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Microphone Strategies for Recording Video

Microphone Strategies for Recording Video for Oral History Interviews

by Doug Boyd

Professional video recording technologies are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable. However, nothing will degrade the effect of professional looking video more than a video with bad sound. One of the keys to creating “professional” quality video is to also record professional quality audio. I will always recommend that you try to use professional cameras and professional level microphones. You can capture a very high quality video signal with consumer video cameras, however, rarely do consumer cameras have high quality external microphone inputs.

I tend to recommend, if you can afford it, investing in a camera that has XLR microphone inputs. When consumer grade cameras have external microphone inputs, it tends to be a single, stereo 1/8” mini jack input with substandard preamps. Almost always, consumer cameras have a feature called “Automatic Level Control” that protects audio levels from clipping. However, ALC will usually add significant noise to a recording.  If you utilize a consumer grade camera, I would recommend disabling the automatic level controls as well as investigating in the best lapel microphone that is compatible with your camera’s microphone input. Also, if you are utilizing a consumer level camera, strongly consider option #4 below which involves recording “Dual Source” audio.

 

Here are some strategies for recording good audio when conducting video interviews.

Option 1: Professional Camera, 2 Lapel Mics

Camera: Professional level Camera with 2 XLR microphone inputs

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): Lapel

Microphone 2 (Interviewer): Lapel

Camera: Professional level Camera with 2 XLR microphone inputs
The quality of the microphone inputs and the preamps on your camera matter a great deal. If you are using professional level microphones but you are using an inexpensive, consumer-oriented camera, you will not fully benefit from the professional level microphones. The audio signal will be degraded by poor preamps. It is preferable for your video camera to have XLR inputs so that the camera can accommodate professional level microphones. Unfortunately this means you usually need to spend about $2,000 for a video camera. Nevertheless, this will give you the most professional level audio when you use the camera as the audio recording source (See section on “dual source” audio recording).

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): Lapel

Microphone 2 (Interviewer): Lapel

The Lapel microphones are excellent for video because the placement of these microphones and the proximity to the sound source it is picking up (the mouth) limits the amount of ambient noise that can interfere. There are very low-end lapel microphones which I do not like. I prefer the moderately priced Audio Technica, Shure, Sennheiser microphones for recording video interviews.

I also prefer a lapel microphone on both the interviewer and the interviewee even if the interviewer is off camera.  This will ensure parity of the recorded audio signal with regard to questions and answers. In oral history, the interviewer plays a major role and needs to be adequately recorded. Documentarians and filmmakers often do not record the interviewer with an equal source or signal, which results in a audible discrepancy in sound. They usually edit out the questions for the final product. Oral Historians do not edit these questions out so it is best to record both interviewer and interviewee equally well if possible.

Option 2: Professional Camera, 1 Lapel Mic, 1 Camera Mounted Mic.

Camera: Professional level Camera with 2 XLR microphone inputs

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): Lapel Microphone

Microphone 2 (Interviewer): External Camera-Mounted Microphone

Camera: Professional level Camera with 2 XLR microphone inputs

(Same as Option 1)

The quality of the microphone inputs and preamps on your camera matter a great deal. If you are using professional level microphones but you are using an inexpensive, consumer-oriented camera, you will not fully benefit from the professional level microphones. The audio signal will be degraded by poor preamps. Again, It is preferable for your video camera to have XLR inputs so that the camera can accommodate professional level microphones. Unfortunately this means you usually need to spend about $2,000 for a video camera. Nevertheless, this will give you the most professional level audio when you use the camera as the audio recording source (See section on “dual source” audio recording).

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): Lapel

(Same as Option 1)

The Lapel microphones are excellent for video because the placement of these microphones and the proximity to the sound source it is picking up (the mouth) limits the amount of ambient noise that can interfere. This makes the lapel microphone an excellent option for recording an interviewee. There are very low-end lapel microphones which I do not like. I prefer the moderately priced Audio Technica, Shure, Sennheiser microphones for recording video interviews.

Microphone 2 (Interviewer): External Camera Mounted Microphone

On camera microphones tend to be low-end stereo microphones that fail to effectively record audio beyond a few feet away and almost always add a significant amount of ambient noise. Because of the limitations to the built in microphones on cameras, more directional, third-party camera mounted microphones (such as a “shotgun” microphone) tend to perform better. Unless it is a very high-end shotgun microphone, most of the time the quality will still not be as good as a lapel microphone for limiting ambient noise. However, as a second microphone on the interview these microphones will typically pick up the interviewer as well as the interviewee better than the onboard microphone. Shotgun microphones are highly directional and, typically, the interviewer is positioned off to the side of the microphone. This can limit the pickup of the interviewer so be careful with placement. Lower-end shotgun microphones are not as directional and still usually pickup the interviewer effectively.

Option 3: Professional/Consumer Camera, Onboard Camera Microphone

Camera: Professional or consumer level camera, no external microphones used

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): On camera microphone

Camera: Professional/Consumer Camera

Microphone: Onboard Camera Microphone

Most video cameras today come with onboard microphones for recording audio. Most of these microphones are stereo microphones and very few of them do a very good job recording an oral history interview.

This option is the least preferable for recording audio for an video oral history interview. The onboard camera microphone (even on professional cameras) will usually be quite noisy yielding substandard audio adding an overall amateur quality to the video. If this is your only option available, it is better than no recording at all.

Option 4: Dual Source Audio

Camera: Professional or consumer level camera with onboard microphone or a Digital SLR (DSLR ) camera that can capture video.

Audio Recorder: High quality digital audio recorder with XLR inputs

Microphone 1: Lapel microphone connected to digital audio recorder

Microphone 2: Lapel microphone connected to digital audio recorder

Camera: Professional or consumer level camera with onboard microphone

As expressed with option 3, the onboard microphones on digital video cameras fail to record professional sounding audio in an oral history interview. The difference between this option and option 3 is the audio recorded by the onboard camera microphones will only be used as a reference track which will be replaced in the video editing system by the high quality digital audio recorded with lapel microphones (or any external microphone type) and synchronized utilizing an audio synchronizing program/ tool such as Plural Eyes or Dual Eyes by Singular Software. These types of synchronization tools often require the use of a professional level video editing software system such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier, which will raise your costs significantly, however, they work extremely well and are now being used by mainstream filmmakers.

Audio Recorder: High quality digital audio recorder with XLR inputs

Microphone 1: Lapel microphone connected to digital audio recorder

Microphone 2: Lapel microphone connected to digital audio recorder

In this configuration, audio is recorded just as it would be for an audio interview, 2 lapel microphones plugged into a digital audio recorder (preferably with XLR inputs). The audio signal can then be synchronized after the fact in video editing software systems such as Adobe Premier or Apple’s Final Cut Pro utilizing audio synchronizing program Plural Eyes by Singular Software. This type of tool uses the audio recorded from the onboard camera microphones as a “reference” that then matches up and synchronizes the corresponding moments in the audio waveform recorded by the digital audio recorder.

Option 5: Professional/Consumer Camera with a 1/8” mini jack microphone input, Camcorder XLR Microphone Adapter

Camera: Professional or consumer level camera with a 1/8” min jack microphone input or a Digital SLR (DSLR ) camera that can capture video.

Adapter: Use of a camcorder XLR microphone adapter

Microphone 1 (Interviewee): Lapel

Microphone 2 (Interviewee): Lapel

Camera: Professional/Consumer Camera

Microphone: Onboard Camera Microphone

Most video cameras today come with onboard microphones for recording audio. Most of these microphones are stereo microphones and very few of them do a very good job recording an oral history interview. This option uses an XLR microphone adapter that creates the ability to connect professional level microphones to a consumer level camera.

Adapter: Camcorder XLR microphone adapter

There are third party adapter options for cameras that do not have XLR microphone inputs. Adapters include those made by such specialty companies as Beachtek and Juicedlink. These adapters will enable you to use professional level microphones with consumer level cameras. Many of these adapters will offer gain, preamplification, attenuation, phantom power, headphone monitoring, and meters.

Citation for Article

APA

Boyd, D. A. (2012). Microphone strategies for recording video for oral history interviews. In D. Boyd, S. Cohen, B. Rakerd, & D. Rehberger (Eds.), Oral history in the digital age. Institute of Library and Museum Services. Retrieved from http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/microphone-strategies-for-recording-video/.

Chicago

Boyd, Douglas A. “Microphone Strategies for Recording Video for Oral History Interviews,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/microphone-strategies-for-recording-video/

This is a production of the Oral History in the Digital Age Project (http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu) sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  Please consult http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/about/rights/ for information on rights, licensing, and citation.

Permanent link to this article: http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/microphone-strategies-for-recording-video/

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