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Roundup: Compact Mics for Compact Cameras

Compact, prosumer 4K cameras like the Canon XA40 and XA45 pack enough professional features that they're well worth considering for pro producers who need to travel light or with a compact kit. Choosing such a camera also means accessorizing it with properly proportioned compact audio gear--like the options we'll explore here.

Recently I reviewed the Canon XA40 compact camcorder. I stress compact, because most of the microphones that I use for sound were a bit big for it. While it does have stereo mics built into the body of the camera, I wouldn't use them for much more than home video. Professional-quality sound requires good third-party microphones.

Looking into the sound arsenal I had on hand, none of my in-house mics were compact enough to work well with this camera. My Azden SGM-250 shotgun was longer than the camera itself. My Audio-Technica System 10 Digital Wireless Receiver is not huge, but a bit bulky for the smaller camera. The same is true of my my analog Sennheiser G2 system.

Compact, prosumer 4K cameras like the XA40 (and its SDI-ready sibling the XA45) don’t necessarily look as professional as larger models when you’re on a shoot for a client, but they offer enough professional features that they’re well-worth considering for pro producers who need to travel light or with a compact kit. Choosing such a camera also means accessorizing it with properly proportioned compact gear, as I discussed in my XA40 review.

So I set out in search of mics that would mount and balance well on the XA40 and other compact cameras of its ilk. Around the same time as I received the XA40, Azden sent me one shotgun mic and one wireless mic system to try with it. I’ll discuss those first, then move on to two compact mic options Movo sent for review.

Azden SGM-250CX Short Shotgun Microphone (MSRP $199)

The Azden SGM-250CX is a great short shotgun microphone. I reviewed and continued to use its big brother SGM-250 with my Sony HVR-S270 and HVR-Z7 and Canon XF705. When I reviewed the SGM-250 three years ago, I was impressed with its clarity, and rejection of sounds off to the sides.

I was happy to find out that the SGM-250CX (Figure 1, below) packs the same quality into a 6" mic that I get in the 10" SGM-250. While I normally use the on-camera short shotgun to back up a handheld or wireless mic system, it still has to deliver usable in case my primary audio setup fails. I used the XA40 to record a family bar mitzvah where the SGM-250CX did a great job picking up the boy reading the Torah while rejecting the other noise in the sanctuary, at about 4' or 5' feet away.

Figure 1. The Azden SGM-250CX on-camera shotgun mic

The mic comes with its own shock mount, cold shoe adapter that will allow you to put it on a camera without a mic mount. But it will still require XLR input. You must keep in mind that this mic requires phantom power and doesn't have an AA battery option like its big brother. Therefore, this microphone won't be a good option if you are looking to connect it to a camera with a 3.5mm mic input. Even with an XLR-to-3.5mm adapter, you won't get the phantom power to make it work.

Azden PRO-XR Digital Wireless Lav Microphone System (MSRP $249)

As I mentioned earlier, for most of my main audio for video recording, I use a wireless system. Usually it is a lavaliere system with a mic clipped to the host or a transmitter plugged into mixing board.

Azden PRO-XR (Figure 2, below) is a compact digital system that, so far, has worked well for me. The PRO-XR shouldn’t be confused with Azden’s PRO-XD, which I reviewed a few years ago for another magazine, and was just about the worst mic system I ever used. It would appear that Azden took the shell of the XD and filled it with all-new components that work quite well.

Figure 2. The Azden PRO-XR wireless mic system

The PRO-XD suffered from horrible dropouts. It turns out that crowded Wi-Fi areas (pretty much anywhere indoors these days) would cause the XD to lose signal. I tried the same areas with the PRO-XR and had great results. One of the neat things built into the transmitter is that--besides the input for the lav mic--there is a second 3.5mm input that you can attach to a line-level source. A switch on the side of the transmitter even lets you choose a mix between the lav and the line input. That's flexibility!

The transmitter and receiver are both very thin and compact. The lav mic that plugs into the transmitter is also much smaller than the huge one that came with PRO-XD. The one that came with the PRO-XD was the largest lav mic head I ever saw. The new mic is a much more reasonable size.

The PRO-XR also comes with two types of antennas for the transmitter: one smaller and more flexible, with less range; the other thicker, rigid, and more powerful for talent that won't object to the thicker antenna, depending on their body type.

To avoid dropouts, you can adjust the transmitter's power output to either 20, 50, or 100 mw. The more power, the quicker the batteries run out. Both the transmitter and receiver have internal rechargeable batteries. They both can charge though any Micro-USB cable connected to a phone charger, computer, or car outlet. If you think you’ll run out of power, you can attach a power bank to it for external power.

The Azden PRO-XR comes with a 3.5mm stereo cable to attach it to DSLRs or consumer video cameras, and a stereo to cell phone (3-ring) cable to record into a phone. If you want to record into a professional camera that has XLR inputs, you will need Azden’s 3.5mm stereo-to-stereo XLR MX-2 cable, available for $22. You can plug in both XLRs to get the same on both channels, or just one. They both have the same signal.

In use, the PRO-XR delivered great sound quality except for two random incidents, where for a couple of minutes it sounded like the person talking was slightly under water. I came to find out that I probably should have upped the power output of the transmitter to 50 mw instead of the default of 20 because we were recording in a potentially high-traffic Wi-Fi zone.

Otherwise, I think the PRO-XR should work well for most videographers. Just make sure you have the correct power setting for the distance between the transmitter and receiver, and monitor for signal problems.

Related Articles
The XA40 is a feature-packed compact professional camcorder that can get you into shooting 4K 30p for around $1,500. It's small enough to fit in a lunchbox, yet it has enough features that professional camera people coming from a traditional ENG camcorder won't find themselves wanting for much.