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Videocraft Review: Zoom F8 Field Recorder

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May 17, 2016 5:46:52 PM PDT May 17, 2016 5:46:52 PM PDTth, May 17, 2016 5:46:52 PM PDT
Zoom have come to the party with a fully-fledged field recorder and mixer they have named the F8. I’m not entirely sure of the origin of the name but I am going to take a wild stab in the dark and remember it as F for field, and 8 for the number of microphone pre-amps. I expect a field recorder to be built to take a bit of punishment, and from the looks of it Zoom have approached the design of this unit with that in mind. It isn't quite as much of a tank as the Sound Devices equivalents, but given the price that can be excused. It is also lighter and more compact than the Sound Devices offerings. Let’s take a wander around the F8 and discuss the ins and outs, so to speak.  


The unit has eight mic/line combo inputs, that are distributed four at a time on either side. XLR is for mic level signals, and 1/4" TRS for line level signals. Joining inputs 1-4 on the left side are 2 x SD/SDHC/SDXC slots, a Mini USB connection (to use the F8 as a card reader or audio interface) and a HIROSE 4-pin DC input for providing external power. This is a nice touch as it allows you to put a garden variety Anton Bauer V-Lock in the bottom of your bag and run the unit all day long.


All audio outputs are located on the right side of the box along with Inputs 5-8, and we get two main TA-3 outputs (Mini XLR connectors), one 1/4" headphone jack and a SUB OUT 1/2, combined on a 3.5m TRS connector. Don't worry about the Main Outs being on TA-3 connectors, the unit comes with a couple of TA-3 to full sized XLR breakout cables to cover you, should you need to go to a camera or other device that requires run of the mill XLR flavour.


Before I get to the front, I'll quickly touch on the back. There is a 12V DC-IN barrel connector to connect the supplied AC adaptor, a Kensington lock if you need to tie it down (a little counterintuitive for a field recorder), a battery slot which holds 8 x AA batteries, a block style MIC-IN connector for connecting any of Zoom’s microphone capsules, and normal video BNC connectors for Timecode IN and OUT. The timecode connectors are independent of one another, and the output allows you to use the F8 as the timecode master on set, provided your cameras have BNC type TC inputs.  


The front panel provides just enough knobs and buttons to get the job done, and is very well thought out. The display has a high enough resolution for everything to be nice and legible (even to my computer damaged eyes), provides a nice big recording time readout, timecode counter (including TC source and frame rate) and battery status which includes a live voltage readout. These elements remain at the top of the screen until you dive into the menu. The large encoder next to the display allows you to navigate the menu, and when you are not in the menu it will allow you to scroll through various metering windows. Each input channel has a REC Arm button with their respective number on it, a post fader for managing input level, LED's for level metering and input state (red for record, orange for solo), and last but not least, a PFL button. The PFL button is by far my favourite feature. As soon as you press it, the display jumps into a sub menu dedicated to the channel settings of the specific channel you have just soloed. This is a massive time saver as far as setup goes, as you don't have to go digging around in menus to do simple everyday tasks such as engaging phantom power, high pass filters, limiters and setting pan. With one touch of a button, you can hear the relevant input front and centre, a couple of quick clicks and a twist of the input fader and you are ready to go. Press PFL again to clear the solo, and the display reverts back to your main metering. Excellent design and a big thumbs up! The front panel also provides a slate mic and slate switch, allowing you to verbalise a slate onto all tracks using the built in mic, or to stripe a reference tone. Slate tone can be momentary, or you can lock it on. The level and frequency are adjustable, however the unit defaults to -20dBFS and 1khz.  


The unit gives you a large range of routing options, and any of the inputs can be routed to any of the outputs, either pre or post fader. You also have the option to send the left and right mix output to the main or sub outs. The headphones have the same routing options with the addition of Mid-Side and Mono monitoring. The Main and Sub outs also feature frame delay and limiters. It is worth noting that Zoom have abbreviated Main and Sub as M and S in the routing menus, not to be confused with MS for mid-side. On the subject of mid-side, it provides the ability to decode MS inputs into stereo for recording purposes or allows you to monitor aforementioned MS sources as stereo if you want to keep them separate during record. You can also individually adjust the side level when the MS inputs are linked, giving you that extra level of control.  


The F8 has two SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots and you have a number of options when it comes to defining what each card will record. There is no option for overflow recording but given the price of SD cards these days, it is unlikely that feature will be required. If you want redundancy simply pop in two matching cards, set them both to the same recording setup, and the unit will name them in the same way so that they become duplicate copies. They have included Poly WAV recording which means you get one multichannel file with all ISO's, as opposed to individual mono or stereo files. This is handy to minimise the number of files created keep related tracks locked together. File protection is provided in the form of periodic file saving during record, just in case you lose power or accidentally remove the card. A 6 second pre-record buffer can be activated in case you are in an unpredictable environment, and you also have the option of using the dual channel REC feature to record two copies of the same input at different levels. This feature is only available for inputs 1-4 as it requires REC channels 5-8 to store the parallel recordings. As you would expect Broadcast Wave Form at 48khz and 24 bit is the default REC format. Sample rates go all they way up to 192khz without sacrificing any recording channels, and if you need long record times you can switch to MP3 format and record at bit rates of 128, 192 or 320kbps.  


Metadata management is included and will allow you to predefine scene name, the mode of scene increments, track names, notes, and the take naming format. This is a must have if your recordings are going into a commercial post-production workflow. Metadata can be setup using the jog wheel on the front of the unit but as with any text entry of this type, it can be tedious. A nice touch is that the entry menus do have history, allowing you to recall a previously used scene name or note. The unit has been built with Bluetooth connectivity so that you can connect an iOS device, and they have put together a tidy little app to give you a range of control. Once I had set it up, I was hopping that I would be able to use it to predefine the metadata, however it wouldn't let me do it prior to recording. Once I had done some recording it allowed me to edit the metadata after the fact, however personally this is slightly less than preferable. This isn't a deal breaker, it just means that you need to be wary of the workflow. The app gives you similar control to what you have on the front panel of the unit, and some (but not all) of the menu controls. I have to give Zoom a tick of approval for the mixer window inside the app, if you are wanting to perform a stereo mix on the fly this is a much easier way to control it compared with using the menu data wheel on the front of the recorder.  


All in all this is a fantastic little field recorder at an exceptionally reasonable price (AUS RRP $2,149.00). It does everything an amateur or intermediate level sound recordist requires, and could also be used to record immersive audio for the up and coming VR content boom. Paired with a custom made Portabrace bag, it is comfortable and easy to operate. If you have been battling along with a handy recorder and want to step up the quality of your production audio but have been struggling to justify the cost of some of the professional options on the market, then you should take a good hard look at this unit, as it is the one for you. You can order the Zoom F8 from Videocraft: Product Code: FXR108 or click here to be redirected to the product in our online shop.