Best camcorder with built-in wireless microphone system?

I’m hoping that video experts among the readers will be willing to share their knowledge. I want a consumer-priced and compact HD camcorder that has a built-in wireless microphone system.

I have a Flip HD, which I love for its ease of use. This is my first camcorder that makes native digital files and I find myself much more willing to use it than a tape-based camcorder that requires a conversion operation. I like to make 1-minute videos and simply do-over rather than try to edit. My complaint with the Flip is that, in common with all other camcorders using on-camera microphones, it captures room sound rather than the voice of the subject.

I have an HDV tape-based Sony HDR FX-1, which yields excellent video quality from three CCDs. Unfortunately it is bulky and requires an additional set of boxes, each with its own 9V battery, to capture video from lav mics on the subjects. So now I am charging multiple batteries for the camcorder and perhaps lights as well as keeping a stock of 9V batteries for the mic system. Then when I get home I need to read from the tape onto a hard drive and divide up into clips using desktop video editing software. The effort required here is simply too great.

I have a Canon EOS 5D Mk II, which has near-Hollywood video quality, but the interface is not designed for camcording (is that a word?). I don’t know of any practical way to focus while rolling. Off-camera microphone use would require the same bulky additions as the Sony HDR FX-1.

So… how about a camcorder that has a built-in receiver for some kind of wireless microphone? I think Sony comes pretty close to this with a Bluetooth-based system (pictures). The receiver slides into a powered shoe on the camera. Still at least one too many boxes (the receiver is almost as big as the camcorder!), but the only extra battery is with the microphone itself.

I’m surprised that this isn’t a more active area of competition for camcorder manufacturers. The creeping featurism between the $500 and $1500 models does not seem nearly as useful as higher quality sound. What am I missing? Are more skilled videographers able to do great things with the standard on-camera microphones? Is there some company besides Sony that has put the receiver into the camcorder itself? (I checked Canon and Panasonic and they did not seem to have any kind of wireless mic systems for their consumer products.)

Incidentals: I would prefer not to pay more than $1500 for the system and I don’t want it to be any larger than a Canon Rebel.

18 Comments

  1. Isaac

    April 9, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

    1

    Could also consider a better mic on the *camera*, like a directional shotgun mic. Might be a little bulky depending on the mic (better ones will be bulkier). If you’re looking for a new camera (looks like Flip HD doesn’t have any external mic jack), then finding one with XLR connection would be ideal. But that’s like only on prosumer and up.

  2. philg

    April 9, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

    2

    Isaac: The shotgun mic requires a battery and is bulky, no? And I’ve never seen a TV station crew use one when they could instead get the cooperation of the subject and put a lav mic on the subject.

  3. Hanan Cohen

    April 10, 2010 @ 1:07 am

    3

    I have a Canon FS100. I have chosen it because it has an external audio plug. For interviews, I use a lapel microphone with a 3 meters wire.

  4. Oyvind

    April 10, 2010 @ 1:25 am

    4

    I’ve just spent almost a full day googling for exactly the same solution, and I took a trip to some of the bigger camera shops here in Sydney, but I could not locate anything useful within the prosumer price range.

    I am looking for a small, mobile system remote audio for action filming when flying. I want a mic in my helmet and a small transmitter to connect to a solid state memory camera. (Canon HF200) I’ve also got a GoPro HD camera, there are plans for a built-in RF mic system for it, but it’s not been released yet.

    That said – A shotgun mic helps a lot on getting good audio for a interview, they usually have a battery or get power from the shoe on the camera.

  5. Fazal Majid

    April 10, 2010 @ 1:57 am

    5

    Your best bet would be an audio field recorder like the Olympus LS-10, a clapboard and AV sync in prod.

  6. Yavuz

    April 10, 2010 @ 7:31 am

    6

    If you are not looking for a significant upgrade over Flip but better audio via external mic, Kodak Zi8 may be a good choice. Good reviews on YouTube with various mics(wireless, shotgun,etc.). Hope that helps.

  7. philg

    April 10, 2010 @ 7:34 am

    7

    Yavuz: Thanks for the idea. As noted in the original posting, I do not want to lug around an external microphone receiver (I already own one), and a stack of 9V batteries, all of which would be far larger than the Kodak Zi8. The camcorder is already pretty bulky, has a big battery, and lots of electronics. A mobile phone is tiny and has a small battery and has built-in Bluetooth. Why can’t a camcorder?

  8. michael

    April 10, 2010 @ 11:16 am

    8

    If you can choose the room or control the environment you shoot in, the in-camera mic audio can be great. If you don’t fix audio issues at the source before recording, it can’t be fixed, unless you are rolling off low frequency rumbles or notching out specific frequencies like 60 Hz hum.

    One way that works great is to use a small digital audio recorder (with or without lav mics) on the person or people being videotaped. Start both the audio recorder and the flip camera, then slate the footage by clapping once or twice *while visible on camera* and then never turn off either until you are done recording all the clips. That way you can synch two hours of footage in one move by aligning the slate sounds in your edit software. You could also do a tail slate if you forget to do that when you start. In theory I know you don’t want to “edit” but if you are doing commercial clips for your flight school without adding URL and other info to every clip, you are really missing the boat. Check out tubemogul.com (no affiliation) to upload video in one place and push your clips across various video sites, as well as twitter and facebook. It’s free and aggregates all your traffic stats in one place.

  9. philg

    April 10, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

    9

    Michael: Carrying around an entirely separate box, keeping an entirely separate set of batteries charged, and engaging in post-production desktop editing of every clip is your suggestion for a guy who says that he is too lazy to transfer from HDV tape to hard disk? I guess I should have said that I want all mixing to occur in the camera and I want essentially one step push from camera to WordPress.

  10. notpeter

    April 11, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

    10

    Hi Phil,

    Consider mounting an Olympus LS-10 on the hotshoe of your 5Dmkii and piping stereo audio through the camera’s stereo mic in. It’s a little clunky, you’ll still have to pull focus while shooting, but when combined with the Olympus DSP ‘Zoom Mic’ setting set to ‘Narrow’ or ‘Zoom’ I can get decent classroom recording from the periphery with minimal background noise. It’s certainly doesn’t compete with a lav mic, but with no post processing and 12hrs recording on a pair of AAs, it might suit your needs until someone makes wireless mic receivers a standard camera feature.

    To mount it, you need a tripod screw->hotshoe adapter like this:
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/383489-REG/Tote_Vision_HS_1_HS_1_Hot_Shoe_Mount.html

    Review of the Olympus LS-10 including the ‘Zoom Mic’ setting:
    http://transom.org/tools/recording_interviewing/200805_olympus_ls10/

  11. michael

    April 11, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

    11

    philg: I know I did a bad job of explaining. The workflow I suggested really wasn’t for you, (as I indicated that I knew you didn’t want to “edit” or exert any energy beyond telekinetic,) but for the benefit of other readers who want good audio and/or are already adding URL and other good info to their clips. People judge the quality of a piece of video almost entirely by the audio quality, and if you are shooting anything that would benefit from a perception of quality, like a business, you will want to have good sound. My “entirely separate box” is a 3 oz. (?) mini digital recorder that I change the batteries for once a year (?) that outputs a digital audio file when docked to my computer. And I’m pretty lazy and that set up has worked for me when I’ve needed to use it. Again, clearly not for you.

    That said, the idea of an in-camera wireless receiver is something that I would love to have, and even better if the wireless mic were a rechargeable that docked and recharged on the camera.

  12. JT

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

    12

    Consider the Panasonic GH1 with the 14-140 lens:

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/panasonicdmcgh1/

    There are some videos on you-tube showing use with a wireless mic. And it’s a damn fine still camera as well.

  13. philg

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

    13

    JT: The Panasonic sounds even less convenient than the Sony camcorder and hot shoe Bluetooth system. The GH1 doesn’t have anything built in to receive wireless mic signals, does it? Nor, unlike the Sony, anything built in to power a wireless mic receiver? So wouldn’t it involve at least one extra battery compared to the Sony? And a camera body designed for still photography rather than video?

  14. JT

    April 11, 2010 @ 9:48 pm

    14

    I can’t address the specifics for using a wireless mic. But I’ve seen videos demonstrating this. I was responding to your incidentals…it’s less that $1500.00 and smaller than a Rebel.

    From the better, serious videos I’ve seen, this setup produces fantastic results.

  15. Henry Posner

    April 13, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    15

    Our guys suggest these: Sony HDR-CX500V – http://bit.ly/wycMp with Sony ECM-HW2 – http://bit.ly/dtoq6Q

    I’d be happy to connect you to an experienced sales associate here to discuss your particular priorities.


    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video

  16. philg

    April 13, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    16

    Thanks, Henry. It does seem as though this is the best that one can do right now. I’m amazed that one of Sony’s competitors has not folded the capabilities of the ECM-HW2 into the body of one of their camcorders.

  17. Henry Posner

    April 13, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

    17

    Alternate suggestion from another source inside B&H:

    Panasonic TM700K.

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/674275-REG/Panasonic_HDC_TM700_HDC_TM700K_High_Definition_Camcorder.html#specifications

    Canon HFS21

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/671659-REG/Canon_4374B001_VIXIA_HF_S21_Dual.html

    Panasonic’s favor, theirs obviously a 1080 60p mode, much better stabilizer, better low-light capabilities, a wider lens and a traditional focusing ring. Another benefit is that it costs only $1,000 verses 1,400 for the Canon.

    In Canon’s favor, their are 2 memory card slots verses 1, native 24p verses 24p with pull-down added, a 30p mode and slightly higher bit rates in the 60i and 24p mode. It also has 64GB of internal storage verses 32GB of the Panasonic.

    Panasonic does claim better imaging technology but even if it’s just marketing, the much better stabilizer alone will make up for the lower bit rate but then again, if your shooting in 24p, you cannot edit your footage right away like you can with the Canon since you must remove pull-down beforehand.

    For a wireless mic

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/618739-REG/Sennheiser_EW_112P_G3_A_EW112_p_G3_Camera_Mount.html


    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video

  18. richp

    April 30, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    18

    I’m looking exactly for what philg is looking for. A camera with a *BUILT-IN* wireless receiver and a compatible wireless lapel microphone.

    I need a simple system in order to send it to my remote subjects to make a reasonable quality video/audio. I want them to 1) open the package, 2) place the camera (on a small tripod) on a nearby table, 3) clip on the mic, 4) press record, 5) sit down and start talking, 6) repackage and ship it back to me.

    *NO* cords or separate extra boxes. Simple, Simple, Simple, with good audo and video results. $1500 is a good top price.

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