When someone is speaking in front of your camera, you need specific microphones to clearly capture their voice. But what if you’re not trying to record the sound of someone’s voice? What if you’re shooting a serene nature scene with no dialog? How about footage of a busy city street? How do you sonically transport your audience into these settings? Do you use the same microphones that you would use capture dialog?
Nope. When you’re shooting footage with ambient soundscapes and no dialog, it’s best to use a good stereo microphone. Whether it’s nature, city noises, the ambient sound of an interior, etc., stereo microphones do a convincing job of capturing what things sound like to our human ears.
What’s wrong with using shotgun microphones for this purpose? Shotguns focus on sounds in front of them and reject sounds to the sides and rear. When you’re trying to record the sound of an environment, the goal is to capture something that sounds completely natural. While it’s possible to use a shotgun microphone for this purpose, it won’t deliver the natural, immersive sound that a good stereo microphone could.
Stereo microphones have another important role in video production: capturing the sound of live music. If you happen to encounter an amazing blues guitarist playing on the street, you would be much better off shooting footage of them using a good stereo microphone — instead of using the lousy mic built into your camera, a shotgun, or a clip-on lavalier mic.
There are many camera-mountable stereo microphones available on the market, like the Tascam TM-2X, but the most popular ones are all made by Rode. There are a few different options to choose from, starting with the Stereo VideoMic, and ending with the high-end Stereo VideoMic X. Sitting between them is the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro.
The Stereo VideoMic (SVM) is decent, but, it’s a much older design, and it’s larger, longer and somewhat heavy. For just a little more money you can get the Stereo VideoMic Pro (SVMP), which sounds better, has a more up-to-date design, it’s shorter, and it’s more lightweight (the SVM weighs 0.73 lbs, the SVMP weighs 0.55 lbs). The short length means you can use an extremely wide-angle lens on a full-frame camera without the mic showing up in the shot.
There are a few strikes against the SVMP. It normally costs around $300 USD, which is kind of pricey. But, it delivers excellent quality, so it’s worth it. Also, this mic is mostly made out of plastic, which isn’t ideal.
Another downside is that the SVMP only comes with a foam windscreen. The furry softie that’s compatible with it, which Rode calls the Dead Kitten Windscreen, is sold separately. If you are buying this mic for video production, you are almost certainly going to use it outdoors. This means buying the Dead Kitten is a must. If you are budgeting for this mic, factor in an additional $25 for the cat. You need it. I certainly could have used one when I shot the test video for this post. Not surprisingly, I picked up wind noise at the beach.
The SVMP requires a 9-volt battery to operate. Rode claims that it can get 100 hours of use out of a single battery. That’s a decent amount of time, but, the downside is that 9-volt batteries aren’t as ubiquitous as AA’s. So, if the battery dies on you, it’s more difficult to find another one lying around the house. Not a huge drawback, but it would be more convenient if it ran on AA’s.
This microphone does come with Rode’s famous 10-year warranty. That’s a nice plus.
Using an audio recorder instead
It’s possible to use an audio recorder, such as the Zoom H4n as an on-camera stereo microphone. I explain how to do this in this post. All you need is a recorder with good built-in stereo mics, a Sescom cable, and a mount to attach the recorder to the shoe of your camera.
But here’s the thing… when you do this, it becomes a much more complicated operation. You need to manage all of the controls on the recorder and the camera, and you’ve got to set it all up and break it all down. Plus, the recorder you’re using is likely larger and heavier than a microphone like the SVMP.
The point of a microphone like this is to deliver excellent sound quality, in a device that makes your production life easier. When you have to futz around with an external audio recorder, a Sescom cable, and a mount, your day will be more complicated. This mic does one thing, and does it well.
B-Roll: It’s more than just images
Most kinds of videos benefit from a little b-roll. When you can cut away from the main shots and add a little visual flair with some attractive b-roll, your work usually looks a lot better. A good stereo mic like the SVMP makes you think about b-roll as more than just a moving image to cut away to. When your b-roll sounds amazing, you will have more compelling elements to tell your stories. So, in a way, think of the SVMP as a b-roll enhancement tool.
The controls on the SVMP are exactly like the ones found on the popular Rode VideoMic Pro shotgun microphone. The switch on the back left side turns the mic on, and lets you select between a flat response, or using its high-pass filter. Using the high-pass filter is usually good idea in video production, especially when you’re shooting handheld. It cuts out ultra low-frequency sounds, which are often created by bumping the camera and footsteps.
When you’re shooting live music with the camera on a tripod, you’re likely better off using the SVMP in the flat frequency response position. You can tell these different settings apart by the symbols above the switch. The circle symbol all the way to the left is the OFF position. The small, vertical straight line in the middle is the “flat frequency response” position. The symbol all the way to the right, which looks like a lower-case r, is the high-pass filter position.
The switch on the right side of the mic controls the output volume. When this switch is all the way to the left, it is in the -10dB setting. This will cut the outputted volume of the mic by 10 decibels. This can be useful if the camera you’re using is sensitive to louder volume microphones. For example, my old Panasonic GH2 has a pretty sensitive mic input.
With this switch set to 0, the SVMP is just outputting its normal volume. When you set this switch all the way to the right, it is in the +20dB mode. This is useful when you’re using a camera with noisy preamps, and manual audio controls. The idea is to turn the manual audio on the camera nearly all the way down, so you’re using as little of its preamps as possible. With the SVMP in the +20dB position, its output will be loud. So, instead of having the camera’s noisy preamp boost the signal up, the microphone does this work, in a cleaner, clearer way. This is useful with Canon DSLRs, and other similar cameras.
Tips for using the +20dB feature on Canon DSLRs
I recommend using the +20dB setting on the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro most of the time with Canon DSLRs. You can see how I have set the audio level down low in the picture above. This is what you want to do, too. Using this feature yielded the cleanest, best sounding audio quality with this microphone.
There was one instance where I couldn’t use the +20dB feature, though. When I shot footage of a street performer, a singer named Charlie Q. Benford, the music was just too loud for the +20dB setting. I needed to turn the SVMP to its “0” position, and adjust the audio levels of the camera accordingly.
NOTE – If you’re not comfortable adjusting audio levels, please read my How to Set Audio Levels post. It’s not that hard. You need to learn how to do this.
Basically, the thing to remember is that you can’t just set this mic in the +20dB mode every time you shoot. If you’re in a noisy wedding reception, or some other loud environment, the +20dB mode just may be too much. Always keep an eye on your audio meters, and always monitor your audio with headphones (if your camera has a headphone jack, that is).
The mysterious bottom of the mic
Underneath the SVMP are two design features that make this a more desirable microphone. The first one is easy to miss. It’s a tiny cable clip at the base of the microphone. The idea is to attach the built-in output cable to this clip. Doing so will relieve tension to the cable. So, if the other end of the cable gets pulled on, or rubbed on, the vibration noise won’t transfer as easily to the sensitive microphone capsules, therefore reducing the amount of unwanted noise in the mic. Similar techniques are often used when attaching lavalier microphones to their mic clips. If you use the SVMP, make sure you use this little, hidden clip.
The bottom of the shockmount features a 3/8″ thread for a boompole, so you could put this mic on a boom, if you wanted to. However, more often than not, the most logical place to put this microphone is on top of your camera. That’s why there is also a locking shoe mount built into the base of this microphone. The shoe is made out of metal.
This is a $300 microphone. Not surprisingly, it sounds good. If you are comparing it to the sound of the built-in microphone on your camera, the SVMP is going to sound a million times better. This may not be incredibly obvious in the video tests that I shot for this post, but believe me, the SVMP is far better than the built-in microphone on your camera.
If you are comparing the SVMP to a shotgun microphone, you are barking up the wrong tree. A shotgun is a different kind of mic for different purposes. There is no use in comparing the two.
Good microphones are not illusions of smoke and mirrors. If a microphone sounds good and is useful, people will give it good reviews and recommend it to others. This is the story of the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro. If it was a piece of junk and sounded lousy, no one would buy it, and I likely wouldn’t bother reviewing it on my blog.
Is the SVMP the best sounding stereo microphone you can buy for your camera? That’s an easy question to answer: No. Rode also makes the Stereo VideoMic X, which is substantially more expensive, and likewise, far better sounding. That’s not to say that the SVMP doesn’t sound great. It does. It’s just that the SVMX sounds much better.
Is owning a microphone like this an absolute necessity? No, perhaps not. But, it’s a very useful thing that can elevate the quality of your work — if you use it wisely. That is to say, this mic can help you if you use it when the situation calls for it. If you attach the SVMP to your camera and use it as the primary microphone to record the dialog of subjects who are far away, then no, this mic will serve you poorly.
But, if you put this on your camera as you walk around shooting b-roll of an outdoor festival, your footage will come to life. If you use this as your primary microphone to record musicians (instead of a shotgun or the built-in mics), the footage will be much better. If you’re shooting a beautiful nature scene and the birds are chirping, this is the kind of mic you want to use.
NOTE – In a pinch, you could record dialog with this mic mounted to your camera. You just need to get extremely close to the person speaking. Get right up in their face. If you’re any further away, the sound of their voice will be weak and washed out. Your audience needs to be able to clearly hear what they’re saying.
In closing, just know that this microphone exists for a reason. People highly rate this microphone for a reason. It’s plastic. It’s not perfect. But, the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro is a really good microphone, and, when used properly, it can elevate the quality of your work.
Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode Dead Kitten Windscreen - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Zoom H4n - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Sescom Cable - Amazon USA, B&H Photo
Canon 7D Mark II - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode Stereo VideoMic X - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr