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Old October 8th, 2010, 12:11 PM   #1
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Camera Built in Mics - Reference Only?

I have often heard disparaging remarks about the quality of the on-camera mics, and how they are unusable for proper sound. But when I haven't had time or couldn't be bothered to run a mic, I have recorded with the EX1 onboard mics (sometimes with a mini windjammer) and the results have been fine. I know that placing mics on the camera is not ideal but sometime is the only option, and that the onboard mic can pick up zoom motor noise, but most of the time the audio is quite acceptable. Is this something anyone else does?

Cheers,

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Old October 8th, 2010, 12:18 PM   #2
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I've used the on-board mics on my VX2k, Z1 and NX5 and always found them to be just fine if you accept the limitations they impose. One of the reasons I didn't go Z1 > Z7 > NX5 was the fact that the Z7 had no on-boards at all, and I for one would miss them.

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Old October 8th, 2010, 07:30 PM   #3
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It depends a great deal on many factors, not the least of which include what one's expectations are. It is hard to think of a way for a built-in camcorder microphone to be optimal for most things, but certainly the law of averages says that you will get lucky SOME-times. But those times are so few and far between that it is always safe to assume that you need a PROPER external solution for EVERY shot.

And it should go without saying that monitoring on decent, occluding headphones while shooting is ALWAYS required. Recording audio without monitoring is like framing and focusing with your eyes closed.
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Old October 8th, 2010, 08:34 PM   #4
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+1 .. the on camera mic always goes where the camera goes for the best picture, rarely the best sound.

When we know sound is 70% of what we see, there's a nice old anomaly. As you say, every now and then you do record a great example of what the current generation of on cam mics can do.

They've certainly improved over the years, recently I did a wedding at short notice and the 15voice choir and large church organ in the reverberant setting sounds great from a Canon HV20. If only ..

Cheers.
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Old October 8th, 2010, 11:35 PM   #5
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If the sound is important, you need a separate audio set-up.

YouTube - Audio Comparison - Harp Sample

YouTube - Audio Comparison - Voice and Piano

Think about it... when was the last time you saw someone speak into a microphone from thirty feet away? Or even five feet away? Good microphone placement is fundamentally different from good camera placement.
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Old October 9th, 2010, 03:20 AM   #6
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Nice examples. Only thing I would add is that there is a lot more at work here than lower sound levels from the camera position - If the sound levels had been boosted so that camera and separate mic were at the same level, you would have heard a lot more "air'" in the camera mic example - I could hear it a bit but the sound level was so low it wasn't obvious. Also - more boost = higher noise, although with really low noise gear it might not be too bad - it will still be worse than the same gear at the right location.
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Old October 9th, 2010, 06:57 AM   #7
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Agree with Jim, there's more than a mere level difference going on in Christian's examples. Even after YouTube's own mangling of the audio the difference is clear.

As I was listening to those examples it occurred to me that some of the people who claim the on-board mics are okay simply may not know what proper audio sounds like or even be able to hear the difference when presented with it. I've seen stats recently that claim somewhere around 30% of people under thirty have signifigant hearing loss due to chronic exposure to high sound pressure levels while listening to loud music in concert and clubs or on earbuds at high volumes. Evey time you see someone with an iPod plugged into their ears and you can hear the music bleeding out of the buds with which they're listening, you can be certain that each second of listen time is causing them more and more permanent hearing loss due to the hgh volume. In a world where 'good sounds' are thought to include low bitrate mp3s with heavy bass boost and vocalists processed through Autotune, it's no wonder that thin, thready, and slappy sound recorded from 10 feet away then boosted up to normal listening level on playback is considered acceptable. No offense intended to them, but when I see someone claiming that they get acceptable results for interviews and dialog using either the built-in mics or an on-board shotgun, my first thought is they probably have no idea what a properly done recording, a recording that meets generally accepted professional standards, actually sounds like, either because they've never actually heard one so they can't identify the difference, or have hearing damage and can't hear the difference, or they are listening on playback equipment such as computer multimedia speakers that is incapable of sufficient fidelity to reproduce the difference.
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Old October 9th, 2010, 08:41 AM   #8
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Well put Steve.
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Old October 9th, 2010, 01:50 PM   #9
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Thanks for all your replies.

I wasn't primarily looking to debate mic placement - it stands to reason that the closer the mic is to the sound source, the higher the wanted audio is going to be compared with the background and so the audio will be cleaner. But there are situations (single op run n gun) where attaching a mic to the camera is the only way to achieve any audio. My question is whether an external mic will always be superior to the built-in ones - are the mic capsules or the way they have been built into the camera body flawed or designed down to a price and a mic from a known manufacturer, on camera, would deliver better audio.

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Old October 9th, 2010, 04:00 PM   #10
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Got it - if I can paraphrase your question then, what you're asking is whether recording at optimal placement (for recording, not picture) to camera with built in mics is inferior to recording with the same placement with different mics and recorder (or maybe different mics to camera???) Or conversely, in a situation where the placement is optimal for picture, will the admittedly sub-optimal (aka crappy) sound be more crappy (aka sub-optimal) using the built in gear?

In yet other words, as close to apples to apples as you can get.

IF this is the question, then (drumroll) - it depends, but almost always "yes".

Even if mounted on camera (gritting teeth!!!) and using the almost always sub-par (ie cost less than 89 cents) in-camera audio path, at least a separate mic can be selected that is more suited to the recording environent whereas the built in is a one size fits all approximation of a solution. At least you have the choice of different mics for indoor or outdoor, close up or further away, reflective vs dead spaces, hi or low sensitivity, etc etc etc. (Remember that we're talking about degrees of sub-optimization aka crappiness here!)

And moving to the next step, would a pro double system setup be better than the in-camera audio path?

Well, would a $5k audio path be expected to sound better than an 89 cent audio path. I think if not, nobody would spent $5k for it. The catch here, though, is that maybe at camera location, the good gear may also make a better recording of extraneous noise induced by being at the wrong location. Handling noise, AC rumble, barking dogs, sneezing audience, sniffling cameraman, you name it. So while technically better, you might in the end be more unhappy with the result of using the expensive stuff.

Can a recording made (off camera) at camera location with really good gear sound fine? Yes, I've had good luck doing it. But the camera was locked down, I made sure that the audience couldn't get within 10 feet of the camera, and I picked the location after visitng the hall and walking around doing sound checks - oh yeah, and playing with different mics. If it were run n gun it might not be worth the money.

If it were simple nobody would pay such big bucks (don't we wish) to do it.
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Old October 9th, 2010, 09:36 PM   #11
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Actually, I don't think that is what he was asking.

If I may also try to paraphrase: "Given a situation where a separate audio set-up is NOT possible, is recording with a camera mounted external microphone always better than recording with the built-in microphone?"

I would say no, but I'll let others fill-in with some stories. I pretty much always record with a separate audio system. Placement is everything, so putting an expensive microphone onto your camera (ie. in the same place as your built-in mics) has limited benefits.

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Old October 9th, 2010, 10:03 PM   #12
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Good restatement - I would have to agree with it not ALWAYS being better - just occurred to me that it would at least open up the possibility of doing better with different mics in some situations. I guess mics are like real estate in that the three most important things are location, location,and lcation.
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Old October 10th, 2010, 06:41 AM   #13
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Quote:
My question is whether an external mic will always be superior to the built-in ones - are the mic capsules or the way they have been built into the camera body flawed or designed down to a price and a mic from a known manufacturer, on camera, would deliver better audio.
There are few if any absolutes. Mics at the camcorder location are OK for ambient sound and for establishing audio sync for use in post, and can work for the up close interview situation when you are with a few feet of the person speaking under some circumstances.

As noted by other, the #1 thing with quality sound is mic placement. Number 2 and 3 are mic selection, and the electronics between the mic and the tape (order maybe subject to debate). And these are very much situational - what are you recording (a speaker, an ensemble, a wedding, a football game - and what is the venue. Audio recording is in many respects more of an art than video.

There is a wide range in quality among camcorder mics, just as the is in image quality and control over the image from different camcorders. Some can give usable sound subject to the limitation of mic placement.

However, if by camcorder "built-in" mic you mean a microphone actually built into the camcorder case, as with the typical handi-cam form factor, that is arguably the worst case for good sound, and it most likely to suffer from motor, handling and operator noise, and low cost components. Consider that a decent mid priced shotgun microphone designed for the video market can cost more than entry level consumer camcorders.

Some rules of thumb to consider for quality sound.
An external microphone is usually better than one built into the camcorder.
For dialogue a mic near the talent is better than on at the camcorder.
A directional mic (e.g., shotgun) is usually better in noisy venues
No microphone can eliminate noise sources located between the mic and the sound of interest.
There is a wide selection of mics available designed for a wide selection of sound capture situations.
Mic selection is very much a personal thing, kind of like buying cars, there is no universal correct answer.
You do the best you can within you needs and budget.
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Old October 10th, 2010, 07:09 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Palomaki View Post
....
Some rules of thumb to consider for quality sound.
...
No microphone can eliminate noise sources located between the mic and the sound of interest.
....
Add to that "...nor BEHIND the source of the sound of interest on an extension of the line between mic and subject."
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