Time Code & The 5D MKII

In this blog post you’ll learn how to use time code with the 5D or 7D using a Lockit box, FCP AuxTC Reader software and a custom made cable by Pro-Sound of New York City. This will save you precious time on set, as well as allow you to quickly and efficiently sync your footage. But first, any questions?

Why not record audio straight into the 5D?
The 5D has a 1/8″ stereo, consumer, mic level input–not ideal for a professional shoot. A consumer, mic-level cable is unshielded and therefore more susceptible to RF noise and it cannot lock into place like an XLR. Also, internally, the 5D has a mediocre analog to digital chip. If you listen to audio recorded straight to the 5D you will hear hiss added to your lovely source audio and find that voices sound a bit thin. I strongly recommend you use a separate recorder when shooting video with this camera.

Alright, but why not just use a slate?
The slate is a tried and true method of marrying sync sound and film. However, the slate requires an editor to manually, visually, sync each video clip with its corresponding audio clip. If you’ve done it, you know it’s pretty straight forward, but also time consuming, especially if there are multiple cameras?

Are there any other options for automating the marriage of audio and video in post?
Plural Eyes by Singular Software plug in for FCP is a very useful tool that aligns the waveforms of the production audio with those of the camera audio. It works most of the time, but can fail when faced with multiple lavs or if your environment is very noisy. If no other option is available, syncing suddenly goes from being completely automated to a painstaking manual process.

What is time code?
Time code is a digital signal generated by a very accurate clock, which can be embedded into video and sound files. Time code allows you to easily marry audio and video in post because both share the exact same time stamp. Time code generators are accurate to one frame of drift per hour or less.

Enough already, how do I use time code with the 5DmkII?
Watch our video below and I’ll walk you through the method and gear used.

Here are the steps outlined:

1. Get yourself a time code source like a time code recorder or lockit box.
2. Pad down the signal by 50dB to mic level and input to 5D.
3. Manually set levels in 5D to -12dB or higher.
4. Record your video and sync audio, both with free running time code.
5. Use FCP AuxTC software to align & replace audio tracks on .mov files.

Alright, I’m sold, what lockit box should I use?
A lockit box is a portable time code reader/generator which supports various frame rates. It is designed to be a portable master time code clock during production. Here are a few different flavors to choose from:

Ambient has dibs on the name “lockit” for their line of portable time code generators. Their ACL 203 goes for around $900.00 & touts a drift rate of less than 1 frame per day! That’s impressive.

Denecke has the SB-T for a cool grand with a clock slightly less accurate than the Ambient.

We use the Horita PTG portable mini time code generator with LCD display.

It is the least expensive of the bunch, coming in at a mere $449.00 or less, but it’s the only one of the three that sports a time code display. Horita also makes the PG-2100 for about $260, but it has no display. I personally like to see the little numbers scrolling, but if you can live with only a blinking light, you can save yourself $149 bucks. Heck, neither of the more expensive units have a display either! There are a few drawbacks to this unit. The connection is RCA, not a locking BNC, there is no genlock and the accuracy is far lower than the other two units at + or – 1 frame per hour. However, I haven’t had any problems when jam syncing every two hours or so.

Thanks to Chris Lovallo from Horita for providing additional information on the PTG:

  • Drift rate +/- 1 frame per hour.
  • The unit supports both 23.976 & 24FPS frame rates.
  • The time code I/O is via the RCA jack on the front panel. The BNC connector is an input for an optional video reference.

The timecode coming out of the Horita PTG is at line level. If your device is mic level, like our 5D, you’ll have to pad the signal down by 50dB. You can do this with an in-line XLR pad like the PSC ALMP, and a couple of adapters.

I didn’t like having to use an XLR barrel to pad down the signal since they are cumbersome and expensive, so I had a cable made at Pro-Sound in New York City. This cable allows me to feed time code from the Horita PTG through a built-in pad, as well as a separate mic-level scratch track all through the Canon 5Dā€™s ā…›ā€ audio input. If you don’t mind being tethered, you can bypass the lockit box altogether and connect directly to your time code recorder of choice.

What software do you use to marry sync audio with video?
FCP auxTC reader software by Videotoolshed.

The method outlined here for replacing .mov clip audio with sync audio changes the .mov so you cannot use the Canon FCP plugin for transcoding to pro-res. Compressor will still work fine. There is a way to use FCP AuxTC Reader in combination with Canon’s plug in, and if there is enough interest I will cover this in a follow up post.

Happy shooting and I hope this saves you some time.

Bouke at Videotoolshed likes the video, but informed me of one mistake. You only need to set FCP AuxTC Reader up to delete one channel of audio because the software considers the stereo track on the 5D and 7D to be one stereo channel. Thanks Bouke!

I used two Horita lockit boxes on a rigorous doc shoot with Sony PMW-F3 cameras. The drift was unacceptable and after a few hours amounted to as much as a few minutes! I also tried using the internal clocks on the F3 and they worked a bit better than the Horitas, however still not great. One of the contributing factors to clock drift is temperature change and this shoot had us jumping back and forth from freezing to very warm temperatures. The Horitas work very well if you’re doing an interview that is less than an hour. I used them quite a bit in this way and had no issues with FCP AuxTC processing.

I had to step it up however, and purchased two Ambient ACL 203 lockit boxes, which feature the same clock mechanism that is built into the Sound Device 788T recorder. Ambient claims the drift on the 203 is less than half a frame per day! I’ll post results from the shoot.


Dan McCullough of Microframe sent me a few of his timecode units to try out. After putting the time code sync master mini (D8009) through its paces on professional shoots, I found that they are on par with my Ambient units at 1/5th the cost, currently $199 each! I’ve had them connected to many pro cameras: the Arri Amira, Sony F55, Canon C300, etc, and they perform flawlessly. There some really great features: large alpha-numeric display, ability to leave display on and connect to external power source for continuous off camera visual timecode reference, easy to use menu, BNC output and incredibly light weight.
I worked closely with the good folks at Microframe to make the unit ready for working in pro environments. The main upgrade was the timecode output, which was originally a 1/8″ mono female jack. The current version touts a solid BNC. The D8009 is so light that I always keep one in my bag.
In conclusion, for $199 you can have +/- 1 frame in 8 hours! Amazing Microframe, keep up the great work!


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