Lavalier, Shotgun, or USB: Which Mic Should You Buy?

Posted by Valentina Vee on

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.24.59 AM

LAVALIER

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?Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.24.21 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.19.12 AM


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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.19.32 AM

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.

SHOTGUN

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 10.03.07 AMScreen Shot 2014-08-16 at 10.02.47 AMScreen Shot 2014-08-16 at 10.02.12 AM

 

 

 

 

 

USB

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 10.05.25 AM

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).

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 10.07.43 AM

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.

The post Lavalier, Shotgun, or USB: Which Mic Should You Buy? appeared first on Aputure Blog.