HDSLR Audio: Shotgun Mic Shootout

When I started taking a seriously look at working more with video, the last thing on my mind was audio.  I learned quickly that capturing quality audio is critical to a good video segment.

I certainly have a long way to go in figuring out a solid audio work flow, but at least I’m starting to figure a thing or two out.  Hopefully, my experiences and thoughts on different types of equipment and capture work flows will help those who are as clueless as I was last year.

Over the past several months, I’ve used a number of different audio capture devices and mics.  As many other HDSLR users have done, I’ve settled on a preferred method of capturing audio on a separate device from my camera.  While I still capture audio in-camera, I use this audio file as a reference for syncing or as a backup in worst-case scenarios.

My mic of choice for interview and field recording is a shotgun mic.  So far, the best solution for me has been the Rode NTG-3 used with the PreSonus FireStudio.

The PreSonus FireStudio is a relatively affordable recording system that connects via FireWire to a Mac or PC with 26 input/output sources, and delivers 24-bit resolution up to a 96kHz sampling rate.  The FireStudio will deliver 48v phantom power to up to 4 mics and has 8 XLR inputs on the front along with trim controls.  It is also packaged with Studio One Artist DAW software.

When traveling light, I like the Zoom H4n for both its price and portability.  The Zoom H4n can deliver phantom power to the NTG-3 or other XLR shotgun, like the more affordable Rode NTG-1.

You can also record directly to the Zoom H4n using the built-in condenser mics.  In fact, you can record simultaneously to the Zoom’s own condensers, as well as two external mics via the XLR inputs.  When I have the mics available, I record as many sources as reasonably possible, which is always at least 2 sources (1 on-camera and 1 off-camera).

If I can reasonably fashion 2 or 3 external sources into one capture device, I do it.  Part of my reasoning is redundancy and part is experimentation.  I’ll put those second and third mics in different locations just to see what they sound like, and see if I can come up with something that sounds better.  As I said, I’m still learning the ins and outs of audio capture, which seems to have an even steeper learning curve than the video capture side of the coin (to me, at least).

In a recent interview setup at my church (where I have the good fortune of working with a couple of solid audio guys), we used 4 separate mics to capture audio.  Of course, we only expected to use one source – that being the tried and true NTG-3 into the PreSonus FireStudio – but I wanted to evaluate the difference in the audio quality between the on-camera sources and off-camera sources.

Below is a video that demonstrates the different sound you get from these 4 different sources.

Here’s a breakdown of the different sources in the above video:

  1. Canon 5D Mark II + Rode NTG-2:  I used the Rode NTG-2 to record audio directly into the 5D Mark II via an XLR to 3.5mm mini-jack converter cable.  The NTG-2 is capable of capturing audio without phantom power delivered over the XLR cable because it can also be powered by a single AA battery.  The Rode NTG-2 was mounted on top the 5D Mark II’s hot shoe via a universal shockmount.  Audio gain was set manually thanks to the 5D Mark II’s revised firmware.  Because of the NTG-2’s flexibility, quality and affordability, it make’s a great first shotgun for DSLR users looking to step up from their basic built-in mic.  B&H even has a complete NTG-2 kit with everything you need to get better sound into your camera.
  2. Canon 7D On-Camera:  This audio was captured only as a matter of course since we were using two cameras for the interviews.  The on-camera audio from the 7D was used only to sync the video with the audio with the help of PluralEyes.
  3. Rode NTG-3 + PreSonus FireStudio:  One of the audio guys held the NTG-3 just outside of the top of the frame with the aid of a Rode boom pole.  This is our standard program audio, although it is usually massaged a bit in post-production.  In this case, I dropped in the unedited file in the above video to give a more accurate comparison among the sources.
  4. Audio Technica AT8015 + PreSonus FireStudio:  This mic is a very narrow pickup pattern (thanks to its 18″ length) and, as a result, can be used to isolate subjects at greater distances than the typical 8″ to 10″ shotgun mic.  Another benefit to the AT8015 is the ability to be powered by a single AA battery, which means you can plug it directly into the camera with an XLR to 3.5mm mini plug.

Comments

  1. says

    Great post. I’m wondering if you had any trouble w/ the battery-powered Rode to the 5D via XLR/3.5mm adapter. I’m tried the same set up with a Sennheiser ME66 and the recorded audio is very low and distorted…

    • says

      Hey Brian – Thanks for the comment. I haven’t had any problems with the 5D Mark II and the Rode NTG-2. As you can hear on the video, it actually sounds pretty good.

      Does your XLR / 3.5mm adapter have a low/high impedance transformer built-in? If your cable is not an impedance-balancing cable then that might explain the distortion you are experiencing. Note that the Pearstone adapter I linked to has a built-in impedance-balancing transformer. Additionally, the Pearstone adapter will take the mono-connection from the shotgun and deliver a dual-mono reproduction into the camera.

      • says

        Hey Brian,

        This post is a little old but helpful I think. I’m wondering about your setup, a 5d mark II with the ntg-2 directly in camera. I’m tried to decide if the audio would be better than todays rode videomic Pro to 5d mark II. Is there any hissing with the ntg-2 with the 5d? Is the audio loud enough and clear? Thanks.

  2. says

    Try putting all the mics on the boom as close as possible to the subject without getting the mics in the shot, then compare the sound. Closer=better.

  3. says

    The mic sounds off axis because you have it so far. Professional interviews usually have it within a couple of feet, and a good rule is that the person being interviewed should be able to touch the mic. Try this and I think you will get much better results!

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