January 8, 2016

The One Piece of Equipment You Need for Better Video

It’s not a better video camera. Even if you don’t have a fancy DSLR or similar camera with video capability, chances are you have a smartphone made some time in the last five years. The video quality on them is fine and, while I’d be lying if I said it was as good as a DSLR, it’s good enough for YouTube.

No, what you need for consistently better videos is a good microphone. Audio quality in videos is often regrettably overlooked yet, arguably, is the more important aspect when it comes to overall perceived quality, especially with online video. Few things are more annoying than struggling to understand someone’s video when they sound tinny, distant, and largely drowned out by background hiss.

Most people, understandably, would sooner give up than endure.

So, what options are there for video audio? The following video from James Wedmore discusses the main categories of microphones and their relative strengths and weaknesses for video production:

In short:

  • In-built microphones are best avoided
  • Shotgun microphones are ideal for run-and-gun work, however if you’re filming in a small room they will pick up a lot of room noise — the reverberation of your voice against the space around you. The net result can be similar to using the in-built microphone, with background noise and hiss, but with a louder voice.
  • Wired lapel microphones that clip onto your shirt and plug straight into your camera or a sound recorder with a lengthy cable.
  • Wireless lapel/lavalier microphones that use a transmitter/receiver system to cover long distances while still delivering clear audio.

Originally we used a wired lapel microphone with a shotgun mic as backup, but the lengthy cable was more problematic than it was worth and our typical filming location effectively made the shotgun microphone about as useful as using the in-built microphone on our DSLR.

These days the shotgun mic is in storage, the wired mic is reserved as a backup, and our primary microphone is a Sennheiser wireless lapel system. Even when our filming location doesn’t allow us the most beautiful imagery possible, we know we’re getting good, clean, professional audio that maintains the level of quality we demand from our work.

So as tempting as it might be to go shopping for a new video camera when you decide to make online videos, make sure people can hear you properly first. People are far more forgiving of less than optimum video than they are of cheap audio, and good audio will go much further to making your videos appear professional.