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Camera Microphone Buying Guide

Why do I need a camera mic?

Video cameras and especially DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) are designed mainly with image quality in mind, and sound almost always comes second. They all usually have microphones, but for professional productions built-in mics are not ideal for capturing sound. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that they tend to be small, and so have a smaller and less capable diaphragm. They can also suffer from the effects of wind noise, and generally have lower sound pressure level tolerances. When you spend a lot of money on a digital video camera, it is generally expected that you will add a dedicated microphone, and almost all models above a certain price bracket have the connections to accept input from one. Specialised mics offer a far superior sound, better directionality, noise rejection and a greater clarity than built-in camera mics.

What’s the difference between camera and studio mics?

The difference tends to be in the design, with studio mics being more fragile and less weather proof, and usually not intended to be fitted to a camera. Indeed this is usually impossible. Dedicated AV mics on the other hand are more sturdy and rugged, better built to withstand wind and humidity, and can be fitted to camera mounting kits. In terms of the way they work internally, the differences are not so great, although they can include internal windshields and high and low pass filter switches to cut out the rumble of wind noise. Camera mics also sometimes have a battery power option, which is rare in studio mics as you are probably connecting them to a desk or an interface which can supply phantom power.

Types of Camera mics

There are several types of camera mic, or mic that can be used with a camera. They’re not mutually exclusive, so different models will have a mixture of characteristics and you should pick the one with the right balance of features for what you need.

Lavalier mics are small and usually clip on to a jacket or collar. They tend to have a wired connection to the camera and so are suitable for interviews and presentations. Because they are very close to the person speaking, they are very good at picking up vocal recordings without also picking up lots of room ambience.

Mics can come in mono or stereo formats and again your choice will depend on what you need. A mono mic only provides you with one channel of recording, but for some applications this is fine and your editing software will play the mono signal in both channels. Stereo mics have the ability to capture both left and right channels, and therefore offer a much wider field of pickup. Stereo audio tends to sound more naturalistic to the listener, because we have two ears. In the context of recording sound for picture, stereo is very desirable because we are watching and listening to the same thing, so if a car drives across the frame for example, we expect the sound to travel from one speaker to the other. Two people standing opposite each other and speaking would also result in their voices being in different places in the soundstage. You can play with stereo in the edit, but it’s easier if your recording is in stereo to begin with.

Camera mics tend to be condenser models, but they come in different shapes and sizes. Some are quite short and stubby, and these tend to offer a wider stereo capture and if required, a more omni-directional pickup. Shotgun mics on the other hand are long and thin, and better for capturing sound from further away, or much more directionally. They also tend to be better suited to being mounted on a boom, like you see in documentaries and on film sets, and usually come with a wind shield to cut out interference. Most mics can be camera-mounted, and sit on top of the body of the camera, or occasionally to the side of it. If you are working more professionally and have a soundman, they can boom-mount the mic for which you will need longer cables.

Other things to consider

Size
If you need to be mobile and your camera is small, a smaller mic will probably suit you better because it won’t add too much to the size and weight of the camera. For shoots with a separate soundman, shooting in a studio or when your camera is larger, you can get away with using a larger mic.

Power
Mics generally require their own power to operate, and many can be powered by 9V batteries, which are replaceable. This means they won’t drain your camera’s battery, though it also means a separate battery level to keep track of. Some higher-end mics can be phantom powered, and better cameras usually support this.

Location or studio
Some camera mics can double up as studio mics, and some are more specific as to where they work best. Broadcast mics for example tend to respond better when being used indoors, and shotgun mics when outdoors. There are some models that can be used quite happily in both scenarios if this is something that’s important to you.

Directionality
Some mics are naturally directional and will pick up what you point them at, offering a high degree of sound rejection especially from the rear. Others are more omni-directional, which is better when you need to try to pick up a more general range of sounds. If you’d like your mic to be able to perform in both situations, look for one like Audio Technica’s AT2022 which has moveable condenser capsules that can be altered to change the pickup.

Accessories
Mics will need to be mounted somehow, be it on a camera shoe directly on the camera or on a boom pole. Check that your model will fit your camera, and also consider getting battery rechargers, longer cables and a selection of AV connectors so that you can use it with a range of different cameras.
The difference tends to be in the design, with studio mics being more fragile and less weather proof, and usually not intended to be fitted to a camera. Indeed this is usually impossible. Dedicated AV mics on the other hand are more sturdy and rugged, better built to withstand wind and humidity, and can be fitted to camera mounting kits. In terms of the way they work internally, the differences are not so great, although they can include internal windshields and high and low pass filter switches to cut out the rumble of wind noise. Camera mics also sometimes have a battery power option, which is rare in studio mics as you are probably connecting them to a desk or an interface which can supply phantom power.