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Beginner's Guide to Audio Care

“ I feel that sound is half the experience.” – George Lucas

Sound is more important than picture.” – Michael Moore

Audio part 1: In this three part total-beginner series we’re going to tell you how to get professional audio from your DSLR or mirrorless camera. We’ll explore some of the easiest options available to you, how they work, advise ideal camera settings, and explore how to push your new gear to get even better results.

We’re working closely with the team from RODE Microphones and we’ve spoken to many, many people taking their first steps into video, so we know that audio can be a daunting proposition. However, as you’re about to find out, it’s not a hard problem to solve – and it makes the difference between creating professional paid-for work... and ending up with a home movie.

The bottom line is you can have a ‘bad’ image (grainy, low light, entry level lenses and sensors) and good sound, and the result is still watchable. But you cannot pair a good picture with bad (distant, tinny, echoey, full of wind-noise) sound – it’s completely unwatchable! So if you do have a great looking image to start with, then capturing good sound will elevate your video project even further.

What's the issue with camera audio?

First – let’s better understand the problem. We all know how amazing our cameras are as imaging devices. What was once only a stills camera is now an incredible video camera, with access to beautiful lenses and shallow depth of field, giving cinematic results that videographers couldn’t dream of achieving on a modest budget even just a few years ago.

The problem becomes apparent when you start to watch your footage back. It might look, feel and move like a movie – but it doesn’t SOUND like a movie. Specifically:

  • • People sound thin and distant, and you can barely hear them over the hubbub of chatter, street noise and other ambience going on. In bigger rooms, it sounds like you’re in a swimming pool. The video ‘feels’ cheap: you want speech to sound full, clear, close and intelligible.
  • • You may not have stereo audio at all, so we don’t get any sense of the ‘3D space’- for example if you filmed a passing car, you’d want to hear it travel left to right.
  • • You’re filming gigs or other loud concerts, and the music sounds distorted rather than clear – even given the loud volume.
  • • The minute you step outside, your audio is ruined by buffeting wind noise. You want to be free to record sound that isn’t affected by even just a casual breeze.
So how do we do it?

The simple fact is that in order to capture decent audio, you do need a dedicated microphone. We’re going to explore your options by talking through different microphones and referring to Rode’s range of VideoMics, which will all help to address the issues above.

Each mic features a 3.5mm audio jack output, compatible with 3.5mm jack ‘microphone’ inputs on cameras (if your camera has 2.5mm jack inputs, then you can just grab a third-party adapter), and cold-shoe mounts so you can screw them into your flash mount. All of them will help to improve your camera audio enormously.

Mono VS Stereo

The first subject we’ll be tackling is: do you need a stereo or a mono ‘shotgun’ mic? Well, the type of microphone you choose depends on what you want to film.

Do you predominantly want to capture speech such as interviews, or people who are presenting straight to camera? If this is the case, you should use a mono ‘shotgun’ style mic, as the long barrel of shotgun mics makes them more selective – what you point them at, you’ll hear in the final footage, with ambient sound minimised.

When you’re trying to capture speech, you really do just want to zone in and record the speech as cleanly as you can. Ambience can always be added/faked later, whereas speech is much, much harder to ‘fix’ – if it can be fixed at all. Most ‘mono’ mics do output a stereo signal as well – but it’s just the same signal on both the left and right channels equally.

Rode’s range includes the VideoMicro (compact – great for action cameras), VideoMic GO (a great entry choice for DSLRs), VideoMic (a good, directional midrange choice for DSLR) or the VideoMic Pro (gives the best results on all DSLRs – more on why in Part 2!).

The alternative is to get a stereo microphone, such as the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro, which gives you two-channel ambience – a proper, independent ‘left and right’ and a real three-dimensional sense of space.

You don’t get the selectivity of a mono microphone, but stereo mics really suit music performance, ambience and nature recordings. That’s why we’d suggest you use a mono shotgun microphone for speech/interviews, and a stereo microphone for everything else.

All of these mics have compatible furry windshields, which protect the microphones from wind noise shooting outside. If you do intend to leave the house with your microphone, ensure you grab the compatible windshield so your audio’s protected.

So now you’ve connected a mono or stereo microphone to your camera, added your wind protection, and you’re ready to shoot.

But how do we set it up? What settings do you need on your camera for the best results? What do the switches on the mics actually do? Stay tuned, and join us for part...