Different Types of Microphones

How to choose a microphone for 
your documentary project

Different Types of Microphones

Different types of microphones may be needed for your documentary or video project depending on the various ways you'll be capturing footage and interviews.

The importance of capturing GREAT audio cannot be overstated. I've heard it said that people are more willing to tolerate bad visuals before they will tolerate bad audio.

There are three basic categories of microphones for documentary and video production.

Three Basic Categories of Microphones

Shotgun Microphone

These mics are great for pinpointing the exact audio you want without the problem of audio interference from surrounding ambient noise. The mic can be manually held using a boom pole or attached to a boom stand.

Handheld microphones

These are typically what you see local TV reporters using. They are useful for “run and gun” type of situations.

Lapel Microphones

These are tiny little mics, also referred to as lavalier microphones, that clip to someone’s shirt or tie and are usually used in a sit-down interview situation. These are great for capturing consistent audio levels as the microphone does not move around like a handheld mic. (Helpful Hint: always tuck away wires and cables for a more professional look.)

Directional Microphones | Audio Pick Up Patterns

Different types of microphones gather sound in varying ways and there are three (3) basic audio patterns. Understanding these patterns will help you choose the right microphone for your project:

omni-directional audio pattern

- This is a great all purpose microphone, gathering a wide range of sounds from all directions. For example, this kind of mic is great for picking up all voices in a group discussion. Camcorders typically operate with an internal omnidirectional mic. For good quality sound, the mic must be held close to its subject.

cardioid audio pattern

– So named because the pick-up pattern of the audio is somewhat heart-shaped. The mic pics up sound mostly from the front and sides of the microphone and also a bit from behind. Handheld microphones used for gathering news usually have this audio pattern for the widest possible usage.

uni-directional audio pattern

Uni-directional – Used in shotgun mics, this audio pattern is great for focusing in on a specific sound and blocking out ambient noise. For example, this is a great mic if you want to pick up the voice of just one person in a group discussion or one actor in a scene. (This mic is not for long distant sound as some people think) Unidirectional mics are highly directional and must be pointed directly at the subject to capture the best sound quality. No dozing if you’re the boom mic operator!

12' Carbon Fiber Boom Pole from Amazon.com

Microphone Windscreens

Don't let wind noise ruin your audio!  Windscreens are a must-have item for shooting outdoors.  Even the slightest breeze can ruin sound coming into an unprotected mic.

Windscreen examples:

Let's Go Wireless!

If you’re like me, I hate dealing with cables. They get in the way, they get tangled, they can slow you down and they can limit your options for creativity (for example, a wireless mic is great for a “walk and talk” with your subject). It’s a bit more expensive to buy wireless mics, but to me, they are totally worth the extra cost.

The only downside is that they tend to be a bit more complicated (more buttons and settings) and can pick up wireless interference, however the benefits of flexibility and creativity far outweigh the negatives.

I personally use a Sennheiser EW100 wireless microphone and absolutely love it.

You can also get a wireless transmitter for handheld or shotgun mics (such as the Sennheiser SKP100 G3 plug-on transmitter ) which allows the mic operator to walk away from the camera and not be “tied down” with cables.

To the right is a great wireless microphone starter kit from Amazon.com:

Search Microphones

Documentary Filmmaking Gear Check-List

Video Gear

Are you in need of more than just a microphone?

We've put together a great filmmaking starter kit and check-list to help you find the best gear for your project.

Click here to see a list of Documentary Video Production Equipment Gear.

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