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Production Equipment Reviews: Ricsonix Camlynx Wi-Fi (a working review)
(Review update for 2015)
NB: As of January 2010, we were informed by Ricsonix that production of this particular model has stopped and we advise anyone who is interested in the Camlynx system to contact Ricsonix directly. This review is still valid as many of these units have found themselves on the second hand market.
It's not difficult to understand why there is growing interest in alternative solutions to the ubiquitous UHF form of RF (wireless) miking. This issue became even more urgent thanks to a government move to auction off a number of frequency ranges, currently available for public use. Many end users watched their band dedicated hardware become obsolete or require an expensive upgrade. Innovative video accessory company, Ricsonix, is well placed to fill the gap with their reasonably priced Camlynx WiFi system that utilises 2.4 GHz frequency hopping for two channel, full bandwidth, compressionless, 44.1k sampling digital signal with camera return to the TX. If you're clued into IT, you'll know this is the frequency used by the common wireless IEEE 802.11g network adapter (e.g. laptops and routers). Keep in mind this system provides wireless connections between mixer and camera / recorder but not between mic and mixer or mic and camera / recorder. Without doubt the stats are pretty impressive. Now lets see how well it perfoms.
The Camlynx Wi-Fi System:
Before we purchased an actual set, we were sent a demonstration model to try out. There wasn't much in my demo kit, just the bare essentials and no user guide. Both the transmitter and receiver are the same size and shape which is smaller than other RF equivalent dual channel offerings by Audio Technica and Sony. With their plastic bodies, the Camlynx units are also considerably lighter. The transmitter fits snugly into one of the purpose built radio pockets on my Petrol sound bag. It must be noted that the Camlynx system I received for review (by Pinknoise-Systems Ltd) was a prototype kit and was told some improvements have been made on the actual production units. As you will see from the images, equipment used with the Camlynx for this review was the Sound Devices 302 field mixer, Tascam P2 HD Recorder, Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mic and Sony F350 XDCAM HD camera.
Neither the TX or RX unit had a clip providing belt attachment if an equipment bag or like was not used. The RX arrived with a fabric sleeve with velcro back which was not used for reasons I'll cover later. The system also came with two articulated screw-on aerials (large and small) and RX/TX connector looms comprising of two locking XLRs, 3.5 mini jack (signal return) at one end and an 8-pin locking push-fit connector at the other. This connector is the same on both units so make sure you have the right cable before heading off away from the camera with your bag and boom.
Preparing the Camlynx System:
Besides the sheer lightness of the units, the other, almost immediately striking feature of this system is its simplicity of design and use; so much so, that you begin to wonder what has been left off that should be there. I mean, there are no gain or frequency adjustments to make, no monitoring or squelch levels to control. I was committed, however, to look past traditional RF miking considerations, remembering it is only provideing the line level hop from mix to cam (so no phantom powering) and just decide whether it works or not. We tested the system in the studio first before committing it to an actual production recording for a client.
There were a few niggling issues we experienced with our prototype kit but these were addressed on the production model we purchased. Both the TX and RX units use two AA (HP7) batteries each. There is a DC hirose connector on both units for an optional external power source. Personally, I prefer using standard batteries when I can, trying to keep cables to a minimum. However, a cable for the RX that would allow our cameraman to connect to the D-tap on the Sony would be useful.
Our demo model had an issue with the RX cable loom, as it was a stretch to connect up the inputs with the camera's return port (see below centre). This was resolved and now there is plenty of length.
The next issue was mounting the RX onto the camera. Radio mic systems at the upper price point usually have an adapter that allows the RX to mount securely between the cam and battery. The Camlynx RX came with a fabric pocket with a velcro strip on the back for attaching to the back of the battery (every battery would also require velcro strips). We had a problem with this as our main cam batteries have a 'V' lock fitting on the back to piggyback other batteries, not quite suitable for putting a velcro strips on. The sides were not suitable for other reasons. In the end we opted for the more technical solution, using an elastic band to hold it on the battery and so far that is still the way we do things.
Once everything was in place and switched on I experienced a background tone, higher pitched than the usual dreaded line hum, while listening in on the return from camera. Even though this tone doesn't appear on the recorded signal I knew I would soon get fed up hearing it so I set out to find the source. It didn't take long to realise you have to power up the RX unit before turning on the TX; something you would expect to see in a user guide. We have not exerpienced this in our our production units so, it would seem, Ricsonix have addressed this.
Initial Testing of the Camlynx System:
Before letting the Camlynx loose on our clients for a more critical evaluation I thought it best to run a couple of tests so that I was familiar with the systems strong and weak points. Indoors, the Camlynx TX operated admirably at a variety of distances and in separate offices from the RX while wireless network access was in use (also using the 2.4 GHz frequency). Even a closed door didn’t break the connection. Outdoors, things were a little different. The further I moved the TX from the RX the more line-of-sight was critical. At about 30ft away it was quite easy to break the connection using my body as shield, setting off a nerve jarring tone that would wake up the doziest soundman. The amplitude of this alarm cannot be reduced by backing off the faders on the mixer or camera, which is probably a good thing; well, it beats getting an electric shock. As backup, when the connection is broken, there are two LEDs on the TX top plate go from green to red and LED signal meters on the RX, just in case your headphones are not connected.
Next, I tested the systems cross-fade / channel separation capabilities by setting up two mics about five feet from each other. I then set off audible tones and my usual sound check routine, passing from one mic to the other. The Camlynx handled this satisfactorily with clear separation and no apparent intermodulation distortion. Convinced of the system’s competence it was time to put it to work.
The job I chose for the Camlynx was one where I would normally use a radio mic. An ENG type event with plenty of darting about people and cars, catching sound bites from customers at Knockhill Racing Circuit; not really the place for a breakaway cable.
The rechargeable batteries I used with both TX / RX lasted the full day of shooting and, at the end, still had plenty of power to spare. The rechargeable batteries I used with both TX / RX lasted the full day of shooting and, at the end, still had plenty of power to spare. They are a very tight fit and care should be used when removing the batteries with the attached fabric ribbon.
The only annoying issue was the TX aerial kept folding over at the joint every time my arm brushed against it while booming. This was resolved by a stiffer elbow joint on the actual production model.
When myself and cameraman parted company for some distance, my body was occasionally blocking the line-of-sight between the TX aerial and RX, causing the link to go down. To remedy this, an aerial extension lead with a male aerial connector mounted on a clip can be attached to the boom pole. You can purchase or make up your own extension cable with male / female sma connectors (a small F-connector found on many wifi modems / routers), length of coax cable and common pipe clips to attach the arial to the boom pole. When using the system for an exterior wide shot that requires the subject/s to be miked up with, say a hidden lavaliere, the TX would normally be belt clipped to the back of the subject (hidden away from camera view). This scenario would require an additional RF system capable of providing the hop between mic and mixer.
Radios and mobiles were everywhere at this event but thanks to the higher frequency band of the Camlynx system interference was not an issue. The Camlynx system performed solidly on the day with only a few minor niggles that could be easily remedied. It coped well with any of the situations I would have expected of a UHF band RF system and then some.
Cameraman’s point of view (in brief):
Being tethered to an audio engineer and on the move is not my idea of fun, and, in the past we have looked at a number of units available - such as offerings from Sony and Zaxcom.
At this point in time the receiver has no way of attaching to a camera so I would definitely want that looked at; the folding aerial is a nice touch and the unit itself appears to be solidly made and easy to use. Battery usage appeared to be pretty good, with a set of rechargeable AAs easily lasting the whole day without any problems.
We have been using the units for quite a while now and we have been in a diverse set of locations from deep underground caves, out in the open air, even using the system to send a scratch track to the camera from a mixing desk at an opera performance. Back at the edit suite I have heard not one audio glitche using this set up. It really is great to be free from having cables draped around me, and or dragging along the ground. I remember in the narrow streets of an old French village we were tracking two presenters and even with someone holding the break-away cable to keep us from tripping it was still an absolute pest.
From a creative point for a cameraman, this wireless method allows you to set your camera at a greater distance in an interview situation to get shallow depth of field, yet the audio engineer can stay close to his subject.
The system is not inexpensive and I would like to see a smarter way of attaching the RX unit to the camera. For our requirements the Camlynx gets the thumbs up from me…. FREEEDOM!!!
The Camlynx Wi-Fi system is a clever, no fuss, lightweight bit of kit that provides a dependable wireless connection between mixer and camera. Because of the higher frequency the usable range is shortened, compared to lower band products this system is looking to replace. This can be an advantage where other similarly banded Wi-Fi equipment is in use. The spread spectrum / frequency hopping feature makes it secure from unauthorised eavesdropping and resilient against interference, multipath and intermodulation distortion. The resultant audio is difficult to fault. Since this is a new development product it would have been nice to see future proofing to include the higher 48KHz sampling rate, but this is minor and in 99% of cases will make no real difference to audible quality. We especially looked for latency against the video image and were hard pressed to see anything that worried us. A wifi system that also provided wireless signal between mic and mixer is something I would like to see (especially for those wide shots where cables can be seen), but one step at a time.
NB: After nine months of general use, the LED display on our Camlynx receiver failed to function. We were later told this was a common fault and would be rectified in future production.
Where this unit really scores above the competition is its use of a frequency range that is licensed and protected internationally. With shooting on the continent, the Middle East and America; there is now no need to hire in an RF system with the locally licensed frequencies. We have been using the system in many and varied environments and durability has not been an issue.
Again, of January 2010, we were informed by Ricsonix that production of this particular model has stopped and we advise anyone who is interested in the Camlynx system to contact Ricsonix directly.
Keith Elman (Head of Audio Production)
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