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How to Choose a Camcorder with Good Audio
When the typical consumer buys a camcorder they are thinking about price, size, video quality, features such as image stabilization and zoom, and so forth. These are all important considerations, but often, little thought is given to another important component of their home movies: the audio.
It's not unusual to play a film that does a great job of capturing a subject, the action, and so forth, but it's not pleasant to watch because the sound is poor. You may not be able to make out the dialogue or there may be a great deal of interferring noise.
Common causes of this are low quality microphones, poorly placed microphones, and lack of skill on the part of the "filmaker". Here are a few basic tips for everyday users to help them choose a camcorder with good audio and get better sound in their films.
The Camcorder with the Right Stuff
A good quality microphone on a camcorder is of course the primary thing to consider if you want the best audio. Professionals will want special microphones and will spend a good deal of time monitoring and adjusting sound to get the best results, but for the rest of us who just want to get quality home movies of family or friends, something decent to post on YouTube, or the like, this may be overkill. Here are a few basics to help those individuals choose a camcorder with good audio:
1. Location of the microphone. For better sound quality you want a microphone that will be pointed toward the sound source you hope to pick up; generally this means the subject of your film. Therefore, it's best to have the microphone on the front of the camcorder where it will pick up the voices and sounds from the subject located in front of your lens, versus on top, where it's more likely to pick up the noises coming from the filmaker.
2. The ability to use an external microphone. Most camcorders come with only a mediocre microphone and certainly it's restricted in it's ability to get closer to your subject. Having a camcorder that has an audio jack (stereo jack or XLR for pro level) and a shoe to attach an external microphone gives you the flexibility of purchasing a separate microphone to enhance your audio results. Shotgun style microphones are the most common. They tend to pick up sound in front of the camcorder while missing much of the noise behind it. Of course, there are other options that work better in specific situations. Lapel/lavalier microphones for instance, are best when trying to record a speaker who is some distance from the camcorder.
3. Zoom microphones. Some camcorders have zoom microphones which help to zoom in the audio along with the lens. Stereo and multi-directional mics are also good things to have.
4. A windscreen and other noise reduction features. When filming outdoors in particular, having a camcorder that can help filter out some of the wind noise can be critical.
5. If you're a bit more serious about the audio and want to spend the time monitoring and making adjustments, then manual audio controls to adjust balance are needed as well as headphones for the filmaker to monitor the sound.
Tips for the Filmaker
While buying a camcorder with good audio is important, it is also critical for the film maker to observe a few precautions to improve sound. Some of the following tips for making better home movies that should produce better sound.
1. Use a tripod. Now certainly, a tripod isn't always handy, but anything that helps keep the camcorder steady will produce not only smoother looking video but better sound as well. If the camera is still during filming and movement is smooth, then there will simply be less extraneous noise to record which will mask the sound you really want. Because built-in microphones are on the camcorder itself, any noise generated by the device will be louder and more easily picked up.
2. Be conscious of, and reduce, filmaker noise. Filmakers who move around, talk, cough, laugh, or just fiddle with the camcorder controls and so forth while filming, can generate a lot of audio distraction. It's often best to turn the camcorder off when making adjustments, and the re-starting once they are made. Of course, taking time to get things set up before starting is also helpful. As you'll see below, selecting the best location as well as selecting settings and so forth can require a bit of preplanning.
3. Get close to your subject. When possible film closer to your subject. This puts their voices closer to the microphone and assures that their voice, versus other sounds in the vicinity, will be louder and clearer on the recording.
4. Be alert to other sounds in the background and eliminate them when possible. This requires some preplanning. If you're filming kids on a community playground, you might want to position yourself on the side of the playground furthest from the street or other potentially noisy locations. If you're at home filming gramdma's birthday, be sure the TV in the next room is off before you start.