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The Four Microphone Pickup Patterns Every Videographer Should Know

close up shot of a studio microphone

While all mics essentially pick up the same audio, they don’t all pick up audio the same way. The various types of microphones are designed for specific uses. 

To the typical non-golfer, all golf clubs are the same. In fact, it seems a little crazy to carry 10 of them around just to get that little ball into the hole a couple hundred yards away. But expert golfers know that every club has its own unique and very specific purpose. Knowing the potential of each club and how to select the correct one at the correct time is a big part of a professional golfer’s game. In a similar way, microphones may all seem pretty much the same to the uninitiated videographer. They all let you record audio, right? Do you really need more than one?

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each mic type will help the savvy shooter choose the right microphone for every job. A big part of this is a simple understanding of the four most common pickup patterns employed by the majority of mics and how they affect your sound quality.

1- Omnidirectional

Omnis are multipurpose workhorses. They pick up audio in a circular pattern that allows them to capture audio in all directions (in front, to the sides and behind the mic.) Most all of the microphones built into camcorders are omnidirectional microphones. That’s why operators of consumer camcorders are often heard so clearly on their recordings.

2 - Cardioid/Hypercardoid

Most handheld microphones use cardioid or hypercardioid pickup patterns that record sound waves primarily in the direction the microphone is pointed and from the sides in a heart shaped pattern, without entirely rejecting sound coming from behind the mic. Cardioid mics generally capture audio in a more rounded area in front of the mic, while hypercardioids offer a more elongated range of sensitivity and suppress more sound from the sides than their cardioid cousins.   

3 - Bidirectional

If you need to record clear audio to the sides of your mic, but want to supress sound coming from the top and bottom, a bidirectional mic is the choice to make. Mics of this type can be positioned on a table between two interview subjects (think of the big, cool looking mic that sits on David Letterman’s desk), and are often used by artists who record rock music and voice talent in vocal booths.

4 - Unidirectional

Most shotgun mics are highly directional and record audio only in the direction that the barrel of the mic is pointed. They are typically mounted on long boom poles and held over the head of the subject, just outside the visible part of the frame. The long, narrow pickup pattern of unis makes them the mic of choice for producers making films or shows built on actors delivering dialogue. They offer good range, and reject unwanted ambient audio well.

As you shop for your next mic (or mics), remember to pay close attention to its pickup pattern. The shape and appearance of the mic is not always a good indicator of the pickup pattern and performance. The best way to know what you’re getting and to find what you need is to do a little research on the model number. Look for the pickup pattern fields in Videomaker’s microphone reviews and buyer’s guides, and on manufacturer websites. Now, put down that boom pole and hand me my driver. It’s tee time.

Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award winning writer and producer. He is currently VP of Production at KIDMO/Rivet Productions.
Chuck
Peters
August 30th, 2013

Comments

GPSMotovlogs's picture

I'm trying to improve my audio quality for my videos I make motovlogs. I'm wondering if there is anything that can help me pick up the audio in my helmet clearly(when I talk) and to lessen the background noise mainly the wind noise

Chuck Peters's picture

I have never done a motovlog. Sounds cool though! -- I have ridden motorcycles and scooters and driven race cars for years though, so I know well how noisy it can be inside a helmet. -- There is no good way to eliminate all that noise, but I would venture to say that your best bet for recording usable audio would be to use a lavalier mounted inside a full-face helmet. The trick would be to mount it in a place where it is away from direct wind. I would try running it through the top of the helmet so it peeks out just above your forehead, or taping it to the inside of the face shield. -- Ultimately, the only way to know is to experiement, but the lav is definitely your best bet. No other mic would fit inside your helmet. =) -- Se safe! ...and happy miking!

 

 

  

David B's picture

I use a Canon T4i & a Zoom H4n. I connect my Zoom to the camera at times so that I don't have to sync voice in post-production. The sound on the Zooms memory card sounds great but on the camera's card, there is "noise". Could this be because the cable I am using is not a good quality connector (because its not) or is there something else I'm not getting?