Choosing microphones for improved sound quality

Blogger Sam Mallory offers four main pointers to choosing and using microphones in your video recordings

Image of Sam Mallory holding microphone
Sam Mallory offers some tips on using microphones in your video recordings

The limitations of a video camera’s built-in microphone

It’s not uncommon for beginners to rely on the low-quality built-in microphones that come with their video cameras and camcorders when recording conversations. Although these stereo microphones are designed to provide a good audio representation of the kind of sounds you’ll when on vacation, in and around the home, at parties or in the countryside, they’re not best suited to the recording of conversations – even when the camera is being operated in a quiet room and only a relatively short distance from the person talking.

As we have already briefly discussed in our feature on choosing Technology, you’re strongly advised to consider the inclusion of a decent external microphone when putting together your first basic video kit.

Remember the golden rule of sound recording for video and film: You can get away with average quality pictures as long as the sound is perfect, but you’ll never get away with perfect pictures and average sound quality.

There are several different types microphone, and this will probably be somewhat confusing to you. The short of it is that by depending upon the camera’s built-in microphone, your resulting audio quality will rely upon the camcorder being close to the source of the sound. If the camera is more than a couple of feet away from the speaker (which it probably will be) then so will the microphone, and that’s not good for your sound. Any sound pickup device (whether onboard the camera or separate and on the end of a cable which is plugged into the camera or camcorder) really has to be no more than 18 inches from the person’s mouth. Anything more and the clarity and resonance will drop out dramatically.

Understanding the different types of microphone available to you

Our basic advice is always this: select mirophones carefully and buy the best you can afford. And don’t forget the means by which the microphone is to be connected to the camera’s microphone input too; will you need to buy a special adaptor cable to give you the required input? Many video cameras and camcorders have smaller 3.5mm minijack inputs and outputs, whereas a higher-quality microphone will probably have what are called 3-pin XLR or Cannon connectors. These provide better resistance to RF (radio frequency) interference and AC mains electricity hum, especially over longer cable lengths. If you are presented with this problem don’t worry – a low-cost adaptor cable will provide an effective solution.

Meanwhile, by way of an introduction, here’s a useful video in which video blogger Sam Mallery’s website offers some tips on how to capture great sound for your video recordings.

On the same subject, but with a slightly different emphasis on recording good audio for video blogging using a Canon D-SLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, here’s another YouTube video on how to get good audio when shooting video on a budget. It places particular emphasis on the use of wireless transmitter microphones as well as recording separately with a Zoom H4 portable digital recorder, but for the oral historian the principles are closely related.

About Colin 6 Articles
Creator of video-based content since 1970s - shooting and editing video, writing books and articles about it, training others to do it and all that. Experienced in the use of video in social and community settings.