On-Camera Microphones

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What is an on-camera microphone?

An on-camera microphone is a special kind of mic that’s been designed to work well with a camcorder or a video-enabled DSLR camera. It’s typically lightweight (to help keep the overall weight of the camera low), and often features the ability to mount to the shoe of a camera.

Why should you use an on-camera microphone?

The built-in microphones on cameras typically don’t sound very good. They tend to pick up a lot of handling and mechanical noise from the camera itself. External on-camera microphones are designed to sonically outperform the built-in microphones.

The mounts that come with on-camera microphones often feature suspension systems called “shock mounts,” that help to isolate the microphone from handling and mechanical noise.

Depending on the kind of work you’re doing, on-camera microphones can either improve the clarity of dialog when subjects speak in front of the camera, or help you pick up more natural environmental sounds.

How can I tell if my camera is compatible with an on-camera microphone?

You need to determine if the camera you’re using has an external microphone input or not. If the camera does have an external microphone input, you need to make sure that the microphone you’re interested in has the same kind of connector.

On-camera microphones connect with either 1/8” (3.5mm) mini-plug jacks or XLR connectors. Mini-plug microphone inputs are common on consumer camcorders, video-enabled DSLR cameras, and smaller sized professional video cameras. XLR inputs are usually found in pairs on medium and larger sized professional video cameras. Before you pick out what kind of on-camera microphone to use, you should first determine what kind of mic input your camera has.

Sometimes camcorders hide the microphone input behind inconspicuous little doors. You may need to consult the owner’s manual of the camera to determine if it’s possible to attach an external microphone. Some cameras feature hidden proprietary connectors inside of the camera shoe, which may be able to interface with a dedicated accessory microphone.

If your camera doesn’t have a microphone input or an “intelligent shoe,” unfortunately, it’s impossible to connect an external microphone.

In this case, you should consider recording the audio separately with a portable digital recorder, or use a different video camera.

What kind of on-camera microphone should I get?

There isn’t one type of microphone that’s ideal for every purpose. In video there are two starkly different shooting scenarios: recording dialog and recording ambient environmental sound. If you’re trying to record ambient sound, you should look for “stereo” on-camera microphones. If you’re shooting people who are speaking in front of the camera, you’re going to need a “shotgun” microphone.

Microphone Polar Patterns.

Just like having a wrench, a hammer and a pair of pliers is essential to a toolbox, having both kinds of microphones is ideal for video production. It’s critically important to attach a shotgun microphone when you need to capture dialog, but if you find yourself shooting a live music performance or you end upsurrounded by crickets and birds, a stereo microphone will transport your audience into these environments far more effectively.   

What is a shotgun microphone?

A shotgun microphone has a tube shaped-body and tends to be longer than a typical mic. Shotguns are designed to have more “reach” than other kinds of microphones, and they excel at picking up the frequencies that human voices produce. This is why they are most often used to pick up on-camera dialog.

The most common mistake that people make is assuming that a shotgun microphone is a “zoom microphone.” A shotgun microphone is not the photographic equivalent of a telephoto lens. It’s quite the opposite. A shotgun microphone has a lot more in common with a macro lens.

The ideal position for a shotgun microphone is as close to the speaking person’s mouth as possible. Once the shotgun is more than three feet away from the speaking person’s mouth, the audio will start to sound distant. The biggest trick in recording dialog is getting the microphone as close as possible to the flapping jaws of your on-camera subjects.

What is a stereo microphone?

A stereo microphone picks up sound similarly to the way human beings do―with two ears. A stereo microphone is essentially two microphones housed in a single body. The two microphone elements output separate channels of audio, usually designated as Left and Right. Even though there are two channels of sound, stereo on-camera microphones still output audio on a single stereo mini-plug connector.

A Stereo Polar Pattern Example.

Stereo microphones excel at capturing environmental sound, but fall short when it comes to recording on-camera dialog. If you’re shooting video of nature scenes without dialog, you would be much better off with a stereo microphone, as opposed to a shotgun. Stereo microphones are effective at immersing the viewer in an environment.

Do I need any accessories?

In some situations you may find that an additional shock mount or an extension audio cable is necessary, but when used outdoors, all microphones require proper wind protection. Most microphones ship with a foam windscreen. These sponge-like windscreens are helpful for light breezes or drafty indoor air, but they cannot protect your audio in a gust of wind.

Many on-camera microphones are compatible with a kind of wind protection called “Fur Windshields.” A fur windshield is essentially a fuzzy sock that you pull over the foam windscreen that came with your microphone.

Shotgun microphones can also be used with a type of wind protection called “Softie Windshields.” You do not use the included foam windscreen in conjunction with a softie windshield. The softie windshield is a fuzzy contraption with a tough foam interior and a rubber gasket around its opening. It covers the grill of the shotgun microphone completely and offers a little more protection against wind noise than fur windshields do.

Shotgun Microphones

Stereo Microphones

Recording dialog

Good choice

Recording Ambiance and music

Good choice

Needs wind protection outdoors?

Yes

Yes

Better than the built-in mics on the camera?

Yes

Yes

The Takeaway

  • On camera microphones sound better than built-in camera mics.
  • You need to know if your camera has a microphone input or not.
  • You need to know what kind of microphone input your camera has (mini-plug or XLR).
  • You need a shotgun microphone to effectively pick up on-camera dialog.
  • You need a stereo microphone to effectively capture environmental sounds or music.
  • Shotgun microphones are not zoom microphones―they need to be close to the sound source.
  • A stereo mic has two microphones, similar to human beings having two ears.
  • Additional wind protection is a necessity for shooting outdoors.

12 Comments

There is still a solution for those camera where Mic slot is not given by the manufacturer. What you can do is that you remove the inbuilt mic (or cut those 2 wires connecting inbuilt mic) and join/solder with a female microphone jack externally. Once you do that you just have plug a 3.5 MM microphone cable and start recording. Note: This is DYI excercise.

I'm looking for a basic (easy to use) and smallest camcorder that allows for an external mic. Generally we want to record our sons music talent shows and his swimming event. Also just walking around when on vacation! Regular events. Do you have a recommendation.

Hi Neil -

The black Canon VIXIA HF R500 Full HD Camcorder records Full HD 1920 x 1080p video directly to a removable SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. It also supports 2.07MP still image capture. The HF R500 features a 3.28MP Full HD CMOS image sensor and a DIGIC DV 4 Image Processor. It employs a Canon HD video lens with 57x Advanced Zoom and SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization. For easy recording and instant playback, the camera has a 3" capacitive LCD touch panel display as well. Designed with all levels of users in mind, the HF R500 has a laundry list of features including MP4 and AVCHD independent or dual simultaneous recording, an advanced Baby Mode, Intelligent IS, Smart AUTO, a higher capacity battery for longer shooting sessions, and much more. It also features an external microphone input, measures 2.1 W x 2.2 H  x 4.6" D / 53.0 x 57.0 x 116.0 mm not including grip belt, and weighs in at only 10.1 oz / 286 g including BP-718 battery, memory card and grip belt.

If you have additional questions, please e-mail us at:  AskBH@BandH.com

hi wud one of them mics fix to fujifilm finepix s4400

Hi Aron -

Unfortunately this camera does not offer an external microphone input.  An external microphone cannot be connected.

If you have additional questions, please e-mail us at:  AskBH@BandH.com

when i record video and i hear again,the sound not clear and "hisss" sound that was out.why that probem happen angd how to solve the problem??

I´d like to know how microphone is better for my Canon 7D, the Rode Stereo Video Mic Pro or the Rode Stereo Video Mic. I intend use it to film outdoor and my personal videos with my family on vacations, for example. I would apreciate if you can kill my cruel doubt. Thanks a lot!

I am about to purchase the new Sony PMW-100, which is so new, there isn't even a model to examine in the store.
What type of attached microphone would you suggest?

I am about to purchase the new Sony PMW-100, which is so new, there isn't even a model to examine in the store.
What type of attached microphone would you suggest?

I just bought an item  EW112-p G3 Camera Mount Wireless Microphone System with ME2 Lavalier Mic (A / 516 - 558 MHz).

In the future may I need to order the  Sennheiser SKP 100 G3 Plug-on Transmitter for Dynamic Microphones [G: 566-608MHz]  for additional accesorry but I don't know if it's compatible or works?

 Please advice... Thank you...

Hello -

The plug on transformer must match the frequency channel "A" of the wireless system you now have.  This is the one you need: 

I see... Now I understand.. Thank for the answer..

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