitor. In the past few years I can't remember the last time I had a mixer who was not also the boom operator. Because each lav is it's own master recorder, mixers can spend more time and energy booming and use a lower profile & lighter bag (like the Sound Device Mix Pre D connected with the ZFR100 that is shown in the video above). With preampes that blow my sennheisers away and a solid recording all day I was excited but when I found out about Zaxnet I was 100% sold.
Using Zaxnet, the IFB transmitter can put TC onto the 5D3's left audio track which can then be decoded in post. This allows us to sync cameras and the wireless transmitters without needing pluraleyes.
Zaxnet is an ad hoc wifi network that connects all Zaxcom devices (lavs, recievers, IFB, etc) with each other and gives them the same timecode. This means if you have a Zaxcom device on each of your talent and an IFB on all of your cameras we now have a UNIVERSAL timecode system that will allow us to sync every kind of camera (from standard video cameras like the F3 and C300 to DSLRs like the 5D3). Whats great is that Zaxnet is constantly re-jamming all the devices. If your camera runs out of range to shoot another scene or your talent goes outside, the second they come back into range they are automatically rejammed. For sound mixers this means when it's after lunch and you are SO over the shoot, you don't have to worry about rejamming the slate.
A C300 rigged up the way we had it for the Hannaford campaign. Since the camera has a TC input, the IFB can feed firectly into the camera without using an audio track. Both Zaxnet and the pictured Teradek Cubes both create their own WiFi networks but in my experience they have not caused interference with each other.
Over the past few months I've been buying pieces and putting them together trying to eliminate pluraleyes and get rid of all our syncing and interference issues. I am still working out the final kinks but above you can find a short video me made of some of Zaxcom's gear in action on our commercial campaign for Hannaford Supermarkets. This was our maiden voyage of the system but we are very excited about the possibilites and how it can improve our workflows.
Some animal friends helping me test my Zaxcom workflow which uses the QRX100 reciever as a TC master clock and lav monitor. It sends TC to the IFBs on each camera and to the transmitters allowing everything to by synced up using TC instead of pluraleyes or camera hops.
Zaxcom is a lot like RED in the way that they beat to their own drum and their technology works with it's own logic. You can't just pick up their gear and have it magically work. As we get through the learning curve and finish our system I have been putting a guide together on how to use their products and create the timecode system that has been such a huge success for us so far.
If you have any questions in the meantime about using Zaxcom gear please feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more about the products please check out Zaxcom's website or contact any of the nice people at Gotham Sound. If you haven't seen them, below are the three spots we made for Hannaford celebrating the work of their in-store Dietitians.
Here are a few other Zaxcom photos to satisfy your curiousity until I complete my guide. All custom cables were created by Gotham Sound.
Zaxcom eqipment workflow for our Hannaford shoot. Created by Gothan Sounds Cory Allen
Zaxcom IFB with custom cable to input TC into the C300. The IFB is set to send TC out the left side of it's headphone pack. The right side of the cable has a female 1/8" connector allowing an operator to plug in headphones to hear the mix, put reference audio on the cameras audio track or plug into the audio input on the teradek cube.
QRX100 with custom power cable that allows me to use it with Canon C300 batteries as a standalone unit.
Our animal pals showing how the TRX900LA and TRAM50 vampire clips are pet friendly.