External Microphones

Sooner or later, you will become unsatisfied with the quality of the audio that your in-camera microphone produces. At this point you have started to cross over into the wonderful (and terrible) land of actually sounding good. In order to actually get there, you’ll have to purchase an external microphone. Or course, those movie people never learned to keep things simple, so there are different kinds of microphones.

Types of Microphones

Omni-Directional Microphones

Arguably the easiest microphone to use, an omni-directional microphone picks up noise in all directions. You can point a good one in the general direction of your subject and still pick up pretty good audio.

Shotgun Microphones

A bit more difficult to use, but it doesn’t require a genius to figure it out. Because a shotgun mic generally picks up sound in the direction it is pointing, you have to point it at what you’re trying to record. These do an extremely good job of canceling all noise except what’s coming from the direction you’re pointing it.

Lapel Microphones

Probably the hardest to use. A lapel mic is very tiny so that you can hide it in an actor’s clothing. Unfortunately, you need one lapel mic for every actor who speaks in the scene, and you also need a mixer to convert the all of the audio signals into a single signal for your camera. These also can pick up an rustles in clothing if you’re not careful. I don’t recommend these to beginners. Get some experience with one of the other microphones mentioned in this article, and then if you need it, try out a lapel mic.

Choosing a Microphone

You can probably afford only one microphone. So which one should you buy? Well, you can forget about lapel microphones, since you’d have to buy more equipment to even use them. An omni-directional microphone is a good idea, but they tend to pick up everything that’s going on in the room. A shotgun microphone is my choice. For film audio purposes, you really want to isolate the sound of the actor speaking as much as possible.

Regardless of the microphone you buy, do some research on different microphone manufacturers. As a rule of thumb, don’t buy any mic that doesn’t use a battery. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as microphones that take their power from a mixer, but if you have no mixer, you’re better off with a microphone that takes power from a battery.

I can guess that somebody out there wants to be told about a specific model to buy, so I’ll tell you what I use. My microphone is an Audio-Technica AT835b, which is a shotgun mic with a switch to change it to a slightly more omni-directional mic. I bought it on e-Bay (there’s a hint, folks!) for less than $250. I’ve been quite pleased with it, after using it extensively on iSundae II and several projects this year.

Of course, you need to know how to use a microphone to get good sound. Too bad I’m out of space right now!

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One comment on “External Microphones

  1. Pingback: Phantom Moose Films » Using External Microphones

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