Wednesday, July 20, 2011

VideoQ&A: Stick Mics

Do you have any recommendations for stick microphones?
Personally, I'm not a big fan of stick - or handheld - mics. Are you going to be doing man-in-the-street interviews? Is that why you want to get one of these? Because for sit-down interviews, I either use a shotgun microphone, or alternatively, I prefer to use lavaliere mics; either wired or wireless.

The problem with handheld mics is that if they aren't highly directional, or held close to the person speaking, then they will pick up a lot of surrounding sound.  If they are hyper-directional - like a shotgun - and they aren't pointed directly at the person speaking, then they won't pick up the audio clearly!

Shotguns can be a useful choice in place of handheld mics because they will cut out some of the surrounding sound, and they don't have to be close to the persons face. Ideally you will have someone out of shot actually pointing the microphone at the person speaking. This is especially vital if the person is moving about, and a problem if you were planning on simply placing the mic on top of your camera.

A lot of people use a small shotgun mic mounted on top of their camera in place of the built-in microphone on consumer camcorders and DSLRs. The Rode VideoMic [$149.00] seems to be popular for this use. These are usually a step-up from the internal mic, but if the camera isn't close to the subject you can still get a lot of background noise.

I have seen shotguns being used handheld in place of stick mics. They aren't ideal for that, but it is possible to use them this way. If they are used this way, it's important to remind the talent to keep them pointing at the person talking.

The only shotgun I've had much experience with is the Sennheiser K6, which is a nice, if expensive choice.

There's quite a few shotguns for sale under $200, the Azden SGM-1X - Super-Cardioid Shotgun Condenser Microphone [$149.95] seems to be popular and if you check the B &H site you'll find a lot of reviews of it:

After experimenting with a shotgun for a while, I still wasn't happy with the results I was getting; it was still recording a lot of other sound. Lavalieres do a good job of cutting down background noise because they aren't that sensitive. They don't have to be; they are attached to the talent! The downside is that the talent does have to do a little work to put the mic on; it's preferable to run the mic cable under their shirt or top. There are other problems with lavaliers; if the talent turns their head without turning their body the audio level from the mic can drop significantly. Loud breaths, clothes rubbing over the mic, and the talent touching the mic, are all problems that occur frequently. That being said, I still prefer them for recording.

While you can buy relatively inexpensive wired lavalier mics, wireless ones are preferred because you have no cables for people to trip over! A good wireless lavalier starts at around $400 or more (the very cheap wireless systems can suffer from interference.).

Some people don't like the sound of lavalieres, and I appreciate that they aren't the be-all and end-all, but for a one-man shooting crew, I think they are the easiest compromise.

Another thing you might want to invest in are good headphones to monitor the audio while recording i.e. Sony MDR-7506 Circumaural Closed-Back Professional Monitor Headphone [$83.95] Even better, if you can, have someone other than the camera operator monitor the audio. They are more likely to catch problems like the mic audio dropping, or something rubbing on or touching the microphone, and other audio issues. It's very difficult to really monitor audio and keep your mind on the video being shot at the same time. You can do it, but it's a lot easier with help!

For another perspective on audio capture, this article at FilmmakerIQ offers a slightly different perspective: Audio advice from a frustrated boom op


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