Lavaliere microphones (or lapel mics) are an instrumental part of every documentary filmmaker’s toolkit. Because film subjects can be mic’d up with wireless lavs, the camera can be quite a distance away and still get great sound. Here are some of the best lavaliere microphones for documentary filmmakers:
Documentary Film Lavaliere Microphones
Sennheiser G3 Omni Directional Microphone (Check reviews & prices)
Spend a lot of time around a documentary film set and one microphone you’re quite likely to see is the Sennheiser EW 112P G3. This microphone is ubiquitous because of its relatively low cost, ease of use, long range, and solid sound quality. The G3 can be tuned to various frequencies to avoid nearby interference, and is compatible with a wide variety of accessories. The G3 receiver unit which sits atop your camera’s hotshoe includes both an XLR out cable and a 1/8th inch audio out for DSLRs.
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The AVX wireless lav mic from Sennheiser is the newer, bigger brother to the G3. It offers a few upgrades such as a more compact receiver unit that plugs directly into XLR inputs on full size cameras (don’t worry; it also comes with an XLR to 1/8th inch adapter cable for DSLR use and a mount to attach the receiver on your DSLR camera’s shoe). It also has custom rechargeable batteries which can last longer than AAs (you can also get replacement batteries for the bodypack transmitter and receiver that swap out quickly– faster than AAs do if you’re in the middle of a run and gun shooting situation. You can also charge them with a USB micro charger battery pack).
Sony UWPD11/42 Lavaliere Microphone (Check reviews & prices)
Sony’s professional lav mic is the inscrutably named UWPD 11/42. It’s midrange in terms of price and features an omni directional microphone, a body-pack transmitter and a receiver which plugs into either your traditional video camera or DSLR (it comes with both XLR pro audio outputs as well as a 3.5mm mic jack). This Sony lav mic also has great range, due in part to the dual antennas on the receiver, which can be positioned in different directions to pick up the mic’s transmission. Like many other wireless lavalieres, the Sony UWPD11/42 allows you to select a custom frequency in case there is wireless signal interference in the area you are filming in. It also features a rather unique and convenient free-channel scanning feature which automatically selects a frequency range that is quiet.
Azden WMS-PRO Wireless Microphone System (Check reviews & prices)
The Azden WMS-Pro wireless lav system is a budget solution with a 1/8th inch audio out jack on its receiver unit for DSLRs. You can save money with this lav mic because it doesn’t have XLR inputs, but if your camera doesn’t either then why pay for them? At an entry level price range, this might be an ideal lav for those with a DSLR looking to get wireless sound.
It also comes with a handheld reporter style microphone which plugs into the transmitter, as well as some mounting accessories.
Movo WMIC70 Wireless 48-Channel UHF Lavalier Microphone System with Omni-Lav, Camera Mount & 3.5mm/XLR Outputs (Check reviews & prices)
The Movo Wireless lav mic system is a newer entrant to the budget wireless lavaliere microphone arena. It includes a wireless transmitter and a receiver, an omni directional clip on microphone, and both an XLR out cable and a 1/8th inch out cable, meaning that you can use it with both documentary film DSLRs that have 1/8th inch microphone in jacks (like almost all do that shoot video) and traditional pro documentary film video cameras without the use of an XLR audio adapter. Combine that with a compelling price point and a 328 foot wireless tether range, and the Movo Wireless Lav system is pretty competitive.
Sony UWPD11/42 Lavalier Microphone, Bodypack TX and Portable RX Wireless System (Check reviews & prices)
In the technology business in the early 1980s there was a saying: “Nobody ever got fired for buying an IBM.” It meant that IBM (at the time) was universally recognized for its quality and performance. In the film industry we’d say a similar saying: Nobody ever got fired for buying a Sony. The Sony UWPD11 wireless lavalier microphone, is no exception. It’s an exceptional quality wireless lav mic that comes with both XLR output and a minijack for 1/8th inch microphone in ports found on devices like DSLRs and small camcorders. The receiver unit that sits on top of your camera’s shoe mount has dual antennas allowing it to achieve superior range and clear reception even at far distances. Both the transmitter and the receiver run on standard AA batteries.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wireless Lav Mics
How far is the typical range for a wireless lavalier microphone?
It varies from mic to mic and it also varies based on where you’re shooting. For instance, if you’re trying to record sound from another room, you might run into range problems if the wall is thick. You might also run into interference if your transmitter is too far away from your receiver. In general, wireless lavalier microphones have a range of one two a few hundred feet. Some higher end wireless lav mics have dual antennas on either the transmitter body pack, the receiver, or both, and farther range as a result.
How will I know if I have low battery on a lav mic?
Many lav mics have low battery indicators but you may also start to hear drop-outs or which can indicate that the lav’s transmitter body pack is low.
Will this lavalier microphone work with my DSLR?
Most wireless lavs being sold today ship with both an XLR out cable (to connect to a full sized pro camera with XLR audio inputs) as well as a 1/8th inch minijack to plug into DSLRs. For a list of lavalieres that come with this cable option, check out our article Best Wireless Lav Mics for DSLR cameras.