If you cannot do that, and you care about audio, get another camera. Why is auto audio so bad, when auto video seems okay? What auto mode in audio does is to make all sounds equally loud, from a pin drop to a jet engine. This means that when no one is talking, say, room noise is brought up. Then somone speaks, and the audio level is brought down, and room noise is suddenly lower. Really bad.
So, what settings should be used for audio manual mode? One does not want to have to change the setting for each kind of sound (that would be like auto). So, for true manual audio cameras (like the top of the line Panasonics and Canons), the best setting is low down, maybe -12db.
Now Sony has taken another tack with its camcorders - there are only two settings: auto (bad) and "low". In 'low', the setting is basically what I recommend for the true manual cameras - it is set low and constant so the true dynamic range is captured.
But what happens if there is a really lound sound? For the true manual cameras, if the sound is too loud for the setting you get ugly digital hash. Sony, however, has implemented an audio limiter, which only operates if the sound goes close to the limit and makes sure it does not go over. So, low is the optimal setting for all cameras where you can turn off auto.
But, will the soft sounds be too soft? No.
And here is a real, and entertaining, audio/video demonstration, with very soft and very loud sounds. This short video shows the dynamic range and frequency response of the Sony GW77 audio in low mode: The challenging examples, from the same day and place - all outdoors - include a ship's bell from far away, choral singing, antique steam boat engines, actors' dialogue, a capella singing, accordian, whale-bone castenets, a jet engine started up, and a soft harmonica. Only one clip slightly marred by wind. The sounds range from the very soft (bell, harmonica) to as loud as is just barely safe to hear (airplane engine), with the full range captured. That engine is louder than any heavy metal or rock band on this planet. At the first (false) start of the engine I literally leaped, and then moved back 4 feet. I was still about eight feet away when it started. You will be amazed at the quality of the singing, the dialogue as well as the loud sounds.
You can see dynamic range in video editors that display the sound track. Here is a picture of the sound track:
It is the red stuff: the vertical bars show the amplitude (volume) of the sound. If it fills the whole area, the sound is maxed out. You can see that there are soft, medium, and loud sounds.
And here is the video:
The Vimeo version (which looks better), and from where you can download the original:
Thank you very much Mark. My NX30 arrives tomorrow and one thing I wanna try ASAP is to set the best possible audio. I will use the camera to do street interviews and any kind of noise is possible. Depending on the results , I will keep the included mic or not. I also plan to use my Lavalier when the interviewed agrees. I am really considering the GW77 as my "B" camera, operated by my wife but first I need to sell my Panny SD600.
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