Audio Recording For Videos: On-Board vs. External Microphones

The modern camera is truly an ingenious device. The image quality that cameras produce is continuing to grow exponentially. But recording audio is a whole different ball game. The microphone on your camera, or on-board mic, works, but if you really want to get serious you’ll have to explore other options.

There are many things that affect audio recording.

  • Low Quality Mics

    While most cameras have decent audio recording capabilities, many do not. These include still cameras that also shoot video, webcams, and camera phones.

  • Proximity

    If your microphone is not close enough to your subject, audio will suffer. That’s why you see those big boom poles in the movies. They want to get that microphone as close to their subject’s lips as possible.

  • Buzzing

    As crazy as it may seem, many cameras have fans or other parts that create a buzz while recording.

  • AGC or Automatic Gain Control

    AGC turns up the volume or gain when the sound is low, and down when the sound is high. This is fine in a loud environment, but in quiet environments high gain creates buzzing.

  • Directionality

    There are several different types of mics. Professional camcorders may come with directional mics that narrows the focus of the microphone to whatever lies straight ahead. But most cameras come with an omni-directional mic, one that recordings everything evenly. That means whatever’s making sound, the big rig truck in the distance, the moaning cat in the other room, or the crying baby in the crib, it’s all being recorded. The brain is a fantastic audio processor that works nonstop to focus in on what’s being said, and silence what is in the background. But in the movies that is done by an audio engineering team.

When should you use an on-board mic? In a perfectly quiet, echoless room, when the distance between your camera and your subject is less than three feet; in short, never. OK. It isn’t that bad. You’re interested in making your videos and who cares if the audio isn’t that good? Your viewers care, that’s because they’re so used to quality audio in movies and television that anything less is not pleasurable. If you are looking to take your videos to the next level here is what you can do.

  • In a “run and gun” situation go ahead and use the on-board mic, if there are no alternatives.
  • Switch to manual mode. Set an appropriate level for the environment, that way the
    AGC is not going up and down searching for sound.
  • Use an external mic.

External mics will bring you into a whole different ball game. Getting better audio to go along with your video is something you will be proud of, and something your viewers will thank you for. And it’s not really that hard to do.

In the next segment I’ll discuss types of microphones, external vs. internal recording, and syncing sound in post (syncing audio files recorded on an external recorder with video files from your camera). Before you know it you’ll be hiring a sound guy to follow you around with a boom pole!



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"I am a videographer, still photographer and musician. In addition to working in the independent film world, I enjoy playing with computer software and keeping abreast on the latest video production technology."