Shotgun Microphones for HDSLR Cameras

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Okay. You’re out shooting an event or an interview. You have your HDSLR camera and your fast zoom or prime lenses, and your footage is looking great. When you get home, you import the footage into your editing software and, to your dismay, you discover that the sound quality is significantly lacking. Sound familiar? No matter how good your footage looks, bad sound can ruin a project. As HDSLR cameras continue to grow in popularity and video features, the sad truth is that their built-in microphones are not a good option for recording professional-quality audio. This is where compact, on-camera shotgun microphones can save the day.

Shotgun microphones are highly directional and designed to diminish sensitivity along the sides and rear of the microphone, reducing unwanted noise while capturing your subject with more clarity. This is one of the reasons shotgun microphones are a staple of the television and film industry. When used with an HDSLR, they provide a great and simple way to improve the quality of your audio. This article highlights the features and benefits of some of the options available on the market today.

On-camera shotgun microphones offer an uncomplicated way to capture audio from subjects in front of the camera. All the models mentioned in this article share some basic characteristics: they all have camera shoes for attaching to the hot-shoe mount on the top of your camera, foam windscreens for reducing the effects of sound, and cables for plugging the microphone into the 3.5mm audio input jack on your camera. They all also offer integrated shockmounts to help isolate the microphone from vibrations caused when operating the camera. With these similarities in mind, let’s go ahead and take a look at our first model.

The original RØDE VideoMic continues to be one of the most popular on-camera shotgun microphones available, and provides a significant increase in sound quality from the built-in mic on your HDLSR. An update has given the microphone a structural facelift. The new RØDE VideoMic incorporates a Rycote Lyre Suspension System (it takes its name from the ancient Greek musical instrument that the mount resembles), which is a non-elastic shockmount structure composed of durable thermoplastic, rather than the common elastic-band approach. Not only is it more effective at reducing unwanted vibrations, it also won’t sag, snap, or require rethreading.

The new RØDE VideoMic delivers the same high-quality audio as the original model, while repositioning the buttons for a more user-friendly design. The microphone features selectable 10 or 20 db pads, which cut the microphone’s sensitivity down when capturing audio in loud environments. It also features a high-pass filter, which helps eliminate unwanted room ambiance and low-frequency hum below 80 Hz. The microphone is powered by a standard 9V battery, which provides approximately 100 hours of operation. While the VideoMic is still compact compared to traditional shotgun microphones, it is the largest of the models discussed in this article, at almost 9” long, and one of the heaviest, at 6.21 oz.

Due to its broadcast-quality condenser microphone and associated preamplifier, the RØDE VideoMic Pro offers better audio quality than the VideoMic. It provides three-way level control in -10 dB, 0 dB, and +20 dB steps, allowing you to set the perfect level for the environment in which you’re shooting and the device to which you are attached. Like the VideoMic, is also has a high-pass filter for eliminating frequencies below 80 Hz, and is powered by a single 9V battery, providing up to 70 hours of use.

Besides the improved audio quality, the VideoMic Pro is almost 3” shorter than the VideoMic, and less than half the weight, at only 3 oz. The VideoMic Pro utilizes a more traditional elastic-band shockmount, rather than the Rycote Lyre system used by the VideoMic, but it is still effective at minimizing handling vibrations. For those looking for a compact and professional-quality microphone for their HDSLR, the RØDE VideoMic Pro is a great option.

The new VideoMic GO is RØDE’s lightest on-camera shotgun microphone yet. At only 2.6 ounces, the microphone doesn’t add much extra weight to your camera at all, making it ideal for everyday purposes, run-and-gun shooting, and travel. It also makes a great companion to smaller mirrorless cameras. The VideoMic Go inherits the Rycote Lyre shockmount found on the updated VideoMic, providing the same superior acoustic suspension and isolation from bumps and vibration. One of the great features of the microphone is that it doesn’t require any batteries to operate, instead running on 2.5V of plug-in power from your camera’s 3.5mm audio input jack.

While it doesn’t provide the level controls, high-pass filter, or sound quality that the VideoMic Pro does, the lightweight design and battery-free operation of the VideoMic GO make it a simple and portable option for improving sound on your HDSLR. It is a microphone that you can always have in your camera bag, ready to "go" when needed.

Another ultra-lightweight option is the Sennheiser MKE 400. Weighing only 2.1 ounces, the MKE 400 features an all-metal frame for added durability, and has an integrated shockmount. While it doesn’t utilize a Rycote Lyre suspension system like the VideoMic GO, it does add switchable sensitivity settings, letting you adjust sensitivity to capture clear and detailed audio from long or short distances. The microphone is powered using a single AAA battery, providing an impressive 300 hours of operation. Because AAA batteries are readily available, it is easy to keep a few spares in your bag, just in case.

For those looking for the lightest microphone without sacrificing quality or features, then the Senal MS-66-K could be the microphone for you. About the same size as a pen, it features a 6”, 1.4-ounce condenser mic, an elastic-band shockmount, and it gives you approximately 100 hours of continuous use, requiring only two 1.55V button batteries. The MS-66-K offers high SPL handling of up to 124 dB, and three-stage gain control adjustments for capturing audio from both loud and quiet sources. Its three-stage gain control provides 0 dB, 10 dB, and 20 dB of additional gain, which increases sensitivity and helps to reduce the effects of the noisy preamps common in many HDSLR cameras. The microphone’s slim profile allows for fast and easy access to all controls, and the shoe mount can be tilted, giving you the ability to adjust the angle of the microphone as needed.

With the VP83 and VP83F LensHopper microphones, Shure offers their own on-camera shotgun mic options. Like the Sennheiser MKE 400, the VP83 LensHopper features an all-metal body and positions it in a Rycote Lyre shockmount. Conveniently located on the back of the microphone, you’ll find a three-position gain adjustment switch, which offers 0 dB, +20 dB, or -10 dB settings. A second three-way switch turns the mic on, off, or engages the low-cut filter. The microphone gets up to 130 hours of use on a single AA battery. At 4.7 ounces, the VP83 weighs more than the lightest options, but is lighter than the updated RØDE VideoMic. The integrated camera shoe on the VP83 also offers a ¼”-20 threaded hole for mounting the microphone on standard tripod quick-release plates.

While on-camera microphones provide a way to get around the poor quality of the built-in microphone on your camera, they still are forced to use in-camera preamps. Dedicated portable audio recorders have better preamps and converters than HDSLR cameras, and record high-quality audio files. Obtaining good sound also often means getting your microphone as close to your subject as possible, and when the mic is mounted on your camera, this isn’t always possible. For more insight into HDSLR audio options and external recorders, please check out our article about DSLR audio options.

With that in mind, the VP83F LensHopper expands upon the feature set of the VP83 by adding a built-in recorder. The first microphone in its class to offer an integrated recorder, the VP83F gives you the option to bypass the lower-quality preamps of your HDSLR camera, and instead record high-quality 24-bit/48 kHz WAV audio files directly to microSDHC cards. This is a huge benefit to shooters who want the added sound quality of external recorders, but want to keep their camera setup low profile and lightweight. You also gain the ability to detach the microphone from your camera, mount it on a tripod, and position it closer to your subject when shooting with long lenses or when the camera is far away from the subject.

At 7.6 ounces, the VP83F is the heaviest of the on-camera shotgun microphones mentioned in this article, but when you consider the weight you’re saving by not needing an external recorder, it becomes a huge weight-saver. Because of the added recorder, the VP83F requires two AA batteries for power, giving you about 10 hours of recording time.

In addition to the microSDHC recorder, the VP83F adds a 3.5mm headphone output for monitoring audio directly from the microphone, and a backlit LCD screen that displays a readout of your audio levels, track name and time, microphone gain level, low-cut filter status, headphone volume, and battery life. A 5-position joystick lets you navigate through the menu and adjust settings. Also added is advanced gain control, with adjustments up to 60 dB in 1-dB increments, letting you dial in just the right levels.  

Like the VP83, the VP83F features a 3.5mm output, giving you the flexibility to still record audio from the microphone internally on your HDSLR. You can also choose to record to the microphone’s recorder and to your HDSLR simultaneously, for high-quality backup audio. Because you’re recording sound to a separate device, you will have to sync the audio with the video from your HDSLR during post production. This process can be done manually or with the assistance of software such as PluralEyes from Red Giant.

Whether you're a casual shooter or an event videographer, all of these on-camera shotgun microphones provide a simple way to improve the audio quality when recording with your HDSLR. With the addition of an on-camera microphone, you can uncover your ears when playing back your footage in your editing system, and enjoy audio quality that matches the images from your HDLSR.

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Wich is the best for live interview?

Wow great article, very informative - wish I had it a year and a half ago when I was looking to buy :-)
I have the Rode Video Mic Pro and have been amazed at the quality of the sound. We also purchased a stand alone Zoom H4N audio recorder but in all honesty I can't pick the difference in quality between the two.
The benefit to using the Zoom is that you can position it separate to the camera if you have the time to setup your shoot.
The Rode VMP has been my go to thoug; no drop in audio quality that I can pick and it dumps the audio directly into the camera video file so you don't need to muck around syncing it in post production. I'm guessing that if I really needed to get it 'off camera' I could just buy and extension lead to run from the mic back to the camera.
For the Rode VMP you definately want a DSLR that you can adjust the audio recording level on (I can do this on my Canon 60d and 7d - with the new firmware). Their suggested settings of dialing down the camera audio to one click above zero and then +20db on the VMP means that you use the superior components in the mic and minimize the impact of the camera's lower quality sound circuits.