If you’re wondering which mic you should use for the best sound quality in your videos, you’re not alone. I get this question a lot. So let’s jump right in.
This question usually comes from videographers when they step up from either on in camera mic or they move up from an on camera mic. Now those might sound like the same thing to you, so let me help you see the difference. An in camera mic is the mic that comes built into most DSLR and video cameras. This mic usually sounds super thin and tinny.
People will step up from the in camera mic to the on camera mic. This is usually a mic that is mounted to the camera, either on the hot show on top of the camera or a cage built for the camera.
We’re going to look at microphones that aren’t in camera or on camera. I guess you could call these off camera mics, though most people would call them external mics.
TYPES OF MICS FOR VIDEO
In the world of mics, there are a couple of differences. The first would be the pickup or polar pattern. The pickup pattern refers to how much noise is rejected by the mic, usually by either distance or angle. If you want to know more about pickup patterns, read this.
What we’re going to be talking about are two other ways to single out mics – condenser and dynamic mics.
Condenser mics are just ones that require a little voltage to work. Some can be powered with a battery, but most use a trickle of voltage supplied through the mic cable. This is called phantom power, although it has nothing to do with ghosts. Almost all large diaphragm mics are condenser mics.
The other kind of mic you’ll find is called a dynamic mic. These mics don’t need power to run. Many hand-held mics are dynamic mics.
WHICH MIC IS BEST FOR VIDEO
So know you know the difference, but you still need to know which mic is best. That’s an answer you’ll need to make for the context of your video. Let’s talk about the sound quality of those two mics.
The condenser mic gets power. The power makes it more sensitive, especially at lower noise levels. If you need to capture the nuance of someone whispering in a quiet room, a condenser is the best option. If you want to get the best performance for all the subtleties of a singer, a condenser might be the best.
Basically, condenser mics work for videos where you can control the ambient noise or noise you don’t want captured by the mic. They are more fragile that dynamic mics too. So you’ll also probably only use them in controlled situations where they wouldn’t get bumped around too much.
Dynamic mics are the workhorse of live entertainment. These mics are less sensitive than condenser mics in general, but they handle more abuse and also louder sounds well. Dynamic mics are used to mic drums, loud guitar amps and people’s voices, so they’re fairly versatile, but you would probably never see them being used for a vocal in a studio.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR MIC
Maybe the best way to make this choice is to think about what situations you might face. If you’re shooting a punk rock band in a club with chicken wire in front of the stage, you probably want to go with the dynamic mic. And maybe a set of brass knuckles. If you’re shooting at home in an enclosed room where you can control the noise, a condenser might be the better choice.
But it really just depends on your usage. Here are a couple of things to think about.
How close can you get to your subject. The typical, large diaphragm mic used in studios do a horrible job at rejecting unwanted noise. So if you use them, for example, in your kitchen, shooting someone cooking, it’s going to pick up every plate clatter, every spoon tap and all the cooking sounds made while shooting. Kitchens often have a lot of hard surfaces that reflect sound. That means lots of reverb and echo. So, unless you can get really close to your subject, a condenser mic would have a difficult time with kitchen duty.
Another situation that would be hard for a condenser would be something like a yoga studio. It would be hard to close mic a yoga instructor with a large diaphragm condenser mic. This would again capture a lot of room noise, which probably wouldn’t be what you want.
A dynamic mic, on the other hand, would reject more noise in the kitchen, but would still need to be closer to the subject. This is easier because you can usually get a lapel mic for this type of work that can be fixed really close to your subject. The same would be true for the yoga instructor.
So as a general rule:
Condenser mics work best:
- In closed rooms
- Where the sound isn’t loud
- When you can control extra noise
Dynamic mics work better for:
- Louder environments
- Where it might be more noisy
- When you have less control over extra sounds
If this seems confusing, maybe watching a video would help.
If this has been helpful, you might consider getting my ebook, How to Unsuck Your Video. It covers everything I look at when evaluating videos and it has helpful tips in fixing all those problems it points out. Get it here.