Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers

Field recorders are a must when going into any production. Let’s look at some of the best, most affordable options for videographers and filmmakers.

Capturing quality audio is crucial to any film or video production. Luckily, there’s a vast array of options out there for field recorders, from small handhelds to larger multi-channel recorders.

Most filmmakers won’t need to spend big money on upper echelon recorders, like those from Sound Devices . These field recorders are usually left for production sound mixers working on bigger budget film productions. There are plenty of affordable options for filmmakers and videographers who don’t want to spend more than $1000 on a field recorder. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

What Is a Field Recorder?

A field recorder is a device allowing you to record audio out “in the field” on your video shoot. These devices can record audio themselves, acting as a microphone. You can also record audio from a boom that’s connected to the recorder.

When you pop in an SD card and hit record while shooting, you get high-quality audio that you can sync up with your high-quality video, instead of the poor in-camera audio quality you’d get otherwise.

A field recorder also gives you the ability to adjust the volume of your recordings, as well. With the heavy-duty recorders you’ll see at the bottom of this, you can adjust and mix the volumes of several microphones that you’re working with.

When Do You Need a Field Recorder?

On location — Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers

Field recorders are vital when shooting outside of a controlled environment. Image via Dzimbachka.

Basically, you’ll need a field recorder for any production location outside of a studio — such as a documentary, narrative film, short film, wedding, or corporate video — that requires you to capture any kind of audio whatsoever.

Keeping the audio files separate from the video files will help the overall quality and post-production workflow. If you’re shooting a music video, or any type of video that will have music playing over it (or no dialogue whatsoever), you don’t need to bother buying a field recorder.

However, it’s always a good idea to get some audio coverage, no matter what you’re shooting. I’d recommend attaching a microphone to your camera if you have an XLR input, or just using the in-camera audio to help with synchronizing and remembering what your environment sounded like when you shot the video.

Now, let’s check out some gear — portable handheld records first, and then a few multi-track recorders.

Portable Handheld Recorder: Zoom H1n

Zoom 1 Handy Recorder

This compact digital recorder captures great sound and fits in your back pocket. Image via Zoom.

Zoom H1n: $120

Pros: Decent sound quality, Compact form factor
Cons: Battery life, Build quality

The Zoom H1n Handy Recorder is a compact digital audio recorder. It can fit in your back pocket and it’s perfect for the sound mixer/filmmaker on the go. Built specifically for documentarians, journalists, and podcasters, the small form factor captures professional high-quality WAV and MP3 files.

Really, it’s the perfect balance of price and function for today’s filmmaker. You can easily use the mic, coupled with a lav, to get great interview audio, or use it on its own to capture elevated audio. If you’re going to start with any audio recorder, the Zoom H1n is a solid choice.

Portable Handheld Recorder: Tascam DR-40X

Tascam DR-40X

This audio recorder has four-channel capabilities and XLR inputs — great for small indie productions. Image via Tascam.

Tascam DR-40X: $200

Pros: Dual XLR, Daylight screen
Cons: Flimsy build quality

The Tascam DR-40X is one great audio recording device. I’ve spent many hours behind this machine filming my own documentary projects. With four-channel capabilities and XLR inputs, it provides for the needs of many small indie productions, allowing them to get the best sound possible out of their recorder.

Portable Handheld Recorder: Zoom H6 

Zoom’s H6 Recorder

This audio recorder is durable, easy to use, and records high-quality sound. Image via Zoom.

Zoom H6: $300

Pros: Ease of use, Durability, Quality audio
Cons: Noise, Limited backup recording

Zoom’s H6 Recorder is the current master of the handheld field recorder market. Used worldwide by award-winning documentary filmmakers, the H6 is a durable option for on-the-go recording. Its interface is extremely easy to use, its sound quality is high, and its ability to record up to four channels of audio simultaneously is a major plus.

Multi-Track Recorders

If you’re looking to step it up audio-wise, then make that step a multi-track recorder. When you consider professional recording setups, a multi-track system that sits inside of an audio bag is where you want to begin. Coupled with a long list of features and incredible mic preamps, these multi-track recorders will instantly elevate your audio game.

Multi-Track Recorder: Zoom F4

Zoom F4

Zoom’s F4 is the perfect combination of a high-quality recorder with a budget-friendly price tag. Image via Zoom.

Zoom F4: $450

Pros: Price point, Easy to use
Cons: Sound metering

If you’re looking for Hollywood quality on an indie budget, then you’re going to like the Zoom F4’s distortion-free 24-bit audio. This recorder is capable of eight tracks, six being recorded simultaneously. It’s the perfect choice for beginning your journey into the realm of multi-track recorders.

Multi-Track Recorder: Zoom F8n

Zoom F8n

This recorder can record up to eight channels of audio, has great sound quality, and is durable. Image via Zoom.

Zoom F8n: $999

Pros: Sound quality, Ease of use, Durability
Cons: Sound metering

The Zoom F8n is the update to the popular Zoom F8. Honestly, this recorder is built like a tank, and with an astounding eight XLR/TRS inputs, it’s ready to handle anything you throw at it.

Its ability to record up to eight channels of audio through lockable analog XLR inputs puts it at the top of this list and places it in the esteemed company of bigger names like Sound Devices. Perfect for independent filmmakers and videographers, the F8n is a field recorder that will provide truly professional-quality results.

Multi-Track Recorder: Sound Devices 833

Sound Devices 833

Other than its price tag, this recorder is a filmmaker’s dream, with uncompromising sound quality and durability. Image via Sound Devices. 

Sound Devices 833: $4,200

Pros: Sound quality, Built-in SSD, Durability
Cons: Price

Although very expensive, you can’t talk about field recorders without at least mentioning the Sound Devices 833. The 833 is the company’s  entry-level recorder, and it boasts an eight-channel, twelve-track recording method that covers the needs of nearly any shoot. Ask any professional sound mixer — Sound Devices is their gold standard.

This recorder’s internal 256GB SSD and 32-bit ability gives you crystal-clear recordings that are totally devoid of distortion and unwanted noise. If you’re a filmmaker that’s uncompromising when it comes to sound, then you can’t go wrong investing in this recorder.

Before you know it, you’ll be hiring your own sound designer and field recordist, and they’ll bring in the big boys. Until then, any of these options will get you rolling. If your budget is small, then you can easily purchase one of the handy recorders that will work perfectly for simple film or video production. Then, if you get to the point where you need something more robust and adjustable, you can upgrade to one of the multi-track recorders.

If you’re looking to up your audio game, these articles will help:

Cover image via chello700.

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