In Part 2 of our audio guide, we covered the settings and switches for getting our RODE VideoMic and camera working well together. In this final chapter we explore some acoustics principles that affect our ability to get good audio, how to go one step further for even better results, and what solutions are there when our VideoMics are beyond ideal distances for capturing audio.
So what are the limitations of a VideoMic?
Well the golden rule here is that the closer you have your microphone to the subject matter, the better it will sound.
When you’re up close to a sound source, be it speaking person or music performance, you’re predominantly hearing the dry direct sound straight from the source, unaffected by the room itself. This is exactly what we’re hoping to capture for the best possible results. But as you move further away from your subject, you begin to hear extra sound – reflections, very short echoes as the sound source reverberates off of surfaces in the room, creating an echo. This adds up to create the sound of a room itself – the ‘echoey’, ‘roomy’ sound you will have heard when you shout into a big empty space. Every room (except an anechoic chamber!) has an acoustic signature like this, and if you clap your hands right now, you’ll hear a little (or big) ‘tail’ of echo unique to the space you’re in. We have to be mindful of this, as some spaces are better than others. And if you can hear the echo, a sensitive mic will too.
You might say that surely a VideoMic is designed to combat this, and yes that’s true – and they do, they make an enormous difference as the built-in camera mic has no selectivity. But the trick is for the best audio with the least ‘influence of the room’, you do still need to get the mic as close as you can.
Think of every picture of a professional film set you have ever seen – where is the microphone? Is it on the camera? No, it’s on a boompole, hanging just above the actors heads – no more than five or six feet from of their mouths. And these are microphones that cost thousands of pounds, potentially! For ‘Run and gun’ style shooting, solo, we can still get great results with our VideoMic on top of our camera, but for the best results – don’t assume that where the camera is, is the best place to capture audio from. Especially given crop-sensor cameras require us to get further from our subject matter to fit them in frame!
The great thing is that all VideoMic models (mono or stereo) feature a ⅜” thread on the bottom so they can go straight onto RØDE boompoles, and the inbuilt shock-mount means you don’t need to buy an additional cradle to defeat handling noise.
So if you have any mono VideoMic, we recommend having both a Micro Boompole (a 2 metre telescoping boompole) and a VC-1 (3 metre 3.5mm jack) extension cable on hand as an essential, highly affordable solution for ‘upgrading’ your results enormously. This will let you ‘boom’ your mic – put the camera on a tripod if you’re shooting solo – and give you the fullest, most detailed sound, with the least influence of the environment you’re shooting in.
There is an additional two-fold benefit as well. You can turn your camera input down further – so if you’re still experiencing hiss with VideoMics that don’t feature the +20dB boost, this will alleviate that, and you’re minimising ambient hubbub by making the subject relatively louder than the street noise, traffic, and so forth. And you look like a pro doing it!
But what if we can’t use a boompole, what if we’re filming a lecture, or a wedding, and we can only put our cameras at the back of the room – forty feet away? In this instance, the VideoMic is still better than the in-built sound. But that is a long way away. No professional would exclusively use a shotgun mic in that situation – this is what Lavalier mics were invented for.
These are tie-clip mics as you will have seen news reporters wearing, and the beauty of them is they are fixed to the speaking subject – always nice and close, no matter how far away the camera is.
RØDE have a rather magic solution here in the SmartLav+, a tie clip mic you can plug directly into an iPhone and many Android phones. You record with a free app (Reporter on iOS is recommended) with the phone recording in the subjects pocket, and you export your audio file afterwards and line it up with the video. To make it even more useful you can also grab a bunch of handy cables such as RØDE SC3, which lets you plug the SmartLav+ directly into a DSLR! Or the SC1 (6 metre extension cable) and SC6…so you can plug two SmartLav+’s into a phone, and a pair of headphones for monitoring!
The step-up here would be the Filmmaker Kit, Rode’s digital wireless system which gives you a broadcast Lavalier mic, beamed wirelessly straight to your camera (no after-sync required!), and it includes the +20dB boost too.
We hope that helps demystify the process for you! It’s completely possible to get professional audio into your camera. And while it’s important to have the right mic for the right job, it’s equally important to learn your tools, be mindful of the environment, and to experiment – so you get it right first time.