LAVS VS. SHOTGUNS
Q I’m looking for advice on the best long shotgun microphone that I can mount on a Sony PXW-FS7 camera. I’ll be shooting interviews with athletes from five to 10 feet away, but don’t have the resources to have a sound mixer with me. I’m not very knowledgeable about sound. Help!
A When you don’t have an adequate budget for a sound mixer, the responsibility for recording clean, clear audio for the edit falls on your shoulders. That said, a camera-mounted microphone is always a recipe for mediocre to unusable sound. If you’re typically shooting interviews from five to 10 feet away, this places your microphone the same distance from your subject, in what are probably fairly noisy situations.
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Simply put, you can’t bend the laws of physics to your lack of budget. A camera-mounted microphone will result in a poor signal-to-noise ratio, with the sound filled with echo or reverb on interiors and too much ambient noise on exteriors. If you examine the physics of the situation, the relative quality of the microphone won’t make much difference. Your solution to recording decent-quality sound from interviews without a sound mixer would be to buy and use a wired or wireless lavalier system.
Buy a 25-foot XLR cable and a quality wired lavalier microphone from a name brand like Sennheiser, DPA, Sanken, Countryman, Tram or Oscar SoundTech. As long as your talent isn’t moving (like for walk-and-talks), a wired lavalier actually can work well for stand-up interviews. If your on-camera talent will be moving, you’ll need a wireless microphone system. Wireless systems are more expensive and less reliable than a simple XLR cable, but you really can’t easily shoot moving talent with a wired microphone.
Think about it. With a lavalier, you use the laws of physics in your favor by locating the microphone less than a foot away from the talent’s mouth. The sound will be much more detailed and usable than even the best-quality on-camera microphone. Just keep telling yourself: “On-camera microphones are only useful for recording ambient sound. Never shoot talent with an on-camera microphone.” With some practice, you’ll be able to wire up the athletes in about a minute or two, mounting the lavalier on a player’s jersey or shirt.
Q I work for a local PBS station and have been assigned to shoot a travel series. We’ll have a sound mixer for some locations, while I’ll be a one-person crew at other spots, so will need to set up microphones and sound gear. We do a lot of walking shots with the host exploring buildings and museums. I plan on asking one of our sound mixers to give me some tips on how to mount a mic. In the meantime, what tips and techniques can you offer on the best way to mount a lavalier microphone? Our station requires that the lavalier be hidden; they won’t let us just mount an exposed microphone on the host. What’s the most effective way to mitigate noise mounting a hidden lavalier?
A There are many ways to mount a lavalier, and while there are favorite ways to doing it, you should choose a method that makes the most sense for your project’s needs. The best methods generally will depend on what the talent is wearing. A dress shirt is rigged in a different way than a loose T-shirt. There’s not enough space available to go into an in-depth “how-to” article, but there are plenty of those on YouTube and the web. What probably will be more useful here for you would be some considerations about why and when you choose to use a specific mounting method. Here are a couple of general lavalier principles to think about.
Cable Strain Relief. Something to consider when choosing which lavalier to use is handling/cable noise. Different lavaliers have different types of cabling, each with differing amounts of cable noise. One of my favorite lavaliers is the Countryman B6. The B6 has a very thin cable, is waterproof and is also the smallest microphone on the market. One caveat of the B6 is that the very small-diameter cabling is very micro-phonic; the cable transmits a lot of rubbing and noise, which ends up in your soundtrack.
Conversely, another popular lavalier microphone I use is the Tram TR50B, which has a relatively thick and heavy cable. It transmits much less cable and handling noise, but the Tram is also much larger than the Countryman B6 and has a different sound quality. So I use both and choose which one to shoot with depending on the situation.
Strain relief means that you must learn how to rig a lavalier in such a way that the cable must be loosened, about 4 to 6 inches away from the microphone, and then rigged and taped off. This separates the cable from the microphone head and mitigates a lot of cable noise. The easiest way to build in strain relief is to use a loop of cable near the microphone head and tape it off using a “triangle” of gaffer tape, but there are other ways to set up cable strain relief.
Extras. There are many helpful accessories available for rigging up lavalier microphones and for reducing wind noise. These are available from specialty audio retailers like Location Sound and Trew Audio, as well as online. Rycote makes some very useful lavalier accessories.
Stickies are double-sided, hypoallergenic adhesive pads used to affix lavalier microphones directly onto skin or on top of clothing. The soft fabric sandwiched between the two adhesive pads prevents the adhered mic from creaking due to skin or clothing movement. Rycote also makes Undercovers that are the perfect solution to completely hiding lavalier microphones. Used with the included Stickies, these soft, fabric discs are designed to minimize the sound of clothing movement while providing protection from light wind.
Overcovers utilize Rycote’s fur technology, providing excellent wind-noise protection. They consist of discreet, fur Windjammers and Stickies. With a Stickie affixed to clothing or skin, a fur Windjammer disc is affixed over the top of a lavalier microphone.
The RØDE invisiLav is also designed to aid the concealing of the Lavalier and smartLav microphones. Its soft construction absorbs noise and vibration, while the wide, flat profile provides coverage from the elements to allow for versatile mounting.
There are two mounting points in case a redundant mic is required and cable management on the side. Available in either a pack of three or a bulk pack of 10, the invisiLav comes with pre-cut, skin-safe adhesive that can be used to stick the invisiLav to either the body or to fabric. The invisiLav itself is also made from a medical-grade skin-safe material so it can be mounted on the body without fear of irritation.
Hopefully, these tips have given you something to begin practicing and experimenting. Mounting lavaliers is just as much of an art as a science, and it takes trial and error. Good luck!
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