A First Look at the Zoom Q3HD

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Most of my video work consists of “look at me” videos I post on YouTube, shots of my slack key guitar playing. The audio is at least as important as the video, and a couple of my camcorders, the Sanyo Xacti HD2000 and the Kodak Zi8, were chosen because they had some sort of audio input and some degree of control over that input. In both cases, though, I’ve never been really happy with the audio I was able to record with these cams, even when I used an external source. Both these cameras, and others I’ve tried, have some kind of processing on the audio that attempts to maintain a constant level. And, of course, the audio circuitry gets a pretty small share of the development and manufacturing budget. The combination of these factors results in noisy distorted audio unless every detail is exactly right, a rare thing indeed.

Another thing missing on both these cams and many others below the professional ($2000 and way up) level is the lack of metering and monitoring. There’s not a way to tell if the audio is being recorded well until playing back the clip, when it’s too late to make any corrections. Even when I’ve done multiple test shots I’ve always considered myself very fortunate if I manage to capture some useful audio with this kind of gear.

The Q3HD Arrives

A couple of years ago, Zoom introduced the Q3, a pocket video recorder that emphasized the audio quality. It included stereo directional mics in an X-Y configuration and didn’t inflict excess processing on the audio. Unfortunately, they released this SD format camera just when HD video took off. YouTube switched to HD format, Flip put out the MinoHD, HD video recording began to appear in phones, HD was everywhere except in the Q3. But earlier this year Zoom announced the new Q3HD, which addressed the format issue, offered improved low light performance, added special settings for difficult lighting conditions like concerts, and added a Line Input for stereo audio. In the past, new products from Zoom have arrived long after their planned date, so I was expecting to see the Q3HD sometime in 2011, but happily the first shipments have arrived in the US and are available from a number of retailers. I bought one from BSW and it arrived the day after Thanksgiving.

My initial impressions are really positive. The build quality seems a bit better than my venerable H2, and it’s noticeably more solid feeling than the Kodak Zi8. The menu system is easy to manage, there’s audio metering and monitoring during recording, it even comes with a 2 GB memory card and a set of AA batteries.

Three Way Comparison

I mentioned the other cams that I purchased because they had audio input and some degree of manual control. It seemed reasonable to use them in a comparison with the Q3HD. So I setup in Digital Duck studio (also known as the spare room upstairs) and shot some video, first using camera mics then external mics.

I chose 720p for the video format for all three cams. The Zi8 and Sanyo don’t offer control over the audio format, but on the Zoom I selected CD quality PCM (44.1 khz and 16 bit word length).

For the external mic shots I connected an Audio Technica AT822 to the Zi8, a Rode NT4 to the Xacti HD2000, and a pair of Shure KSM141s through an M-Audio DMP3 to the Q3HD. Here’s the video that resulted:

When I listen to the clips on my “junk reference” computer speakers, the difference in audio quality isn’t that great, but as soon as I put on headphones or turn on the good monitors, the audio from the older cams sounds dreadful in comparison to the Q3HD. My Zi8 sounds worse than I remember, so perhaps it’s dying, but even the HD2000 features burbling noises in the quiet moments and an odd tonal balance. I also feel that the video quality of the Q3HD was noticeably better than that of the Zi8. Looks like the Kodak is going in the drawer.

My First YouTube Clip from the Q3HD

The Q3HD has minimal built-in editing, just “Divide” and “Trim” – minimal but sufficient to create a clip for YouTube, so I figured I should put up something straight from the camera. I chose the Rode NT4 stereo mic just to simplify the setup, and fed the mic into the M-Audio DMP3 preamp. From there an adapter chain converted two 1/4″ outputs to a single stereo cable ending in a 1/8″ stereo plug, which went into the Q3HD Line In jack. I took advantage of the meters on the Q3HD to check my levels, aiming for average levels around -20 dBFS and peaks around -6 to -8 dBFS.

With that set I chose the highest resolution video, 1080p format. I chose PCM (uncompressed WAV) audio, but stayed with the basic 44.1 Khz sample rate and 16 bit word length. After a few test shots to get the framing right I recorded a few takes of an old R. Alex Anderson song, Haole Hula. With a little scrolling around in the playback, I was able to trim the clip down to the performance I chose.

Based on my experience with other camera software, I didn’t load the Handyshare package that comes with the Q3HD. I simply removed the memory card, stuck it in my card reader, and copied it to my hard disk. From there I uploaded to my YouTube account. Here’s the result:

Since I was determined to use only in-camera editing, my clip has no title, no fades, no credits, but I feel that it presents the song in fine fashion anyway.

Framing Changes with Format

One thing I stumbled on while shooting my clip – changing the video format also changes the framing of the shot. I framed the image then decided to switch from 720p to 1080p. I made the format change and shot a clip, and when I played it back my head was gone! Here are a couple of snapshots that illustrate the difference:

Sample of Framing at 1080p

Framing at 1080p

Example of framing at 720p resolution

Framing at 720p


As you can see, the change is pretty dramatic. So be sure you check your framing whenever you change the video format, or you might lose your head.

Not Quite Perfect, But Pretty Darned Good

On the frown side, I’m a bit annoyed that I have to buy the AC adapter separately. My brief attempts to shoot in lower light were not a big success. And while I was really pleased when I learned that Zoom added a Line In jack on this new camera, I’m already wishing it had a 1/8″ stereo mic input as well. With that extra feature the NT4 and the Q3HD would make a fantastic package for portable recording. As it is, I’m shopping for a battery powered two channel preamp with P48 phantom power that won’t bust the budget … and I’m not having a lot of luck.

On the smile side, I expect to have a lot of fun with this little camcorder. The video quality is reasonable in good light and the audio sets a new standard for a consumer cam. It’s nicely made, easy to use, an all around fun toy.



This entry was posted on Sunday, November 28th, 2010 at 12:43 am and is filed under Comparisons, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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    123 Responses to ' A First Look at the Zoom Q3HD '

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    1. Hans said in post # 1,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Hello Fran,

      I’ve just been reading your review of the Zoom Q3HD – wonderful stuff, thanks! I think it just might be what I am looking for since I have discovered that I am in no way a recording engineer and if the setup gets too complicated it takes the fun away for me. I have one question for you regarding the Zoom Q3HD: Is it possible to connect a mic or two (I have both a Shure SM81 and a AT2020) through the mini jack in the Zoom Q3HD using a converter cable or something like that? Perhaps one of those in this link:http://www.dvshop.ca/cables/minijack.html

      If that is possible that setup would be perfect for me, I think. I just need it to make Youtube videos likes the ones on my website, http://www.hhrasmussen.dk/music (the ones on there were recorded using both mics and my M-Audio FastTrack Ultra but like I said I’m no recording wiz :) ).

      I hope you can help me out.

      Thanks and kind regards,
      Hans

    2. Fran Guidry said in post # 2,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 1:02 pm

      The input on the Q3HD is a somewhat too sensitive line level, so you won’t get a useable signal by connecting one or more mics into that input. Instead, you must use a mic preamp or mixer to provide one stage of amplification. For instance, you could connect the headphone output of your Fast Track interface to the line input of the Q3HD and carefully adjust the gain to avoid overloading the signal.

      I’m not sure how you’re syncing your audio and video now – are you capturing your video using a webcam? Or a camcorder? Regardless, the basic issues of recording (mic placement and level setting) are the same whether you use the Q3HD or some other capture device.

      Does that help?

      Fran

    3. Hans said in post # 3,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks for the fast reply. I’m using a camcorder and syncing the video with the audio afterwards the old clap tree way.

      If I connect the mics to the Fast Track and then the Fast Track to the Q3HD would it sync the audio and video automaticly? Otherwise I’d probably be as well off with the old setup – and like I said I want it as easy as possible.

      But the Q3HD might also work well enough without mics for me, I’ve just tried using only the camcorder (a Canon Legria FS307) and the audio is not too bad for my uses, a little better and I would be there. I assume the Q3HD would probably provide quite a bit better audio, right?

      Thanks!
      Hans

    4. Fran Guidry said in post # 4,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      The Q3HD audio seems better than the camcorders I’ve compared, it has flat frequency response and the auto gain control can be turned off. But if you’re already syncing you’re getting better audio than the Q3HD will deliver with its built-in mics, just because the camera must be placed across the room to frame the shot.

      My recommendation would be to continue to pursue your current path, spend a bit of time trying different mic positions, and just generally experiment with recording. That will do more to improve your sound than changing your gear approach.

      Fran

    5. Hans said in post # 5,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Yes, well I’m happy enough with the sound I’m getting with the mics, it’s just too much work :) – so I thought the Q3HD would make it easier while still providing decent sound. Would the Q3HD with mics through my Fast Track need syncing as well or is it automatic?

      Hans

    6. Fran Guidry said in post # 6,

      on August 11th, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Yes, the audio recorded in the Q3HD will not require syncing. The audio will be printed right along with the video.

      My reason for not recommending the Q is the video quality. It’s basically a nice cell phone camera, nothing more. Save up just a bit more than the purchase price of the Q3HD and you can finance a camera with HD, better resolution, and better lens. Of course this higher priced video camera will still have sucky audio .

      Fran

    7. Hans said in post # 7,

      on August 12th, 2012 at 3:18 am

      Ok, great. If it is both easier than my current setup and providing better sound than a camcorder, it might still be right for me. I’ll see if I can find one to try out before I buy. Do you know if there is anything else on the market like the Zoom Q3HD but in which you can just plug in a mic or mics directly?

      Thanks again,
      Hans

    8. Fran Guidry said in post # 8,

      on August 12th, 2012 at 8:11 am

      The Q3HD is the only one I know that accepts a line input. The Olympus LS20M has a mic input but as I understand it that is designed for low end “plugin power” mics rather than high quality mics like the ones you use, so you’d still need a mic preamp plus heavy attenuation.

      Fran

    9. Hans said in post # 9,

      on August 12th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Ok – maybe I’ll have to wait until they make a model that is just right.

      Thank you very much for the great advice!

      Hans

    10. Vincent said in post # 10,

      on September 6th, 2012 at 7:38 am

      hello Fran,

      First, thx you for your blog, it’s really helpfull and complete.
      Here’s my question if you can , please, give me an advice (i’m from france, i hope to be understand ;o)

      i would like to post videos on u tube, just like u, playing guitar ( classical and folk).
      But i ve got a limited budget, around 250-300 dollars.

      i’ve got a mic, the “shure sm57”, and i m looking for a camera. do the “nokia zi8” ll be great with the ‘shure’ to do this? Do i have to buy a preamp with this configuration to have a better sound?

      Or should i to take the “Q3hd” who seems to solution of my questions?. it looks like great to do this work.

      if i ll don’t have the “shure sm57” , i ‘m pretty sure that i ll choose the “zoom Q3hd”.
      but it ll be a shame to not use it.

      thx u

      greetings

      Vincent

    11. Fran Guidry said in post # 11,

      on September 6th, 2012 at 8:40 am

      Hi, Vincent. I’m unable to find the “Nokia Zi8” you mention. Are you referring to the Kodak Zi8?

      There’s a lot to understand here, I hope I can convey the issues successfully.

      The Zi8 is out of production, so there is no support for that product. And the audio quality of that camera is not wonderful. But it does include a mic preamp which the Q3HD does not.

      But both of these units are stereo, while the SM57 is mono. So to use the SM57 you’ll need to use adapters or a special cable to convert the single channel from the SM57 into two channels for the camera input.

      Since the Q3HD external input is a line input rather than a mic input, an external preamp is required when using an external mic with the Q3HD.

      When using the internal mics of the Q3HD, I find it difficult to position the camera in a way that optimizes both video and audio. If I want to see myself from the waist to the head with the whole guitar, I must place the camera over 1 meter away from myself. And at that distance the internal mics of the Q3HD hear too much of the room and not enough of my guitar, making for a weak and unappealing sound.

      I’ve done two posts that address the issue of positioning the camera for better audio.

      http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2011/10/24/zoom-q3hd-with-a-stick-on-wide-angle-lens/

      http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2011/03/12/playing-the-angles-with-the-zoom-q3hd/

      Given all these issues, it’s difficult to get good quality audio and video with your $300 budget, and trying to include the SM57 in the chain actually makes it more difficult rather than less. Do you have a mixer or preamp for the SM57? Are you handy with a computer? Are you doing any audio-only recording at the present time? I’ve found that for the best combination of audio and video I must record the audio separately from the video, then combine them to create my final clip. The least expensive way I’ve found to do this is using REAPER recording software.

      http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2010/07/15/syncing-audio-to-video-in-reaper/

      I hope these ideas have been helpful, please let me know if I can answer other questions.

      Fran

    12. Vincent said in post # 12,

      on September 6th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      hi fran,

      Thx u to answer so fast.
      yes its the kodak and no the nokia…. my bad ;o

      I dont have a mixer or preamp, i just have an “aer compact 60 and the “shure ms57” (bought in 2002) to play sometimes in pubs , cafĂ© etc….I usualy play unplugged like in a church or else ( places who dont need microphones etc..)
      I’m really a novice in computer , i just have a macbook (old one.) And never recording myself….
      So many works with me, i should take lessons with you ;o

      well i m now interristing in recording myself and i guess , with my budget,and your advices, that the Q3 will be find at the momment. With the wide angle lense it could be interristing.
      But if you have an other advice for me, i take it .
      Thx a lot to answered me.

      Vincent

    13. Fran Guidry said in post # 13,

      on September 6th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      If it’s available in the EU, the new Zoom Q2HD is pretty interesting. It is less expensive than the Q3HD, but it has no audio inputs. Audio can only be captured using the built-in mics. But it has other features, such as the ability to connect to your computer for recording or use as a webcam. I haven’t used one so I can’t say for sure how well it works, but it’s getting good reviews.

      Another piece of advice I always give is to use whatever you have to get started. Do you have a cell phone that captures video, for instance? Or your Macbook which probably has a mic built-in. And it has a mic input port as well. So with free software like Audacity (or Garageband) you could begin recording. I believe many Macbooks have a built-in camera as well, and iMovie is a fine tool for editing video. I don’t use Macs, so I may be incorrect about how yours is configured. But if you have these tools, you can learn a lot by experimenting with them. For instance, the most important thing to get good video is plenty of light. It’s more important than the camera.

    14. Vincent said in post # 14,

      on September 7th, 2012 at 12:31 am

      Dear Fran,

      thanx you again for your advices, it really hlep me ;o
      i hope to be as good as you with all that interristing stuff.

      Greetings

    15. Jim Love said in post # 15,

      on January 7th, 2013 at 12:29 am

      Hi Fran thanks for the very informative blog. I was wondering if you had heard about about problems with the q3hd jumping out of record randomly. I have tried to record several gigs but the unit just keeps cutting out sometimes after 15min sometimes less. It’s always unpredictable. I have tried various sample rates etc but still no soloution. Also the unit gets quite hot. Any idea’s are greatly appreceated.

    16. Fran Guidry said in post # 16,

      on January 7th, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Jim, I have indeed heard of this issue. In fact a poster on a guitar forum just returned a unit that was shutting off randomly. I haven’t experienced the problem myself but I have heard of others with this issue.

      Fran

    17. Joachim Schneider said in post # 17,

      on January 8th, 2013 at 2:39 am

      Great backprop! What is that black cloth that you are using here as a background?
      Is this molton? What would you recommend as a performance background?
      I sing my own songs in a fool costume
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLlMaQWUugE

      I have used the q2 but was not able to upoad this video via handyshare. I uploaded the .mov file via youtube regularly.

      Joachim

    18. Jim Love said in post # 18,

      on January 8th, 2013 at 2:58 am

      Many thanks Fran after your reply I came across the guitar forum I think you are referring to. After reading the posters comments I have decided to return the unit.

    19. Fran Guidry said in post # 19,

      on January 8th, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Joachim, the black backdrop is from this location: http://www.backdropoutlet.com/products.asp?dept=1246 I don’t have a lot of experience with background choices, but this one does work nicely.

      I have never used Handyshare, I always upload the file to YouTube using a web browser.

      Thanks for visiting,
      Fran

    20. Joe Moceri said in post # 20,

      on March 16th, 2013 at 5:24 pm

      Is the zoom Q3 hd compatible with imovie?

    21. Nima K said in post # 21,

      on May 29th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      I recently ordered this recorder off ebay new. The sounds quality is very good but it is so quiet. I have to put the recorder as close as possible and crank up the guitar to get a decent volume, but even that is quiet. I keep it on high gain setting. are there any tips or settings to help this? can it be a defect?

      Cheers,
      Nima

    22. Fran Guidry said in post # 22,

      on May 30th, 2013 at 9:18 am

      You’re experiencing the single most common problem of home recording – if you compare your own recording to a commercial track your recording is much quieter. Commercial recordings are processed very heavily to be louder, they start off just as quiet as yours but then get compressed to reduce dynamic range and increase volume.

      You can do similar processing using free tools, although it requires a bit of patience. Check out this post http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2012/11/27/free-tools-to-tweak-q3hd-audio/ for details.

      Fran

    23. Nisar said in post # 23,

      on July 1st, 2013 at 1:41 am

      Merci pour les tests
      cela m’a permis de choisir le ZOOM Q3 HD

    Leave a reply






    About the Blog

      Howdy, my name is Fran Guidry and this is my Homebrewed Music blog.

      I play Hawaiian slack key guitar and recorded my solo acoustic CD at home. Most of the recording information I find on the internet seems focused on bands, drums, multitracking, and so on but my main focus is recording solo acoustic guitar. Lately I’ve been enjoying video recording along with audio, so that shows up in the blog as well.

      I’m also a guitar nut. I love big ones and little ones, handmades and factory guitars, cheap ones and expensive ones. So I’ll be sharing the fun of exploring guitars as well, along with the challenges of amplifying acoustic guitars for live performance.

      Welcome!

    Philosophy

      My recording philosophy is pragmatic, skeptical, not super critical. After all, the performance is by far the most important component of a track, and every aspect of any recording is a matter of taste.

      But I do like to know “about stuff.” Back in hifi days I learned about double blind testing. I learned that we humans can easily hear differences that don’t really exist. The more I’ve learned about our human auditory system, the more I’m skeptical of what people say they hear, especially if they claim that a particular microphone or preamp or cable has some magical property.

      I’ve only been recording since 2001, and when I started I found the usual places on the internet. I sought advice and accepted it, thought I would improve my recordings by using more expensive equipment. It didn’t work.

      Two things that did seem to lead to better recordings were experience and room treatment. Getting an appealing sound is the combination of many small details, and learning those details only comes from experience. Amd the sound of the recording space is obviously a big factor.

      I’ve only recorded seriously using digital technology, but I remember trying to record rehearsals and gigs back in analog days. I don’t have any nostalgia for analog recording and playback systems at all. I think even low end digital systems can capture marvelous recordings. So when I look at gear, I look for good specs: low noise, broad flat frequency response, wide dynamic range, low distortion. I’m not interested in colorful components, mics and preamps with a sound, I want the sound to be the sound of my guitar.

      But the last word is that I’m just learning and I hope you find something useful in my posts.