Production: How To Know what Microphone To Use

There are many different types of microphones. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in any given situation. Knowing the differences between them is the key to knowing what microphone to use.

Omni-Directional vs. Shotgun

The main thing to know about microphones is the pattern in which they collect sound data. Some microphones are referred to as shotgun mics. These are named as such because they pick up a very narrow area of sound. So when you point this mic at a person, it will pick up their voice, but not the voice of the person next to them. It is very directional, and if you were to draw the space that the mic covers, it would look like the barrel of a shot gun. The other type of microphone is an omni-directional mic. In the previous example, you could point the mic at a person and still pick up the voice of the person next to them at a decent level. Omni-directional mics pick up sound all around them which includes unwanted noise.

Camera Microphones

In film, there are three main forms in which microphones come. The cheapest, most basic form exists on video cameras. On-board microphones have been built into the design of high end camcorders today. They are omni-directional and will always point in the general direction of the camera. The good thing about this is that no matter what, you will always have some sort of sound for any given shot. If your boom operator falls behind for a moment, you still have something to work with. It is also good for reference sound if you intend to build your own sound in post-production. However, due to being omni-directional, these mics will pick up a lot of ambiance and background noise which will muddle the desired sounds. They are also useless if your subjects are farther than 15 feet from you.

Boom Microphones

The number one mic to bring to your shoot is your boom mic. These microphones are directional, but vary in exactly how directional and sensitive they are. They mount onto the end of a boom pole and require a skilled operator. If you are shooting a conversation between two people, the operator will need to memorize the script and point the mic at each person as they begin their lines. Though this may seem like a lot of work, this is generally the best way to acquire high quality sound.


The most modern microphone is a lavaliere. These are tiny mics that are meant to be hidden somewhere in the subjects clothing. They are omni-directional mics, but only pick up sound in a small amount of space. So only the voice of the attached person should be recorded. These are especially handy if the person will be walking around to places where the boom cannot reach them. Many are wireless, so the person can be completely independent while still being recorded.

Recording clean sound is often deemed secondarily important. Save yourself some trouble and give this department some attention.

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