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How-to Improve the Audio on a Consumer Video Camera with a Mini Shotgun Microphone

By Sam Mallery

Camcorders are powerful tools for capturing family memories and for use in journalism and filmmaking, but unfortunately they're not the best-equipped devices for recording clear sounding audio. When family members or film subjects speak to your camera, it doesn't take long to realize that the built-in microphones are inadequate at picking up dialog clearly. Since being able to understand what is being communicated is just as important to your audience as the picture quality, it's a good idea to upgrade your camera microphone.

The root of the low-quality, built-in microphone problem is simple. Video cameras are expensive, so their onboard microphones are built as inexpensively as possible. If the camera manufacturers put expensive microphones on their video cameras, the bottom line of the camera would be much higher. In order for the different camera models to compete in the marketplace, corners are cut to make them less expensive, and thus their microphones always leave something to be desired. The solution is to acquire an external microphone.

There are two kinds of on-camera microphones in this article, shotgun and stereo

The two basic kinds of microphones listed in this article are shotgun and stereo microphones. Shotgun microphones have a longer body and are better at reaching out and capturing voices of people standing in front of the camera. Stereo microphones tend to be shorter and are essentially two microphones in one. They pick up two channels of audio, one channel for the left side and the other for the right. They have a more natural sounding response and are typically better for ambient and musical recordings. Both kinds of microphones will greatly improve the audio quality of your video camera.

The first thing to do is to determine if your video camera has an external microphone input. Most consumer video cameras have 1/8” mini-plug microphone inputs (more professional cameras often feature 3-pin XLR microphone inputs). Unfortunately, not all video cameras have external microphone inputs. Inspect your camera. External microphone inputs are sometimes hidden behind tiny doors, so be thorough in your search. It's common (but not mandatory) for the microphone input to have a red ring around its input jack. These inputs are often labeled “Mic.”

Locating the microphone input on a video camera

If you can't find the microphone input on your camera, try looking it up in the manual that came with the camera. If you're still unable to find a microphone input, look in the section toward the end of this article that lists camera models that don't feature microphone inputs, but do have microphone accessories that utilize proprietary accessories.

The size guide for this article

Below we've created a buyer's guide listing external mini-plug camera-mounting microphones. They are listed in order of price, starting with the least expensive and ascending from there. All of the microphones have been photographed on the same video camera to give you an idea of their size. The video camera used is pictured above with a standard CD to give you a frame of reference for how to gauge each microphone's size. Feel free to click on the link of each microphone to find out more information, and to read customer reviews for firsthand advice about people's personal experience with the product.

Azden ECZ-990 Super Cardioid Shotgun Condenser Camera Mountable Microphone B&H# AZECZ990

The Azden ECZ-990 is an inexpensive way to upgrade the quality of audio you get on your video camera. Its shotgun design minimizes ambient noise to its sides and concentrates its focus on what's in front of the mic.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
2.76 ounces 6 x .83" 150Hz to 18kHz 1 AAA battery Inexpensive sound upgrade

Audio Technica ATR55 Dual-Pattern Shotgun Microphone for Camcorders B&H# AUATR55

The ATR55 from Audio Technica brings large-format shotgun capabilities to small video cameras at an affordable price. It comes complete with a shoe mount for your camera, a AA battery, and a foam windscreen. Despite its length in front of the camera, the mic was not visible in the frame when tested as pictured above.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
4 ounces Not specified by manufacturer. It's the largest mic in this category. 70Hz to 18kHz 1 AA battery (included) Has 2 modes, normal mic pick-up and “tele” is shotgun mode

Audio Technica Pro 24CM Compact Stereo Condenser Microphone with Camera Shoe Mount B&H# AUPRO24CM

The all-metal yet lightweight and compact Pro 24CM from Audio Technica is a stereo microphone that was designed for use on a video camera. It includes a camera mount, coiled cable, protective pouch, and a foam windscreen. With the addition of an extension mic cable, the Pro 24CM can double as a handheld interview microphone and for use in ambient and musical recordings.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
3.9 ounces 4.59 x .83" 100Hz to 17kHz LR44 battery or plug-in power Stereo mic picks up natural sound

Azden SMX-10 Directional Stereo Camera Microphone B&H# AZSMX10

The Azden SMX-10 is a shotgun microphone designed for small video cameras. It's a stereo shotgun microphone. It's shotgun design picks up sound in front of the microphone, and its stereo element provides two separate channels of audio.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
1.8 ounces (without battery) 6.96 x .71" 100Hz to 18kHz 1 AAA battery Stereo shotgun, 400 hours of battery life

Rode VideoMic Camera Mounted Shotgun Microphone B&H# ROVM

The Rode VideoMic is among the best-sounding microphones in this category. While it's not the most compact microphone, what you give up in size you make up in sound. If you're looking for top-notch audio on a tight budget, the VideoMic is the way to go. Its integrated shock mount allows you to use it easily on a boompole (you will also need an extension mic cable). A softie is available for high wind usage.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
6.21 ounces 8.84 x 4.02" x 2.55” 40Hz to 20kHz 1 9 Volt battery (not included) Excellent sound quality, integrated shock mount

Sennheiser MKE 400 Compact Video Camera Shotgun Microphone B&H# SEMKE400

The MKE 400 from Sennheiser is likely the most compact shotgun microphone that's available today. It's ideal for videographers who need their equipment to be as small as possible. Its tiny size does not equate to weak sound. It's quite effective at dramatically improving the reach and quality of your camera's audio.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
2.1 ounces 5.12 x 0.82 x 2.44" 40Hz to 20kHz 80Hz to 20kHz with windscreen 1 AAA battery Ultra-compact shotgun, includes a volume boost switch

Rode Stereo VideoMic Stereo Camera Mounted Microphone B&H# ROSVM

The Rode Stereo VideoMic isn't exactly what its name suggests, a stereo version of Rode's VideoMic. Its design is radically different. The tradeoff that you get from its somewhat bulky size is a dynamic and lively stereo sound that is uncommon in on-camera microphones. Its integrated shock mount allows you to use it easily on a boompole (you will also need an extension mic cable). A high wind protection softie is included.

Weight Size Response Battery Unique Quality
11.64 ounces 6.85 x 3.93 x 2.51” 40Hz to 20kHz 1 9 Volt battery (not included) Built like a tank, stunning stereo sound quality

A few more on-camera, mini-plug camera microphones are available at B&H but could not be photographed and tested for this article. They are as follows:

Sima MZM-1 Minature Camera Mountable Microphone B&H# SIMZM1

Sony ECM-MS908C Stereo Condenser Microphone for Video B&H# SOECMMS908C

Cascade Audio Vive – Surround Sound Microphone for Video Cameras B&H# CAVIV100

Video Cameras Lacking an External Microphone Input

If you were unable to locate an external microphone input on your camera, you may own a model that has a proprietary microphone accessory available. Some consumer video cameras have microphones that connect to the camera through specialized hot shoe circuitry. They are as follows:

If your camera is part of the Sony HandyCam series and features an "Active Interface Shoe," you may use the Sony ECM-HGZ1 Zoom Mic, or the Sony ECM-HST1 Camera Mountable Stereo Microphone.

If your camera is a Canon Vixia HF10 or a HF100 camcorder, you may use the Canon DM-100 Direction Stereo Microphone.

If your camera model isn't listed here, and there is no reference to an external microphone input in its operation manual, unfortunately it's likely that there is no way to upgrade the microphone on the camera.

How-to Use Professional Microphones in your Video Camera

If you're looking to capture the best audio quality possible into your video camera, it's a good idea to step up to using professional level microphones. The trouble is that pro mics connect through XLR jacks, and most consumer video cameras only have a mini-plug input. The solution is to use a Camcorder XLR Adapter. It's a small lightweight box that attaches to the bottom of your camera and plugs into its external microphone input. Many of them enable you to use two professional microphones of your choice. Learn all you need to know about the subject in this B&H educational video. Also, if you plan on shooting outdoors with a shotgun microphone, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with wind protection with this B&H educational article.

Thank you for reading! If you'd like to learn more about audio for video field production, be sure to check out these other B&H educational articles:

The B&H Guide to Portable Wireless Systems

The B&H Guide to Portable Field Mixers

The B&H Handheld Digital Audio Recorders Buyer's Guide

The B&H Guide to Boompoles

The B&H Guide to Choosing a Shotgun Microphone

How-to Minimize Wind Noise When Using a Shotgun Microphone

The B&H Guide to Choosing a Shock Mount for a Shotgun Microphone

The B&H Guide to Alternative Microphones for use on Boompoles

The B&H Guide to Lavalier Microphones

How-to Use a Plug On Transmitter with a Portable Wireless System

And if you have any further questions about on-camera video microphones, or any questions about professional audio in general, don't hesitate to contact us at 1-800-416-5090

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