In this month’s column From Photography to Filmmaking, we will take our last look at the audio side of filmmaking, something that is totally new to most photographers. In the last few articles, we have looked at the conceptual side of audio, how to think about using audio to complement your visuals, and even used one of my short films as an example of how I created the adudio for that film. Today, we will take a brief look at the techincal equipment that I am recommending for someone just starting to record audio for the video projects.
I want to start with a quick note on the microphones that are built in to your DSLR. These microphones are surprisingly good under perfect conditions, however as soon as there is even a hint of wind things start to go bad quickly. Also, the in camera microphones tend to be of fairly low quality and since they are built in to your camera, they offer zero flexibility in placement. In short, please don’t rely on your in camera microphones. If you are serious about creating videos, invest a few hundred dollars and buy yourself a good microphone.
The easiest and most inexpensive place to start is a simple microphone that is mounted on top of the camera. I strongly recommend picking up a stereo microphone and there are many available. Many manufacturers now make microphones that plug straight into the jack on your camera and away you go. I personally have a Rode Stereo Video microphone that is a couple generations old (pictured above – the new ones look a lot different) and its great for recording basic ambient audio. You can even pick up inexpensive extension cable and get the microphone off camera if you want to get it closer to your subject. This is a really great and easy place to start, particularly if you are only going to be working with wide angle scenes where you want a broad audio field and it will only cost you a couple hundred dollars ($325 for Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro with windscreen).
If you want a bit more flexibility, then we need to look at a separate audio system. The various systems made by Zoom are fairly inexpensive audio recorders with interchangeable microphones. Again, my personal device is the Zoom H6 ($400) with both a stereo XY microphone and the Mid-Side microphone. They also make a shotgun microphone module that can be switched out. The Zoom H5 is a bit cheaper ($270) with most of the same features but it only comes with the XY microphone. The Zoom devices are standalone recorders that will not only accept their own interchangeable microphones but basically any standard microphone out there. If you find you are really getting into audio recording, these recorders will work with shotguns, parabolas, omnis, and anything else with a standard XLR cable. This makes them a great choice for both the beginner and the more advanced user with a growing arsenal of microphones.
Whatever route you choose, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the device, learn how to control the gain (input volume), and spend some time experimenting with a good set of headphones so you can really hear your work. Last but not least, please buy the appropriate windscreen (sometimes called a dead cat or dead kitten) as microphones are very sensitive to wind and this will make your life much easier!