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If you’re into TV production, you’ve probably seen a few behind-the-scenes videos of crew operating microphones attached to a long pole. That means you’ve been introduced to the shotgun microphone.
Shotgun microphones are highly directional microphones. This means they can capture the most sound coming from the front of the microphone, a.k.a. where the microphone is pointed.
Let’s learn more about the shotgun microphone below. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this kind of mic and why you might need it.
A shotgun microphone is a type of unidirectional mic. Unidirectional microphones can pick up sound when it’s directly in front of them, but not so much when it’s coming from the sides of the microphone, and even less when it’s coming from the back. Because of this, to get a proper recording, shotgun microphones must be pointed directly at the mic’s target sound source.
Shotgun microphones can be condenser microphones or dynamic microphones, which are omnidirectional mics. However, they’re usually designed with an 8-24 inch tube that protrudes from the front-facing end – the longer the tube, the more directional the pickup.
This surgical precision allows the directional microphone to capture sound directly from the target source while blocking off-axis sounds including wind noise, background noise, ambient noise, and any unwanted sounds.
Because they’re so long and narrow, shotgun microphones tend to resemble real shotguns, hence the name. They are sometimes called line mics.
However, some have pointed out that shotgun might be a misnomer – shotguns fire over a wide area, while shotgun mics only capture sound from a single sound source. Because of this, calling them “sniper mics” might be more accurate. Nonetheless, we’ll continue calling them shotgun mics for their appearance.
A hypercardoid will have a narrow pickup pattern as well as an extended rear pickup, meaning it can capture sounds from behind to an extent. It still prioritizes sound coming from the subject.
In a supercardioid polar pattern, sounds off-axis from the shotgun mic are immediately rejected. However, since there is still a mild rear pickup, operators tend to be careful not to make too much noise.
Out of the polar patterns, an ultracardioid shotgun mic has the most narrow pickup pattern possible. According to Cinema Sound, this diaphragm is “so directional that the slightest move has the subject go off-axis,” which means it might not be the best device to attach to a boom pole.
A shotgun microphone is often used for:
Since the shotgun microphone falls in the category of directional microphone, it has a very specific use that often cannot be swapped with other mic varieties. But if you’re someone who works in TV or film production, you might be trying to decide between lapel mics or shotgun mics. We’ll outline the key differences below.
While both can capture quality audio, most shotgun microphones capture much more natural sound waves. This is due to a combination of distance from the sound source, electronics, and even air. Since shotguns reject sounds coming from behind the microphone, the effect is audio that sounds like what we would naturally hear if we were in the room with the subject.
Don’t get me wrong, lavaliers are great in dialogue, interview, and film production settings – even the omnidirectional variety can produce high-quality audio. There are even directional lavs that can go head-to-head with shotguns.
However, shotgun microphones generally offer a tighter pickup pattern, directly capturing the sound source with high gain from the front of the microphone. Because its pickup patterns allow it to reject sound from the side, the microphone produces the best sound quality compared to lavalier mics.
Since shotguns are attached to a long beam typically situated overhead, there’s no need to hide a capsule within the subject’s body.
In summary, if you’re a professional and you want to record the best audio possible for your video, interview, or TV project – buy a shotgun mic. You can’t go wrong with it as long as you have the manpower to operate one.