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.