Someone recently asked me this question:
“I have been getting into a lot of video with my DSLR and recently bought an external mic for it thinking I would get some better sound.
I shoot with the Canon T2i and the mic I bought is the Azden SGM 1-x shotgun mic. I run the mic straight to the camera with an XLR/mini jack adapter. Most of the recording I am doing is concert video. I shoot a lot of shows that my brother’s rock band plays in local venues. This was my original reason for getting an external mic because I felt my internal camera mic wasn’t cutting it.
This brings me to my question. The first time I used my new Azden mic I was extremely disappointed with the audio quality of my videos. I had looked at different ‘field adapters’ in hopes that this would help me to get a better sound.
Overall, I was wondering if my sound quality was bad because I was running the XLR to a mini plug, because I didn’t have a preamp fixed to my camera, or because I am using the wrong mic for the type of shooting I am doing.”
This is a great question, and there are a few issues that spring to mind.
1) The best way to get concert audio is to get a feed from the sound board. At most venues, if you tell the sound guy you’re filming for the band, he’ll usually be fine with giving you a direct feed. This is essentially how professional live CDs and concert videos are done.
If your camera position is close to the soundboard, using a cable isn’t a problem (as long as you bring your own), but if you want to move around, or set up somewhere else, it’s safer and easier to use a standalone recorder like the Zoom H4N, or to use a wireless transmitter.
This wireless mic set from Sony comes with an XLR adapter that you can use instead of a microphone capsule, specifically so that you can use the transmitter for this purpose. Be aware though that many sound boards won’t be able to give you an XLR out – they’ll want to give you a 1/4″ out, so you’ll need to get the appropriate adapter for your setup, and adjust the input levels accordingly. The Zoom H4N will take a 1/4″ input, but the Sony requires either an XLR male, or a mini-jack male.
2) Regarding sound quality from your microphone. The mic in the T2i is more or less omnidirectional, meaning that it picks up sound in every direction. Since loud music fills up the room, you probably got a pretty full sound, even though the mic itself is crappy. Any shotgun mic is going to be much more directional, meaning that it’s going to pick up primarily what it’s pointing at. Unless you’re pointing the mic at the speaker stack, you’re probably capturing mostly crowd noise and muffled music bouncing off people’s clothing and the walls. The issue here isn’t the mic, just its placement.
3) Regarding the preamp question. Although the good people who make the JuicedLink preamps might disagree, my opinion is that because the sound level in the room is already very loud, a preamp isn’t going to make that much of a difference in your sound quality, for the simple reason that the music doesn’t need any further amplification to be recorded by the camera.
So, here’s what you should do:
If you’re using a standalone recorder to capture the feed from the board, you can keep the existing setup you have with the Azden on the camera (or, for that matter, using the internal mic, if you find you do prefer it for this purpose). If you want to take a wireless feed from the board, get yourself a double XLR to mini cable. Plug the mini jack into your camera. Run the Azden into one XLR plug, and put the wireless receiver into the other. The mini jack will put one input on Left and the other on Right. Then, you just mix the tracks in post. Bring up the camera audio to get applause at the end of songs, and use the clean feed from the sound board for the actual music.
If you really want to get fancy, you can set up your Azden at the sound board, as high as you can rig it, pointing at the stage, and plug it into the second input on the Zoom, while you record with the in-camera mic on your camera. That way, you’ll have three different tracks to mix in post, as well as a nice backup in case something gets unplugged or turned off.