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A Bad Microphone Means A Bad Video – Getting Started in Video Part 3

A Good Lavalier Microphone

A Good Lavalier Microphone

New videographers often overlook one crucial piece of equipment – the microphone.

And no wonder they do. It’s almost impossible to find a decent camcorder for sale for less than $1,000.00 with an external mic jack. Newer camcorders have built-in stereo microphones instead, which promise great sound. But the microphone on your camcorder is probably omni-directional, which means it will pick up room noises to the side and back of what you are filming. It is subject to vibration and humming from other components and cables on your camcorder. And it can pick up the noise of the camcorder motor as it turns the tape.

For clean, bright sound, you cannot rely on a built-in microphone.


Experienced videographers often have a bag full of microphones. One may be perfectly suited to a particular situation, but a poor choice in any other video.

Consumer camcorders usually have microphone mini-plugs – similar to the plug on your iPod’s headphones, for instance. More expensive camcorders will have XLR plugs. XLR cables can carry sound better, over longer distances, and high end mics will always use XLR jacks. If you want to use an XLR microphone and your camcorder is equipped with a mini-jack, you will need something like the Beachtek XLR Adapters

A lavalier, or clip on, microphone is perfect for how to videos and product demonstrations where there is just one person speaking. A reasonably good lavalier, like the Audio Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone costs about $30.00.

If you want a wireless microphone, your choices are more limited, unless you have a very large budget. An excellent wireless microphone is a serious investment.

But, if you can control the environment, the AZDEN WMS-PRO Lavaliere System with Hand-Held Microphone for under $165.00 comes with a transmitter, a handheld microphone, and a lavalier mic. It gives good results up to about 50 feet. This system is a good compromise between quality and cost. (However, note: you can use the lavalier or the handheld mic – you cannot use both at the same time.)

Many videographers looking for a wireless solution try Bluetooth microphones. They are almost always disappointed, despite the hefty price tag. I’d recommend that you steer clear of Bluetooth microphones for camcorders.

The handheld microphone is useful for “man in the street” interviews. Of course, if you truly are filming “in the street,” dangling cords can be hazardous unless you have a crew to keep track of them. The AZDEN WMS-PRO Lavaliere System with Hand-Held Microphone might be a good budget choice. But if you plan on doing a lot of outdoor filming, think about a boom mic instead.

A boom microphone is simply a shotgun microphone mounted on a long pole (known as a boom pole). Someone holds the microphone above the speaker, out of frame. If you are shooting outside, you’ll want to cover the mic with a wind shield. These are those big, fuzzy covers, sometimes called a “dead cat.”

The Rode VideoMic Directional Shotgun Mic w/Mount makes both an excellent boom microphone and a camera mounted shotgun mic. It comes with a shock mount that snaps into your camcorder’s hotshoe. The microphone should run about $165.00.

You can add the Rode DeadCat for anther $50.00.

A good boom pole needs to be light, well balanced, and expandable. If you want one for the Rode Videomic, take a look at the Rode Microphones Mini Boompole for about $115.00

If you are planning to use a boom mic, look for package deals. The microphone, dead cat, and pole can often be purchased together at a discounted price.


As you can see, a collection of microphones for all occasions can become expensive. Luckily, you probably won’t need more than a wired, lavalier microphone to start making your own How To or product demonstration videos.

As usual, the key to finding the right mic is planning. Know your audience and know your project before you shop.

Keep your early videos simple. Shoot inside, where you can control ambient noise. Have only one narrator, whether in front of or behind the camera. The more complicated the shoot gets, the less likely it is to be done. If you can avoid adding an extra person to handle the sound, at least in the beginning, you will finish more projects.

In Part 4, we’ll look at microphones for use in screencasting.