Which Type of Microphone Is Best For Filmmaking?
By Kevin Graham
No matter what, if you want to record audio, you’ll need a microphone. But there are so many types of mics out there; which should you use for video production?
Today, we’re going to list the most common types of mics used in filmmaking, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
Typically mounted either on a camera or on a boom pole, the shotgun mic is one of the most popular types of production microphone.
These condenser mics have an extremely narrow pickup pattern, which means that they’re great at recording the things they’re pointed at, and minimizing noise coming from elsewhere.
A shotgun mic is usually going to deliver a higher-quality sound than other production mics, such as lavs.
Shotgun mics are also ideal for run-and-gun situations where you won’t have time to wire up the talent, or if you’re trying to capture natural sounds.
However, if your talent or sound source has to be far away from the camera or boom pole, these mics just won’t work as well.
Lavalier mics, also called wires or wireless mics, are the other common-go-to microphone on set.
These versatile systems usually consist of a receiver and a transmitter, into which the small microphone is connected. The transmitter is placed on the belt or in the pocket of the talent, and the receiver is mounted on the camera or field recorder, feeding the audio via XLR.
Lavs excel in situations where the talent is moving, far away from the camera, or if there are several people talking in a scene. They’re also commonly used as backups to shotgun mics.
When there is a lot of radio interference nearby, or if the subject is wearing noisy or tight clothing, lavs aren’t a great choice.
Most lavs will deliver decent audio, but it will usually not be as high-quality as a shotgun mic.
Also known as studio or vocal mics, these types of mics are commonly used in controlled settings such as voiceover booths and podcast studios. There are both dynamic and condenser options.
These types of mics pick up everything, which means they are meant for quiet environments where the sound source (usually a voice) can be very close. The classic, rich, deep voiceover sound is almost always a product of these types of mics.
The downside is that these mics are often fragile, difficult to conceal, and pick up a lot of noise, which makes using them in the field very difficult.
Portable field recorders have been a staple of sound designers for several years. Usually containing a stereo pair of microphones, these devices allow for quick, quality recordings in the field.
These recorders are perfect for recording ambiences, Foley, and other sound effects that span the entire stereo field. They’re compact, durable, and easy to travel with.
But often, the noise floor on these is a bit high, so they’re not as great for recording quiet sounds. They also don’t have as much response in the low frequencies as shotgun and podcast mics.
Internal Camera Mic
Most video cameras have a built-in microphone, sometimes even in stereo.
These tend to be lower quality than external mics, and camera preamps are usually pretty noisy, but if you just need to record scratch audio or nat sounds that you’re going to bury low in the mix, there’s nothing wrong with just using your camera mic when you’re filming.
But if you’re recording any type of dialogue, this probably is not the best choice.
Your Phone (Yes, Really)
It’s not ideal, but sometimes, whether it’s due to equipment failure or needing to spontaneously capture a sound, your phone is all you have.
Believe it or not, you can actually record decent audio, even dialogue and voiceover, with a phone, if you know how to do it right.
The phone should be as close to the sound source as possible, and pointed in a direction that avoids as much background noise as possible. Also, take care to not move your hands around on the phone during recording.
With a bit of EQ in post, a phone recording can really save you if you get into a tough spot.
When it comes to choosing the best mic for the job, there are sometimes lots of right answers. Having the basic knowledge of the different types of mics and their strengths and weaknesses will help you make the right choice.
Kevin is the Music Director and Lead Composer at Filmpac.