Why and When to Use a Stereo Mic on a Camera

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A typical human being sees the world through two eyes, smells the world through two nostrils, and hears the world through two ears. Why we only have one mouth is a mystery, but it likely has something to do with noise pollution. Since we hear the world through two separate ears, recording audio in stereo for video work seems like a natural choice, but it isn’t always the best choice. Even so, there are many situations where using a stereo mic on a camera yields really nice results. In this article I’ll tell you about the times when you should use a stereo mic on a video camera, and make it clear when you should use a different kind of microphone. Plus I’ll share some mission critical tips for getting good sound when shooting outdoors.

First of all, let’s just clear up one common misconception about “stereo” sound. People have a tendency to associate stereo with “good,” and mono with “bad.” This is absolutely not the case. Stereo simply means two, and mono means one. In stereo audio you have two tracks (which are usually referred to as left and right). With mono audio, you only have a single track. What makes a recording good or bad relies entirely on what and how something was recorded.


 
The Audio Technica Pro-24CM, with a Windtech MM1 softie, on the 5D MK II
 

Now I must make a distinction between professional and consumer microphones. Professional video cameras will often feature two XLR microphone inputs. Consumer video cameras typically only have a single 1/8” (3.5mm) mini-plug microphone input. Some cameras don’t have any microphone input at all. The focus of this article is going to be on consumer microphones for video-enabled DSLR cameras, and consumer cameras with 1/8” mini-plug inputs. The next article in this series will focus on professional stereo microphones that connect with XLR jacks.

 If you’re looking to add an external microphone to your camera, the first thing you need to do is to determine if your camera features a microphone input or not. Locating the microphone input on your camera isn’t always obvious. Sometimes the input is hidden behind little doors. Mini-plug microphone inputs are also sometimes circled in red to make them easier to find. The graphic below will give you an idea of what to look for.

 

 
 

If you have a Sony video camera that doesn’t appear to have a microphone input, there still may be hope. Some Sony cameras have what’s called an “Active Interface Hot Shoe.” If your camera has one of these, you can add an external stereo microphone by using the Pearstone Microphone Adapter for Sony Camcorder Hot Shoe. This little adapter slides into your active camera shoe and gives you an 1/8” mini-plug microphone input. Another shoe mount is on top so you can mount the external mic.


 

The difference between a stereo recording and a mono recording is not at all analogous to the difference between a monochromatic and a polychromatic image.  A stereo recording creates more of a sense of place; it creates a listening environment, rather than just something to listen to. That’s why using a stereo microphone is important when you’re recording live musicians. The best live music recordings make you feel like you were there. Not only at the show, but that you were the musician on stage performing the music. This is a difficult thing to pull off using any kind of audio equipment, but it’s a good goal to reach for as an ideal.
 

Every time you use a microphone, you need to be mindful of where it’s placed. This rule is critical even when you’re making a simple telephone call. If you wave the handset of the phone away from your mouth, the other person won’t hear you. Again, if we had two mouths, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. But I digress. If you’re recording live music, the sound of the recording will change if the camera is moving around. The trick is to find the sweet spot in the room where the music sounds the best. Put the camera with the external stereo microphone in that spot on a tripod and leave it there. If you want more coverage for B roll, use a second camera and shoot anything your cinematographer’s heart desires.
 

If you’re the outdoorsy type, an external stereo microphone is definitely something to consider. It’s really hard to capture what if feels like to be in a beautiful valley beside a mountain when you’re shooting video on a camera. Anything you can do to enhance nature’s presence in your video footage is worth a try. A stereo mic will let you hear which direction a bird’s song is coming from. The stomping of leaves in the underbrush from an unseen animal will be more life-like. The wind sweeping through the valley will come alive. But the wind will also ruin the sound if the microphone if it’s not protected with a windscreen.
 

Most microphones come with a foam windscreen to help protect your audio from distorting. Unfortunately, these foam windscreens only help you so much. If you’re outdoors, and it doesn’t matter if you’re exploring the hills of Zuni New Mexico or shooting your dog doing a trick in the backyard, gusts of wind will always distort your audio. The trick is to use the included foam windscreen, and to use a second “softie” windscreen on top of it. After a little experimentation, I discovered that the Windtech MM1 fit over most compact stereo microphones. I didn’t have the resources to try to squeeze the MM1 over the foam of all of the mics, but it can work.

 

 

The MM1 fits on the Pro-24CM, Sony 907, and many more
 

Another useful application for using an external stereo microphone on a camera is for weddings. If you’ve ever shot home video of a wedding, you may have been disappointed with the audio you captured if you only used the built-in mics on the camera. Simply using an external stereo mic will help you out a lot. Most of these mics are not directional, so if you’re at a wedding reception and you’re moving all around capturing all of the fun stuff going on, the audio will be cleaner and more balanced.
 

When it comes to recording clean dialog, stereo mics are not the best choice. If Uncle Fred is speaking to the camera at the wedding reception and he’s six feet away from the camera, you would do better with a small shotgun mic like the Sennheiser MKE400. However, if you’re roving the floor of the reception and the DJ’s speakers (or the live band) are set up on one side of the room, using a shotgun microphone will capture really unbalanced sounding audio. That’s why for basic wedding videography, a good external stereo mic is often the better all-around choice.
 

My advice is that if you find an external microphone input on your camera, you should use it. People put a lot of effort into picking out the camera with the best image quality they can get, why not do the same for your audio? Right now I’m in a cubicle in an office building in New York City, but I’d rather be exploring the hills in Northwestern New Mexico with a Canon 5D Mk II and an Audio Technica Pro-24CM with a Windtech MM1 softie. It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  
 

Here are a few camera mountable stereo mics:

Audio Technica Pro-24CM

 


 

The Audio Technica Pro-24CM works really well with video-enabled DSLR cameras, and the Windtech MM1 makes it possible to shoot video with good sound anywhere.


The R0DE Stereo VideoMic
 


 

The Stereo VideoMic includes a softie windscreen for shooting outdoors.


Azden SMX-10

 

 
 

The SMX-10 is another low-cost way to improve the sound of the audio in your camera.


Audio Technica ATR6250


I didn’t have a chance to test out the ATR6250, so I cannot comment on its performance. But, it does come with a large assortment of accessories.
 

Thanks for reading this B&H Newsletter article! If you have any questions about stereo microphones, shotgun microphones, camcorders, or audio for video-enabled DSLR cameras, please don't hesitate to contact us via live chat on our website, on the phone at 1-800-814-2999, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.

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IMHO you use a VIDEO camera to shoot video, and a STILL camera to take still photos.  Just because some of the new cameras can shoot video, doesn't make the video good.  A professional will always use the right equipment.  In an emergency you'll use whatever you have in hand, but buying external microphones to shoot video with a still camera is a mistake.

If you want great audio, use a high quality (expensive) wireless mic/receiver into a high quality video camera. 

Before you mount any microphone onto the body of a camera that has a motor in it, be certain to test to see if the sound of the motor is transmitted through the body into the microphone.  This motor noise will then be superimposed on your audio recording.  Record some 'silence' and play it back.  If you can hear the motor, however faintly, you will need to mount the microphone remotely from the camera.  Better still, look at the recorded audio in an audio editing program like Audacity to see how much noise is coupling.

This article seems to be directed toward DSLR only when video on a DLSR enabled camera is not always the best quality.  I like the idea of a stereo mic, but also, will sound quality be greatly improved in conjunction with the Canon Vixia 100.  Also, if it is mounted  on the "shoe", what about any light needed that gets mounted in that shoe?  Thanks-Bob Martino 

Why you use Stereo Mic for Camera EOS i/o flash.  This is SDR camera and not Video Camera...is it some new feature for EOS?

For some reason I answered the comments in reverse order...

Bob - The Canon Vixia camera's do indeed have an external microphone input. However, it appears that they have a  mini-sized mounting shoe. In this case, I would recommend using a Bescor VB-50:

The VB-50 mounts to the base of the camera, and gives you two standard sized shoes off to the side, for a microphone and a light or other accessory.

AZJohnB - Motor noise is an excellent point. Thanks for bringing it up! Of the stereo mics mentioned in this article, only the last one (the Audio Technica ATR6250) doesn't include a shockmount. An excellent shockmount for this (and many other mics) is the Pearstone DUSM-1:

And lastly, Fred - I hear what you're saying, but I disagree. I plan on buying a video-enabled DSLR this year. I live in New York City, but I have lots of family in New Mexico, and I try to get out to visit them every year. As you may know, the light for photographers in New Mexico is amazing. I want to bring my video-enabled DSLR there this year and shoot lots of pictures. But if inspiration strikes, I also want to shoot some HD video. When that happens, I don't want my picture to be 1080p HD, and my audio to be a useless mess. That's why I would buy an external stereo mic for it, and make sure I have a softie to help fight wind noise. That dessert wind can whip up out of nowhere.

Thanks for your feedback everybody!

Gents..... Perhaps you haven't seen the HD Video coming off these Big CHIP DSLR's.  With High End Glass- Proper Exposure and stable mount, the imagery is spectacular.

At NAB last month these friggin HD DSLR's were all over the place.  And all kinds of mount/grip companies are making every imaginable accessory.  Grip/Stabilization/Steadi-cam style/Follow focus/Mic Mounts and Matte Boxes for the DSLR's.  Hi End DP's are shooting projects with these HD Capable DSLR's. And I would liken the industry buzz akin to the early iPhone hype!

Me?  I don't get it.  Maybe I've been passed by.

I walked up to a couple of gray  haired  observers with perplexed expressions at one of the NAB DSLR demos and said, "Did you guys think you'd work in this business long enough to see HD coming out of a DSLR?!?!?!  " They both burst out laughing and said, "NO!"

So what seems strange to me an you.... is the new normal!!!  Besides, at least audio isn't an afterthought!

Cheers,

Most DSLR cinematographers recommend recording the audio completely independently of the camera. DSLR cameras compress the video file and any included audio tremendously, and your audio file will suffer from any such compression, if recorded through the DSLR audio inputs. Keep them separate, for the best audio to complement your 1080p HD video. You'll have to synch them up later during editing, but if you use a clapper at the beginning of your video, you can synch up the clap audio spike with the visual closing of the clapper on the video.

I'm glad this article was focused on DSLRs that take video.  I could almost assume the release of the Canon T2i (and 7D) prompted this article, as they both take excellent big hd progressive video.  I was just looking for an external mic for my new T2i and this article answered many of my questions. Thanks.  To those who imply this article is not worthwhile because a DSLR cannot take good video, that's just a lame assertion.  Forward thinkers understand this as "evolution and disruption".

 all good- understand all this- but what about the ZOOM H4 N? Great bit of kit! :)

whatis the cost of the pro-24 cm and can it used on the  Leica D-lux4

Timely article for me. I just puchased a D5 MarkII. When I recorded video using the built-in mic I was very disappointed. It appeared that something was defective with the camera. There was a constant background noise from the camera body itself picked up on the videos. I tried shooting in a very quite room and the noise was still present. I talked to tech support at B&H and they recommended I return the camera for a replacement.

After the replacement 5D arrived I discovered that it too had almost the same backgound noise. After turning off AF and IS the noise diminished, but was still noticeable. I don't hear the same camera noise on my 7D videos using the same lens nor on point and shoot camera videos.

My next step is to try an external mic to see if that corrects the problem. The owners manual for the 5D mentions that there will be some camera noise picked-up by the built-in mic.

Are all 5D's like this?

 I own a Panasonic GH1 DSLR that I specifically bought because of it is optimized for HD video in addition to it's great still capabilities. In particular, the stock 14-140 zoom lens is dead quiet when auto-focusing unlike many other lens that whine and create sound that can be picked up by the mike. 

I use a Rode VideoMic (mono) which provides excellent input at the distances that I am often working at, 8-20 feet. For anyone considering the Rode VideoMic vs. the Rode Stereo VideoMic, please note that there is a large difference between the two. The reviews of the Stereo VideoMic consistently point to it's much shorter optimal range (4-6 feet) and it's overall lower performance versus the mono version. Rode makes great equipment and I may yet buy the stereo version for close work but there are really very different mikes with different pickup patterns.

 By the way, the last episode of "HOUSE" was shot with a Canon 5D MII

The main issue with recording audio on the Canon DSLR's is an ill-concieved Auto Gain Control feature that you can't disable. (Actually I think the newest 5d firmware allows this to be turned off.  But not on my 7d.)  Quailty loss from compression is not really a factor.  AGC basically constantly changes the recording gain..so the end result is that ambient noise levels rise and fall..which is terrible..and something that the best mics won't fix.  The best solution: get a good mic like the author suggests...but also get a portable audio recorder.  With todays editors like Premiere ofFinal Cut, syncing the audio and video is simple.

Thanks for a great discussion and many useful links.

I shoot very simple head shot videos and then insert myself and the talent into a virtual set using Ultra2. The idea of shooting the short takes you seem to get with DSLRs in HD would work for me.

Sample video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIOkqDuQd8w

I have always liked to use a wired lavalier because I'm shooting in noisy locations and my talent is usually people who have never been on camera before. (Wireless works less well because of radio interference.) I have to do a lot of coaching and spend 30 minutes to get 30 seconds usuable quotes for news style video.

Being able to carry something on a plane the size of my Nikon that has the lense capability, and the still capability, and good audio and HD video... that's an appealing combination. I'm on the verge of switching to HD and researching whether a DSLR with video would work.

This column addressed one of my main concerns, audio.

Thanks

www.youtube.com/watch

I dont see it working, but any idea if it will rig up to a Nikon D90?

Further research turns up a possible solution for my situation. Looks like theNikon 300S has an audio jack and will shoot up to 5 minutes of HD video at a pop. Seems also to have auto focus.

Any thoughts or comments welcome.

If you are using a 5D Mark II can you set it up in one location to shoot around 3 hours of video, storage wise and power wise?

That helps a lot, thanks

Thanks for an excellent article and discussion.  I just placed an order for the Audio Technica Pro-24CM for my Canon 5D per your recommendation.  I'm especially excited to get it before my upcoming cruise.  So far, I have been deleting the audio in similar outdoor situations because of the wind noise.  Just wanted you to know that all of us old fogies are not so far behind the curve.  I have been shooting SLR for over 50 years, and moved to DSLR as soon as it was available.  Video is new, but an exciting challenge.

I almost always record audio-for-video using my various mics recorded onto a portable field recorder, and allow the camera mics to pick up whatever they can. Although I have increased my workload, I also have 4 good audio tracks to choose from, plus insurance that if my field recorder audio fails for any reason (battery dead, SD card full, whatever), I still have some audio to work with. While it is detrimental to have anything go wrong with my field recording, it is catastrophic to have no audio at all. This can easily happen if you are not actively monitoring the audio going into your camera and, for example, the mic battery dies on you. On the bright side, my field recording is almost always superior to the camera audio, and it is always what I use in the final mix. Then again, it is sometimes nice to mix in a little camera audio to give the stereo, environmental sound that this article mentions.

 Thanks, Sam, for another excellent article.   For me, your articles are the starting point to get more information and to be able to ask the right questions to increase the production value of our in-house video.  Thanks and please keep writing.

 good..............................

As a professional camera operator with credits in national television shows. I personally think that what u get out of the canon 5d markII for still images and especially video is trully amazing for what it is. So Fred maybe u should try it out. Its the ****** to film for the price. And also i dont think that pro's in the field wouldnt be using it on music videos and comercials , and indy shorts if it wasnt truly for a 1080p image a real close look to film. Also the whole finale of this years House on Fox was shot exclusively with this camera. Also to add to that all the digital shorts on SNL are shot with The 7d and the 5d markII. So give it another try, Maybe u will be amazed!

Although i would still use wireless mics or **** to trancievers and hve a audio mixer their for full quality.

http://www.zacuto.com/robert-rodriguez-canon-7d-zacuto

That link is world famous Robert Rodriquez shooting and directing a musc video with the 7d

http://www.engadget.com/2010/04/13/canon-5d-mark-ii-used-to-shoot-entire...

Season finale articel about Fox's House and the canon 5d markII

http://www.dv.com/article/90754

SNL article about the use of the cameras

Alright buddy here are some links. I dont lie! Check it out.

Personally I really want to get a 5dmrkII for photography and to shooot shorts on it over my Sony z7u

Without getting into the back and forth about a camera that is called a stills camera should be only used for stills, as a long time filmmaker (remember sprocket holes?) my new 7D presents exciting possibilites for experimenting. I am accustomed to double system filming. I would want to use a separate digital recorder to pick up sound. In order to work alone, I would want someone to make a black box or else an iphone app that would work as a clapper so I would not need an assistant on set. Anyone know of such a solution? The workflow is so new that may not yet be available. But someone else will also think of this soon, I am sure.

Any recommendations for shooting local concert videos.  I'm affraid of the sound over driving the microphones.  Suggestions please!

For those of you who can't figure out how this all works - first, the camera company, in this case Canon, walks into someone's office and plunks down a pile of cash and says - 'this is all yours if you shoot your last episode with this camera (pulls out latest toy and places it on the table).
  Next - because greed is the driving force in this nation - the episode is scheduled to be shot on that new camera. Then - the news/publicity is 'leaked' to the general population about it.
  Soon enough - everyone wants to do it - not because they want to - but more because they are afraid to not do it. Not doing it - or for that matter - doing something else that doesn't require that a giant pile of cash be placed upon the table would seem 'wrong'.

You can't go against the flow - you can't be an individual - you MUST be on the cutting (bleeding) edge of technology with all the other lemmings or you are lost.

Can it be done - surely, if you can land a rocket ship in the desert after it's been up in space for a week - a TV show shot with a K1000 would be possible if you try hard enough.
The question is - what do any of us really get from all of this mental gyration? Is this new and improved method of making a TV show better? Hardly - and quite frankly, it seems to be more about getting the masses to pretend they're going to be the next Bruckheimer or Speilberg than it is about making art.
 
  What I don't get is - if all of this new stuff makes a product that is is so 'close to film' - why not just shoot film? 
Oh - I'm sorry. That would make sense. There isn't a big cash payoff tied to a venture like that.  Never mind. 

Hi Guys,

Thanks for all the usefull comments. I have just purchased a Nikon 3Ds. Being a dedicated photographer for the past 40 years, the possibility of also shooting HD Video is exciting. Can anyone comment on the Video capability of the Nikon 3Ds?

Good article.

Anyone using a DSLR for video with a good mic, and has any notion of what they are doing, knows that you won't get any motor noise from the lenses, as you would have your lens set on Manual focus and manual zoom, if you have a lens capable of manual zoom.

 Olá, gostaria de receber informações, sobre tudo que envolva a 5D Mark II, grips, audio, suportes para uso da máquina, as novidades que a B&H está vendendo.

Obrigada e segue meu e-mail.

Heh, I feel sorry for poor Fred, he must be feeling humiliated as heck after embarrassing himself like that! LOL! 

I just got my new 7D, and will be putting it through its video paces soon. It's like buying a great still camera and getting an HD vidcam for free. I now can keep the $8K I might have spent on a decent tapeless 1080P in the bank! I can also shelve my good ol' XL1 (SD camcorder) and only use it when shooting a longform project like meetings and conferences where 1 hour+ uninterrupted footage is required and HD is not. Thank you Canon!

The one thing I've been amazed about this whole DSLR revolution is the BACKWARD evolution to double system sound. 

Sure that's the norm on film shoots, and often time video shoots will roll back up in addition to sending a feed to the video camera, but it's with the advantage of SMPTE TC sync !! 

Now it seems like we're back to the days of the clapper. If you've never tried to sync a whole set of dalies before, get prepared for a time-suck. Without TC sync you're going to spend hours and hours on double system clapper syncing. Yes, you can get a Timecode Slate with a top-end audio recording deck, but that's not an option on the Zoom H4 which everybody seems to be recommending.

I guess the next breakthrough will be somebody creating a low-end recorder with SMPTE TC output so we can drive TC slates again. Last I checked, you're looking about $4500 in sound hardware to do TC slating. 

www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/406889-REG/Denecke_TS_C_TS_C_Compact_Time_Code.html

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/429564-REG/Sound_Devices_702T_702T_High_Resolution_Compact.html

  Sam - thanks for your additional feedback on the Rode Mics. I also have a separate DSLR Video related question for you:

One of the big obvious differences between a camcorder and a DSLR for video is the power zoom on the camcorder. I use the zoom on my Lumix GH1 infrequently, but when shooting a single camera setup it's useful and necessary sometimes. Do you have suggestions or recommendations for getting the smoothest possible manual zoom on a DSLR? I've looked at some of the RedRock follow focus rigs and assumed that they could be used for zoom as well as follow focus, but they aren't cheap. Thoughts?

It's curious that "bleeding edge" technology should bring on such wrath from "early adopters" toward those who still prefer MOR (middle of the road) tech. Fred Harms is simply stating that for some jobs, one ***** the proper tools, and although the promise is certainly there, the quality may not yet be truly "professional" in the best sense of the term. Perhaps it comes from the fact that hard earned cash and reputations have been heavily invested in this technology, and there's a certain unease about folks questioning its overall performance.

Among things not discussed in these comments are the fact that film is still a superior medium to video, with much better dynamic range and light sensitivities.

Also, although the medium of HD is certainly here to stay, no one has discussed the gamma color shifts imposed through SMPTE between SD and HD video. Do these DSLRs conform to the gamma light and color palette shifts which become very apparent on well calibrated HD video systems (e.g. calibrated per Joe Kane's or Sarnoff's tools)? And how do these systems handle color saturation? 

Although I'm not familiar with the DSLR technology, if they are using a single light sensor, then they're already at a disadvantage from 3 chip video cameras when it comes to color accuracy and light sensitivities. Try getting good color balance on a skating rink between the white ice and colorful costumes on the skaters, especially in the bright primary colors of red or green against the potent white ice background!

One may produce a "nice", "brief" video clip with this equipment, and indeed, someday we may have such gear as "standard" equipment in professional applications, but the question remains, do they produce reliable, accurate, and professional quality 4:2:2 digital video as currently used in professional systems? Is the image really, really up to the ultimate video standards now used in the industry, along with the flexibility to implement high quality audio with at least 96dB dynamic range and a noise floor to match?

If it's really that good, and that cheap, then the pro's would be ******** to it from all corners of the industry. But I still see most ENG crews with humongous Sony, Ikegama, JVC, or Panasonic $100,000 cameras over their shoulders, and kilobuck audio systems to handle "on the street" interviews. If you want it right the first time (cause it's the only chance you might get!), then the tried, reliable systems are what you use. Bleeding edge, next generation technology will arrive, but it must first prove itself in all manner of professional situations... assuming the right tool is selected for the job at hand.

I'm not disputing the marvel of this compact technology. I'm just raising the question of true technical capabilities in matching or exceeding requirements specified by the industry through the likes of SMPTE, NAB, etc.

My intuition tells me that although a remarkable achievement, these DSLRs probably fall short in many areas for accurate, high quality, professional video in a number of applications. They'll get better, and possibly even mainstream within the next decade, but dedicated systems generally function better that "one size fits all".

Just my well-worn observations, subject to change based on bench-top testing and side-by-side equipment comparisons against currently implemented standards.

Sam,

What are the websites of Windtech and Sennheiser?

Sam:

What are the websites for RØDE and Windtech?

Here's a video mic question that's challenging me:

Usage: 10-20 person choir in medium sized auditorium or church.

Camera: Canon HD HF-100 (sorry to HDSLR fans, I'm still using Nikon D70 and get great shots but will upgrade when HDSLR video capacity increases)

1.  Will an external hot shoe mounted stereo mic still work well if I'm panning the choir or do I need to use a separate mic on a stand with a long cord to avoid changing the sound image due to a moving mic?

2.  If I am 15-20 feet away from the choir, will the external mount stereo mic pick up enough or does it need to be setup separately on a stand around 10 feet from the choir?

3.  If I have to be 50 feet away due to video ***** or other limitations, should I use a wireless stereo mic setup ( is there such a thing?) closer in?

thank you!