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Microphones and recording

Audio for video is usually a game of trying to keep the mic out of sight, yet still get good sound. We took a look at a number of different mic solutions, each with its own strengths and price points.

On-body mics

Up to a point, the closer a mic is to the speakers mouth, the better the sound will be. Generally, about six inches below a model's face is the target area for placement. 'Lavalier' or lapel-style mics have tiny heads and wire that is snaked under the talent's clothing to a pack. (A transmitter pack if it's a wireless unit. So yes, even 'wireless' mics have some wire.)

While a wireless system is a sexier option, it is often not needed. Especially in a studio setting, and non full body shots. Wired systems tend to offer more reliably good quality audio, no spurious radio interference, and are a lot less expensive.

Audio-Technica produce affordable lapel mics

Audio-Technica produce affordable lapel mics

I have long been a fan of Audio-Technica's line of affordable wired lapel mics that start at a street price of about $75US. After using one for many years which I bought for around $125, I was eager to try out a better unit and got to sample their Audio-Technica AT899. This unit had a very small 5mm mic which was easy to hide on an actor.

The AT899's unusually long nine-foot wire lead to the included power module that rested on the floor (no included clip). It can use 'phantom' power or a single AA battery. The bottom line: the mic offered an unusually clean and natural sound that made life easy in post. Its street price is $269US.

The RodeLink Filmmaker is a good wireless mic

The RodeLink Filmmaker is a good wireless mic

Need wireless? Rode Microphones is an Australian company that has long catered to the independent creative markets. Their latest is the RodeLink FM Wireless Filmmaker System. This 2.4GHz digital transmission system has sound quality that often belies the fact that it's wireless, automatically bouncing the signal between channels to ensure high quality up to 300 feet away.

The 'Filmmaker' includes a mic which is wired to a transmitter, and the receiver unit which has a hot-shoe for mounting right on camera, a light-stand thread, and clip for belt attachment. The receiver displays audio levels and power status, and plugs right into your camera or recorder with a 3.5mm plug. It is powered by two AAs or via a micro USB. Street price of $399US.

TIP: Need wireless on a budget?

Monoprice.com has a two-way wireless mic system for $85. Just modify your expectations, as it won't deliver the same level of audio as the mics listed above.

Monoprice's two-way system is a good way to start

Monoprice's two-way system is a good way to start

TIP: Need wireless in a pinch?

Use your Bluetooth earpiece! Yes, we've recently done this using Vxi's BlueParrott REVEAL headset, which features an extendable boom mic, and very impressive noise cancellation technology. The noise reduction is so good, that in noisy environments you might end up with a better recording from this than from a more costly pro mic. Price: $99US.

Yes, you could use a Bluetooth headset for easy wireless

Yes, you could use a Bluetooth headset for easy wireless

Off-body mics

Many times you won't be able to use an on-body microphone, this is usually the case when shooting out of the studio. But that doesn't mean you're stuck using the lousy built-in camera mic. Oh-no-no!

Boom mics are a popular alternative, especially in film production. Their naming is something of a misnomer, as the mic is usually just a directional or 'shotgun' mic attached to a long 'boom', really just a fancy pole.

The real problem with booms is that if the talent moves their head around – and they will, the boom operator will have to be very quick to follow. This isn't as easy as it sounds.

TIP: Boom in a pinch!

Any decent directional mic, gaffer-taped to a broomstick! (You might want to unscrew the dirty end of it first.)

Stick the Rode VideoMic PRO on your camera's hot shoe

Stick the Rode VideoMic PRO on your camera's hot shoe

A high quality mic mounted on-camera is a great alternative, especially on location and in quick interviews. These are called 'run and gun' set-ups, for their mobility. One of the most popular options is the VideoMic PRO from Rode, which mounts to the hot-shoe of your camera.

We put it to the test in the most difficult of situations: Doing interviews on the trade floor of the NY ComiCon – talk about a noisy environment! Yet, when we kept this shotgun mic within a reasonable distance of the subject, voices were clear and easy to hear over the background. Street price of $240US for the version with Rycote suspension, three-position input level control and 70 hours of battery (we didn't test this!).

TIP: Mics driving you loopy?

On many shoots audio is left as an afterthought. This is bad-bad-bad, but it happens. Remember that when all else fails, you can do what is called 'looping' the speech later in post. Granted, it's hard to do well, even for major films that have had some questionably looped audio.

Next page: cameras and video recording