By Brady Betzel
As the trend of editors being asked to do much more than “just edit” continues to grow, I’ve decided to “just do” what I love no matter what others say. Sometimes that means doing much more than what is in the job description, including shooting your own interviews or pickup shots — but technology does not always make it easy to just pick something up and start rolling.
Occasionally, I will use my Canon T2i DSLR to record pickup b-roll shots, record temp voiceover or even record an interview pickup bite, but it usually takes some time to properly set up a microphone, lights and all the other equipment that is required of a broadcast-quality shoot. Since I am starting to see production companies expect more and more of this lately I figured I needed to test out an external microphone that would complement my DSLR and wouldn’t require much set up, so I decided that the Rode VideoMic Go external microphone would be the perfect microphone to test.
Rode Microphones is an Australian-based company known for high-quality microphones, including the ever-popular VideoMic and even their latest innovation: the i-XY stereo microphone for the iPhone and iPad. They have a great line-up— from their studio microphones, handheld microphones, lapel microphones to their boom microphones. What I want, however, is a microphone that requires nothing more than plugging it in and pushing record. Luckily for us editors who just want to pick up their DSLR, GoPro or iPhone and go – we have a microphone like the Rode VideoMic Go. It is a dead simple, externally powered, directional microphone that can be mounted on a hot-shoe or 3/8-inch compatible boom pole, microphone stand or tripod.
For this review I’m going to cover how I used this microphone with my iPhone 5s mounted using the iOgrapher filming case, my GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition, and my Canon T2i DSLR. I had to use a few adapters to get my iPhone 5s and GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition to work with the VideoMic Go but in the end they DID work.
The Rode VideoMic Go uses a super-cardioid directional recording pattern. Simply, the microphone will record mostly in front but will pick up a little from behind. Since it is directional it tries to record what you are pointing it at, however, it will pick up sounds from behind the camera so keep quiet when filming. It requires a nominal power source of 2.5v, which will be fed by the camera, or in this review, the iPhone 5s and/or GoPro Hero 3+. Keep in mind this will cause your camera battery to drain faster; I noticed my DSLR draining about 15 percent faster with the VideoMic Go connected.
Warning: Before you purchase the VideoMic Go, read the “FAQ” section to see if your camera is compatible — sometimes the camera manufacturer will say a camera doesn’t work with externally powered microphones when in actuality it really does work: case and point my Canon T2i, so check the link.
The VideoMic Go weighs around 2.5 ounces, it captures between 100Hz–16kHz (it drops out some of the real low-end bass, but don’t worry it keeps the important bass), it uses a 3.5mm output jack and records in dual-mono (dual-mono means that it records audio without thinking about left and right placement, it’s always centered). If you do want true stereo recording you will have to check out the Stereo VideoMic or the new Stereo VideoMic X, both will cost more. The VideoMic Go comes mounted on a Rycote Lyre shock mount which prevents accidental microphone hits from being recorded. A foam windscreen is also included to prevent wind noise but it isn’t the best, if you want true wind noise reduction you will need to invest in a “dead cat” or “blimp,” which again will cost more money.
I want to quickly mention that the 3.5mm cable that comes with the VideoMic Go is detachable. Not only can you remove and replace it with a longer one, but you can also buy iPhone and/or GoPro compatible cables like the ones I will mention later to attach them to common consumer cameras.
While the VideoMic Go is definitely made to be idiot proof, I didn’t fully seat my 3.5mm cable a few times, causing the audio to not be recorded. Don’t be an idiot like me, double check that your cables are fully seated before filming — no one wants to lose a half hour of audio because you were careless. Furthermore, this is a real serious situation for me because you realize how many times I’ve “cursed” the audio mixers in the field for messing up audio.
The True Tests: DSLR
I tested my Canon T2i DSLR with the VideoMic Go first. I attached my VideoMic Go to the cold shoe mount on top of my camera and plugged in the 3.5mm cable to the rear of the microphone as well as the microphone input on the camera. I double checked my menu settings just in case I needed to enable anything special to record external microphone audio, then hit record. As I stated earlier I want a microphone that I can leave attached to the camera, run out the door and begin filming without thinking about it too much. The VideoMic Go is exactly what I wanted.
For up-close interview bite pickups, close-up b-roll shots, or general b-roll filming where I only need to get the ambience recorded, the VideoMic Go made it dead simple for me without the need for tons of extra equipment. While this microphone is great for up-close filming (I’m talking from one to three feet away), it drops off when recording further than three feet away. It is always preferable to the tinny and overall atrocious in-camera microphone, but always keep in mind your recording distance from your subject. It’s best to always monitor your audio with headphones and on screen audiometers if possible.
In addition, the microphone sits back a little when in the cold shoe mount, and while this can be adjusted a little it often makes looking through the viewfinder troublesome. But let’s be real, you probably aren’t looking through the viewfinder when recording video so it probably isn’t a big deal. One last caveat: when recording on DSLRs, some cameras use automatic gain when recording audio and this can cause noise or hiss. If possible you will want to monitor and adjust your audio manually to reduce the overall microphone wackiness. This may even lead the brave indie filmmakers reading out there to try out some third-party firmwares in order to have manual audio control. If you’ve tried third-party firmwares like Magic Lantern before I would love to hear your experience, send me a tweet @allbetzroff.
iPhone 5s (I don’t have the 6 yet. Don’t judge me!)
Next, I tested the VideoMic Go with my iPhone 5s. To get this accomplished I wanted to use my iPhone like it was a true camera so I needed a proper tripod mount and cold shoe mount. I contacted the guys over at iOgrapher and they sent over their rig for my iPhone 5s case, along with a couple of lenses. The iOgrapher for the iPhone 5s blew my mind; it was created by a high school media arts teacher (David Basulto @iographer) from San Marino High School in Southern California, and it really makes using your iPhone as a camera simple and completely stable — it has a 37mm lens attachment, two cold shoe mounts, as well has sturdy side handles to help stabilize your recording.
The iOgrapher for the iPhone 5s runs for $49.95 (there are also iOgraphers for the iPad). To use the iOgrapher you mount the iPhone inside the case for (proper) horizontal filming (please don’t film vertically for my sanity), plug in the VideoMic Go with either the Rode SC4 (3.5mm TRS to TRRS) adaptor or replace the entire 3.5mm cable with the Rode SC7 (3.5mm TRS to TRRS) patch cable, they both accomplish getting your VideoMic Go audio into your iPhone and cost around $20 each.
TRS: Tip, Ring, Sleeve (a stereo plug). TRRS: Tip, Ring, Ring, Sleeve (allows for audio input as well as output)
The only issue I had was that I left my (SC4) adaptor attached to the included cable when plugging back in to my Canon T2i, I then recorded 30 minutes of video without audio, moral of the story: again, double check your cables every time you record.
Just as with the DSLR, the audio was infinitely better than the internal microphone when recording. Using the iOgrapher with an iPhone and VideoMic Go gives everyone the ability to create HD-quality movies with high-quality audio.
Third, I tested the VideoMic Go with my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition. To get these two working in harmony together I had to purchase the 3.5mm microphone adaptor ($19.99), both the Hero 2 as well as the Hero3+ support powered microphones (Hero2: 2.5v and Hero3+: 3.3v). The other thing to keep in mind is that you would have to purchase something like the “Frame” in order for the microphone cable to plug in while still being able to mount the camera to a tripod — the housings that come with the GoPro just do not work unless you want to do a little DIY drilling.
For this scenario I mounted the GoPro to the top of the iOgrapher via the cold shoe mount (again having to purchase a cold shoe adapter mount for the GoPro, which can cost anywhere from $3 to $20 — do a quick Amazon/eBay search), I then mounted the VideoMic Go next to the GoPro using the other cold shoe mount and either plugged in the microphone to the iPhone or GoPro (depending on which device I wanted to record the audio — I chose the GoPro because of the larger recording card). Keep in mind that your GoPro will visually catch a little of the VideoMic Go in the recording if it is in a wide recording mode.
The audio was so much better using the VideoMic Go than the GoPro’s internal microphone that there really isn’t a comparison between the two, the only downside is that a GoPro is small and portable and using a microphone kind of takes the portability out of the equation for me, but it’s a great recording option to have.
In the end the Rode VideoMic Go really is a go anywhere solution for the run-and-gun filmmaker. Whether you are filming your kids soccer game or doing some quick interview pickups you will be happy with the VideoMic Go as long as you remember that while it is better than almost any internal microphone, it is best used up close.
With a few $20 adapters you will instantly turn a standard 3.5mm microphone into an ultra-versatile mic that can interface with your GoPro, iPhone, and even your DSLR. If you are looking for a sub $100 external directional microphone solution that could be used for both filming scenes and recording a voice over in a pinch, the Rode VideoMic Go is your solution.
As a broadcast television editor who occasionally needs to grab a few shots while maintaining the highest quality audio recording, I will never leave home without the Rode VideoMic Go again.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.