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Paul Rijnders

Making Great Email Videos Part 3 - What Kinds of Mics Plug into My Camera?

Jan 05 2011, 03:45 PM by

In the last audio installment of our "Making Great Video Emails" series, we talked about a few scenarios that might necessitate the use of an external microphone. The plus side to doing this is that your audio situation should improve dramatically in the form of less noise, stronger and louder voices, and controlling the pick up of indirect reverberant noise. Making a professional audio impression will be key to your successful video email marketing.

So what are my mic options? There are probably a few hundred models from a few dozen manufacturers that are built specifically for audio to video, but what's right for you depends on both your budget AND what kind of camera you have.
Portable Camera Revolution
Are you a Flip Mino owner? Do you have a handheld Kodak (like the Z series)? Maybe you have another model of the small, portable, no optical zoom, I-can't-believe-I-got-an-HD-camcorder-for-under-a-hundred variety. Chances are that these small, great, fun cameras get an acceptable picture (if you hold really still or use a tripod), but the audio needs help. Hopefully the camera has a mic input. It is easy to miss because it sometimes looks like a headphone jack.
My Camera Has a 1/8 Mini-Jack
Though not the most professionally spec'd input, there are many mics available to plug into this 1/8 inch mini-jack. Just don't expect to plug in a standard studio mic. Many professional level mics require an XLR connector (it's a big plug that won't fit in your camera), phantom power (operation voltage supplied by an external source), or even a decent preamp to sound good. None of that will be on your handheld wonder camera. There are even some very expensive prosumer cameras that are limited on the audio side by 1/8 inch mini-jacks.

Fear not, there are decent options available to you. Google "1/8 mini-jack microphone video" and you'll see offerings on Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, Radio Shack and many others. There are great options for lavaliers (the small hidden mics that clip onto the talent's lapel), modest shotgun mics (mountable via boom or camera, designed to somewhat attenuate sound from all directions except for the front), handheld dynamic mics (for that newsy look) and small stereo mics. Read the reviews, get pro advice if it's available and make sure you can test it out and/or return it if it isn't great.
My Camera Has an XLR Input
Well this article probably isn't made for you, moneybags! Or is it? We've seen $3K cameras with 1/8 minijacks and cheaper cameras with XLR inputs (you'd know if you had this - it would be either labeled as such, or you'd see a hole about the size of a quarter that accepts a three-pinned plug). Anyway, you could probably plug in most "pro level" mics: Shure SM58s (a handheld dynamic), Sennheiser Shotgun mics, many wireless systems, the list goes on. Just be mindful to set the gain setting correct so that you achieve a good volume without overloading the input. If you have some classic Neumann studio mic on your hands, put that thing back in the studio where it belongs. It won't even work, anyway, unless you have phantom power on your camera (but don't put this on if you don't need it).
My Camera Doesn't Have ANY Audio Input
Are you out of luck here? No way! Now you get to make movies the old Hollywood way: record your video and audio to separate systems. Really. March yourself over to your favorite musical instrument store and ask for a demo on the many handheld audio recorders available. The Zoom H2 is particularly cool for the budget-minded. For just over a hundred bucks, you can set up a great sounding mic that records near you for your presentations. I personally have another brand that comes with a small, cabled stereo mic that can be clipped on me and it has a 1/4 inch TRS input (google it) that can provide phantom power to any condenser mic that requires it.

There are other options here, too. You buy a great external sound card for your laptop (like the Apogee Duet - Mac only) and plug in great mics and get great recordings. That might set you back about $500. But if your laptop has a decent sounding 1/8 inch mini-jack, why not pick up a shareware audio recording application and revisit the options for "My Camera Has an 1/8 inch Mini-Jack"?
What Will We Talk about Next?
Turning your email videos into an effective email campaign strategy is our top priority, and we've covered three successful areas so far. But look at this. All out of room and we haven't even addressed when to use certain microphone types or even uttered the term "pick-up" pattern. Hmn, I guess that's why they say stay tuned!

Posted in Tips & Resources

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