Using an External Microphones with a Video Camcorder.
Just as the cost of microphones and recording equipment has greatly reduced over recent years, so has the cost of entry to the video and editing world.
When you first use your video camcorder the novelty of being able to show your moving pictures and sound to family and friends is sufficient to hide the poor sound quality of the built in microphones. If you intend to show your programs to a more discerning audience you will have to address these shortcomings.
At the time of filming, our ears, eyes and brain work together to effectively suppress the reverberation and other unwanted sound sources in the room to allow us to hear what someone is saying. The video camera?s microphones don?t do this however. If the camera is many feet away from the subject then it will sound overly reverberant and in a noisy room you wont be able to make out what is being said by your subjects.
This is where external microphones are needed, the closer a microphone can get to the subject the quieter other sounds become effectively.
Usually camcorders have a built in stereo electret microphone which can be unplugged from its socket or there are external microphone sockets and some means of switching between them and the built in microphones. Also an extra A/V socket is usually available for plugging an external audio mixer.
It might be necessary to buy a ?stereo plug to two mono sockets? lead so that you can make full use of the two tracks that are available on most camcorders, some have four sound tracks available.
If at this stage you don?t have any external microphones then the best advice for getting good quality sound from the built in microphones is to get your camera as close to your sound source as possible i.e. for most group shots the camera should be about 6 feet away and use the wide angle lens, rather than being a long way from the group and zooming in to get the same shot size.
Video Microphones for Weddings, Christenings.
These usually take place in churches where long reverberation times are a problem. Positioning the camera is also a problem, it?s unlikely that you?ll be allowed to wander around with your camcorder during the service, so prior to the event arrange to leave the camera on a tripod at the side of the church framed on a shot size suitable to include the couple and the priest/vicar/registrar etc.
If you have access to a radio microphone it?s best to arrange for the priest to wear it since he?ll be the one doing most of the talking and the responses of the couple will be picked up on his microphone as he?s close to and facing them at that time; the couple?s sound wont be as good as the priest?s but so long as they are no more than 3 feet away from the microphone it will be usable, also in Post Production adding a bit more bass at the times they are talking will help to make the sound more natural. Remember to use new batteries, there?s no ?take two? in this situation.
If you don?t have a radio microphone then plug in a cardioid condenser microphone into one channel of your camcorder and position it on a short stand (about 2-3 feet high) on the floor, close to where the couple will make their vows, pointing up at the couple and priest?s heads, frame the shot to just avoid the microphone. Another cardioid microphone plugged into the other channel can be put on the pulpit if the priest delivers some of the service from there. A second camera will be needed to get that shot (and useful cutaways) discretely operated from the congregation area.
In this scenario since the camera will be left unattended it will be best to set audio levels to ?Auto? or set levels manually before the service and leave plenty of headroom to avoid distortion.
Don?t forget to tape down microphone cables so that no -one trips up and causes damage to themselves and the attached camera, and don?t forget to set the camera on the tripod to ?Record? before the bride arrives, also make sure you have a new tape of sufficient length for the whole service. If you do use two camcorders keep them recording all the time, this will enable you to synchronize them easily in the Edit, you?ll use the tripod camera?s good quality sound all the time and then have the choice as to which shot to use.
At the reception you will have to find out who will be making speeches and arrange to put your microphones on short stands on the table or taller stands on the floor, two microphones should give good general coverage for the ?top table? where the principal speakers will be sitting, maybe arrange to get someone to position the nearest microphone infront of each speaker. The camera position wont be as limited as in the church but be extra careful with cables. An extra camera would be useful to get guests reactions, alternative angles and shot sizes.
Recording Musicians and Choirs with a Video Camcorder This is one exception to the ?get close? rule, in this case you need to position the camera on a tripod close to where a conductor is (or would be if there isn?t one) to get a good general sound of the musicians, if you go too far back into the room you?ll get too much reverberation and the detail and sense of stereo positioning of each instrument will be lost. It?s best to wear some closed back headphones to critically listen to what your microphones are ?hearing?.
To get best quality in this case you really need a good quality stereo condenser or ribbon microphone on a stand positioned by the conductor at a height of about 3 meters so that it ?looks? down on all the musicians and doesn?t just favour the front row of musicians, this is plugged into the camera via an audio mixer, this then allows the camera to move about to get different shots.
If you are recording an amplified concert then it?s best to arrange a stereo feed of the sound from the sound mixer positioned in the audience area since the sound from the speakers will not be good enough.
If your presenter needs to be mobile then it would be best to buy or rent a radio microphone kit, this allows a lapel microphone to be permanently close to the presenter?s mouth while the receiver is attached to the camera and plugged into the microphone input or A/V input via an audio mixer.
If the presenter is always static and fairly close to the camera at all times then they can wear an electret ?line microphone? (the pre-amplifier is built into the body of the connector along with a battery for power, if it doesn?t have a battery compartment then you will need to plug it into a ?phantom power? box first or switch phantom power on at the camera if it?s available) which is plugged into the camera via an extension lead, the camera operator will have to frame the presenter such that the extension lead doesn?t appear in the shot.
Presenter and Interviewees
If the presenter is interviewing several people, one person at a time, then a handheld microphone can be plugged into their radio transmitter or better still, to avoid missing parts of questions and/or answers due to poor microphone technique, a separate transmitter and handheld microphone can be used for the interviewees (the receiver is plugged into the other audio input of the camcorder) and the presenter can wear a lapel microphone plugged into their transmitter.
Direct connection of these microphones instead of using radio microphones is also possible so long as cables and mobility are not an issue for the cameraman/director.
If a large group of people are to be interviewed then it would be best to have a boom operator to concentrate on pointing a hypercardiod microphone on a ?fishpole? at the person who?s talking, this is sent to one input and the presenter?s lapel microphone is sent to another track.
Alternatively a sound recordist would use an audio mixer with sufficient number of microphone inputs and lapel microphones to fade up whoever is talking in the group off interviewees.
At the editing stage the relevant audio track can be favoured to get as ?close? a sound as possible, if both tracks are faded up all the time then the sound becomes more open and less defined.
External Microphones for Recording Drama with a Camcorder
If you want to film a drama then you will have to be led by the script, director and budget as to how much equipment and extra sound operators you will need.This is the general sound you hear all around you, it is useful to record a minute?s worth of this (which you can loop for longer scenes) for post production reasons, it can be used to hide edits in the dialogue tracks and in drama to make a scene seem more realistic, especially if it was recorded in a quiet sound studio.
Does the script call for just one person talking at a time in close and medium shots, if so then plugging in an external cardioid microphone and pointing it at the actor, ideally via a portable audio mixer with its built in limiter will be sufficient.
If many actors are talking in a mixture of wide and close shots then you will probably need radio microphones plus one or more boom operators and a portable audio mixer.
Recording the Natural Sound
It?s best to use a separate stereo condenser microphone plugged into the camera or via an audio mixer positioned away from the camera to avoid picking up camera noise.
More specialist rifle or parabolic microphones will be needed if you are trying to focus in on one particular animal?s sound for a Natural History programme.
Camcorder Microphones - Technical Issues.
The built in microphones and pre-amplifiers on most domestic camcorders may not be good enough for professional requirements. It is best to use a separate audio mixer and microphones plugged into the A/V input and switch off any built in ?auto? functions and limiters and then set the recording levels in the camera manually according to the Tone generator in the audio mixer.
Analogue camcorders will have to set their levels at -4vu and digital camcorders at 20db below full scale and set the audio sample rate to the highest setting i.e. 48khz.
If you are using microphones plugged directly into the camera it is best to manually control their volume (sometimes quite fiddly on domestic camcorders) or accept the downside of ?pumping? audio if you elect to use the ?auto? functions.
Condenser microphones will need a separate power supply on most camcorders unless they are the semi-professional and professional versions in which case you?ll have to select phantom power to be active on each channel.