The Microphone Grab Bag

One of the major benefits of the digital revolution compared to production 20 or 30 years ago is that with the proliferation of inexpensive cameras, editing gear and software, there also have been huge strides in the variety and types of microphones available. There’s a microphone for every job, and within each of the most popular categories of mics, there are dozens of choices available. How do you determine which type of microphone to use, and which model to consider buying or renting for your project?

A popular mind-set not applicable to microphones is “one-size-fits-all.” Many of us, unless we work at a larger production company or facility, only own one video camera, one field monitor and one editing system. Logic dictates that when we survey the market to determine which mic we should buy, we look for the ultimate “all-around microphone.” Wrong. There’s no such thing as an all-around microphone. Just like golf clubs, there are only specialized tools that are best for achieving a specific result in a given situation.

Most experienced sound professionals approach microphone choice considering several different parameters. How many talent need to be heard in the scene? Will the talent be moving or stationary? Will there be a boom operator or a stationary microphone boom on set? What’s the ambient noise environment in the location? Shooting interior or exterior? How close can the boom operator place the microphone to the talent? Does the microphone need to be hidden out of view from the camera?

To advise you on the correct microphone for every project would take far more space than we have available, but here are some general guidelines when choosing which microphone(s) you should use in a given video or film production situation. I’ve included some industry-standard choices for each category, which represents a broad selection of microphones that seem to be consistently used on feature, television and non-broadcast sets.