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What Is a Shotgun Microphone?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2016
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A shotgun microphone is a type of directional microphone commonly used in television and movie production; it is used to process or amplify sounds directly in front of the microphone rather than sounds from the sides or ambient sounds in a room. The narrow shape of a shotgun microphone, and its orientation when mounted on a camera, makes it appear shotgun-like, hence the name. The microphone can pick up some sound to the left, right, and rear of the mic, but it is specifically designed to pick up the most sound from the front of the microphone.

The category in which a shotgun microphone falls is the directional microphone, meaning the mic is best used to pick up sounds from a certain direction. Omnidirectional microphones, such as condenser microphones, are better used for picking up sounds from many directions and condensing them into smaller signals for processing. Condenser microphones are most useful in controlled environments such as studio spaces, while a shotgun microphone is best used on assignment in different locations, particularly in noisy locations. A person standing in front of the microphone will still be able to be heard despite a significant amount of ambient noise.

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A condenser microphone can be designed to act as a shotgun microphone as well. Condenser microphones are useful for picking up quieter sounds easily by using a certain type of diaphragm that vibrates when sound waves strike it. This method can be used in a shotgun microphone, and that microphone can be used to pick up sounds at a longer distance. The microphone may still be directional, but it will be able to pick up more sounds as well as sounds from a greater distance with better clarity.

Like many other types of microphones, a shotgun microphone is often used in conjunction with a windscreen or pop filter. These devices are made of thin materials that hang over or in front of the microphone to prevent air from striking the diaphragm, causing a popping sound or loud wind sound. Shotgun mics are often mounted on television cameras that are taken out on assignment, so windscreens help prevent the microphone from being inundated with loud, annoying sounds caused by wind or the cameraman's movement. The mic can be taken off the camera itself, though it is usually mounted to the camera for ease of use. A cable must be used to connect the microphone to the camera so the sounds can be recorded.

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MrMoody
Post 4

@Charred - I’ll just chime in here. Shotgun microphones deliver OK quality if you use them like they do in the movies, dangling them over your subject and getting as close as possible to them.

However, in my experience, camera mounted microphones don’t deliver comparable results. The cardinal rule is to get as close to your subject as possible for the best sound.

In this regard, I think that even an inexpensive USB condenser microphone, pressed close to your lips, would be better than a shotgun microphone two feet away. Of course, I guess that depends on whether you need the mobility of the shotgun microphone or not.

Charred
Post 3

@hamje32 - If you’re not necessarily interested in the directional quality of a shotgun microphone, but want something that is still camera mounted and delivers good quality, consider a stereo condenser microphone mounted onto your camera.

Read some condenser mic reviews online to find the best quality. I’ll tell you one advantage that the condenser microphone has over the regular shotgun microphone is that the stereo microphone is stereo, true to its name.

You may not realize it, but most shotgun microphones are “mono,” meaning that they will only deliver sound in one channel. You can fix that in post production by swapping out the channels, so that you end up with stereo as a result, but it’s a hassle.

That’s not so with stereo microphones – it’s stereo right from the start.

hamje32
Post 2

@miriam98 - There are quite a few camcorder shotgun microphone units you can buy, all with varying degrees of quality.

I don’t have a camera mounted microphone, but I do have one that I can dangle over the subject, just like they do in the movies. I have a stand that is raised above the subject’s head and I attach the microphone to the stand.

I have a 25 foot microphone cable that hooks directly into my camcorder’s microphone jack. There is a little noise interference but I can scrub it out in post editing.

Other than that it delivers excellent sound. I don’t know if it would rival the $1,000 microphones that the professional studios use, but it’s more than adequate for my purposes.

miriam98
Post 1

Years ago I bought what’s called a “baby” shotgun microphone for my digital camcorder. I call it a baby shotgun because it’s much smaller than a regular microphone.

This shorter microphone for camcorder use is barely longer than the camcorder itself, whereas professional shotgun microphones are about the length of a pole. The advantage of having the shorter microphone is that it can be camera mounted.

A longer microphone mounted on the camera would invade the field of vision in the camera.

Anyway, although it’s shorter, it is a great directional microphone. It picks up sound from directly in front of you. Sounds from around and behind the unit, while picked up, are muffled. They sound distant, as if the microphone were far away.

I find this kind of microphone great for one on one interview situations where all I want is the subject’s voice in front of me.

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