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05 Apr2016

Selecting and Buying the Right Microphone for Your Videos

Good lighting? Check. Well-composed and framed shots? Got that. Smooth, tight editing? No problem! Crystal clear sound? Well…

Audio is an important part of any video production, whether you’re shooting a documentary, a commercial, a wedding – the list goes on. Poor sound, muddled dialogue or extraneous noise can ruin what might otherwise be a flawless production. Picking the right microphone for the job at hand is crucial.

But there are a lot of choices available to you – not only in brands but in types of microphones. Which microphone is the best for you? To make the right choice, you need to ask the right questions. Once you answered those, you’ll be able to make an informed and intelligent decision.

What Will You be Using the Microphone For?

Different video productions, styles, and scenes will call for different types of microphones. Let’s look at the three main types of microphones and see how they fit into different parts of a video production.

Lavalier Microphones

A lavalier microphone (sometimes called a lav mic, or a lapel mic) is pretty much the gold standard for capturing dialogue. They’re incredibly useful for capturing voices in interviews like you’d need for television productions, industrial films, documentaries, and so on. Lav mics are small and usually come with a clip so you can easily attach them to a collar or jacket lapel. And if you want them to be even more inconspicuous, you can easily tape one under an actor or subject’s shirt.

One of the big decisions to make when choosing a lavalier microphone is whether you need a wired or wireless model. If your subject will be sitting still and expense is an issue, a wired microphone will serve you well. But a wireless model will provide more versatility and is pretty much a necessity if your subject will be moving around while they’re using the mic.

Shotgun Microphones

You’ve undoubtedly seen shotgun microphones – their distinctive long thin shape is a dead giveaway. Shotgun mics can be a valuable microphone to have for a variety of production situations. They’re highly directional, so just point it at your sound source and you’ll capture it, plus some of the surrounding ambience. That makes them useful for capturing dialogue and the ambience you want included – think two characters talking in a restaurant for example.

But Shotgun microphones really shine in these situations when they’re paired with another microphone, like a lav mic, that captures the dialogue in real detail. A little judicious audio mixing in the editing suite will give you exactly the effect you’re looking for. A boom pole adds real versatility to how you can use a shotgun microphone.

Video Microphones

We’re talking here about microphones built into or connected directly to your camera. Video microphones can be a very useful part of your production process. Since they’re tied directly to camera, they’ll capture perfectly synced scratch-track audio that makes it easy for you or your editor to sync up the video and your final audio mix.

Consider Your Budget and Your Production Needs

Now that you’ve given some thought to the types of mics available and how they can add to your production’s overall quality. Be realistic about what’s right for your production and budget. If you’re scrapping by with limited resources, look carefully at your budget when you start shopping.  And you’ll want to match your equipment to some extent. If you’re getting by with a basic camera, you’re not going to need expensive mics to complement the video you’re shooting.

Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of shopping options, and more importantly, reviews that you check. When you’ve narrowed your choice of video production microphones down to the ones that match your budget carefully check reviews and keep an eye out for usage that matches what you’re looking to do.

Understand Pickup Patterns

Different microphones hear sounds differently from different directions. When you start to consider what you’re going to be recording for your video, understanding the directional response of your microphone (also known as the polar pattern) will go a long way in helping you get the right microphone.  Here’s a quick rundown of common polar patterns.

Omnidirectional Microphones

As the name suggests, omnidirectional mics capture sound from all directions – a circular pattern surrounding the microphone. That makes them well suited for applications where you want to capture a wide range of the audio landscape around a person or event.

Unidirectional Microphones

Shotgun mics, which we described earlier, are unidirectional microphones. Point the microphone at what you want to record and that’s what it will capture. That makes them useful for recording both dialogue and other audio sources that may be necessary for your production’s audio soundscape.

Cardioid

Most handheld microphones have a cardioid sound capture pattern. They’ll capture what’s in front of them, as well as some other information off to the sides – you can almost think of it as a “heart-shaped” pattern. Cardioid mics are very good for vocals and for miking instruments.

Let’s Sum it Up

So, is there a single best microphone or type of microphone you should use for your video productions? Clearly the answer to that is no. Different microphones have different performance characteristics which make them better suited to some situations than to others.

But whatever type of video you’re producing, it’s important to get the best possible audio quality. Nothing screams “amateur” more than muddled, indistinct dialogue, or poor balance between ambient noise and the main audio subject. Your viewers take clear audio for granted, and they’ll notice right away when they don’t have it.

So consider what you’ll be shooting and match your mic to your requirements. And remember, that it’s often better to have multiple microphones to capture the sound. As a start, invest in a shotgun microphone and a lavalier mic too. And don’t forget to utilize the video microphone, even if it’s just the one built into the camera – it’ll give an invaluable reference for your editing. Remember, with more mics you’ll have more options to work with, and with more options, a better production.

– Video Caddy

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