On-Camera Shotgun Microphones, A to Z
No matter what you're using to shoot video these days—a mirrorless hybrid, a DSLR, or a more traditional palm- or shoulder-mount camera—you are capturing both moving images and sound. Although more emphasis is placed on the visuals, the importance of sound should never be overlooked. There are a great number of things you can do to improve the audio quality of your video productions, and using a good on-camera shotgun microphone is one of them.
In this article, we'll take a look at several shotgun microphones that can be mounted on your camera and connected to its 1/8" (3.5mm) mic jack, or its professional XLR input (depending on which one is available on your camera of choice). Along the way, you'll learn some important tips about using shotguns properly, such as how to avoid unwanted wind and handling noise.
It needs to be noted that shotguns aren't the best choice for every situation. For example, if you're shooting a musical performance with a stationary camera, you can usually get better-sounding results using a non-directional stereo microphone, like the Senal SCS-98. More often than not, though, shotgun microphones prove to be one of the most effective on-camera tools for sound capture, which is due to their ability to reject sound to the sides and rear, and to prioritize the sound in front of the mic. (You can learn more about how shotguns work in this B&H Buying Guide).
A key thing to understand about upgrading your on-camera microphone is that it isn't a complete, all-in-one solution for better audio. Getting great sound in video productions usually involves the use of lavalier microphones, wireless systems, external audio recorders, boompoles, and scores of other tools and techniques. However, a better on-camera mic will improve the overall sonic performance of your camera, which is why most experienced production people use them.
If your main camera is compact, it's a good idea to pair it with a proportionally sized on-camera microphone. One of the most basic yet effective shotguns that fit this bill is the RØDE VideoMic GO. What's handy about this microphone is that it doesn't have any controls, knobs, or buttons. There isn't even an On/Off switch. One caveat is that it needs to be supplied "Plug-in Power" from your camera's mic input in order to operate, and not all cameras provide this (but the vast majority do). The GO has an integrated Rycote shockmount (a good shockmount is essential—it reduces unwanted vibration and handling noise), and a shoe mount to affix it to your camera. A short, coiled mini-plug output cable is included, as well as a foam windscreen but, as with any shotgun, it’s strongly advisable to purchase additional wind protection, such as the RØDE DeadCat GO or an Auray WSW-VMG Windbuster, both of which were specifically designed to fit this mic. Without the additional wind protection, any footage you shoot outdoors will likely be plagued by the winds of distraction blowing through your audio.
Another compact microphone that's just the right size for use with smaller cameras is the RØDE VideoMic Pro. Like the majority of mics covered in this article, the VideoMic Pro requires a battery for operation. Battery-powered shotgun microphones typically provide greater sonic performance and extended sensitivity. The VideoMic Pro has an interesting feature that enables you to boost its output level by +20dB. Why would you do this? The audio signal from this mic is likely cleaner sounding than the preamps built into your camera, so, by lowering your camera's input level and boosting the mic's output level, you can achieve better-quality audio.
The VideoMic Pro also features a High Pass Filter that you can turn on or off. What this does is cut out low, bass-frequency sounds below 80Hz. This is such a low frequency that you typically won’t hear any difference with it turned on or off. However, when you turn it on, it will avoid picking up super-low sounds that a subwoofer on a home entertainment system will reproduce. If these sounds originate from footsteps, bumps, or handling the camera, you won’t want to hear them in your finished product. This switch enables you to eliminate recording these sounds in the first place (which is why many shotgun mics have this feature). As always, don’t forget additional wind protection. A good option is to get the RØDE Deadcat VMP, or you can buy the mic and a Windbuster windscreen together in a kit.
There are several more good choices available, in regard to compact mics for smaller cameras. The Sennheiser MKE 400 is ultra compact, ultra lightweight, and it delivers an impressively large sound, considering its small footprint. The shockmount and shoe mount are both integrated into the mic, and it runs for 300 hours on a single AAA battery. A foam windscreen is included, but you really need to invest in the MZW400 Wind Muff accessory from Sennheiser. This is a kit that includes a mini-plug-to-XLR adapter, and a critically important fluffy windscreen.
Another option that offers similar ultra-compact size and performance, yet features a more budget-friendly price, is the Polsen VM-150. Like the MKE 400, the VM-150 runs on a single AAA battery, and like the VideoMic Pro, it features a Low Cut switch that filters out sounds below 80Hz. The VM-150 also has a switch that activates a -10dB pad. This lowers the sensitivity of the mic, so when you’re shooting in a loud environment, such as in a factory or on a construction site, it will help to keep the loud noises from overloading the mic. The recommended additional windscreen for the Polsen VM-150 is the Aurray WSW-VMP.
As mentioned earlier, portable digital recorders are often used to improve the audio quality of video productions, because they give you the ability to make recordings at higher resolutions and bit-rates than your camera is capable of doing. This brings us to a unique option in the market: the Shure VP83F LensHopper—a compact on-camera shotgun microphone that features an integrated audio recorder. An included mini-plug output cable can be detached, so you can use the VP83F on your camera, but you can also record with it independently. Files are saved to MicroSDHC, and it’s compatible with cards up to 32GB. It runs on two AA batteries for up to 10 hours. A headphone output is integrated into its base, as is a Rycote Lyre shockmount. For the all-important wind protection, you need to pick up the Shure Fur Windjammer.
If you've ever looked at a full-sized professional shotgun microphone and wondered if anyone ever took its basic design and shrunk it down to so it could be used on a camera, this is the idea behind the Senal MS-77 and MS-66. Their miniature shockmounts, output connectors, tiny windscreens and pen-sized bodies offer impressive performance and sound quality. Both microphones get 100 hours of use from small, button-style SR626SW batteries (they’re included with the MS-66, but need to be purchased separately with the MS-77). Two output cables are included with the MS-77, one is short for on-camera work, and the other is 10 feet long, for boompole work. Both mics feature the ability to boost their output level by 10 or 20 dB, so you don’t have to taint your sound with the noisy preamps in your camera, as you would with the VideoMic Pro.
As was stated earlier, some applications are better suited for stereo microphones as opposed to shotguns. But what if you were shooting footage of a bird singing in a tree, and you wanted to partially isolate the sound of the bird, while maintaining the essence of the natural left/right soundscape of the scene? This scenario calls for a stereo shotgun microphone. Audio-Technica recently announced just such a mic: the AT8024. It features the ability to switch between stereo and mono operation, depending on your needs. Another nice plus is that a fuzzy windscreen is included.
If you shoot with a camera that's slightly larger than an average DSLR, it may make sense to go with a proportionally larger on-camera microphone. A nice option for cameras that feature mini-plug microphone inputs is the RØDE VideoMic with Rycote Lyre Suspension System. This mic gets up to 100 hours of life from a single 9-volt battery. The integrated Rycote Lyre shockmount may seem like a minor aside, but any mic that features this suspension system represents a substantial benefit. These shockmounts are durable and offer excellent isolation from vibration. A recommended windscreen for this mic is the Auray Fuzzy Windbuster.
A similarly-sized microphone with a more attractive price is the Senal CS-88. It runs on a single AA battery, and offers a -10dB pad for shooting in loud environments, and a +10dB boost—giving you the ability to avoid the noisy preamps inside of your camera. A switchable High Pass filter enables you to avoid unwanted low-frequency sounds, and a built-in coiled mini-plug cable takes care of the connection to the camera. Protect your audio from distracting wind noise with the separately available Auray WSW-CS88.
Embrace the Boom
All of the mics we've covered thus far have featured 1/8" (3.5mm) outputs that are compatible with the mic inputs found on DSLRs, mirrorless, and smaller prosumer video cameras. Next, we'll check out shotguns that feature 3-pin XLR outputs. But, no matter what kind of gear you're using, we encourage you to get your mic off of the camera and closer to the sound source whenever possible. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to use a boompole and a longer mic cable.
Using an on-camera microphone will greatly improve the sound your camera captures but, the thing is, your camera is usually somewhat far away from the sounds it needs to hear. If your camera is 10 feet away from the sound you’re recording, it’s going to sound like it’s that far away—even with a good on-camera shotgun mic. This is why it’s almost always worth it to position microphones as close as possible to the sound source, whether they’re wireless lavalier mics, a shotgun on a boompole, or some other solution.
All of the microphones covered so far featured shockmounts that include a female 3/8" thread at their base. This thread enables you to connect the microphone to the top of a boompole. With the use of a simple mini-plug extension cable, such as the RØDE VC1, you can easily adapt your on-camera mic to be used on a boompole. It's also worth noting that the majority of these mini-plug shotgun microphones can be used with cameras that feature XLR inputs. You just need to outfit them with an adapter, such as the Kopul XLR to Mini Adapter.
If your camera has XLR inputs, there are advantages to using microphones with XLR outputs, as opposed to mini-plug. An XLR connection provides a dedicated ground pin, which reduces the likelihood of picking up hum when both the camera and attached mic are grounded. Grounding also facilitates longer, noise-free cable runs. Another perk is that XLR connectors often feature locks, which reduce the likelihood that your mic will become disconnected when you're rolling.
Some XLR microphones aren't more expensive than their mini-plug counterparts. The Audio-Technica AT875R, for example, offers excellent sound quality in a compact body that’s only seven inches long. Phantom power is required for operation (this is explained in the B&H Buying Guide on shotgun microphones). While the AT875 maintains a budget-friendly price, you are going to need to purchase a shockmount and an output cable to use it on a camera. And, once again, don’t forget about wind protection. A good shockmount to go with is the Auray DUSM-1, which features a shoe mount for your camera and a 3/8-inch thread for a boompole. To connect the mic’s output to your camera’s input, a good option is this 1.5 foot Kopul cable, which features a right-angled XLR connector that attaches to the back of the mic. For additional wind protection, go with an Auray WSS-2012, which is a step above just a fuzzy covering, with its open-cell foam matrix and tapered rubber base.
If you’re interested in XLR-based microphones like the AT875R, but you’re using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera that doesn’t feature XLR inputs or phantom power, you’re not out of luck. You can adapt any of the professional shotguns covered in this article to your mini-plug-based camera by using a product called a “Camcorder XLR Adapter.” These are compact boxes that attach to the base of your camera (or elsewhere on your camera rig). Their basic function is to connect to your camera’s mini-plug mic input via a short cable, enabling you to attach multiple XLR-based microphones to their integrated XLR inputs. Some of the more advanced Camcorder XLR Adapters, such as the Beachtek DXA-SLR ULTRA and the juicedLink RM222 Riggy-Micro, are powered by batteries, and can supply phantom power to mics that need it.
Of course, there are some XLR-based shotgun microphones that can be used on a camera that don’t require phantom power. The RØDE NTG-2 features the ability to be powered by either an internal AA battery or with phantom power. It features a selectable 80Hz High Pass filter and durable metal construction. Its pleasing sound quality, versatility, and affordable price tag help to make the NTG-2 a popular choice for video production. Again, you’re going to need a shockmount and a short output cable, and the same Auray DUSM-1 and 1.5 foot Kopul cable are a good way to go. Additional wind protection can be provided by the RØDE WS6, or you can pull the Auray Fuzzy Windbuster over the included foam windscreen.
The next step up from there, as far as sound quality is concerned, is the Sennheiser MKE 600. Like the NTG-2, the MKE 600 can be powered with an internal AA battery or with phantom power. A nice touch is that the MKE 600 features a low battery warning light. Another handy feature is the shockmount, with an integrated camera shoe mount, which is included. This microphone also features a switchable low-cut filter and all-metal construction. Wind protection can be provided by the separately available Sennheiser MZH 600 or the Auray WSS-2014.
If you’re the type of person who goes to great lengths to get the best-looking images you can, it’s probably a good idea to go the extra mile for your sound quality as well. A popular choice for those who want the next level of sonic performance is the RØDE NTG-3 shotgun. There is no battery option for this mic; it requires phantom power for operation. This microphone was designed to reject radio-frequency interference and can withstand exposure to the elements, but the thing to get excited about is how good your camera is going to sound. Once again, the Auray DUSM-1 and 1.5 foot Kopul cable cover your mounting and cable needs, and the Auray WSS-2018 will provide ample wind protection.
Of all of the microphones covered in this article, none of them has as legendary a reputation as the Sennhesier MKH 416. Known for its highly directive pick-up pattern and its tank-like rugged construction, the MKH 416 has been a “go-to” shotgun microphone for industry professionals for decades, and it continues to be a favorite today. This microphone also needs phantom power to operate, as there is no battery option. Mounting, output cable, and wind protection needs are covered by the Auray DUSM-1, 1.5 foot Kopul cable and Auray WSS-2018.
Hopefully, this article has given you a pretty good idea of some of the options available for improving your on-camera audio. If you have any questions about the products or techniques we covered, you can always reach out to a helpful B&H Sales Professional by calling 1-800-831-2434, having a Live Chat, or stopping by the SuperStore in New York City.