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Microphones for Beginners: Mics for Interviews and Events

If you’re shooting video for a wedding or making your first documentary, then finding the right microphone setup is just as important as finding the right lens. Here are some microphones for beginners, plus an intro to mobile recorders.

Finding the perfect microphone setup for your event is just as important as finding the right lens. Whether it’s for a wedding or a sit-down interview for a documentary project, here are some good microphones for beginners.

Microphones for Beginners: Mic Options for 1-Person Interviews

Filming a preseantation event

If you’re running around and interviewing many different people at an event, you might be tempted to use the built-in microphone for convenience but a better option is the Rode VideoPro, which is a supercardioid mic that you can mount directly on your camera’s hot shoe.

Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun mics are very popular for interviews, particularly “supercardioid” microphones such as the Sennheiser ME66. A supercardioid mic picks up audio patterns from one direction, which helps eliminate distracting sounds from the surrounding environment. With these mics, you must point them in the direction of your subject. Hold your shotgun mic up with a boompole and connect it to your audio recording device with an XLR cable.

More filmmaking images:

A boom operator’s principal responsibility is microphone placement but on smaller sets this role expands rapidly to include all sound engineering and, sometimes, you’re forced to fill this role somehow on your own. There are ways to run a lean operation and still have good sound.

The Boompole Audio Kit is a great option for beginners and works well for 1-person interviews. This kit comes with a Sennheiser MKH-416, a boompole holder and grip head for directional customization, a pre-cabled boompole, a stand to hold it all up, and the XLR cable that connects to your recording device (recording device not part of the kit). It’s a smart, lightweight way to shoot with audio gear when you’re stuck working completely alone.

wireless system beltpack for music instrument

Lavalier (or lav, lapel, or “beltpack”) mics are small and easily hidden from view and the wires are minimal. You don’t see them as often in movies because people have to actually wear them (and that is distracting). But for sit-down interviews, or most TV applications, they’re great.

Lavalier Microphones

Another option that is popular for 1-person interviews is the lavalier microphone (also called “lavs” or lapel mics), like the Sennheiser EW-122 or MKE2. This setup includes a transceiver and receiver. The transceiver connects to your subject and has the microphone attached to it. The transceiver sends the audio signal wirelessly to your receiver, which is plugged into an audio recording device. The benefit of lavs is they are small, easy to hide, wireless, and usually comfortable for the subject. The drawback is that any rubbing against the subject’s clothing may get picked up by the mic. They also require being on a particular frequency channel, which has a chance of picking up interference. Learn more in The Beginner Videographer’s Guide to Frequency Blocks.

Are Built-In Microphones Any Good?

Microphones built into cameras are never good as the main sound resource because they are not powerful enough to pick up clean sound from a distance and bringing your camera really close to your subject is usually not an option (your lens’ minimum focusing distance wouldn’t allow for it or, if you’re using a wide lens, distortion of features will occur – it’s also invasive and uncomfortable for your interviewee). Mics inside cameras also tend to pick up noise from lens adjustments and button clicking. If you’re running around and interviewing many different people at an event, you might be tempted to use the built-in microphone for convenience but a better option is the Rode VideoMic Pro, which is a supercardioid mic that you can mount directly on your camera’s hot shoe.

SLT camera with large microphone configured for capturing video. Defocused croud in background.

Sometimes there is no way to take your sound off-camera and a directional hot shoe-connected mic is your only option for better sound. In-camera mics are rarely good enough for events.

Microphones for Events and Ceremonies

Events and ceremonies are not conducive to running cables across the floor so you have to think more run-and-gun when choosing your audio solution. Wireless mics, like lavs, aren’t the best solution here either because of cross frequencies with other sound systems – which are common at events.

Sometimes you can coordinate with the audio already prepared for the audience. For example, if a bride and groom are going to be mic’d for the vows you can ask the event’s tech or DJ to borrow a line from the mixer to leach audio to your camera or recorder but there are plenty of ways for this to go wrong. Their mixing is for the event, not for you, and the feed might not be at all compatible with your needs as a videographer or what your system can handle. A wireless mic placed discreetly at the edge of the action (in the case of a lecturer or a wedding ceremony) is sometimes your best option.

Outdoor events pose the same problems as indoor events with one added issue: wind. Windscreens, the colloquial “dead cats” (and the smaller “dead kittens) are useful here. Simply place one over your shotgun mic and go. For more info on how to set up a boompole or attach a lavalier mic to your subject, check out Recording Audio for Sit-Down Interviews.

Process photo and video cameras at nests of pied Flycatchers. Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca, Muscicapa hypoleuca). Bird House

A small LED and mic with a windscreen over it are strategically placed to illuminate a bird and pick up its noises. To not scare the bird, you’ll need to keep your distance with your camera. There are many examples for why learning the basics of off-camera audio come in handy.

Microphones for Beginners: Mobile Recorder Options

hand holding a digital recorder

Handheld digital recorders with built-in mics are an affordable tool for film audio capture, podcasting, field interviews, and creating and editing multi-tracked audio.

One of the most beginner-friendly external recorders out there is the Zoom H4n. You can input audio from an external microphone or use the Zoom’s mics to record to an SD card. You then sync the audio to your footage in post-production. Zooms go anywhere: pockets, the ground, taped to a wall, or mounted to a stand using the built-in mounting port.

basic-mic-setup-borrowlenses

A simple illustration of using lavs along with a mobile recorder. The transmitter and mic connect to the subject and relay signal to your receiver. The receiver connects to your audio recorder via a cable which is, in turn, connected to your camera. Remember, you can always contact us with compatibility questions.

It can be intimidating to make the leap over to audio recording. But it is a valuable part of the storytelling experience and hopefully these tips send you on the right path!

Tags: , , , , , , Last modified: May 23, 2020
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