In film, television, and internet video, one of the most common microphones for creators is the “shotgun microphone.” So named because of its slotted tube’s resemblance to a shotgun barrel, it is used for highly directional audio pickup and recording. Anything outside of the shotgun microphone’s generally 30-degree pickup pattern is eliminated.
Like the much smaller lavalier mic, the shotgun microphone is as useful as it is common, and one of the key ingredients in great-sounding videos. You can even get a shotgun mic as one of many smartphone accessories.
Below, we will talk briefly about how a shotgun microphone works, as well as what type of productions typically use them. We will also list some shotgun mic tips, as well as detail some of the best microphones at various budget levels.
What is a shotgun microphone and how does it work?
As we said above, a shotgun mic takes its name from its long slotted tube that vaguely resembles the barrel of a shotgun. This 8 to 24-inch interference tube sits at the front of the hyper-cardioid microphone cartridge, and it picks up audio from in front of the mic while blocking out most everything beyond its 30-degree pickup pattern.
Shotgun mics—which are most often condensers, not dynamic mics—are often used when audio must be picked up and recorded well outside of a film or video camera’s frame. Since it’s a long directional mic, the shotgun microphone can pick up sound from several feet away, allowing filmmakers and videographers to keep the microphone hidden from the field of view.
Instead of having to use batteries, shotgun mics run on the phantom power from either your audio recorder or video camera. Many modern shotgun mics can even be powered by USB.
When to use a shotgun mic
Most often, shotgun mics are used on film and TV productions, when filmmakers need to pick up the sound of actors from several feet away and out of frame. Compared to the lavalier mic, the shotgun mic—which can be mounted to a stand or held by either a pistol grip shock mount or boom/pole—has great sound quality.
If you want to have more control over the positioning and subtleties of audio pickup and recording, a shotgun mic is a far better option than a lav mic. It’s also more natural sounding.
Tips for shotgun mic pickup and recording
The Shotgun mic is a great tool for audio pickup and recording, but like any microphone they have their pros and cons. Here are some things to keep in mind when using a shotgun microphone.
- While shotgun mics pick up audio best from 6 to 10 feet away, they aren’t designed to capture sound from far distances.
- Shotgun mics are sensitive to wind and movement, so use a windscreen and limit movement.
- If you’re mounting a shotgun mic to your camera, find a rubber shock mount to reduce vibrations.
- If you’re mounting the mic to a boom/pool, find one that reduces handling noise.
- Shotgun mics typically pick up sound best from above but experiment with mic positioning if necessary.
- Be aware that a shotgun mic can pick up some sound from the background, so check your levels for any unwanted audio.
Best shotgun microphones for various budgets
There are several great options for shotgun mics, regardless of your specific budget.
Here are a few shotgun microphones that you should check out.
Budget shotgun mics
If you’re looking for an on-camera shotgun mic for your DSLR or mirrorless cinema rig, RØDE offers great budget options with the Video Mic series ($99 to $299), while Sennheiser has the MKE 400 ($199). 2 other great budget options for on-camera shotgun mics are the Deity V-Mic D3 ($199) and Shure VP83F ($299).
For a budget handheld shotgun mic, consider the Deity S-Mic 2S ($319), which is a professional short mic with great sound quality. Other good options are the RØDE NTG-2 ($319), which features both battery and phantom power, and the Audio-Technica AT987 ($249).
Mid-range shotgun mics
Azden Broadcast Spec Shotgun Microphones. Source: https://www.azden.com/
If you want to jump up to the mid-range shotgun mic category, start by taking a look at the RØDE NTG4+ ($399), which is a short shotgun mic that has built-in battery power. This mic can be charged with USB power. Other great mid-range options are the Sennheiser MKE 600 ($329)m, Azden SGM-3500 ($500) and Azden SGM-3500L ($550).
High-end shotgun mics
The RØDE NTG-5. Source: https://www.rode.com/
If you’re looking for a great high-end shotgun mic, look into the RØDE NTG-5 ($500) NTG-3 ($700). The main reason the NTG-3 is more expensive than the NTG-5 is that it has more low-end capability, making for a warmer sound that is good for a variety of tasks, including voiceover work. This makes it a great pick not just for filmmaking but podcasting as well.
An equally great high-end shotgun mic is the Sennheiser MKH416 ($999). While it’s more expensive than the NTG-3, the MKH416 has been highly esteemed in the film and TV industries going all the way back to the 1960s.
Neumann, one of the most venerable makers of microphones, offers the KMR-81 i ($1,695). While it’s far more expensive than any other shotgun mic on this list, the sound quality and build are incredible, making it a good investment for serious filmmakers and content creators.
Smartphone shotgun mic accessories
The Comica Audio Smartphone Shotgun mic. Source: https://www.comica-audio.com/
If you’re looking for a shotgun mic for your mobile device, there are a few different options, all in the budget category. Comica Audio has several shotgun mic kits for smartphones, while RØDE offers the VideoMic Me ($79). Another affordable smartphone shotgun mic is the Boya BY-MM1 ($29).
To turn your smartphone into a proper audio-visual recorder, you will need smartphone shotgun mic accessories like a phone clamp and ball head mount, which will fix your mic to your phone. You should also check out a tripod for desktop use, especially if you’re a vlogger or a podcaster.
An all-in-one solution worth checking out is the RØDE Vlogger Kit iOS Edition ($149). Designed for mobile device filmmaking, the Vlogger Kit iOS Edition features a shotgun mic, on-camera light, and tripod.
Some Final Thoughts
Remember, shotgun mics provide higher quality and more natural sound than lav mics. While they are highly directional and thus capable of picking up audio from a distance, it’s best to use them at a distance of 6 to 10 feet.
There are several options across various budgets, which can be attached to phones and DSLR/mirrorless cameras, or held with either a stand, pistol grip shock mount or a boom/pool.
The best advice we have is to do as much research as you can before buying. Prior to making a purchase, consider renting various shotgun mics to find the best fit for your production’s needs.
DJ Pangburn is a New York-based journalist, videographer, and fiction writer, with bylines at Vice, Fast Company, Dazed and Confused, and other publications. DJ records ambient techno and IDM under the name Holoscene.