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Cinematography 101: Introduction to Lav Mics (Lavalier Microphones)

Audio plays a critical role in any production. Even if it distorts or goes off by a second, our brains register it, and it ruins the whole experience that the film was trying to deliver.

Nowadays, there are several mics available that can plug straight into your DSLR and can give you great audio. However, perhaps the most common and easily accessible are lav mics.

Lav mics, also known as lavalier mics, are cheap small mics that are great at picking up audio from places usual boom or shotgun mics can’t reach. They aren’t as good as other condenser mics but have their uses throughout the media industry.

Probably the most common place where lav mics are used are in documentaries or interviews — basically anywhere where you’d like to conceal the mic but also ensure it picks up good audio.

The most significant advantage these mics have is that they work with basically any device that has a 3.5mm audio jack and has audio recording capabilities.

Here are two of the most popular ways you can use a lav mic.

Also read: Cinematography 101: How to record cinematic footage from your DSLR?

Using an external recorder/smartphone

Simply plug the lav into a smartphone or external recorder, set your levels, and you’re good to go. This method allows for pretty much complete mobility. If your subject is in constant motion and you wouldn’t want an actor to fiddle in wires and fall flat on their face, we suggest you take this approach.

Yes, you’ll have to do a bit extra work in post, but the audio quality is well worth it.

When to use a Lav Mic (Lavalier Microphone): All you need to know

Plugging the mic into the camera

As simple as it sounds, you plug the mic to your camera, clip it to the subject, and you’re good to go.

However, keep in mind that now there is a wired connection between the camera and the subject. As long as your subject is still or has minimal motion, it’s all good, but there’s still a good chance someone might trip a wire.

Also, you’ll need an adaptor that turns your miniature mic connection into a balanced XLR connection, unless your camera already supports it.

Pros

  • Easily concealable.
  • Cheap
  • Works with a variety of devices
  • Has great audio quality

Cons

  • Lav mics are omnidirectional. Which means it’ll pick up any ambient noise.
  • Need an adaptor to plug into most high-end cameras.

When should you use a lav mic?

Anytime you have a single subject in a frame and minimal ambient noise, the lav is an excellent way to go. Also if you’re tight on budget and/or equipment, lavs are pretty much your only option.

However, if you’re trying to capture more than one dialogue in a frame, or facing ambient noise issues, the monodirectional way of a shotgun mic on a boom is the way to go.

Also read: Rotating camera modules: How far they’ve come and what the future might hold

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