Posted on by Tycho Smith

The Basics of On-camera Microphones – How to Understand the Specs


For any video interviewers, vloggers and journalists that use a DSLR camera for video production, the quality of sound is high on your list of priorities. If you have been researching the types of on-camera microphones, chances are you have asked the questions and have seen the brands listed below.

Questions:
What microphone is best for me?
What are the different pickup patterns?
What is a condenser microphone? What is a dynamic mic?
What is frequency response?

Brands:
Rode (VideoMicro, VideoMic Pro)
Sennheiser (MKE 400, MKE 600)
Shure (VP83)
Azden (SMX-30)
MOVO Photo (VXR10)

First, we’ll address the frequently asked questions about on-camera microphones.

1. What microphone is best for me? 2. What are the different pickup patterns?

This is usually a question either about the microphone application (what to use it for) or about the camera that the microphone is used on.

This is a critical question as there is no such thing as one-size fits all on-camera microphone. Here is a chart that we put together to help shed some light on the various applications and the desired pick-up patterns of the microphone.

Pickup Patterns Matching Applications

Omnidirectional – recording from every direction

1. Interviews/Conferences with recording subjects from all directions.

2. Film and environment shots that require rich ambient noises.

Cardioid – slightly directional and versatile pickup pattern for universal usage

1. Events and documentary style videos– one or two target recording subjects and ideal to have some level of ambient sound.

2. Indoor interviews

Hypercardioid and supercardioid – directional pattern, great for avoiding most of the noise

1. Instrument and singing recording

2. Interviews

Lobar – the most directional pattern

1. Interviews

2. Narrative record

3. What is a condenser microphone vs. a dynamic mic?

Similar to these pickup pattern terms, you will come across two terms describing the different transducer types of microphones, the condenser or the dynamic microphone. The most significant three differences are:

  • In general, the condenser microphones are more expensive than the dynamic microphones
  • The dynamic mics are more durable than the condenser microphones, and less affected by the change of temperatures and humidity
  • The condenser microphones are more sensitive than the dynamic microphones – sensitivity refers to how quiet a sound the mic can detect

Because of these factors, condenser microphones are usually used in studios (interviews, podcasts, singing, etc.) and dynamic microphones are good choices for stage recording of the amplified sound such as the drum, guitar, bass amps.

4. What is frequency response?

Frequency is the number of cycles a soundwave undergoes in a second. In simple English, it means the range of sound that a microphone can “hear” and “reproduce.” For example, The lowest note of a 4-string bass is about 40 Hz, and the human hearing range is 20 to 20k Hz.

Here is a rough divide of various sounds and their frequency ranges:

  • <40 Hz: Sub Bass.
  • 40-250 Hz: Bass and Drum.
  • 250-500 Hz: Low Mids: most instrument sound and the “powerful” human sound fall into this category.
  • 500-2000 Hz: Mid-Range: Most vocal is recorded in this range. Our ear is particularly sensitive to how the human voice sounds in this range.
  • 2000-4000 Hz: High-Midrange: Our ear is most sensitive at the high midrange frequencies. Vocals are powerful and prominent in this range.
  • 4000-7000 Hz: Presence: This range is important for sound definition and clarity. Home stereo controls and speeches often fall into this range.
  • 7000-16000 Hz: Treble/Brilliance: This is what we refer to as high pitched sound.

Comparison of the Most Popular On-Camera Microphones

RODE VideoMicro RODE VideoMic Pro Sennheiser MKE 400 Shure VP83F Azden SMX-30 Stereo MOVO VXR10

Pickup

Pattern

Cardioid

Lobar

Lobar

Lobar

Mono: Supercardioid
Stereo: 2 x Cardioid

Cardioid

Key

Benefits

- 100Hz to 20kHz frequency response

- High value/price

- Broadcast sound quality

- 40Hz to 20kHz frequency response

- Precise sound quality

- 40Hz to 20kHz frequency response

- Clear and precise high-quality sound

- 50Hz to 20kHz frequency response

- Both Stereo/Mono recording modes

- 40Hz to 20kHz frequency response

- Best value/price

- 35Hz to 18kHz frequency response

Price

$68.00

$229.00

$199.95

$299.00

$242.00

$39.95