Lavs vs Shotgun Mics

Bad audio is the number one thing that doom the success of a video. Viewers will tolerate a bad image for far longer than sound that’s difficult or grating to listen to. This is why it’s imperative that your videos capture the best audio possible. Chances are you’re here because you’ve struggled to get good sounding audio with your camera’s built-in-microphones and we can help.

Lavalier Microphones

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You see this kind of microphone everywhere in professional video. Lavaliere microphones are the tiny buds often seen on the edge of a jacket or neckline of a blouse. Lavs (for short) work so well because they can be placed very close to the source of sound. That proximity allows the microphone to record speech with greater clarity than an on camera mic.

Some lavaliers are wired directly to the camera but most are found in wireless configurations. These have a wired mic that attaches to a wireless transmitter and receiver combo. Both styles of mic should be placed on your subject in a way that will conceal the microphone. Just be sure that you aren’t picking up any noise from the microphone rubbing on clothing or from cable movement.

Today’s wireless setups are great. They give you tremendous freedom while recording, but as with anything wireless, you can be susceptible to wireless interference which can ruin your audio.  This is far less of a concern in rural areas, but users in dense city environments should always be monitoring their audio for interference.

The last consideration with wireless lavs is battery power. Make sure you have enough batteries to last for your entire shoot.

Pros

  • Much better audio quality than on-camera mics
  • Can be worn while moving around a set/shot
  • No cables to trip over

Cons

  • Possible wireless interference or drop outs ruining audio
  • Time needed to wire up people with the mic to properly hide the mic wire
  • Omnidirectional pickup pattern can pickup unwanted sounds
  • Must be careful of clothes rustling sounds, and mic wire movement
  • Dealing with batteries on longer shoot days.

Some lavs that we love include the Sennheiser G3’s as well as the Sennheiser AVX and RodeLink systems.

Shotgun Microphones

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Shotgun microphones are designed to have a very narrow and precise pickup pattern which rejects sound from the sides of the mic and focuses it into narrow area in front and to a lesser degree, behind the mic. You’ve likely seen these kinds of microphones used on film sets because they provide high quality sound and are well suited to recording outdoors.

In use, the strengths of a shotgun mic over a lavaliere is that you don’t have to spend time wiring up your talent. If you’re shooting a large number of interviews a boomed mic will be a tremendous time saver. To do this, simply mount the microphone to the end of a boom pole. You’ll have a wired connection to your camera or sound recorder saving you from wireless interference worries.

Boom microphones can be setup on a stand, or operated by hand. The benefit of having a dedicated boom operator is that you can often record two or three people in a scripted scenario with one microphone by pointing the mic back and forth. There are also an array of options available for wind suppression so you can still get good audio in breezy environments.

If there is a downside to shotgun style microphones, its actually the same thing that makes them great, their pickup pattern. Because shotguns picks up sound both in front and directly behind the mic you have to be careful in rooms where you get lots of sound reflections. Take care if you get the mic too close to a ceiling to avoid reflected sound. One option is actually to boom under the cameras field of view if there is carpet on the floor as that will help break up the sound.

Pros

  • Ultra high quality microphones like in hollywood movies
  • More precise pickup pattern gives better control
  • Accessories available for shooting outdoors in windy conditions (blimp)
  • Mic can be boomed on a stand reducing setup time for lots of interviews
  • Two or three people can be mic’ed with a boom operator managing the mic

Cons

  • More expensive than a wireless lav setup (mic, boom, stand, holder, cable)
  • Cables tethered to camera unless you run a separate audio recorder
  • Not great for recording in very small or echoey rooms without good microphone discipline

A few shotgun mics that we like to use include the Sennheiser 8060 and the Rode NTG 4+. 

ConclusionBoth types of microphone we’ve covered here will get you results far better than what you’ll get from your on-camera microphone. The trick is in choosing the right mic for your recording situation.

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