Camera Mic or Separate Sound?? Part 2

So when should you use the ‘on-board’ microphone on your camcorder and when should you use a sound recordist with audio sound mixer and ‘separate’ sound?

It all comes down to thinking forward to the final finished item and how you’re going to use not just the sound, but also the footage itself.

The most important sound item you’ll record is speech. Obviously use of the camera mic, unless you can get the camera with a few feet of the person speaking is going to be practically useless. Now the simple way around this is the use of Radio Mics. These have seen a huge increase in use over the last years as Sound Recordists are dropped as unnecessary from the crew and Producers seem to feel this is the only way to record speech. The problem with use of Radio Mics is that it’s not actually the best way to record sound – for a start you’ve lost all perspective in the sound – it doesn’t match the pictures having become internal in nature like a narration rather than the person on the screen talking – have you ever rested your head on someone’s chest, covered the ‘free’ ear and listened? Most of the sound comes from the chest and throat area, not the mouth. Therefore use of a Sound Recordist with boom and quality microphone is the way forward, positioning the microphone, overhead, just out of shot. Not only will the microphone give you the best quality (look at my article on “does Quality Matter”), but also it will give you the same acoustic as shown on screen.

Other elements of sound recording need to be considered individually. The recording of what we call ‘Actuality’ (action happening in front of the camera to be used as part of a piece) will probably be better captured by a recordist, with the ability to point the microphone in the best direction to capture the relevant sound and perhaps reject other sound by using the ‘dead’ rear of the microphone. Or perhaps just keeping the sound recording clear of a noisy cameraman!

Consider a situation where you’re recording a wide landscape shot – it maybe that pointing the microphone in the direction of the camera simply picks up some noise being coming from somewhere unseen – machinery or factory perhaps. With your directional microphone you can take open sound from the completely opposite direction – as there is no specific action in the shot the sound will match.

So when would I as a Sound Recordist, very interested in quality, consider allowing a cameraman to use the on-board camera instead of my ‘separate’ sound? The simple questions to ask are: “Is the sound going to be used?” or “How important is the sound”. It maybe the cameraman is just shooting ‘Cutaways” for an interview you’ve previously recorded and they will be shots dropped in over the interview to cover edits, so the sound is superfluous. Even if he’s recording some action to use as a cutaway, the sound will be very much background in the audio mix. Is the sound going under music? In which case would you hear it?

There are also safety considerations some times. It maybe the camera is going to run around with the camera or he’s working near machinery? In both cases the last think he needs is someone attached by cables to the camera.

Letting a cameraman simply use the camera mic is not a dereliction of duty for a sound recordist, just a good judgement of the circumstances and an understanding of the medium and the whole production process.

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Many thanks for you patience.
Kind regards,
Mike - Media4ed.

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