Extensive Modification Of DSLR Includes High Quality Audio

Modern DSLR cameras are incredible pieces of technology that can take excellent high-quality photos as well as record video and audio. However, as they become jacks of all trades they risk being masters of none, and the audio quality in modern DSLRs certainly reflects that old cliche. To get true high-quality audio while recording with a camera like this Canon 80d, you’ll either need a secondary audio recording device or you’ll need to interface one directly into the camera itself.

This build from [Tony] aka [Carnivore] goes into the inner workings of the camera to add an audio mixer to the camera’s audio input, allowing for multiple audio streams to be recorded at once. First, he removed the plastic around the microphone port and attached a wire to it that extends out of the camera to a 1/8″ plug. While he had the case open he also wired a second shutter, added a record button to a custom location on the front of the camera, and bypassed a switch which prevents the camera from operating if the battery door isn’t closed.

With those modifications in place, he removed the internal flash from the camera before closing the body. A custom 3D printed mount was placed in the vacant space which now houses the audio mixer, a SR-AX100 from Saramonic. This plugs in to the new microphone wire from earlier in the build, allowing the camera to have an expanded capacity for recording audio.

While [Tony] has a fairly unique use case for all of these modifications to an already $1000 camera, getting into the inner workings of DSLRs isn’t something to shy away from if you need something similar done. We’ve even seen modifications to cameras like these to allow for watercooling during video recording.

15 thoughts on “Extensive Modification Of DSLR Includes High Quality Audio

    1. I am absolutely confused aswell. Especially about the part where he hacked the camera body and removed the original mic to solder in that fat cable. The 80D has a perfectly fine microphone jack that could have been used for that.

  1. No. Just no. There are two classes of professional production equipment: run-and-gun, and cinematic. Run-and-gun means the camcorders that Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and JVC are still producing in great quantity and ever-increasing quality. These cameras have everything in one package: superzoom lens with servo zoom and focus, rugged frames, decent picture, decent audio, complete with XLR inputs. Cinematic gear is more component oriented, where the camera body, lens, monitor, zoom and focus controls, and audio recorder are all separate units.

    Most new filmmakers believe they need cine equipment to get the “professional look”, and believe that the poorest DSLR is better than the best camcorder. Not true. The professional look means learning about light, which no camera can do for you, but any camera can help you learn, and professional sound means having control of where the mics are, independent of the cameras, and having independent gain control for every mic. The decision of cine or camcorder depends on just one thing: how many people you’re going to have on your crew. With cine equipment, you need one for audio and at least one for each camera, as long as you’re not doing complicated moves that require a focus and/or zoom pullier, but expect to need one more person because sometimes you really DO need a focus puller. If you are doing it alone, single-camera, you are far better off with a camcorder. Plenty of professional work gets done with camcorders, because when you HAVE to do it alone, those little extras like the XLR inputs mean that your sound won’t be cutting out at the worst possible time, and you can choose which things to let the camera do automatically, and which things you have time to do yourself.

    As soon as I saw those consumer grade 3.5mm jacks on this project, I knew this was misguided. And then, taking the camera apart just to move the record button???? If you insist on being ultraportable with your DSLR, you plug a mic into that 3.5mm on the camera, but if you want GOOD audio with your DSLR, you’d better have someone else doing it on a separate recorder. Otherwise you’re going to end up looping your dialogue in a studio, or searching for the magic noise reduction effect, because you are not going to like what you hear.

    I know I’m going to catch a whole lot of shit for this, but I am NOT talking about spending a lot of money. This is NOT that “don’t try to cut metal with a toy lathe” rant. But the first thing I saw when I started looking at DSLRs was that you had to hack them to have manual control of audio level. Nu-uh. No way. I do not have a lot of budget for equipment, so I will DIY anything I can, like a well-balanced stabilizer rig, a pipe dolly, light fixtures, that kind of stuff. But for sound, instead of trying to make a silk purse from a pig, I bought a separate audio recorder and mics that could do the job. Not the most expensive ones, but way better than anything in the camera is going to be, and worth every penny. Inexperienced filmmakers think that picture is king, and sound just has to be understandable. Until they get their first important project into editing, when they decide that they need a “better” mic.

    Oh, and I also bought a mirrorless DSLR and a range of gorgeous Canon FD primes for it, only to discover dirt spots on my images at high f-stops, because when you’re shooting in the field, there is literally no way to keep dust out when changing lenses. So what am I going to do, buy a body for each lens? Yeah, right. That was when I bit the bullet and bought a capable camcorder, and that has made all the difference.

    1. He’s mostly right. “Improvements” like this to DSLR audio won’t overcome the fact the audio ADC isn’t great. Far cheaper and simpler to grab a Zoom audio recorder, and you’ll get far better results.

    2. There’s also the option of buying 2nd (or 3rd, 4th…) hand yesterdays gear.
      Really nice camcorders that cost $30k new can be had for “just” a few $k. Full-HD, high bit-rates, some even allow kludging an external recorder to their HDMI output and record in lossless. No overheating, batteries are designed to last more then a couple of minutes…

      1. Are you kidding? few K is what a modern brand new professional studio 4K camera cost right now. For example Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2
        If you are fine with 1080 then $1K Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera will fulfill your needs. Want 4K? $1.3K Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. All shooting RAW.

    3. There is one thing the DSLR based setup allows that a camcorder won’t (well in the same budget) and that is the full range of lens available and the arty stuff you can do with having that number of options. Super close up macro stuff, very long lens stuff, the aperture settings to gracefully blur the backgrounds etc. Lots of folks change lens in the field, its not impossible at all, though perhaps it would be in whatever location you were in.

      While I don’t disagree the sound is almost certainly better done on an external this is an interesting middle ground, giving more control and undoubtedly better sound for it. As some cameras onboard audio is actually rather good chipset and potential quality wise, let down by using onboard mic, or not getting the gain right etc etc, not sure what his canon is like, but its probably got all the right hardware for decent sound (as its modern enough and modern camera really are aiming to be decent at everything).

      1. Not quite true. There are camcorders with large sensors, like the Sony HXR-NX100, at $1500, which has a 1″ sensor and an f/2.8 aperture, which won’t go so far as a full-frame 35mm with an f/1.4 lens, but you can significantly defocus the background. By “camcorder”, I did not mean $300 camcorder.

        Also, yeah. I worked on a feature-length film where the DP was confident that he could change lenses in the field and “never had any problem”, and took all the necessary precautions. I ended up involved in post-production, manually cloning out spots in the sky that were darker than the surrounding sky, which the DP had not noticed during production. There are lots of shots in which dust won’t be visible, but a clear blue sky isn’t one of them.

  2. I get not considering making a custom circuit board if someone is unaware of how easy and accessible it is these days, but almost all his modifications could have been done much easier, cleaner and with less risk by whipping up a small board. The mic and remote shutter jacks are on the same side, making it easy to make a single thin board that would plug into all those jacks and route them to the front. Add a little 3d printed cover and it could probably be hardly wider than the neck strap mount.

  3. The only thing I have to pick at is the decision to replace the 3.5.mm audio in jack with a flying lead terminating in… a 3.5mm plug. 3.5mm jacks aren’t the most secure connection, but I’ve used them for years on various and sundry cassette and MD recorders without issues. Keep the connectors clean, use a quality right-angle plug, and secure the input cable to the strap anchor for strain relief… it won’t pull out. So I don’t think he gained much with that mod.

    The biggest knock against the audio in most amateur video ‘single system’ setups is that the mic isn’t properly positioned, but he’s got that covered off with a wireless lav.

    (Me, I’m into booming and ZOOMing, and this weekend I’m repairing/overhauling a SHURE field mixer)

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