To record in Stereo or Mono - that is the question?

builtinmicMost domestic and semi-professional video cameras have a stereo ‘internal’ microphone set into the front of the camera.  We’ve all seen the ‘home’ videos were you can hear the person with the camera breathing heavily rather than what’s on the pictures.

Well you’ll be surprised to know that professional cameras don’t have this microphone!  Although they have the capability to record in stereo (they have two audio tracks), the microphone attached the front (which can be unattached or replaced) is a single mono microphone, which is much more directional than the stereo version.

Unless you are recording a TV drama or film, professionally you would not tend to record in stereo on location.  The use of stereo on location recordings complicate the post production editing and sound mixing (dubbing) process and takes up valuable time, which if you’re up against schedule limits, be that broadcasting or exam, it’s a pressure you can do without.

The only time I would contemplate the use of stereo would be on an atmospheric shot - say a wide shot of students milling around a campus - and then only if really necessary.  The fact is most material/programmes will be viewed on a TV with the loudspeakers only a little distance apart, meaning all your effort in producing a stereo programme will actually be lost on the audience.

Location recording is not just about getting the best quality recording possible, but it is about planning ahead and trying to make the post production as simple and easy as possible.  The more simple you can make the recording and the more decisions you can put off until the edit/dub, the better.

On a professional camera the audio tracks are not actually labelled left and right, but simply called tracks (or channels) 1 and 2.  What you have is the potential of having a 2 track audio recorder!  The ability to record two separate things.

xternal Mono Gun & internal Stereo microphones on a Semi-pro camera

Even on a semi-pro camera, there will be external xlr connections marked channel 1 and 2, so make use of them!  For instance, if you are recording an interview and were to mix the two microphones together whilst recording, they are forever joined, you can’t separate them later, so you are tied into the decision made then and there.  The trick is to separately record the interviewer on track 1 and the interviewee on track 2, so when you come to the edit (and have good listening conditions), you can mix the sound tracks accurately or it maybe you can decide whether you actually want the to use the interviewers questions at all!

If you’re recording an event or something that is happening live, i.e. you have just one opportunity to record the situation, give yourself options!  Put a decent directional camera mic on track 1 and your presenters radio mic on channel 2 - you can decide which to use or how much of each to use later in the dub.  You could have the camera mic on channel 1 and someone with a sound mixer (with all the other mics) on channel 2?  Or take both channels from the mixer output and separate specific microphones left and right (to tracks 1 and 2) - give yourself options!

Think and plan, don’t just turn up expecting the internal stereo microphone to do the job - unless you’re into ‘atmospheric’ and echoy programmes!

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

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