Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Hi-Tech Studio: Mics For DSLR Rigs
Add an auxiliary microphone to your setup, and you’ll see the difference good sound makes
While many DSLRs are capable of amazing video quality, the audio side of any DSLR system pales in comparison. Much of this stems from the onboard microphones fitted into DSLRs, which tend to be low-quality, mono (single-channel) transducers. These built-in microphone elements are susceptible to picking up handling and camera operation noises, and to make matters worse, they're typically placed on the camera's front surface, where the user's hands may block sounds from entering the mic while zooming or focusing, resulting in indistinct, muffled audio.
The simplest, easiest path to better audio is adding an external microphone to your DSLR rig. However, there are literally thousands of mics to choose from, in prices ranging from $15 to $15,000, and the best choice for a microphone in a recording studio or high-end movie set may be a poor choice for the DSLR user. Let's examine some affordable models that offer a good balance of versatility, convenience and respectable performance—without breaking the bank. And assuming you'll be working alone, without a boom operator, we'll limit our selections to models that include hardware for attaching directly onto your DSLR accessory shoe and have 1⁄8-inch (3.5mm) mini-jack terminations that plug into your camera. Note that all the models covered here are electret condenser designs, which require some sort of powering source—operating from an internal battery or via the 5-volt DC "plug-in power" supplied by some DSLRs and consumer camcorders. So given those criteria, let's look at some of your options.
The Stereo Approach
For most applications, a stereo microphone offers the best solution, especially in situations where the sonic ambience is important, such as capturing music events, theater performances, documentary work, and outdoor and nature sounds, etc. Most models use an X/Y stereo configuration, where the two cardioid directional microphone capsules are coincident (placed close to each other), but cross at an angle from 90 to 130 degrees, providing good stereo separation with a well-balanced image.
The Audio-Technica Pro-24CM (www.audio-technica.com) puts two mic elements in a five-inch housing with a 12-inch coiled cable and a choice of internal battery (LR44 button cell) or plug-in powering. The accessory shoe mount swivels for height adjustment. The mic is also available as the Pro-24, a similar model with a six-foot cable that's designed for handheld or stand use. Estimated Street Price: $89 (with mount and foam windscreen).
The Azden SMX-20 DSLR Stereo Microphone (www.azdencorp.com) is less than five inches in length, weighs less than three ounces and provides 150 hours of operation from a single LR44 button cell. Estimated Street Price: $149 (with battery, foam windscreen and shoe mount with integral shock suspension).
The Nikon ME-1 (www.nikonusa.com) was designed for use with Nikon DSLRs (such as the D7000 and D5100), but operates with any camera that has a standard-sized accessory shoe mount and supplies plug-in power, as it has no provision for battery powering. The ME-1 features a gold-plated, 1⁄8-inch output plug and a low-cut filter switch that can reduce low-frequency noise such as wind, rumble or vibration. Estimated Street Price: $139 (with foam windscreen).
Announced at press time, the RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro (www.rodemic.com) is a two-channel adaptation of the company's popular on-camera mic. It has an integrated shock-mounting system and rear-panel switches for power, a 75 Hz low-cut filter and output sensitivity. Settings on the latter include a -10 dB pad that reduces the mic's sensitivity (for undistorted recording of loud sources such as concerts or sports events) and a +20 dB boost. The latter increases the mic's signal when used with the lower-quality audio electronics found in DSLRs for cleaner recordings and a reduced noise floor. A 9-volt battery provides 100 hours of operation. Estimated Street Price: $299 (with integrated foam windscreen).
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