As an independent run-and-gun filmmaker, I often get asked what I do for audio. If I have the ability to hire a professional sound person, I often do – audio is too important to be trusted to an unmonitored feed. The sound may come out with a serious echo, too much noise, or “tinny” in feeling. It’s impossible to direct, run camera, and do sound at the same time. However, when I’m in a bind and have to do audio myself, I have a choice: do I employ my lavalier, shotgun microphone, or USB mic?
Let’s pretend for a second that I can only buy one audio tool. I cannot purchase a recorder like the Zoom H4N (or H6N), the Tascam DR40, or the Olympus LS-100. Let’s also pretend that my budget is $150 and I do not have access to anything with XLR inputs or outputs. This leaves me with three options: record into my iPhone, record into my camera, or record into my computer. Which is best? Well, it depends on the situation.
I use my lav mic when I’m in the field (usually outdoors) and I need to position my camera at a distance to the subject. In any situation – the closer you can get ANY microphone to your subject, the better. But, remember – we do not have the budget for a Zoom H4N, let alone a full wireless system from Sennheiser. What do you do, assuming you’ve given up hope of monitoring audio levels?
Option 1: Use your headphone microphone. In a pinch, pinning your headphones to your subject and recording the audio on a phone app like iTalk will work so much better than getting on-camera audio. And, if you position it well, it won’t look too intrusive.
Option 2: Get a Rode SmartLav ($80 for the newest version, the SmartLav+). It produces decent sound will help you look professional. Just mic up your subject and stick your iPhone in their pocket! You’ll need the RodeRec app for full control.
Option 3: Get a lavalier microphone that wires directly into your camera via a 3.5mm jack. You’ll need a long cable to reach from your subject into the camera, but it can be done! A good “into-camera” model is the Audio Technica ATR-3350 Condenser Mic. Just remember: this will not work with your phone. The iPhone and your camera require different 3.5mm connectors (1/8″ TRRS for the iPhone and a TRS for cameras). If you’d like to read more about connector plugs, here’s a great post on IAIB.
For shooting on-the-spot interviews, wedding receptions, or anything where the subject is not keen to be “wired up” with a lav and is close enough to be comfortable with a microphone docked to your camera – you’ll need a shotgun microphone. The “industry standard” for indie filmmakers is the Rode VideoMic Pro. But because we cannot spend $230 for it in this hypothetical situation, we will settle for the Rode VideoMic ($150). There are a bunch of other shotgun microphones out there, ranging from $30 to $500. The price not only depends on the sound quality but the brand name. Obviously, since Rode dominates much of the microphone market, its products will be up there in price. A great substitute is the Aputure V-Mic D1 ($70), which I use. In all my comparisons with the rode VideoMic, I have yet to tell the difference.
While almost never considered by indie film and video shooters, a cartoid USB mic will produce perhaps the best sound out of all three of these options. Having a large frequency range and the ability to transmit data via USB instead of a 3.5mm jack, it is more stable and gives a far richer sound than a directional shotgun or a tiny lavalier. You hear USB microphones used most in podcasts or audiobooks and they usually require the subject to be extremely close to the mic. The problem is: you need a computer and an editing software nearby to record onto.
For me, this is no problem – as most of my shoots are done in-studio with the subject sitting at a table and my audio cables are long enough to reach to my computer. I personally use the “industry standard” microphone, the Blue Yeti ($99). Other decent microphones include the Blue Snowball ($45) and the CAD U37 ($47).
The verdict? I would suggest getting 2, just in case! You will need each microphone in a different situation, and with smart budgeting, you’ll be able to buy two of these options for under $150. Looking to shoot mostly outdoors and at events? You can’t go wrong with a SmartLav and the Aputure V-Mic D1. Are you an in-studio interview shooter? Then a shotgun microphone and a USB mic may suit your needs. However, if you’re planning on shooting legitimate films out in the field, don’t pinch pennies and hire a sound mixer and boom operator. Support the audio professionals out there who seek to rid the world of terrible, noisy, tinny sound.
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