There are mics that you wear, there are mics that you can attach to your camera, there are even mics that are completely separate from your camera. What’s the deal? How do you choose the right type of mic for your video shoot when there are so many different options?
When it comes to choosing the right microphone for your videos, it’s important to also consider where you’ll be recording, and your editing workflow. Don’t worry, I’ll dive into all this and the pro’s and con’s so can get the cleanest sounding audio, without all the confusion and hoopla. I’ll also link a few models that I recommend below for you to check out.
AN ON-BOARD MIC
So an onboard mic is one that literally attaches ON-BOARD to your camera. It’s super convenient because you’re not messing around with separate cables and things to carry around if you’re wanting to be more portable, and it will plug directly into your camera’s audio input jack, which is usually a standard headphone jack. This also makes for an easy workflow when it comes time to edit because you’ll just have that one video file with higher quality audio, instead of having to sync your video and audio files.
The downside of this, is that your camera’s usually still going to be a fair distance away from you. Even though you now have a mic designed to pick up sound a lot better than your built-in mic, the distance means that it’s also going to pick up any environmental sounds, and you’re still not going to sound as crisp than if you were to use a different type of mic. You should also consider your shooting environment. If you’ll have any echo in your recording space, don’t use an onboard because it will pick this up and possibly even amplify it, and if you’re shooting outdoors, this isn’t the best option because mics are super sensitive to wind. If you are shooting outdoors, then always make sure you have a dead kitty on your mic, which is a furry thing that covers your mic that helps to dampen any wind interference.
A LAVALIER MIC
This has quickly become the most popular choice for recording home or office videos because it’s pretty easy to use and it offers much better sound than the built in mic on your camera. BUT, not all lavs are made equal. It might seem like a rip off to pay $60 for a tiny little mic with a tiny little cable, the cost of a lavalier is directly related to the quality of the sound dampening system of that mic. So essentially, if you’re paying for a $20 lavalier, you’re likely to run into issues with the cable, or the mic itself, picking up feedback, and your voice just isn’t going to be as rich because it’s a very simple mic, similar to a pair of iphone headphones.
From my personal experience and with my clients, I’ve ran into lots of issues with feedback and this strange low-toned buzzing with less expensive lavaliers. So if you think of the time and money wasted on these mics, sometimes it’s worth the $60 investment. Especially if you know that videos will be on your marketing plan. This type of mic is best for indoor shoots because you’ll have a cable to wrangle, but you can definitely use it outdoors as well. Just make sure that the cable gives you enough room to move around, and if you are shooting in a windy location, place the lavalier on the inside of your collar or jacket so it’s blocked from any wind, otherwise it will definitely pick up that sound as well.
I recommend the Rode Smartlav. It’s pricier than something like this (which I USED TO recommend, but not anymore!), but I guarantee you’ll have better sound quality and won’t run into issues with buzzing and feedback.
AN EXTERNAL AUDIO RECORDER
This is definitely my favorite option and what’s used on professional shoots because it offers far superior sound that recording audio into your camera because these machines are built to record audio! For my own videos, I simply place my Zoom H4N on a steady surface close to me and it’s fantastic for picking up just my voice and not much environmental sound. The cool thing about audio recorders is you can set the direction from which it picks up sound. So you can set it for a narrower space for your home shoot, just to grab your voice, or you can set it for a wider range for a live show, for example.
For my client shoots, I use the external recorder in conjunction with a lavalier because not only do I get the precision of a lavalier, but I also get a high quality audio file. The downside of using an external recorder is that you’ll end up with a video file and an audio file, so you’ll have to sync the two. It’s not difficult to do, but it is an extra step that can take a bit of tweaking to get just right. And if you are going to be shooting multiple clips, you’ll definitely want to make a log of which video clips correspond with which audio clips, so you don’t spend all day trying to figure out which ones match.
USB mics have gotten really popular over the last year with the Snowball and Blue Yeti amping up the game for podcasts and any other audio recordings you’d do on your computer. This type of mic is specifically made for plugging into your computer, so you’ll need an audio recording program like Garageband to record your audio. Now, because it’s going to be teathered via USB to your computer, this is not going to work for any kind of outdoor shooting or in a situation where you need to be portable.
Technically, you could set up your laptop with a USB mic for your home or office video shoot, but you’ll have the separate audio file again. But what’s more important to note, is that these mics are really meant for recording directly into at a close distance, like podcasting. Unless you’re able to place the USB mic pretty close to you AND make sure that it’s not in the frame of your shot, this workflow tends to be clunky and won’t get you the ideal audio results. My personal opinion in this situation? Go with the lavalier. It’s going to be a lot easier and you won’t drive yourself crazy trying to re-position your camera, your laptop, and your USB mic for every shot.
So choosing the right mic largely depends on your shooting environment and the workflow that you’re comfortable with. And remember, even a simple mic is going to be better than no mic at all. Even though most smartphones and even high end DSLR’s make great videos, the mics haven’t quite caught up yet, so it’s worth getting something to tie you over until you’re ready to invest.
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