Choosing the best microphone for vlogging and filmmaking can be daunting, especially for beginners, so we've created this guide to help you choose the best camera mic for your needs.
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Why is this important? Vloggers and videographers quickly learn that an in-camera microphone just doesn't provide the audio quality or directionality needed. If you want to control what your audience hears and suppress ambient and background noise, you need an external microphone for your camera or smartphone. There's no point in investing in the best 4K cameras for filmmaking or even the best cameras for vlogging without a proper microphone.
A wireless microphone is ideal for fuss-free interviews and presenting to camera, and these are sold with lavalier microphones – they clip to your clothing and use radio frequencies to transmit to a receiver on the camera. To keep things simple, you can get cheaper wired lavalier microphones too. You have to hook up a wired mic with a fine cable and the person presenting has to be closer to the camera, but these wired tie-clip microphones can be the best mic for vlogging – you're typically holding the camera at arm's length, so a mic cable will easily be long enough.
Alternatively, you can mount a shotgun microphone on the camera (or on a rig alongside the camera). A shotgun mic is directional (or has a 'cardioid' field, in technical terms). This means it records the sound from whatever it's pointed at. If you can't pin a microphone to your subject, this is the next best thing – and way better than the omnidirectional microphones built into cameras.
So we've got a second section devoted to camera-mounted shotgun mics. These can be used as DSLR microphones or mirrorless camera mics – there's no distinction in microphone terms.
The key point with video is to use an external microphone rather than the camera's in-built mic. This simple step will dramatically improve your audio quality. The mics built into DSLRs, camcorders and mirrorless cameras are very basic, and only designed as a fallback solution for audio recording. Because they're situated within the camera body, they pick up all the whirrs and clicks of autofocus systems, and record all the handling noise as you press buttons, adjust settings or move the camera. Even the best 4K cameras benefit from an external mic.
Wireless lavalier microphones
Billed as the the world's smallest and lightest wireless microphone system - this is a great option for those that want to record sound over more than a few feet, or in a crowded environment.
The receiver and transmitter weigh just 31g a piece, and measure around 44 x 46 x 18.5mm each - and have built-in rechargeable batteries. The receiver connects to your camera using the short 3.5mm lead that is supplied, and then sits on the hotshoe. The transmitter has its own clip - so can be worn by your interviewee; it has a built-in mic - but there is a socket for attaching a more discrete lavalier, tie-clip, microphone should you wish.
This is a high-quality wireless mic system – and has a price to match. It has three main components: the receiver, which connects to your camera via a supplied cable; the transmitter, which can be clipped onto a belt or slipped in a pocket; and a broadcast-quality lavalier microphone.
The Filmmaker Kit can operate across eight channels, each with 1,000 transmission frequencies, which means that two kits can use the same channel without interfering with each other. It uses 2.4GHz digital transmission with 128-bit encryption, which can be used anywhere in the world without a license.
This value-for-money system offers an open door into working with dual transmitters without the expensive price-tag. Operating with the widely used license-free 2.4GHz frequency and offering a line of sight distance up to 50 metres, the 500 B2 system offers a battery life of four hours on a single charge and can be powered up by (or run off) a powerbank thanks to the USB-C input.
The antennas are internal, enabling the build of the units to be rounded and compact, with the transmitters weighing just 34g each. The clip on the receiver fits into your hotshoe mount and, if you prefer, you can choose to connect the receiver to a smartphone instead via the TRS cable, though most will prefer to record directly to the camera. The transmitters have a built-in microphone so you can literally clip them on your interview subject and press record, but in addition, they also have inputs so you can plug in a standard lav mic (the SR-M1 model ships with the kit) if you choose. Units are paired by pressing down buttons and then they are good to go from that point forward which, again, will speed up operation and set-up time. The big appeal of this kit is the dual-channel receivers, enabling two people to be mic’d up for recording interviews.
For something completely different, take a look at the Instamic Pro; a tiny standalone mic that can record audio to its internal 8GB memory or connect to an Android/iOS device, such as your phone. The internal memory can capture 16 hours of audio recorded at 48 kHz / 24 bits Mono or 7hrs at 48 kHz / 24 bits Dual Mono and the device is controlled via an app on your phone, connecting via Bluetooth 4.0.
The Instamic plugs into the USB slot of your computer enabling you to transfer over .WAV files and also charge up the device, which takes 75 minutes to charge fully with the battery lasting up to three hours. Amazingly, the Instamic is also waterproof to a depth of one metre, carrying the IP67 rating. Three LEDs indicate sound level videographers can listen to the audio in real-time via your headphones connected to the smartphone. The Instamic may be a useful option when you are using multiple cameras that are starting and stopping and wish to record the sound externally. The Instamic also enables videographers to connect up to 10 Instamics together while monitoring the audio in real-time and while ten may be a bit much for most videographers, it does present a value-for-money option for those wishing to add in a second mic for interview situations.
This really is a tiny mic and tips the scales at just 18g and measures 38x25x13mm, making it perfect for Vloggers on the go. Along with a one year warranty, the Instamic features LEDs to indicate functions such as battery/charging levels and VU (Volume Unit) metre. The Instamic Pro is available in two versions (a Mono with a four mic array) and a Stereo (with four mics array and two later mics).
Wired lavalier microphones
The Boya BY-M1 is a wired lavalier mic with a switchable power source. It runs on an LR44 button cell, and needs to be switched on if using a 'passive' source, or off if recording via a device with plug-in power.
It comes with a lapel clip, and includes a foam windscreen to help dampen wind noise and plosives. It offers an omnidirectional polar pattern, and the frequency response stretches from 65Hz to 18KHz.
While not as wide-ranging as some tie-clip mics here, this is still great for voice recording. The plastic construction of the capsule is a little bulkier than professional lavs, but the 6m lead is long enough to mic up your presenter and keep things tidy in the frame.
Considering the low price, the BY-M1 delivers audio quality way beyond expectations. It does have a hotter output than others here, and there's no attenuator to dip the volume, so it's possible it the signal could distort on some equipment.
But on our Canon EOS 5D Mk III, the result was an extremely low noise floor, giving excellent, hiss-free recordings. Although the build quality means it needs to be treated with care, this is an outstanding little mic.
Although it’s designed to pair with the RØDE Wireless GO wireless microphone, the RØDE Lavalier GO is actually compatible with most cameras and recording devices, with a 3.5mm TRS mic input.
It’s a professional-grade lavalier mic with an omnidirectional condenser capsule and a Kevlar-reinforced cable. It comes supplied with a foam pop shield, a metal clip and a soft bag for storage.
The RØDE Lavalier GO delivers great sound when used with the Wireless GO or when connected directly to a camera. However, the pop shield doesn’t provide much protection from wind, and it’s advisable to purchase a windshield (such as the RØDE Minifur-Lav), if you plan to shoot outdoors regularly. That also lets you conceal the mic under clothing if you want it to be really discrete.
Like the Boya BY-M1, the ATR 3350 is a lavalier mic that runs on a switchable power unit fuelled by an LR44 button cell, but offers a broader frequency response that runs from 50Hz to 18Khz.
A long, 6m cable ensures that the wire can be tucked away out of shot, and it's quite possible for presenters to walk in or out of frame while wearing it. A foam windshield is supplied, but it's worth investing in a small furry windmuff (cheap online) if you intend to use it outdoors.
When recording voices, the quality is reasonable, and the omnidirectional polar pattern means it picks up sound from any direction. Although it gives a tad more bottom end in recordings, it outputs at a lower level than the BY-M1, and is also noisier, with more high frequency hiss.
Build is a little more refined and the capsule is slightly smaller, and were it not for the fact that the BY-M1 is cheaper, the ATR 3350 would be worthwhile. It's not a bad mic at all, but the BY-M1's lower noise and lower price pips it to the post.
Rode make a vast range of video specific audio kit, from enthusiast-level all the way to high-end broadcast equipment. The VideoMic Go is at the lower end of the spectrum and mounts onto a hotshoe, with an effective shockmount to reduce handling noise.
It's fuelled by plug-in power from the camera's mic socket, so doesn't need a battery, and there are no switches on board to attenuate the output or change polar patterns.
This means you just plug it in, set your recording level, and start shooting. It comes with a foam windscreen to reduce wind noise, but there's an optional windjammer for breezy conditions that costs another £20/$25.
Frequency response stretches from 100Hz-16KHz, but recordings were rich and full, so we didn't find it lacking in bass. There's a crispness to the sound as its response curve gently rises to give a boost at about 4KHz, but there is some hiss at the high end of the frequency ladder.
Overall this is a well made, good-sounding mic that's very easy to use.
A little bulkier and heavier than the Rode VideoMic Go is Rode's VideoMic Pro. This hotshoe shotgun mic shares a similar size and design, but adds extra features for those seeking more flexibility and higher quality recordings.
Although it's suspended on a similar shockmount as the Go, it incorporates a chamber for a 9V battery (not supplied), which serves as the power source for around 70 hours.
On the back, there are two switches to tailor performance, and these alter the output gain (-10, 0 or +20 dB) or offer the choice between a flat response or one with a low frequency cut.
The sound quality is excellent, with rich tonality throughout the 40Hz-20KHz range and a flat response all the way through the speech frequencies. Impressively, there's a very low noise floor that's comparable to the Boya BY-M1 lav mic, so only the hypercritical will be concerned about the trace of mic-generated hiss that's present.
The supplied foam windscreen serves to protect the mic, but outdoors, a furry windjammer is needed to prevent wind noise, and the dedicated Rode model costs another £30/$38.
This aside, The VideoMic Pro is an excellent mic, and more than justifies its price with its features and performance.
Bad audio is the smartphone vlogger’s enemy #1, and even a small microphone like Joby’s Wavo Mobile can massively improve a video’s watch-ability. Measuring a palm-sized 81x22x22 mm and weighing a mere 50g, this compact and well-made mic is designed specifically for vloggers using a smartphone. A directional cardioid polar pattern for bringing-out and isolating voice, Wavo Mobile comes on a Rycote Duo-Lyre and Hytrel shock mount. Its cold shoe attaches directly to any camera, the top of Joby’s mobile smartphone mount, or to any or 1/4-inch tripod thread. It also comes with cables to attach it to any phone or camera, as well a windshield that makes a big difference when out and about.
The MicRig is a unique product that offers a a stereo mic integrated into a camera rig-cum-stabiliser. It will hold anything from a smartphone to a DSLR (brackets for phone and GoPro cameras are included), and the mic plugs into the camera via a supplied lead.
A furry windjammer is included for outdoor use in breezy conditions, and the frequency response stretches from 35Hz-20KHz. A low-cut filter can be switched on to reduce bass rumble, and there's a -10dB attenuator switch if you need to reduce output to match your camera.
It runs on a single AA battery, and although the rig provides a useful handle, the plastic build flexes under the weight of a DSLR. The audio quality of the stereo-only mic reveals a little high frequency hiss, but gives a good, natural response with a wide stereo field.
Its size may prove too bulky for some and although there's a 1/4in thread on the base of the plastic thumbscrew that mounts the camera, it's doesn't give a particularly solid purchase on a tripod, so the unit is more for handheld use only.
The AT8024 is a shoe-mount shotgun mic that offers a broad array of features. It sports a rubber mount to insulate the mic from camera and handling noise, and offers two pickup patterns for either wide-field stereo or cardioid mono.
Although it's the most expensive option here, it does come with both a foam windscreen and a furry windjammer that's very effective at cutting out wind noise – even in a strong breeze.
It runs for 80 hours on a single AA battery (included), and delivers a 40Hz-15Khz frequency response. Overall, this is a great fit-and-forget mic, that's well constructed and well appointed with accessories.
The mic's noise floor isn't perfect, so it does suffer from a little high-frequency hiss, but recordings are full and natural sounding. It's a bonus having the option to capture stereo at the flick of a switch, and a roll-off filter to cut bass rumble plus a 3-stage gain option to tune the mic's output to your camera's input ticks all the required boxes.
Pair this with a lav for interviews, and you'll be well kitted out for high-quality videos.
The VP83 LensHopper is a short, hotshoe shotgun mic that runs for 130 hours on a single AA battery (included), and offers a supercardioid pickup pattern.
It suppresses sound very effectively from the sides, focusing attention on where your lens is pointed. The capsule is mounted on a shock absorbing Rycote lyre system that isolates the mic from handling noise, and gains of -10, 0 and +20dB are on offer to tune the output to your camera's input.
There's the option of a flat or low-cut response to reduce any bass rumble, and in our tests with the Canon 5D Mk III, the VP83 gave the lowest noise floor of all, so barely any hiss at all was evident in our recordings.
Although the VP83 boasts a frequency response of 50Hz-20KHz, the response curve isn't as flat as the Rode Video MicPro, and there's less bass in the output, giving a thinner sounding recording, with the emphasis on mid and high frequencies.
This cuts through well in terms of clarity, but ultimately, doesn't sound as rich and natural.
The MKE 400 is a very compact shotgun mic that mounts on a hotshoe via a mini shock-absorber and though it weighs in at just 60g, it has a rugged, well-constructed feel.
It runs for up to 300 hours on a single AAA battery (supplied) and offers two gain settings (marked '- vol +') and both a standard response and a low-cut setting to roll off bass rumble.
A supplied foam windscreen protects the capsule but a windjammer for breezy conditions is an optional extra. The MZW 400 kit includes one and also has an XLR adapter for plugging the mic into professional video and audio kit.
The polar pattern is supercardioid, so sound pickup is rejected from the sides and focused on a narrow arc in front of the mic. Although the frequency response stretches from 40Hz to 20KHz, there's a noticeable lack of bottom end on recordings, and it's rather thin sounding, especially when compared to the Rode VideoMic Pro.
Recordings are crisp and clear, with mids and highs punching through, but it'll take extra time in post to restore the low frequencies to get rich, natural-sounding results. The compact size will be very appealing to those who want better sound from a small, lightweight mic.
The Hama RMZ-16 is a tiny shotgun-style mic that weighs next to nothing and sits on the hotshoe. It runs on a single AAA battery (not included) and offers a switchable Norm and Zoom setting that changes the polar pattern from cardioid to supercardioid.
A foam windscreen is supplied, but this picked up some wind noise outdoors, so we added a furry windjammer (not supplied) for our test recordings to maintain consistency.
The main issue with our test sample was it generated a lot of noise, regardless of the polar pattern selected, and the results were not as good as our Canon 5D's built-in mic.
The RMZ-16 cites a frequency response of 100Hz to 10Khz, but recordings were thin and lacking in low-end response. Up very close, around 10cm from the mic, the increased bass response from the proximity effect improved the sound across the frequency range, but the noise remained in the background very noticeably.
The very compact size and feather weight of the RMZ-16 would be appealing to those travelling light, but the results don't make it worthwhile.
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Microphone jargon explained
Microphones have their own jargon. Here's a glossary of mic terms to explain what they all mean, what you need to know and how to use this to choose the best microphone.
An external microphone is an essential purchase if you're serious about getting quality sound recordings on your videos, but which type should you choose? To help you become more au fait with the world of sound recording, here's the lowdown on the audio jargon you can't avoid running into...
What is a polar pattern?
The direction from which a mic can pick up sound cleanly is known as its polar pattern, and this varies according to its design and intended use. In many ways, a mic's polar pattern is a bit like the audio equivalent of a lens's focal length, as it tells you how wide or narrow the pickup angle will be.
What is an omnidirectional mic?
Omnidirectional mics pick up sound from all around the capsule, and this polar pattern is popular on lavalier mics clipped to a presenter's clothing, as the wearer is likely to look up and down and turn their head from side to side while speaking. With omni lavs, it's also common to mount them upside down. This shields the capsule's top from plosives and nasal exhales, with only a small decline in high frequency response and sound level.
What is a cardioid mic?
Cardioid (heart-shaped) polar patterns are common on many types of mics. These pick up sound from the front and sides of the mic, and it falls off at the rear. Cardioid patterns are usually seen on handheld vocal and instrument mics, where the lack of rear response makes them less susceptible to feedback.
What is a supercardioid mic?
Supercardioid polar patterns offer a narrower pickup zone than regular cardioids, so they reject sound coming in from the sides much more. They are more sensitive to sounds from the rear than a cardioid though, so you need silence behind the mic when using them.
What is a hypercardioid mic?
Hypercardioid mics reject even more side-on sounds and are more focused on sounds directly in front. As they're very directional, and have a barrel shape, they're often called 'shotgun' mics, but they're also sensitive to sounds from the rear, so as with a supercardioid, you need to ensure all is quiet behind the mic to get a clean recording of the source you're targetting.
What is a bicardioid mic?
The figure-of-eight or bidirectional mic is the last popular polar pattern. This picks up sounds equally well from the front and rear, but strongly rejects anything coming in from either side. In essence, a figure-of-eight is used like a double-headed mic, so two sources 180 degrees apart can be cleanly recorded.
What is frequency response?
Sound waves are carried through the air, and are measured in cycles per second (also known as Hertz). This is essentially how many times the wave vibrates air molecules in a second to produce a 'note'. Soundwaves stretch from very low frequencies (think of a very low tone) to high frequencies (a very high, shrill note) and someone young with perfect ears may hear from as low as 20 cycles per second (20Hz) to a very high 20,000 cycles (20KHz).
This 20Hz-20KHz is the maximum frequency range of human hearing, though falloff occurs - especially at the upper limit - with age. By the time we pass 25, we're unlikely to hear beyond 15KHz, and this drops down to about 12KHz at 50 years.
To get natural-sounding audio, a mic needs to capture the frequencies we hear, and its frequency response reveals the lowest and highest-pitched sounds it is capable of recording. Professional mics often also have a frequency response chart, so the user can see how the mic may 'colour' the sound with an increase or reduction in sensitivity at particular frequency groups. If the frequency response is relatively flat across the range of human speech (about 100Hz to 8KHz), then the mic will produce a natural-sounding recording.
Phantom and Plug-in Power
Unlike 'passive' dynamic mics, condenser mics require power to run, and mixing desks, field recorders and video cameras in the pro sector offer XLR mic inputs with switchable phantom power. This is sent down the mic lead to fuel the mic's electronics, so no additional power supplies are needed. Enthusiast condenser mics also need power, but either take a battery or use a different standard with a low voltage, called Plug-in Power (PiP). This is sent through the mic lead from the device via its 3.5mm jack socket. Many audio recorders, camcorders and DSLRs offer this, so you can use PiP mics, but check your camera's manual. If your DSLR only offers a passive (unpowered) 3.5mm jack socket for external mics, you'll need a mic that offers its own power source in the form of a battery.
Types of microphones
What is a shotgun mic?
A shotgun microphone is a 'barrel' shaped mic with a hypercardioid pickup pattern that's used extensively in film and TV production to isolate the sound coming from a specific direction. Shotguns may be mounted on the camera, so they target the sound that the lens is pointing at, or attached to a telescopic boom pole. The boom allows them to be placed as close to the source as possible, while keeping the mic itself just out of frame. The mic is suspended on a shock-absorbing mount, so the boom can be moved and the mic directed at the sound source without creating any handling noise.
What is a lavalier mic?
A lavalier microphone is a very small condenser mic that can be clipped to a lapel to remain in close proximity to the mouth of the speaker. It is also often called a tie-clip mic. Because they are visually unobtrusive and give great audio quality, lavs are now the default choice for TV presenters and interview subjects. A subset of the lav is the headworn mic, which is either hidden in the performer's hair or on a small boom that's clipped around the ears. This ensures the mic stays close to the mouth even if the head is turned.
Large diaphragm condenser microphones
A large diaphragm condenser is the most common mic for studio voice recordings, such as voice-over for programmes or vocals for music. Because it's a powered condenser mic, it's able to record crisp, high frequencies much better than unpowered dynamic mics, and the large diaphragm within the capsule does a wonderful job of recording voices really cleanly. Although budget studio condensers are available, and are often sold as 'podcast' mics that plug in to a computer via USB, top pro-quality models are very expensive, costing several thousand pounds.
A handheld microphone is a medium-sized mic designed to be held by the performer or clipped to a stand. They're mainly used for work like speeches and live vocals over a PA system, but examples like Shure's SM58 is sometimes seen on screen as a general purpose interview mic or used as a general purpose post-production tool for voice-overs. Handheld mics are normally very robust, dynamic mics, so they'll withstand loads of abuse and require no independent power source for them to work.
What is a boundary microphone?
A boundary micrphone is an omnidirectional condenser mic that can be placed on a surface like a table. Sometimes called a plate mic owing to its flat shape, they're often used to record meetings or conferences, where speech could be coming from any direction. In a studio, they may be used to capture the live sound of the room.
What is a parabolic microphone?
A parabolic mic is a highly directional mic that works like a satellite dish to focus the sound waves onto a central point, where the mic is situated. They're sometimes used to isolate distant sounds in wildlife recording, but low frequency response is very poor on portable dishes, so they are more common in surveillance use.