Your new Canon 7D, or 5D MK II, or Panasonic GH1 or Nikon D300S (ETC) has an audio jack. If you’re serious about recording good quality video on your hybrid camera, you need to stop using the built-in mic on your camera and use an external mic.
Which mic? That’s up to you. It depends on your experience, your budget and the type of footage you capture.
You might be tempted to get a cheap lapel mic from Radio Shack. After all, it comes with the exact connector you need to connect it to your camera, a 3.5mm TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) connector. The problem is, that this is an UNBALANCED signal. If you purchase a more professional mic with an XLR connector, you get a BALANCED signal. Why is this important? Balanced signals are considerably less prone to noise and interference when compared with unbalanced signals. This is especially true when you’re using long cable runs.
Let’s say that you want to record an interview with someone roughly 20′ from your camera. You give them the cheap Radio Shack lapel mic and connect it via your 3.5mm mini jack. Congratulations. You will indeed get better audio than you would if you just used your built-in camera mic, but you’ll also get far more noise than would be acceptable in a pro-audio environment. The longer the cable, the more noise and hum.
If you’re using XLR connectors, then you avoid the noise. You can get a decent mic with an XLR connector for under $100. But then you have to connect the XLR adapter to the camera. You can do this via a camera XLR adapter/preamp. Companies like Beachtek have been making these for years. There are several brands out there and in a future post, I’ll be reviewing each and making recommendations.
There is one more option. You can use a separate handheld audio recorder and then sync the sound in post. This too is something I will cover in a future post.
(P.S. – all these tips generally apply to most consumer/prosumer camcorders too.)