As a filmmaker, you can get a lot of incredible footage from a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
These cameras are versatile and cheaper alternatives to professional video cameras, and it’s pretty easy to get great footage out of the box without any fancy accessories.
But no matter how good your footage is, it’s only half the picture. You also need good audio.
Capturing good audio is a cheap and effective way to improve your work dramatically.
So, let’s look at the different types of microphones, the situations you will use them in, and some suggestions for gear to get you started.
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Your Camera’s Built-In Microphone
You don’t want poor audio to hamper what could otherwise be a great project.
Many people have a lower tolerance for bad audio than bad video, and chances are that the built-in microphone on your camera leaves something to be desired.
Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your sound quality, from camera-mounted microphones that plug directly into your DSLR camera to dedicated audio recorders for getting professional audio.
The built-in microphones only work close to your subjects and in very quiet settings for most DSLR cameras.
Even in these environments, there is a vast difference in sound quality compared to audio from a dedicated professional recording device.
That’s not to say you immediately need to shell out hundreds of dollars for a top-of-the-line microphone.
Many products are running the gamut, from smartphone-compatible mics to studio-quality microphones. The sheer volume of choices and product information can be a little daunting.
As a filmmaker, you need to consider the demands of your project and the audience and medium you will be sharing it in.
In the next few sections, we will look at microphones you can mount directly on your camera, lavalier mics you can discreetly attach to your subjects, and XLR adapters and preamps to set you up for the highest-quality audio.
A straightforward way to boost the sound quality of your camera is with a camera-mounted shotgun microphone.
Shotgun microphones are directional audio recording devices, and many are available with a 3.5mm jack to connect to most DSLRs.
These microphones are designed with unidirectional microphones, which means the audio is concentrated on sources directly in front of the microphone. This is great for minimizing the noise from the sides or behind you as you record.
Since you can mount many of these directly on your camera, these microphones are perfectly suited for capturing audio as the action plays out.
Alternatively, these mics can be mounted on a boom pole to help maneuver the microphone closer to the action.
There are many shotgun microphones, which can be divided into on-camera microphones and traditional shotgun microphones.
On-camera microphones are a type of shotgun microphone that you mount on top of your camera. They are typically less directional than a traditional shotgun microphone, meaning they’ll pick up more of the room acoustics.
On-camera microphones are typically equipped with 3.5mm mini-jack plugins that you can plug into the mic input on your camera. This gives you synced audio and video, as both are recorded on a single device.
Also, if you’re planning to hold your camera in your hand for vlogging, an on-camera microphone is a great choice.
These are often not the highest quality microphones, and you may want to get the microphone closer to your subject for less noise and room acoustics if you want the best possible audio.
You can read more about on-camera microphones and find popular choices in our guide to some of the best budget on-camera shotgun microphones.
Traditional Shotgun Microphones
Traditional shotgun microphones are typically more directional and pick up less of the room than an on-camera microphone.
Traditional shotgun microphones have XLR cables that are less prone to noise. XLR also means a more secure microphone and recording device connection.
Shotgun microphones are great when paired with an external audio recorder.
Using a dedicated recording device will allow you more freedom with where to place a microphone.
Still, an external preamp or XLR adapter can also directly mount the mic on your camera.
You can read more about traditional shotgun microphones in our guide to Shotgun Microphones And Boom Poles For Filmmaking.
And if you’re looking to buy a shotgun microphone, you should check out our article about Shotgun Microphones For Film, Video & Interviews.
Another way to capture audio is with lavalier microphones or lav mics. These are small microphones that you can discreetly clip onto a shirt collar or lapel. This allows you to record and optimize the audio for your subjects individually.
Often, lav mics are used in interview settings or for a seated or semi-stationary conversation. Since your microphone is located directly on your source, you can get consistently well-balanced audio while minimizing background noises.
Many lav mics plug into a wireless transmitter with a receiver you can connect directly to your DSLR camera or an audio recorder.
Alternatively, you can set your subject up with a separate recording device and sync the audio and video in post-production.
Many lav mics connect to smartphones. Though this doesn’t allow you the most control, it is a cheap alternative.
Just remember to tuck the microphone cables and wires away to clean up the scene, and be wary of any noise that could be caused by the subject moving.
You can read more about Lavalier microphones in our guide to some of the Best Budget-Friendly Lavalier Microphones With Great Sound Quality.
XLR Microphones, External Preamps, and External Audio Recorders
For the highest quality audio, you will most likely be looking at XLR-compatible microphones.
These setups are more involved since DSLR cameras do not have an XLR port. You can use a microphone with a direct XLR connection to a dedicated recording device to give you the most control over your sound quality.
With an external audio recorder, you can control sound levels and monitor sound quality during the shoot. You can also manage several audio inputs simultaneously, which is always a good practice in case one of your microphones fails.
This setup is great if you have someone dedicated to capturing audio, but it can be a bit much if you are filming individually.
Also, using a separate recording device introduces the added difficulty of syncing audio and video in post-production. Clear file labeling and software that can synchronize your audio and video are a big help.
External XLR Preamp Modules
Another option is to use an external XLR module, like the XLR1 for Panasonic cameras, that you attach to your camera hot-shoe.
The module gives you much more control over your audio than possible in-camera, and it is also equipped with much better preamps for a cleaner sound.
The nice thing about using a module such as this is that it will feed the audio to your camera, so you don’t have to sync the audio and sound in post-production as you do with an external recording device.
The downside to this module is that it needs to stay on top of your camera. So, you might need some long XLR cables if you place a shotgun microphone on the microphone stand next to your subject.
If possible, always gather two sources of audio, e.g., a from a lavalier and a shotgun microphone. That way, you’ll have more control over the sound when editing your footage.
Plus, you’ll have a backup sound source if your microphone suddenly stops working or your actor or interviewee suddenly scratches themselves near the lavalier.
XLR Microphones and XLR adapters
If you’re a crew of one or looking to simplify things, an alternative is to use an XLR adapter so you can still connect a high-end microphone directly to your camera.
You’ll need a female XLR to 3.5mm adapter to connect a professional XLR microphone to your DSLR or smartphone.
This setup lets you get high-quality audio (though still shy of professional grade) already synced with your video. An added advantage of using an XLR adapter is eliminating your camera’s automatic gain control (AGC).
Like autofocus, automatic gain control adjusts your audio level to the situation. For quieter environments, the audio level will increase and decrease in louder situations.
This means you have an unbalanced audio track, which can be difficult to touch up in post-production.
Mini-jack to XLR adapters
If you, on the other hand, own an on-camera microphone or Lavalier mic with a 3.5mm minijack and a preamp module or external recorder with XLR inputs, you can get a 3.5mm mini-jack-to-XLR adapter to let you use your microphone with your external recorder or XLR module.
The result won’t be as good as an XLR microphone that goes directly into an XLR input, but it’s a neat way to use the better preamps of the external recorder or XLR module instead of the in-built preamps of your camera.
Using XLR adapters gives you the utmost control over your sound without a separate audio recorder.
As a filmmaker, you have to make sure you record audio and video. Luckily, it’s possible to drastically improve the sound quality of your DSLR camera without much difficulty.
There are many ways to upgrade your audio beyond built-in microphones, depending on your filming setting.
I have a variety of equipment and will switch between lavs, audio recorders, and shotgun microphones, depending on the project.
Mini-jack compatible microphones are convenient and versatile, while high-quality XLR microphones can take you to the next level.
As a filmmaker, it’s up to you to try things out and find what works best for your vision. Is there a product you rely on for great audio? Let us know in the comment section below!