Most experienced filmmakers will tell you that sound is 50 percent of filmmaking. If the sound is poor, the wisdom goes, your video isn’t going to be watched. I don’t know whether this is borne out in actuality however, because to the best of my knowledge, most videos posted to YouTube by non-professionals are shot using the camera’s built-in microphone. However that may be, I deliberated a long time before deciding to purchase a RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro, fearing it would end up like so many other gadgets taking up space in my closet, like a Manfrotto tripod and a RØDE VideoMic Pro I’d only used a couple of times.
Like many other owners of the Panasonic TM900 camcorder, I believed the built-in microphone was good enough for most situations. Moreover, I nearly always mute the audio track on my videos and replace it with music, occasionally recording a voice-over commentary track if I’m feeling particularly inspired. Anyhow, last week, I went ahead and picked one up from an authorized dealer here in Ho Chi Minh City, at a price so low, it was hard to believe. One thing I learned is that professional quality sound doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Over the weekend, I shot some tests in a variety of situations, from a construction site to traffic to a couple of live performances. Luckily, the weather wasn’t windy, because my Dead Kitten windshield is on backorder. The results of my tests so far exceeded my expectations that I can’t imagine going back to shooting with the camera’s mediocre onboard microphone ever again. The sound of the RØDE is warm and spacious, with excellent separation, making the video as seen on my MacBook seem larger than it really is. While I’m not a professional videographer, I thought this test might be of passing interest to owners of the Panasonic HDC-TM900, for while there are numerous tests of the RØDE VideoMic Pro with this camcorder, there appear to be next to none of its Stereo sibling. In fact, all of the tests I’ve seen have been with DSLRs.
Just a few words on handling the microphone. As a rule, stereo mics are generally recommended for B-roll and live music, and ill-suited for capturing spoken voice. Also, just as the camcorder’s iris and white balance need to be continually adjusted, a microphone can’t simply be set and forgotten. Sound levels must be measured and input levels adjusted accordingly. This brings us to my biggest gripe with the Panasonic, in that those adjustments are buried deep within the camera’s submenu, making it impossible to make level changes while shooting. Making matters worse, the levels displayed on the tiny LED meter that appears on the touch screen while shooting don’t correspond to the level meters in the submenu. In practice, this means that if the input level meters in the submenu are set correctly, with peaks only occasionally going into the red, while shooting, the little meter on the touch screen might show continual peaking. As for the microphone case, it is too small to comfortably accommodate the mic with the Dead Kitten windshield attached. All quibbles aside however, the Panasonic and the RØDE are a joy to use.
A note on the video: in the final minutes, you will see 30/4 Park, named after Vietnam’s Liberation Day. The park is located between the Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral in the center of Ho Chi Minh City.