Capturing High Quality Audio

It generally only takes a video shoot or two before you realize that the weakest link on your camcorder is the microphone. Don't worry: It's not you, or really your camcorder for that matter, just the simple fact of life that all onboard microphones are lousy.

This leaves you with two alternatives for capturing higher-quality audio: get really, really close to your subject, or use an external microphone. Assuming that close proximity is not always an option, you'll almost certainly end up going with the latter approach, which is also the more complicated. What do you need to know to do on-site sound right?

We'll start with a brief inventory of your camcorder, which will tell us the type of microphones you can connect to and the equipment you'll need to do so. Then we'll survey the most popular types of microphones and their uses. We'll also run through several common shooting scenarios with specific recommendations for microphone setup.

Note that there are myriad options for working around your camcorder's microphone. In general, I looked at options that were the least expensive, could be operated by the camera person and easily carried with, or attached to, the camera. If you're permanently mic'ing up a room, you should consider a different range of options. But if you're assembling a kit you can afford, take on the road at a moment's notice, and adapt to your next shooting environment, you've come to the right place.

BeachTek, Shure, and Sony provided most of the equipment we tested in this article, which is why their names keep popping up in the recommended equipment list. While they're certainly not the only equipment suppliers out there, we're more comfortable recommending equipment that we've used in the testing described below and several other several other shoots than passing judgments on microphones sight unseen—or sound unheard, if you will.

Comments (2)

Joel Brondos
Said this on 9-24-2011 At 09:30 am

I'd like to tape "On Location" with my laptop. Do I HAVE to capture sound through mics attached to the camera? What about capturing sound through a portable mixer attached to the computer through USB or the miniplug mic input?

Can you recommend (or at least give specs to look for) an audio device which is battery-powered/powered by USB which can capture top quality sound in the field?



Said this on 9-24-2011 At 11:48 am
Do you mean using Adobe OnLocation?

It's easiest if you have a high quality microphone attached to the camera so you can capture high quality audio with your video.

Barring that, I would capture audio using a separate device and then sync the audio in my editor. I would use a device like this (which I haven't used, but the reviews are great).

My last choice would be capturing separate live audio via USB. You'd have to spend just as much to get good audio quality as you would for microphones for your camera, and I'm not sure how a computer would handle the separate inputs (and it could be too much for an older computer). I've had very bad luck in the past with low cost USB recording devices. If you're sold on USB recording as the optimal approach, I would try something like this (which I haven't tried).

Hope this helps.

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