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Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers

Johnathan Paul

Field recorders are an absolute must when going into any production. Let’s take a look at some of the best and 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, Sonosax, Nagra, Roland or Fostex. 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.

Handy Recorders

1. Zoom H1 Handy Recorder – $99.99

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Zoom H1 Recorder

Pros: decent sound quality, compact form factor
Cons: battery life, build quality

The Zoom H1 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.

2. Tascam DR-22WL – $101.99

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Tascam DR 22WL

Pros: layout, recording ability
Cons: build quality, weak wifi signal

Tascam’s DR-22WL Recorder features WiFi to enable connectivity to an iOS or Android device for monitoring and control. Through the use of WiFi, the recorder can stream playback. It can also transfer files to your external device or the web. It also features a built-in XLR input and is capable of recording up to 24-bit/96kHz quality audio.

3. Zoom H5 Handy Recorder – $269.99

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Zoom H5 Recorder

Pros: ease of use, durability, quality audio
Cons: on-mic noise, lack of XLR locks

The compact H5 Handy digital recorder from Zoom is capable of recording up to four tracks of audio. It also showcases an interchangeable modular microphone setup. While it comes with its own microphone module, it’s compatible with the H6 line of modules as well.

4. TASCAM DR-44WL – $249.99

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Tascam DR 44WL

Pros: wifi connectivity, durability
Cons: internal stability, range of wifi

The Tascam DR-44WL is a decent upgrade from the previously mentioned DR-22WL. The built-in WiFi has the same functionality as the 22WL — but where it really shines is with the built-in stereo mic and dual XLR inputs. It also includes the ability to record four tracks of audio simultaneously.

5. Roland R-26 – $399.00

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Roland R26 Recorder

Pros: solid recording, versatile, ease of use
Cons: customer support, pre-amps, slight noise

The Roland R-26 is a full six-channel digital field recorder. With its flexible and compact design, the R-26 is perfect for professional filmmakers who need a handy backup audio system. The recorder comes with a built-in omnidirectional mic, while also offering two XLR combo inputs. Its phantom power is a major plus, and the ease of use for the interface is a nice addition as well.

6. Zoom H6 Handy Recorder – $399.99

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Zoom H6 Recorder

Pros: solid audio, compact, durable
Cons: slight 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.

Portable Multi-Track Recorders

1. Marantz PMD661 MKII – $600

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Marantz PMD661 MKII

Pros: Quality Sound, Low Distortion
Cons: Long Term Durability, Build Quality

The Marantz PMD661 MKII is a lower budget full professional field recorder. While not as robust as some of the other choices, it’s multi-track capabilities and ease of use interface make it a quality recorder. As we stated its robustness should be questioned. The build quality isn’t what you would think it would be for $600, as such it may not last, so buyer be aware.

2. Roland R-44-E – $795

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Roland R-44-E

Pros: Versatile, Quality Power Output
Cons: Form Factor, Does Not Save Settings

Roland’s R-44 field recorder is a quality field recorder for independent videographers and filmmakers. It’s form factor, while not the easiest to navigate weighs less than 3 lbs making the recorder extremely lightweight. It also can record up to 4 channels of clear of audio, all while operating long periods of time due to it efficient power output.

3. Tascam DR-680MKII – $832

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Tascam DR-680MKII

Pros: Quality Audio, Build Quality
Cons: Phantom Power, Meter Readouts

The Tascam DR-680MKII multichannel field recorder allows for up 8 tracks to be recorded simultaneously, and at an amazing 96kHz/24-bit. This small recorder packs a serious punch and offers clear audio all within a sturdy form factor. It boast 4 XLR combo inputs with phantom power, however the phantom power can be one of the recorders faults along side the unclear meter read-outs.

4. Superscope PSD450mk2 – $900

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Superscope PSD450mk2

Pros: Build Quality, Sound Recording
Cons: Not User Friendly

The PSD450mkII field recorder from Superscope is one of the manufactures best portable recorders to date. It’s build quality and recording capabilities are impressive, along side its internal memory storage through a built-in 16GB SSD. It’s settings are deep and robust, however it’s ease of use isn’t where it should be. Regardless of this it boasts a long list of features including a solid EQ and multiple effects inside it’s interface, once you learn to navigate it.

5. Tascam HD-P2 – $1000

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Tascam HD-P2

Pros: Sound Quality, Low Distortion
Cons: Unused Functions, Storage Limitations

Tascam’s HD-P2 is an incredibly lightweight 2-channel stereo field recorder. It’s sound quality and low distortion is a huge plus, however it’s use of Compact Flash and Microdrive storage is limited and can be a major drawback. It also boasts a wealth of functions and abilities, the only issue is that many of these functions tend to go unused. Regardless of it few drawbacks, the HD-P2 is an exceptional recorder that can capture audio at a professional level.

6. Zoom F8 – $1000

Affordable Field Recorders for Filmmakers - Zoom F8 Recorder

Pros: Sound Quality, Ease of Use, Durability
Cons: Sound Metering

The Zoom F8 Multi-Track Field Recorder is the most robust and durable recorders on our list. With its ability to record up to 8 channels of audio through lockable analog XLR inputs not only puts it at the top of this list but also places it in serious contention with the bigger name recorders like Sound Devices. Perfect for independent filmmakers and videographers the F8 is a field recorder that will provide real professional quality results.

Before you know it you’ll be hiring your own sound designer and field recordist and they’ll bring in the big boys, but until then any of these options based on your budget will get you up and rolling. If your budget is smaller than 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 to something more robust and adjustable then you can upgrade to one of the multi-track recorders.

What field recorders to you like to use? Have you used any of the list recorders? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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