The mics built into DSLRs, camcorders and CSCs are very basic, and only designed as an emergency 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 proper microphone input.
To get better audio quality, you need to use an external microphone. These plug in to the camera's 3.5mm mic socket, and are either positioned on the camera's hotshoe, placed on a boom or mic stand, or are attached directly to your subject.
The most convenient approach is the hotshoe mount, as you'll get better sound recordings without having to change anything in your shooting workflow. This can be ideal if you're looking to get cleaner audio of general scenes, and want a fuss-free approach to recording the ambient sounds that occur.
From the roar of city traffic to birdsong in the woods, a shoe-mounted 'shotgun' mic is ideal. If your audio is more critical, such as the voice of a presenter or an interview subject, then you need to position the mic as close to them as possible.
In this case, a lavalier (or lav) mic is the answer, as it can be clipped in close proximity to the source (or hidden within the shot) to get the cleanest possible sound.
The budget for pro-quality mic setups used in TV and cinema can easily run into thousands, but we've lined up a selection of wallet-friendly options that will still give you better results than your camera's built-in mic.
For the test, we attached the mics to a Canon EOS 5D Mk III and recorded at a manual level peaking at -12dB to avoid clipping (distortion). We recorded speech from a presenter directly in front of the mic both indoors and outside from distances of 30cm, 1m and 2m.
We compared the results on monitor speakers and headphones, checking for overall response across the frequency range and noted any background noise introduced, such as hiss.
1. Boya BY-M1
Amazing value and impressive sound quality
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Lavalier | Polar pattern: Omnidirectional | Frequency response: 65Hz-18KHz | Power source: LR44 battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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 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 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.
2. Sevenoak MicRig Stereo
Stabilizer and microphone to fit any camera
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Stereo-only | Polar pattern: Wide-field stereo | Frequency response: 35Hz-20KHz | Power source: 1 x AA battery | Supplied windscreen: Furry Windjammer
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.
3. Audio-Technica ATR 3350
Well made budget-level microphone
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Lavalier | Polar pattern: Omnidirectional | Frequency response: 50Hz-18KHz | Power source: LR44 battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.
4. Audio-Technica AT8024
Big on price, but has the features to match
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Cardioid mono + Stereo | Frequency response: 40Hz-15KHz | Power source: 1 x AA battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam + Furry Windjammer
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.
5. Rotolight Roto-Mic
Good value mic that's worth a look
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Supercardioid | Frequency response: 40Hz-20KHz | Power source: 1 x 9v battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam + Furry Windjammer
Better known for innovative LED lighting, Rotolight also offer the Roto-Mic. Originally designed as a kit with an LED ringlight that surrounds the mic, the Roto-Mic is also available separately.
The mic sports an impressive frequency response of 40Hz-20KHz, and its output can be set to +10, -10 or 0dB to match up with the specifics of the camera in use.
The polar pattern is supercardioid so it focuses on a small area directly in front of the mic, and as well as a foam windscreen, it comes with a furry windjammer that does a good job of eliminating wind noise outdoors.
With this, we found the best results were obtained by placing it over the top of the foam. Relatively compact, and powered by a 9v battery block (not included) the only downside of the Roto-Mic is some high-frequency hiss that's noticeable when compared to quieter shotguns.
It can be processed out in post-production, so isn't a deal breaker considering its good set of features and price, but this aspect of its performance gets in the way.
6. Rode VideoMic Go
A good choice for budget-conscious shooters
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Supercardioid | Frequency response: 100Hz-16KHz | Power source: None (plug-in power) | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.
7. Rode VideoMic Pro
A good choice for those prepared to invest in audio
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Supercardioid | Frequency response: 40Hz-20KHz | Power source: 1 x 9v battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.
8. Shure VP83 LensHopper
Good, well made mic, but sounds rather thin
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Supercardioid | Frequency response: 50Hz-20KHz | Power source: 1 x AA battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.
9. Sennheiser MKE 400
Good, very compact mic, but a little thin sounding
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Supercardioid | Frequency response: 40Hz-20KHz | Power source: 1 x AAA battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.
10. Hama RMZ-16
The camera's built-in mic gave better results
Transducer type: Condenser | Form: Shotgun | Polar pattern: Cardioid + Supercardioid | Frequency response: 100Hz-10KHz | Power source: 1 x AAA battery | Supplied windscreen: Foam
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.