Which mike to use…

Kathy Newell posted a comment about how to handle difficult interviews…folks who ramble or get off track. When I worked in news the reporter did most of the questioning, although I had my share working alone. Often my job was to rescue the reporter (Craig Prosser) from his own niceness…he was rarely able to walk away from some citizen who trapped him either in an interview or just to talk with him. So I have no problem being politely rude. I’d go up, look the person in the eye and tell them, “We have to go now.” That was Craig’s cue to come with me or tell me to wait while he finished the converstation.

But back to the focus of this post. This does have something to do with handling difficult interviews – the mike you choose to use does matter. Most videojournalists work with three basic types of mikes.

Stick mike – this is an omnidirectional mike (generally picks up sound from all directions). This is the workhorse of the industry. I use an Electrovoice 635 and it is practically indestructable. Can be wired to the camera or used with wireless transmitter. Add a wind sock or mike cube and you’re set to go. Sticks can cost from as low as $10 to hundreds.

Shotgun – an unidirectional mike with a very narrow focus…so if you are in a room full of people, you can pick up converstations from a distance if you aim right at the source. These need a battery and are more expensive than stick mike…costing from several hundred to thousands of dollars.

Lavelier (lapel) mike – omnidirectional tiny mike that you can clip onto clothing. We used to hardwire these, but now almost exclusively used with wireless mikes. Radio Shack has them from about $30 or you can pay hundreds.

I’m not getting into wireless in thos post, except as part of using the mikes.

First – for quick and dirty everyday news, the stick mike is the answer. You hold it, you aim it where you want, you are in control – and this is the beauty of the stick in interviews. You hold up to your mouth, ask a question, and aim at your interview subject. You don’t like the answer, pull it back and ask another question. You are in control of the interview because you control the mike. Sticks are handy if you need to interview people quickly and need to speak with several people at once. With a mike cube (identifying logo) you can approach people and telegraph that you are about to questions them – the mike, cube, and camera make it obvious. Remember to keep the mike up close enough to get your sound. If your interview subject has a quiet voice or there’s a lot of background noise, you will have to push in closer. Generally for most interviews I keep the mike about 12 to 16 inches from the subject’s mouth.

Shotguns are a good substitute for sticks with the advantage of cleaner sound. They aren’t quite as durable, but you can handhold them and still control your interview. Biggest advantage is you don’t have to be as close to the subject…which means no mike in your shot. How often have you watched a news story and the mike is visible? Shotguns can be held fifteen to twenty inches or more away and they are really great if you have three to five people in a group and you’re asking questions all around. Just make sure whoever is holding the mike is aiming carefully, otherwise you’ll get bad or no sound.

With lavs you loose control…you clip the mike onto your subject. They can talk all they want and the only way you can bring them back is by interrupting. Their advantage is that you can hide them to create a more natural setting.

Attach any of these to a wireless system and you have true freedom. My earliest and most embarrassing moment as a news photog was in 1975 when Governor “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown was striding down the halls of the Capital in Sacramento, headed for his office. My reporter and I dashed down the hall so we could get his reaction to the first sit-in at his office. So here we are, running towards the Governor…the reporter reached over me to grab the mike from its holder on the camera, pulling out the cable (this was before wireless mikes). The cable went under my feet, I went down, pulling the reporter down with me. The Governor walked by laughing.
With a wireless the reporter wouldn’t even have to be near me…she could have gone ahead and walked with the Governor and into the office and I would have been able to get one long, stable shot.


5 thoughts on “Which mike to use…

  1. Add on: You get what you pay for. I use a $10 Sony plastic mike with a thin cable and mini-jack to plug in to my Canon ZR60 “throwaway” camera. I realize both of these are low end, but they are my “notebook” and I carry them everywhere.
    I use the Electovoice for real work – and here’s what you get for $110. A solid metal mike with professional XLR connector. No cable….that will cost you another 15 bucks. The windscreen will run another $5. (I have the dual purpose one w/pop filter…get’s rid of popped “P”s.
    You can cable it to your camera (or recorder) or plug into a wireless transmitter.
    I know I’ll probably have to replace the Sony mike pretty frequently (annually) but the Electrovoice will be there for my kids to inherit.

  2. Pingback: Gear update (mikes & sticks) « VideoJournalism

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