Audio: 4 Types Of Microphones To Consider
There’s a popular saying among video producers that “sound is half the picture.” Viewers will accept a video with mediocre or poor image quality but excellent sound before they’ll sit through a video with good imagery but unintelligible sound.For that reason I emphasize the need to get the best audio possible when shooting video. Of course this leads people to ask what kind of microphone they need. My answer to this one is always “it depends.” Different mics are suited to different applications. Then there are many manufacturers of microphones, making shopping a complicated affair.
In almost every situation a separate, external mic will yield far better results than using the camera’s built-in microphone, and using a wired mic will be a better choice than a wireless when practical, due to the possibility of electrical interference with a wireless system.
I’ll briefly cover four major types of microphones: lavalier (also known as lapel), shotgun, headworn and handheld. There are other, more specialized types but these cover the basics for most people. They can all be either wired or wireless, and some are available in stereo as well as mono. They can range in price from under $30 to many thousands of dollars.
To use any of these you’ll need a video camera with a suitable external audio input. On a consumer camcorder this will be a common 1/8th inch mini-pin input. On a professional camcorder that will be an XLR input. Another option is to record to a separate audio recorder and sync up the audio to the video when editing. That’s a lot more trouble and I don’t recommend it for beginners.
You don’t have to blow your whole budget on microphones. For example, even a $30 lavalier mic will sound pretty good to the average person. They are definitely an improvement over the built-in mic. I use an industry standard lavalier mic, the Sony ECM 44-b. You can find these new under $200 and it is the last lavalier mic you’ll ever need. I bought a couple of them used on eBay for around $70.00.
A lavalier mic is meant to clip to a person’s clothes, often the lapel of a jacket, hence the common name of lapel mic. A lavalier mic has the effect of placing the viewer’s ear close to the person speaking, yielding a natural sound. Look carefully and you’ll see that news anchors are usually wearing a lavalier mic. If your talent is sitting at a desk or not moving around too much a lavalier mic is a good option. You have to be aware that they will amplify any sounds close to them, such as rubbing against clothing or the rustling of papers. Since they are frequently clipped to a person’s shirt, blouse, jacket or tie they are visible. An experienced sound pro can hid them in clothing or hair, but that takes experience and skill to do well.
When a lavalier mic isn’t practical you can consider using a shotgun mic. Many people think a shotgun mic reaches out and sucks the sound in front of in in. It doesn’t work like that. It simply rejects sounds to the sides and behind it so that you hear more of what is in front of it. This doesn’t work well if the subject is in front of a noisy background, like an air conditioning unit or crashing surf, because it will also emphasize those sounds as well.
Shotgun mics can be mounted on boom poles so that an operator can follow the actors with the mic held just out of the camera’s frame, or they can be mounted on a mic stand if the person is stationary. Shotguns sound best when kept as close as possible yet out of the frame. Shotgun mics are good when you want more freedom of movement and don’t want to see the mic.
Exercise trainers, ministers and stage performers are often wearing a headworn mic, also known as headset or earworn mics. The advantage of these mics is they leave your hands free and are not subject to picking up the sounds of clothing. Some models are so tiny that they are practically invisible. This type of mic will most likely be used with a wireless transmitter since the person will be moving around.
Handheld mics are great for doing interviews in the field, like you see news reporters doing. Some models are good at rejecting noise because their pickup range is very close to the mic. Others are omnidirectional and work well if you just basically point them in a person’s direction without holding it right up to their mouth. Handheld mics are great for quick, impromptu interviews.
A good microphone should last for many years, so get the best you can afford. Here are some suggestions:
Lavalier Microphone – Sony ECM 44b lavalier microphone
Handheld Microphone – Shure SM58-LC – Cardioid Dynamic Mic
Shotgun Microphone – Sennheiser ME66/K6 – Super-cardioid short shotgun condenser microphone kit
Wireless Headset Microphone – Countryman E6i wireless headset microphone
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