When I started in television nearly 30 years ago, to take broadcast-quality pictures out and about you needed an expensive camera requiring an Olympic weightlifting-style lift and jerk to get it on your shoulder. Now you can film astounding quality stuff on your average smartphone. Video technology has moved on beyond recognition. Sound technology, however, seems to have changed not at all.
This week I filmed an edition of Winter Walks, the brilliant BBC programme in which someone is filmed, well, walking in winter. The camera technology is astonishing. I held a featherweight 360-degree camera on a stick, to capture everything from my viewpoint, while a tiny drone filmed stunning stuff from the sky. But every half an hour we’d have to stop for the poor sound man to unzip my coat and faff around changing batteries on my two radio mics, and adjust them to stop any rustling.
The only other way of doing it would be to walk near me with a huge boom mic on a long pole. Either way, the sound is monitored and adjusted remotely on a heavy, pricey mixer slung around someone’s neck. This is how it’s been done for decades. The unusual thing here was that we actually had a specialist sound recordist on the job – they’re a dying breed. Usually, the camera operator somehow has to do it these days. Cuts, you see.
This is bonkers, because in the edit you can find ways of working around poor pictures, but there’s next to nothing you can do if the sound’s no good. Kids – and grownups too – often show me wonderful little films they’ve made using their phones, but the poor sound always lets them down. You see the same thing on news video, often caught in high quality on bystanders’ phones, but the sound is a mess. The revolution will be televised, all right; we’ll see what’s going on clearly, crisply and sharply, but hear nothing of it very clearly at all.
Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist