In video production, the question of appropriate microphones is asked frequently.
In the video production industry, there are different microphones for different situations. For starters, there are 3 different types to use in video; shotgun, lavalier, and condenser. Unfortunately, audio is sometimes put on the back burner when pairing it with video. This mistake, usually makes for a good looking video, but a bad sounding video, which is ultimately an unsuccessful product. The audio half is just as important as the video half, and the quality should be treated equally. Using the right mic for the job can help make your video substantially better. It’s knowing what mic to use in each different situation. It’s also good to know what polar pattern your microphone has or is capable of. A polar pattern basically tells you what direction or directions the mic will pick up sound from.
A shotgun mic is a very directional microphone. The shotgun actually refers to the microphones polar pattern. This mic is tube shaped with slots on the side as well as holes in the front. It’s usually long and mainly picks up what is directly in front of it, hence it’s name, shotgun. It’s directionality and sensitive gain makes it a good microphone for interviews. Using this mic is good when you have a direct subject that is providing the sound and you are able to point the mic directly at said subject. A shotgun mic is typically connected via an XLR cable and plugs straight into your camera, preamp, or mixer. Being a very directional and sensitive mic, a down side to these features is if your subject moves slightly out of the way the mic is facing, it’s likely you will lose some volume and quality from your subject, and possibly pick up some sound you’re not interested in.
A lavalier mic, or lav, is also used for interviews. This is a wireless microphone that has two components; the mic and the receiving transmitter. Many times, a lav mic is using an omnidirectional polar pattern, meaning it is picking up sound from all around the microphone head. The mic is very small, and attaches to the subject (usually somewhere on the clothes) and is pointed up towards the source of sound. The lav is also good for run and gun shoots where you might be changing subjects or on the street with a shoulder mounted camera. With it’s small, wireless capabilities, it makes for a good substitute for a shotgun mic, since it produces a sound with a similar quality, and is not something you have to boom or hold over your subject. A lav’s transmitter is usually attached to the male side of an XLR and will then plug into your camera, preamp, or mixer. A disadvantage to using a lav mic is it’s pattern of sound pick up. Being omnidirectional, many times the mic will pick up the shuffling of a jacket or whatever clothes it is attached to, adding some background noise you don’t want.
A condenser mic is a very diverse microphone that can have a variety of polar patterns. Some of the more popular ones include: bi-directional (or a figure 8 pattern), hypercardioid (which picks up what is in front of the microphone, and a little from behind it), and cardioid (picking up just what is in front of the microphone). Condenser mic’s are used mostly for recording music and voice because it is a low-noise, high-quality audio signal, which makes for a great studio recording and quality for a music track. These types of mic’s run an XLR directly from their bottom to your preamp or mixer. I didn’t mention your camera as a connection here, since usually you would want a non-compressed audio signal to further tweak in a post-production or recording program before pairing it with your video. This microphone wouldn’t be good for interviews where you’re concerned of showing the microphone in the shot. However, it has a short pick up distance, which makes it good for recording instruments.
If you are doing something like a voiceover for your video, where you just need a good quality sound of your talent without the video, the shotgun or condenser microphone would be a good choice. Both of these options provide a good quality sound highlighting the mid, low, and high frequencies from your subject. A good thing to know is that the pick up for a condenser mic is coming from the side of the mic where as the shotgun it comes from the top.
Pairing the right mic with your video will raise the production value of your finished product by a mile. If you’re unsure what mic is best for your situation, it’s always a good idea to do some research and listen to mic testing samples online to hear what each microphone sounds like in different situations.
A good tip: When wearing headphones that have a wire running to only one ear, the side with the wire goes on your left ear.