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Pro Photo Rental

Intro to Audio for Video
By Zac Henderson

Shooting video is hard. There are a LOT of things to consider in order to get good, usable footage. Think of things like stability, color, dit depth, dynamic range, frame rate and shutter speed, etc. As if video wasn’t hard enough on its own, you are inevitably going to have to think about audio too. Indeed, audio is the arch nemesis of many a videographer. It is often an afterthought, but quality audio is just as important as quality visuals. Below we’ll give you a primer into the types of audio equipment available and when you might use them to achieve video (and audio), nirvana.

Shotgun Mics

shotgun mic

The first step towards achieving better audio is to forget your camera has a built in microphone. Don’t even bother testing. It’s bad. The second step to achieving better audio is to consider an on-camera shotgun mic. These external microphones mount to the hot shoe of your camera and communicate via a short 3.5mm audio jack into the camera’s mic port.

Shotgun mics are highly directional, meaning that they will best pick up the sound of whatever you point them at while picking up less sound from the sides and behind the mic. Shotgun mics, so named because their pickup pattern resembles that of the area of effect a shotgun has, are typically long and cylindrical. They are easily the most popular form of microphone for “running and gunning,” meaning if you’re constantly moving around while recording an event, a shotgun mic will likely be your best friend. Its ability to pick up ambient sound with a focus on what is directly in front of the camera when mounted makes for a simple yet effective setup.

Shotgun mics can also be mounted to tripods or boom poles, allowing them to be used off camera. The thing to consider in this context is the shotgun mic will likely not be able to feed directly into the camera and will require an external recorder, but more on that later.

Though highly directional, a shotgun mic won’t just pick up sound from where it is pointed. It will also pick up sound from everywhere else, though to a lesser degree. This can be a positive thing if you’re recording in the field and want to get a taste of the environment along with your subject, but may not be the best choice for interviews, particularly if you’re some distance away from your subject.


Lavalier Mics


Lavalier Mics, or simply “lav” mics, are small microphones designed to be clipped to a person’s clothing or even hidden in their hair. These small mics are best for capturing voice during interviews since they ignore far more ambient noise than shotgun mics and can be mounted much closer to the source of sound. The trick to using these microphones is cable length and placement.

Many lav mics can be connected directly to the camera via a 3.5mm audio jack or XLR connector. This is the simplest setup, however it also makes movement difficult since such long cable lengths are required. If you’re recording someone 6ft away from the camera you’ll need nearly double that length of cable, which gets quite cumbersome. In an effort to reduce clutter on set, wireless lav mics are typically used. These mics are the same in principle, but instead of plugging straight into the camera, the mic is first run into a wireless transmitter which is often clipped to the subject’s belt. This transmitter sends a signal to a wireless receiver, often mounted to the camera’s hotshoe. The receiver is connected to the camera or an external recorder via XLR or 3.5mm audio jack.

Placing the lav mic can also be a challenge. Unless the project is very relaxed, you’ll likely want to hide the lav mic and wire, or at least hide the wire and place the mic in a non-distracting location on the subject’s clothing. Another thing to consider with lav mics is that any clothing brushing up against the mic will be picked up in camera which is obviously a distraction. There are a variety of techniques to get around this, but it is something to consider as you decide what is best for your particular situation. Still, this solution is one of the easiest and most effective ways to record quality interviews.


Audio Recorders and Mixers


Sometimes it’s best to record two forms of audio for redundancy. For example, you might want to mount a shotgun mic and have it feed directly into the camera while also using a lav mic to record voice during an interview. This is where audio recorders come in. These devices record audio separately from the camera and will need to be synced in post. Audio recorders will provide far more options for connectivity and leveling than a typical DSLR, and can also record multiple channels simultaneously. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras only offer a single 3.5mm input, so by using a mixer or external audio recorder you can expand the mic options at your disposal.

Zoom recorders like our H5, and H6 are capable of recording up to 4 channels, but can also be used with their own interchangeable microphones. In some situations, this could be the only audio device you use. Other devices like mixers can be used to increase the number of channels available in camera, like our Kopul CMX-2 Two-Channel Passive XLR Adapter. Other mixers like our Zoom F8 Multi-Track Field Recorder can accept up to 8 XLR inputs and mix them for more advanced purposes.


Audio Accessories


Mics and recorders are great, but they’re useless if the audio coming in is poor due to windy conditions. That’s where wind screens come in. Also known as dead cats, amongst other weird nicknames, these devices can drastically reduce the amount of wind noise that a microphone picks up and are essential for any recording done in the field. You may also find yourself wishing you could mount more devices to your camera at once. Fear not, for adapters exist that allow multiple shoe-mounted devices to be used at once like our Multi-Accessory Shoe Mount Extension Bar.

Also, whenever possible, it's crucial to monitor the audio in your video content with some quality headphones as it's being recorded. This ensures sound is being recorded cleanly without any distractions or interference.


Audio can be complicated, but practice and mastery of the basics will help any video shooter have a better foothold when it comes to the prickly subject of audio recording. Now go forth, and record excellent audio and video.

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