After posting a behind the scenes photo of me working a concert gig, I was hit with a variety of questions from followers about certain aspects of my rig, and what I thought of them. I started answering them, but then decided a better course would be to make my answers public for everyone to see. Several questions I received had to do with what microphone I was using, why I was using it, what I recommend and why. Well, let’s dive right in to that shall we?
Though I am primarily a San Francisco commercial videographer, I don’t shy away from gigs that push me out of that comfort zone on occasion. I’ve used a lot of microphones, and generally speaking I use lav mics for just about all my standard commercial gigs because I trust the quality and have a lot of experience with them. That said, pretty obviously they’re an absolutely awful choice for natural audio (nat audio for short) and they wouldn’t be leaving my bag during my two day gig. So I put on my concert videographer hat to shoot Train, The Fray and Matt Nathanson and dusted off two mics I rarely use, but would be perfect for this situation.
This is the mic I have attached to my camera in the photo above. The original RODE NTG4 is an outstanding shotgun mic with one downside when trying to keep a small rig: it requires phantom power. I shoot on a Panasonic GH4 and if you do as well, and you also have the optional base with the XLR inputs, phantom power isn’t an issue for you… However, extra weight would be. The benefit of the NTG4+ is that it doesn’t require power: it has a built in battery that RODE has rated to last up to 150 continuous recording hours. It also weighs basically the same as the original NTG4 (which is not a lot).
So it, rigged to to the side of my camera using an articulating head so that it wouldn’t interfere with the movement of the Ronin-M, would serve as my primary audio source, and this is how it sounds:
As you can hear, it handles the incredibly loud stage really well. The mic is very directional, so the second I move away from the source, the audio falls off. That’s ok with me, because my intent isn’t to record the entirety of the audio from the concert, just enough to sync up with the client’s audio in post or have nat audio pop in throughout to bring up the “live” feeling of the video.
The bass levels, warmth of the audio, and level of control the NTG4+ gives me is perfect for a concert, however there are other options that would probably work pretty well if you don’t have the NTG4+ or if you don’t want to buy a new mic. Below I’ve ranked some runner-up choices based on their performance in other areas:
1) RODE VideoMic Pro– This is basically the king of the hill when it comes to popular on-camera video microphones, and is probably RODE’s bestselling product ever. They actually just announced an upgrade, so if you don’t yet own one you can probably wait a few weeks and the original will drop in price (still a great product) or you can grab the new one (this is what I would do). The VideoMic Pro is certainly smaller than the NTG4+ and will provide more than usable nat audio for a concert situation. Just bear in mind it might not have the throw that larger shotguns have.
2) Sennheiser MKE 400– This is basically Sennheiser’s response to the RODE VideoMic Pro, and it’s a good product. If you like and trust Sennheiser, this is a fair bet to get some quality audio that will be usable in your edit. Same issue with this mic though as the VideoMic Pro: it might not have the kind of throw you are looking for in all situations.
3) Shure VP83 LensHopper– As the MKE 400 was Sennheiser’s answer to the VideoMic Pro, this is Shure’s version. It’s a quality little mic for sure (ha, pun) and shares the same pros and cons as the Sennheiser and RODE versions.
4) Rode VideoMic– Though small and easy to use, the VideoMic is a definite step down in quality from the three shown above. It’s throw is much shorter than the others and it will get considerably more reverb and “hollow” sound to it, especially in indoor environments. It’s certainly more cost effective though, and if that is your primary concern I wouldn’t let the limitations of the microphone stop you; it’s still a pretty darn good mic.
5) Rode VideoMic GO– This is your most cost effective option, but the overall quality of the audio you will get is vastly inferior to my original choice or even the first three mic options on this list. It has incredibly limited throw, but in a concert situation this is less of a problem since the audio around you will be so loud. That said, it has trouble with getting deep bass and could be overwhelmed with the amount of sound coming at it, especially if you’re right up front. With this guy, be aware you might get some clipping as your audio flies into the red.
Ok, so maybe you actually do want to record some audio that you want to sound like you’re actually there. Strong, consistent audio with deep bass, perfect warmth and well-managed clean sound. Aside from plugging in to the system that the audio techs are using, your best bet in my opinion is going to be the Rode VideoMic X. This guy is a beast.
This is not a microphone that I would recommend placing on your mobile camera, like what I was running. If you have a second camera tripoded for a wide shot, or you just need to capture some clean audio from the crowd, this works amazingly. The settings I chose to use on the X for a concert situation were all set at 0. Standing still with the VideoMic X in the heart of the crowd sounds like this:
That’s pretty darn good, but it actually worked best for me when I was trying to get pure crowd noise that I could splice into my edit to raise the excitement level:
Wearing headphones and closing my eyes, that cheering gives me chills as it puts me right back there in the heart of the moment. Great audio will do that, and the VideoMic X did it’s job stunningly well.
Now this is the place where I would give you some alternatives, but my experience with other stereo mics like the VideoMic X are limited. The best I can offer is Rode’s more affordable version, the Stereo VideoMic Pro. It’s smaller and about a third the price, though based on what Rode does with their audio equipment I would wager it has great quality, just not as good as the VideoMic X. That said, a good shotgun can get pretty similar results when taken into this kind of a situation, so if you only have one microphone and you want to use it for both these duties, you’ll probably be ok. The VideoMic X is a specialized microphone and so it’s going to perform at a very high level, so just expect that if you try and use a directional mic for this job it might not be exactly what you were hoping for. But shotgun audio is certainly usable though!
Hopefully this helped at least narrow your search when you’re considering the hundreds of options for audio. I know what works for me, and now it’s time for you to figure out what works for you. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.