Sound Check

You have the perfect camcorder. You’ve invested in a good tripod that allows for a steady shot. The lighting is just right; the composition stunning. The wide depth of field helps keep the whole scene in focus. What’s missing? How about the audio?

Articles about recording audio with camcorders usually jump into a discussion about various types of microphones. I think they ignore one of the most important accessories you can add to your video setup. It isn’t something that records sounds; it does quite the opposite—a pair of headphones.

You need to be able to monitor what’s recorded. If your camcorder supports monitoring while recording, a pair of headphones allows you to hear the audio and determine if you’re sending too much (or not enough) signal to the camera.

Many camcorders have audio-level displays that simulate audio meters on a mixing board. However, these displays often are small and react slowly to fast- changing audio signals, and the level display tells you nothing about the quality of the audio. If someone is speaking, it doesn’t tell you if they can be understood. Headphones allow you also to hear whether background noise is drowning out the audio you’re trying to record.

While you can use small earbud-style headphones, those that cover the ear and block out external noise are a much better solution.

Headphones are great even if you just use your camera’s built-in microphone. The microphone is another important consideration. If you opt to capture sound with the built-in mic, know where it’s located. Keep your hands away from it so you don’t record the sounds of your fingers on the camera body. This microphone may pick up buttons or switches you engage, so try to make adjustments before you start shooting.

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