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Capturing Good Sound

Matt Schwarz
December 16, 2010 by Matt Schwarz Alum

Any filmmaker today will agree that capturing sound correctly is just as important as capturing the image itself. Sound can make or break a professional or amateur production, so making sure you know your way around a microphone can’t hurt. So let’s go over some basic ways to capture sound and take your video to the next level of awesomeness we all know it can be!

Most cameras today have some pretty awesome built in features, anything from a DSLR that can shoot video to a normal handheld camera should have audio settings. The most important thing is to find out what type of sound you need to capture, this will then help you decide what equipment you may need.

For instance, when shooting in a quiet indoor area, or at the very least close to your subject, the built in audio on a camera normally works just fine.


p>However, when your subject is farther away or in a loud area, an external microphone may be required. Most professional productions record sound separately from the camera and re-sync it in editing, but to keep things simple, using an external microphone may be a good place to start. These can come in a variety of styles and price rangers, but let’s look at the most common ones:

  • Handheld microphone - Normally used for interviews or presentations, they come in both wired and wireless, and are perfect for “man on the scene” type shots.
  • Boom microphone - These long microphones are highly directional (recording sound where you point them). Normally used to capture actors lines from just off camera by attaching them to a long pole. They are also mounted directly on cameras to get long distance sound.
  • Lavalier microphone - A small clip-on microphone that attaches to the subjects clothing. Normally used on TV newscasts or sitcoms that require sound to be captured from the subject without it being obvious that there is a microphone attached.

Check out this Videopia lesson which will help you decide what microphone to use and when.


Once you have decided which mic fits your needs best, the next step will be finding out how to connect it to your camera. Most likely, you’ll find your camera has a 3.5mm stereo mini jack. If you’re not sure what that is, chances are you’ve at least seen one before. This is the most common audio jack and is used for most headphones and headsets for cell phones. It’s a pointy metal tip with 2-3 white or black rings around it. You can find microphones that have this connection pretty easily.

Most professional audio uses whats called an XLR connection, however most consumer cameras don’t have this connection available without the use of an adapter. If you find that your camera does have this connection, its recommended that you use it, just be aware XLR microphones often cost more than others. This connection is about a half inch diameter circle with three prongs inside it.

Check out this clip from stillmotion. Around 2:50 you can start learning about some real world applications for the different type of connections.


So once you’ve found your subject, the microphone you’d like to use, and the best way to connect it, you’re pretty much all set!


  • Microphones that have a 3.5mm stereo mini jack normally require some type of separate power source, so make sure you have batteries!
  • XLR microphones normally use the power given off by the camera or device they are connected to, but double check to see if it requires it’s own power source before recording.
  • Before recording, try taking a 5 second video clip and playing it back with headphones. This will give you a good idea of how the camera is picking up sound, that way you can decide if you need to change locations, mics, etc.
  • All the microphones we talked about come in both wireless or wired versions. While wireless is more convenient, cameras can’t just support them out of the box. Make sure you the receiver you get with your wireless mic (the box that receives the sounds from the microphone and hooks up to your camera) can be connected to your cameras audio input (either XLR or 3.5mm stereo min jack).
  • Finally, make sure your microphone is on and the camera is set to use it! If your microphone isn’t turned on, you won’t capture any sound. The same thing will happen if you don’t tell your camera to use the external microphone (normally located in the cameras settings, however newer cameras detect the microphone automatically and don’t need to be told about it). Finally for a quick overview of what you’ve learned, check out Vimeo’s own QuickTüt!

Ready for a challenge?

Time to put your skills to the test! Go out and try to record a short 5X5 focusing on the sound. You can see an example of them here. Then add it to the group!

Accept this challenge
*E***For extra credit:** Try editing sound together to make a musical language! Read our past Weekend Project for more info.


Ellen Mueller Plus

I wish the videos in this post worked, or that you would replace them with equivalent videos...

Utkarsh Shrivastava

I want to record lecture.. The lecturer wearing a wireless lav mic.. Can I plug the output from the reciever directly into the camer or would you suggest to plug it into an external recorder... The point is I dont understand wht extra an external recorder will do as compared to audio direclty plugged into dslr...Why/How it records better audio than directly plugging the lav mic into the camera???.... Moreover connecting lav directly to camera will get better audio or using a wireless system is better...(am i compromising on sound quality by using wireless system)... How important is the microphone quality... Please take time to answer as I am new to this area.... Thanks in advance..

Michael Keller

It's amusing that in the second video, the audio is out of sync.

Tim Greig

That was a real wast of time. if I had really wanted adolescent humour I would have gone to You Tube, The entire message was put an external mic on your camera which is an expensive option but provides marginal improvement.

Chris Erskine

Thanks. I am doing a video journal from different locations. I wanted to do as much of the work on site as possible. As a newbie, these videos pointed me in the right direction. Particularly with respect of XLR, phantom power, and lavalier microphones. While the above videos didn't answer all my questions, it did get me started. It also flagged to my attention the value of the Zoom H4n as a way of coping with some of the challenges of recording on location. Sound continues to be a battle, but at least I have a better understanding of what I should be looking at. Thanks Again.


Really fun way of explaining the topic :)

Jim Connor PRO

The second video is worthwhile, the last video should be removed as the "adolescent humor" is appalling and not worthy of being in Vimeo school.

Ray Wilcox PRO

What occasion would you use both the internal mike and the external mike at the same time?

Dennis Scharf

Yep! Very good information to concentrate on. Low verbiage contains excellent knowledge many times.
Been out of racing coverage after major brain accident 10 years ago. Trying to fit myself back in small scale projects. These are great presentations to learn fast. Thank you Vimeo & all. Dennis S.

NestProductions Plus

That last video made me laugh my BUTT OFF. The dude just sitting there in the background with the headphones on at his desk... omggggggggg

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