How do you cost-effectively improve sound recording quality from your DSLR? The Aputure V-mic D2 answers: take the load off your camera’s preamp and on-board mic by adding a better preamp to a shoe-mounted shotgun mic — and provide an outboard, binary LED sound meter custom calibrated to your camera.
I’d never seen anything like it, so I was curious about Aputure’s new V-Mic D2. A built-in preamp with custom calibration? Variable external gain? It certainly looked and felt the business: nice looking, lightweight, soft-touch rubber, integrated shock mount — and very black.
On the other hand, I generally don’t like shoe-mounted mics of any kind, preferring either a lav or a boomed, downward facing shotgun just beyond the frame attached to an external recorder. I’ve learned the hard way, like most of us have, that anything else is going to be susceptible to problems.
Don’t even get me started on wireless.
Then again, there are times — shooting outdoors in the Antarctic as a one-man band, for example (or even a Philly rooftop in January)– when you don’t really have those options.
The D2 did indeed offer better sound than the on-board mic of the Canon Rebel SL1 I tested with it, though neither was convincing in the acoustically challenging interior setting of our review (the D2 was better at minimizing off-axis ambient sound ). In this instance, better still was an inexpensive lavalier mic connected to an iPhone, both in terms of sound and convenience – and it is what I used when not testing either mic.
And there’s the rub — though as shoe-mounted shotgun mics go, the D2 is no different in this regard than the others. They have a very specific, best use case: outdoors, on camera, within three feet of the subject, when time or logistics prevent a better option. As so many others have pointed out, shotgun mics do NOT act for sound the way zoom lenses do for light– they’re better at reducing, not eliminating, sounds emanating beyond the frame. Once you get much beyond three feet from the sound source, the ability to keep out other sounds degrades quickly.
And without the ability to monitor audio with your own ears — a headphone jack –-you’ll never know what you’ve got until you playback the footage. One can argue (I would) that beyond proximity and electronics, the single most important parameter for improving sound quality is being able to hear what you’re recording in real time, and making adjustments as a result.
But, to be fair, it is likely the case that the D2 isn’t aimed at 5D shooters, but more likely those who own cameras like the Canon Rebel series.
The bottom line is this: if you are in the market for a solid value in a shoe-mounted shotgun mic, the D2 is worth a close look. It is well built, complete, offers visual feedback behind the camera while filming, reduces your reliance on the relatively poor performance of onboard camera mics and preamps, and is aggressively priced. Its natural competition, the Rode VideoMic Pro, does have a -10db attenuator for live music or a +20db boost specifically for reducing reliance on the camera’s preamp (courtesy of a 9V battery), making it a binary alternative to the D2’s variable gain –but at $229.00, it is almost twice the price of the D2 ($132.50 on Amazon).
I still wish they’d included a headphone jack, though.
Hands-on with the Aputure V-Mic D2
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)