While DSLRs are still popular, Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Panasonic GH5 and the Sony a6000 series in the APS-C category have become increasingly attractive. With professional features like 4K video, high-frame-rate (HFR) shooting for slow-motion footage, advanced color-profile support and the ability to shoot in Log format, these cameras have the tools the pros need, with the benefit of lighter weight. Along the same lines, Sony’s a7 series of full-frame mirrorless cameras have become extremely popular as a professional-quality, low-light or B-camera to complement larger, much more expensive professional models—and the new Sony a9 promises to be a popular option, as well. An unfortunate common attribute in these smaller systems, though, is limited professional audio capability. Most have only an unbalanced 3.5mm stereo microphone input, like the one on your headphone jack, while a very few also sport a separate headphone output for monitoring sound.
On-camera microphone options to capture better audio with still camerasGenerally, the worst place to mount a microphone is on the camera itself. Microphones need to be placed very close to the subject in order to capture high-quality sound. The laws of physics can’t be changed, but that being said, if you want an on-camera microphone, which is useful for capturing ambient audio for events, or if you shoot news-style interviews (when you can place your camera and camera microphone closer than three feet from your subject), you may obtain acceptable sound quality with an on-camera microphone.
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Sennheiser MKE 400 ($199). Considering its small footprint, the Sennheiser MKE 400 is ultra-compact, lightweight and delivers an impressively large sound. The shock mount and shoe mount are both integrated within the mic, which runs for 300 hours on a single AAA battery. A foam windscreen is included, but the optional Sennheiser MZW400 Wind Muff is a necessary addition for shooting exteriors. This kit includes a critically important fluffy windscreen for better muffling during heavier winds or louder backgrounds.
Polsen VM-150 ($109). The VM-150 runs on a single AAA battery and features a Low Cut switch for filtering out sounds below 80 Hz. The VM-150 also has a switch that activates a -10 dB pad. This lowers the sensitivity of the mic, so when you’re shooting in a loud environment, such as in a factory or on a construction site, it will help to keep the loud noises from overloading the dynamic range capabilities of the microphone.
Lavalier Microphone Options
A lavalier is a small microphone that you place directly on your talent when you want to minimize noise around the talent so you can hear them—and hear only them. It can be hidden underneath clothing or it can be visible, pinned to a shirt collar or blouse. Lavaliers come in two flavors: hard-wired, meaning the cable goes from the microphone element to a plug, which is inserted into the camera’s microphone input; or wireless, plugging into a transmitter that the talent wears while a wireless radio receiver plugs into the camera’s microphone input to capture the sound.
Generally, wireless systems should be reserved for shooting situations where a cable would get in the way, be visible or is too long to be practical. Wireless systems are more expensive, and require frequent battery changes while being much more prone to noise and interference than wired microphones. But there always will be times when you’ll need a wireless microphone, so that’s the route most initial purchasers will choose.
Audio-Technica ATR3350iS (Hard-Wired, $29). This basic, low-cost wired lavalier microphone features a low-profile design that assures minimum visibility. Most DSLR and mirrorless camera inputs don’t provide enough power to power a wired lavalier, but this microphone includes its own battery-powered supply to run itself.
RØDE RØDELink Microphone System (Wireless, $599). The RØDELink wireless lavalier system uses 2.4 GHz digital transmission with 128-bit encryption. It’s able to constantly monitor and hop between frequencies to maintain the strongest possible signal level at a range of over 100 yards.
Shotgun/Cardioid Microphone Options
Generally, an off-camera boom microphone will give you the most natural, open, high-quality sound. But, beware—using a shotgun (generally, cardioid-pattern) microphone requires the most support gear. It’s also the most involved and difficult way to record audio, requiring a microphone, suspension mount, wind protection, microphone boom pole, XLR cable and, ideally, a boom operator to position and hold the boom pole over the talent’s head. (You can also mount the boom mic and boom on a C-stand or microphone stand. Bring sandbags to secure them to the ground if working in the field.)
Mounting a shotgun microphone to the hot-shoe of your camera won’t give you high-quality sound. You have to place a shotgun or cardioid within one or two feet of your subject to record high-quality sound. Also, most boom microphones feature “balanced” XLR plug outputs to prevent distortion, which won’t plug into the 3.5mm audio input on your DSLR or mirrorless camera. Most professional microphones also require a power source, called “phantom power,” that needs to be supplied via the XLR source they’re plugged into. Since DSLR and mirrorless cameras don’t provide XLR inputs, you must either purchase a special interface for your camera from the manufacturer, like the Panasonic DMW-YAGH, an audio interface ideally suited for the GH4, or you must purchase a third-party interface like the Beachtek DXA-MICRO PRO to provide an XLR input to your camera and phantom power to the microphone.
Audio-Technica AT875R Shotgun Microphone ($169). The AT875R is designed for video production and broadcast (ENG/EFP) audio acquisition. Audio-Technica’s shortest shotgun microphone, it mounts conveniently without adding noticeable heft. This high-performance mic offers a narrow acceptance angle of line + gradient design. It also has smooth, natural-sounding on-axis audio quality and excellent off-axis rejection of sound arriving from the sides and rear of the mic.
Sanken CS-1e Shotgun Microphone ($850). The CS-1e from Sanken is a professional microphone that features a short, lightweight design that remains hidden from video camera frames, yet it’s also comfortable to operate while mounted onto a boom pole. In addition to its convenient size, the CS-1e’s DC-biased condenser capsule and output electronics yield uncanny directivity and long range while greatly minimizing off-axis noise and feedback. Its extended reach and improved low-frequency response deliver the distance, noise rejection and sound quality needed by professional broadcast applications, film and more.
Recording high-quality audio with your DSLR or mirrorless camera requires support gear like cases, cables, adapters, wind protection and, most importantly, skill and knowledge. Dedicated audio recorders give the highest-quality audio, though they will require dual-track editing in post to sync the separate audio track to video.
Another option to recording your audio directly using your DSLR or mirrorless camera is to record yours to a separate outboard audio recorder. Most popular editing software includes features to automatically waveform match and sync second-source sound. You still record a scratch audio track using your camera, but you record your high-quality audio using an external digital recorder. It’s easier than it sounds, and even these low-cost recorders sound considerably better than the built-in audio on any DSLR or mirrorless camera.
The lower-cost solutions below will appeal to DSLR and mirrorless owners who typically wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on an audio recorder. Should you want the best sound quality and price is no object, however, Sound Devices makes a line of portable audio mixer/recorders that are the standard for pro sound mixers. They run in the $3,500 to $7,000 range. Roland makes several multi-channel mixer/recorder solutions that are also in the higher dollar range, around $2,000 for their eight-channel R-88 recorder/mixer.
The Zoom H4n Pro Audio Recorder ($200). A portable recording device and a two-channel USB interface in one palm-sized unit, the H4Nn Pro Handy Recorder from Zoom features a stereo X/Y microphone capable of handling 140 dB SPL, as well as two low-noise preamps with locking combination XLR/ ¼-inch inputs, multiple recording modes, onboard effects, a built-in metronome, a chromatic tuner and many other features. A step up from the H4n Pro is the H6, and about double the price. The H6 has six recording channels—four XLR inputs and two on-device microphones. There are physical gain knobs and pads for each XLR input on the Zoom H6. On the Zoom H4n, you can control gain through the on-board menu system.
Tascam DR-60mkII Audio Recorder ($200). Designed to cater to the needs of DSLR audio for video recording, the DR-60DmkII 4-Channel Portable Recorder for DSLR systems is the latest generation of Tascam’s popular audio-recording devices. Capable of recording four channels of audio simultaneously in up to 24-bit/96 kHz WAV/BWF files, the unit boasts Tascam’s High-Definition Discrete Architecture (HDDA) preamps and a Cirrus Logic analog-to-digital converter chip for accurate and pristine audio capture. It features two combination XLR/TRS microphone/line-level inputs with selectable phantom power and a stereo 1/8-inch microphone input, capable of handling high-output microphones and supplying plug-in power.
Sony PCM-D100 Audio Recorder ($995). A higher-end solution than the Zoom or Tascam devices, the Sony is still physically small and light, but is capable of recording at up to 192 Mhz/24-bit PCM, a much higher audio sampling rate and bit rate, which will lead to more detailed sound. The Sony also can record to its own internal 32 GB internal memory, with an SDXC card slot, as well. For faster transfer of files, the PCM-D100 has a USB port, allowing you to move your files directly to your Mac or PC. A wireless IR remote commander, furry windscreen, USB cable and carry case are included.
16 CFR Part 255 Disclosure: None of the manufacturers mentioned in the article compensated me to write this article. No material connection exists between the manufacturers mentioned in the article and myself.
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