By Thomas Popp
In the world of production sound, there are specific microphones that we use on a day to day basis to help capture sound the best way possible. Understanding the characteristics of the microphones you own, and therefore knowing their strengths and limitations, is invaluable information used for achieving a great sound track for your production.
In this blog post I will go over three basic choices for capturing sound on your DSLR camera. First, we will start off with the microphone that is physically built into the camera, then venture into the alternate option of connecting an external microphone via the hot shoe mount on the top of the camera and last, but not least, we will discuss my favorite way of capturing sound, (and, most likely, the best option for your production).
On Board Camera Microphone
In my opinion, these microphones are to be used as a last resort or only as a courtesy/reference when your footage does not consist of a lot of dialogue. Best uses are for ambience tracks that coincide with your B-Roll shots or possibly an on the fly interview in a noisy location. If you go this route, make sure that there is some type of wind protection on top of the pin holes that protect the diaphragm of the microphone inside the camera. Here is a quick demonstration on what you need and how to set up wind protection on your camera’s internal microphone.
Other Camera Microphones
Now we’re getting somewhere! These types of microphones are built to make capturing sound on your DSLR camera so much better and easier than the (previously stated) alternative. They plug into the microphone input on the side of your camera and bypass the circuitry of the internal microphone all-together. Almost all of these “baby” microphones require powering (usually one single AAA or 9V battery) and slide right into the hot shoe mount of your camera.
One of the greatest features of these external microphones is the incorporation of a shockmount that helps to reduce or nearly eliminate the handling noise present from merely holding the camera. Some shock mounts work better than others, but they all pretty much do the same thing. It is also fun to watch them wiggle back and forth when you’re bored!
Because these microphones use their own circuitry, they work better than the internal microphones that exist on cameras. They will generally sound much cleaner, which introduces a lower noise floor to your recordings, as well as more warmth in the voices being recorded due to the larger microphone size. I highly recommend that you have one of these in your camera case at all times. It is a cheap way to get better sound on your projects. Don’t forget to buy batteries!
Finally, we get to the age old question and third option:
Should I just hire a Sound Guy?
The simple answer is…ready for it?
Sound guys are a valuable asset to your production. They offer peace mind allowing you to focus on your own job operating the camera instead of dealing with sound.
Wouldn’t that be nice to have one less thing to worry about?
Generally, sound guys will bring their own equipment. Think of how different – and better – a $2000 microphone on the end of a boom pole sounds when it is strategically placed near the source of the audio, versus how your internal or baby external camera microphone will sound!
The biggest difference between the three stated options is which one can provide the greatest sense of perspective in your recorded sound track. Perspective is key in audio; it is what allows the viewer to literally perceive that they are present in the room, or setting, of what they are watching. Depending upon the position and framing of the camera, the sound can change drastically, and it is supposed to! So, instead of praying your shotgun mic will pick up dialogue from 20 feet away, or wondering if the interview you are shooting facing a noisy street will sound ok in post-production, see what your local sound guy can do for you!
Thomas Popp has a degree in Recording Arts and Sciences and has worked on many well-known television shows, movies, commercials, and music videos. He is also a representative for the popular audio equipment company, Zaxcom, Inc. With his love for sound and his knack for teaching, he has lectured many students about the theories and techniques of production sound, which also includes traveling to China to teach a masters class on Digital Wireless Technology.
Thomas’ love for teaching was fully launched in 2013 with VideoMantis.com. Their first endeavor is the production of the e-book, Down to the Wire, which has over 150 pages of information and video step-by-step instructions on how to capture better sound on your next project. Learn more at www.downtothewirebook.com.