There’s a dizzying world of on-camera microphones right now. And since we at Cinema Sound discourage the use of such microphones generally, we spend few resources talking about them. But Saramonic is about to release three on-camera mics which deserve your look-see. This review is for the Saramonic Vmic Mini, which along with it’s two cousins we believe will be on every camera within 2 years or less.
Like every on-camera mic, unless you’re doing reality, ENG or having to generally run-and-gun, we at Cinema Sound
discourage the use of them. Why? Well, check out this article on sound delay for one, and for another it’s nearly impossible to get good audio when a microphone is remote to the subject and subject to the noises of the camera and operator. In the Cinema Sound Education we demonstrate the difference between lavaliers and a Saramonic TM-7 shotgun microphone on-camera, and even with the TM-7’s world-class narrow polar pattern, the difference in quality and presence is obvious.
But given those who only have the built-in camera microphones, nearly any on-camera microphone solution is going to be far, far better. And, of course, if you have to run around with a camera and don’t have time for audio setups – and the subject is within 10 feet of the camera – having a great on-camera microphone is critical.
What do we want in an on-camera microphone?
- Cold/Hot shoe mountable
- Small and rugged body and mounts to the camera on a shock mount.
- Condenser Microphone
- Hypercardioid polar pattern or a cardioid pattern with a strongly even and bright frequency response pattern
- Included and functional windscreen for reasonable interior and exterior wind
- Self powered or have the ability to receive power from camera/recorder
- Frequency response ideal for the human voice – with a low noise floor
- Sexy looking – enhancing the “produceable” look of the operator’s rig for clients
- Selectable high-pass filter(s)
- Included cables
- Portable durable Case
- High Dollar Value
And while many of these points are akin to having a normal dialog-use microphone anyway, 1, 2, 6, 8, 10 & 12 are
specific to the on-camera microphone variety.
The Old Guard
Many of our members own a form of Røde on camera microphone, since that’s more-or-less what brought the company to prestige during the advent of the Canon 5D. Røde microphones are good, and we own several. However, when we apply the above dozen requirements of a worthy on-camera microphone, as we compare them to, say a Video Mic Pro+ which is far more money than the VMic Mini, things begin to break down:
- #5 The included windscreen not only is difficult to remove, but darkens the sound and bring mediocre wind support.
- #7 although the frequency plot is great for the human voice, the mic is quite noisy.
- #8 The look of the Røde is no longer something that enhances a camera operator’s produceable appearance as it borrows from the same kind of design that many manufacturers are copying.
- #10 You’d think that since Røde requires it’s own, crazy, proprietary cables to use it’s microphones that it would include them. In many cases (no pun intended) they are not – especially when having to break out into XLR.
- #11 No case-capable box included
- #12 Although Røde studio microphones are still an amazing value, Røde on-camera mics are now toward the top of the pricing chart compared with others like Saramonic.
The New Breed
Having tested the Vmic Mini alongside the Røde Video Mic Pro+ as well as it’s cousins in the form of the Vmic, Vmic Pro (both currently available as of 12/18) and the Cam Mic and Cam Mic+ (coming out early 2019), we’ve been able to make some strong findings and opinions about the Vmic Mini.
Saramonic is about to release a series of on-camera mics which will take the independent media creator space by storm. Not only are they highly functional and have unique sonic characteristics, but the look of them has them stand out immediately as something sexy, new and cool. Let’s break them down from the same 12 concepts:
- The Vmic Mini is cold shoe mountable.
- It’s far simpler a design than similar Røde products and as such has a lot fewer things to break. Further, it uses the new Saramonic shock mount which is actually superior in reducing “bump” noise than the Rycote reverse-engineered version most on-camera mic manufacturers employ. It’s also simpler – and WAY cooler looking.
- It’s a Condenser which means it needs power.
- It doesn’t have the typical narrow polar pattern we come to expect from an on-camera mic, but instead has a linear cardioid pattern with a smooth high frequency edge which allows for not only on-camera use, but general use as well. It would be ideal in situations where there is more than one person speaking and camera movement must be minimal.
- Saramonic windscreens are some of the best in the business: very strong wind shredding with very little high
frequency loss. Look no further than the Cinema Sound Record volume where we test them with fan and blow drier wind – and they stood up nearly as well as a dead cat with little high frequency loss.
- The Vmic Mini gets 3-5 volt “plugin” power through its 3.5mm jack which is typically supplied by consumer/DSLR cameras and phones. There are no batteries or charging capabilities for the mic.
- The frequency response of the mic is akin to a darker Saramonic NV-5, and quite similar to the condenser cardioids which come with the CA mixer – somewhat cleaner and brighter than the Røde Video Mic Pro+ which as a cardioid is important so as to not lose fidelity on off-axis sources. It may suffer somewhat in the 150-300 Hz zone and have bump around 4kHz. Frequencies below 80 Hz seem to be picked up well although not very uniformly. All-in-all, however, the frequency plot for the mic (the one plotted on the box being an idealized version of it) is great for capturing clean dialog. Its probably not a great choice for music where flat low frequency transduction are required, but due to its hyped hi frequency bias, with a little low-frequency multi-band compression, the sound of this mic could be wonderful for music and sound effects. I mean, we’d rather have more high frequencies than less to handle in post.
- It should be noted that the noise floor of the mic is quite high, but compared to the Video Mic Pro+ its reasonably comparable.
- There’s not going to be a sexier microphone than the Vmic Mini released any time soon. Period. You’re going to have people stop you just to ask what you have on top of your camera.
- The high pass filter is painfully absent on this microphone, which is one of the corners they had to cut because of it’s super-small size.
- Cables for both camera and 3.5mm smart phone are included.
- One of the great things about nearly every Saramonic product is the box they come in. We’ve taken some Saramonic products in their factory boxes in checked luggage they’re made so well. Really well crafted and rugged. And with the included gel-pack are excellent for long term storage as well.
- As with just about everything Saramonic, the price point is going to wipe out the market.
Super high-value on-camera mic with a great polar pattern for dialog, easy to use, rugged, and sexy with a great shock mount and windscreen.
Wind screen is a little tough to get on and off – although it guarantees it’s not going to flop off during a take, high noise floor, cardioid polar pattern can make recording a single source in a noisy environment impossible. That it doesn’t have a high pass filter means you’re going to be processing all of your low frequencies in post one way or another.
Is the Vmic Mini the best microphone on-camera solution every made? Nope. Is it the best bang-for-your-buck? It’s more like a grenade launcher-for-your-buck. And given that it’s completely breaking the visual mould of what on-camera mics should look like, we think it’s going to be the de-factor standard very shortly. As a result, the Vmic Mini receives a 115 CS rating. Given its high frequency bias and cardioid polar pattern, it’s an on camera solution that should be in everyone’s kit – especially when you’ve got more than one sound source to record.