Getting In Sync

Q I’ve just purchased a new Canon EOS 7D for a film project that I wrote. We’re hoping to submit the film to some local film festivals. The audio on the Canon isn’t good, so we’ve been using a Zoom H4n audio recorder to record sound. The big slowdown for me is when I try to sync the H4n audio with the Canon EOS 7D audio. I’m editing with Final Cut Pro 7.0.2, and we’ve been shooting with a slate, slating each scene once we roll the Canon and the Zoom. Matching the Zoom audio with the Canon’s guide track is turning out to be time-consuming. Do you have any tips or shortcuts for syncing audio?
Trent M.
Via email

A As you’ve discovered, shooting double-system sound with a DSLR can yield excellent results, but at times, it may occur to you that there should be a better way to sync the audio from your Zoom recorder to the 7D’s footage while you’re editing. I guess I should elaborate on that; you usually need to sync the external source audio with picture before you’re editing. Dealing with double-system sound when you don’t have the luxury of an assistant editor loading and syncing all of your camera masters can become a real damper when you have tight deadlines or just want to get to the editing. Syncing audio manually, using slates, works well, but as you’ve discovered, it can be quite a time-consuming process.

Singular Software recently introduced PluralEyes 2.0. This is an up-date to the original version that I reviewed in this column in 2010, and at the time, I was impressed with the results I was able to obtain using the application. To refresh your memory, PluralEyes was developed specifically to help DSLR shooters streamline their audio workflow. So as we revisit the 2.0 version of the application, the obvious question is what has changed with it? According to Singular, PluralEyes 2.0 performs synchronization of video and audio files at speeds three to 10 times faster than PluralEyes 1.0.

In utilizing the version of PluralEyes 2.0 that I downloaded for use with my copy of Final Cut Pro 7.0.2, these speed claims were found to be accurate and, anecdotally, PluralEyes 2.0 feels a lot snappier than the first version I’ve been using since 2010. The workflow and interface have been further streamlined so you feel you can sync the audio in your timeline much quicker than before. I don’t quite understand the inner workings of the application’s audio algorithms, but it seems to be one of those tools that performs its job almost as if by magic.

So how does PluralEyes 2.0 work? Since you’re editing with Final Cut Pro, you open FCP and create a sequence, adding the clips to the sequence as you would normally. The clips can be positioned anywhere in the sequence, as long as each clip from each recording device (in your case, the Canon EOS 7D and Zoom H4n) is allocated its own track. While it’s commonly referred to as a plug-in, PluralEyes actually is a standalone application, located in your Applications folder. I like to put a shortcut to PluralEyes in my dock next to the Final Cut Pro icon for convenience.

Once you’ve started PluralEyes, in the PluralEyes dialog box, choose the project and sequence from the drop-down lists and press the Sync button. Once you’ve done this, PluralEyes synchronizes the clips and creates a new sequence called sequence_name ### (synced) and opens it in the timeline. If possible, it also creates a multiclip and puts it in the browser. If the clips fall into distinct nonoverlapping groups, then several multiclips and sequences are created. (If you want all the sync results in just one sequence, you can choose the option Single Output Sequence.)

Any clips that PluralEyes wasn’t able to sync are placed into a sequence called sequence_name 000 (unsynced). If this happens, and you expected the clips to sync, this would be a good time to explore the sync options in PluralEyes 2.0. In use, PluralEyes 2.0 is extremely simple to use and works very well. Some caveats are in order, though. You must have an audible guide track from your Canon EOS 7D. PluralEyes simply matches the waveforms between the camera and recorder footage. No more phasing issues or worrying about slipping and sliding audio to fit; the application simply matches the audio waveforms. Genius.