Look, I know my iPhone XS Max isn’t a ‘real’ video camera (although it is). And you wouldn’t think it’s supposed to carry the weight of capturing conversation in the not-so-quiet outdoors. But why not?
With the right lighting conditions, an iPhone XS Max can capture beautiful 4K video. And its multiple onboard microphones do an effective job in many situations. Its only real limitation with field audio is handling windy conditions. And that’s the case with any video camera that doesn’t have an attached directional microphone with a windscreen.
So, why wouldn’t the solution be to simply attach a directional mic and windscreen to my iPhone?
And that’s exactly what I set out to do…
The Price for Better Audio in the Field
Audio production is an expensive business, and you can easily spend more on field audio equipment than the price of an iPhone.
So I gave myself a budget of $100 to see what was possible…
My final ‘creation’ was both hideous and glorious. I’ve truly created a Frankenstein iPhone. I probably should feel ashamed, but I don’t.
Consider yourself warned…
I zeroed in on the Rode VideoMicro compact on-camera microphone. Rode is well regarded in the audio industry, and this inexpensive cardioid condenser microphone that’s marketed to the DSLR market was a prime candidate for my little project.
But of course, an iPhone isn’t a DSLR with a cold-shoe mount to easily attach a microphone. So you’ve got to somehow anchor a cold shoe mount to the iPhone…
The Shape Smartphone Aluminum Clamp is one solution.
- The Shape is $22.00 on Amazon.
This black clamp with a rubber-lined grip also serves as a tripod mount.
The VideoMicro uses a 3.5mm plug, which won’t plug directly into an iPhone’s Lightning port. So, the next step is to use an Apple Lightning to 3/5mm Headphone Jack Adapter.
TRS to TRRS Cable
And before you can use the VideoMicro with a smartphone, you also need the TRS to TRRS cable (Rode SC7 Cable). That’s instead of the TRS patch cable that comes in the box… which will not work with the iPhone.
Perhaps most importantly, the VideoMicro comes with a furry windshield (sometimes called a “dead cat”) to handle the outdoors. It also has a nice little shock mount to suspend it in the cold shoe.
Rode Video Mic Me-L is the Runner-Up
I chose the VideoMicro over Rode’s Video Mic Me-L, which plugs directly into the lightning port of a smartphone. Yes, Rode’s design engineers have actually created the exact product I needed, but I didn’t bite…
The deal breaker was the snug fit required by the Video Mic Me-L that most iPhone cases would prevent. I just couldn’t handle the prospect of having to take my iPhone XS Max out of its cozy Pelican case every time to pop on a microphone.
And even though my VideoMicro is a more cumbersome (and expensive) solution with all of its necessary ‘adapters,’ the fact that it lets me keep my iPhone in its case is the more important feature.
I also read an online comment that there’s a slight audio delay when using the Rode VideoMicro and an iPhone…
Many people may not notice the two-frame lag, but if you’re a video editor, it’s pretty obvious.
(I’m not surprised with all the necessary cable Macgyvering.)
But it’s not a deal breaker, as long as you intend to edit your video footage. All you have to do is separate (unlock) the audio track from the video and then slip the audio track forward a couple frames.
It’s a straightforward step when using standard editing software like Final Cut Pro X, though an admittedly unnecessary step if there wasn’t an audio lag to begin with.
The VideoMicro provides clean, crisp sound… though it is a bit thin compared to what the iPhone’s onboard microphones capture in otherwise perfect conditions. So, you might also want to add in a little bass while you’re working with it in your editing software.
Perfection Not Required?
At this point, you should be wondering why anyone would want to use this Rode and go through all of these extra steps.
Well, don’t forget why I Frankensteined my iPhone in the first place… It’s to capture more directional audio that’s not as affected by the windy outdoors.
And it does successfully deliver on that value proposition at a decent price point.
I also must admit that using my iPhone XS Max with the VideoMicro is a still completely imperfect audio upgrade solution, because it doesn’t provide one additional key feature…
You can’t monitor the audio as you’re recording it!
(Don’t forget that the iPhone’s lightning port is already occupied as the microphone input.)
So, if you want to be sure you’ve captured good sound, you need to review your video clips in the moment. And depending on how much time you have, that can be a real drag…
And let’s face it, as much as the VideoMicro can give you better field audio, it’s never going to do the same job of a more expensive shotgun microphone or a lavalier microphone.
Better iPhone Audio in the Field for $100
When the need presents itself, using the Rode VideoMicro is a clear step in the right direction.
(And if nothing else, the monster you’ve created that was once a sleek iPhone is sure to be a head turner.)
Recording audio has always been the forgotten cousin of video production… and often the Achilles’ heel of any video shoot.
If you’re serious about putting your smartphone to use recording people talking outdoors, you’ll eventually want to invest in some additional audio muscle, especially if you’re shooting in the field with noisy air flow.
For a hundred bucks, Rode’s VideoMicro along with a team of cables and small clamp is a solution that will help get the job done!