Microphone review: Shure VP83F shotgun microphone
Cameras get all the attention, but good audio can make the difference between an average video production and a great video production
Cameras get all the attention, but good audio can make the difference between an average video production and a great video production. When budgeting for equipment it’s common to go for the gold with cameras and then scrimp for the tin in microphones and other audio gear. However, to use a visually oriented cliché, scrimping on audio gear would be short-sighted.
That’s why I was delighted to review Shure’s interesting and small new shotgun mic, the VP83F LensHopper.
Shure’s new LensHopper comes in two related versions. One is the VP83, which is a microphone only and does not have a recorder. The other is the VP83F, which includes a built-in digital recorder. Both versions output mic-level signals on a 3.5 mm connector that plugs into a standard 3.5 mm jack on zillions of affordable video camcorders.
Both versions of the LensHopper have a standard mount that slides into a camera’s “hot shoe,” and both come with built-in windscreens, shockmounts and a “shotgun” mic element that measures only 4.5 inches long. (Both versions use the same condenser mic element, which is powered by a single AA battery in the VP83 and two AA batteries in the VP83F.)
Of course the VP83F has something that the VP83 does not: a built-in digital audio recorder. That means that the VP83F can record high-quality audio at the same time it’s feeding audio into the camera’s mic input, giving you automatic audio backup during a shoot.
Recordings on the VP83F are saved as uncompressed 24-bit WAV files sampled at 48 kHz, so the quality is quite high—better than CD-quality audio.
Both LensHopper mics come with a coiled 3.5 mm cable that’s about 12 inches long unstretched and about 24 inches when stretched. The VP83F, as it has a built-in recorder, also has a headphone jack on the base, just above the hot shoe mount.
I already mentioned that the two LensHopper mics have a mount that slides into a “hot shoe,” but they also have a standard 1/4-inch screw hole on the underside of their mounts. That means that the mic can be attached to a tripod or other standard camera support device.
As received for review, the VP83F—which weighs around eight ounces—was loaded and ready to record. The recording media is a microSD card, which mounts under a door at the front of the mic. The VP83F’s two AA batteries load in the same location, just beneath the microSD slot.
On the rear of the mic’s body, facing the operator, is a control panel with two buttons, a small joystick control and a teenyweeny LCD display for setup and readout. The mic comes with two AA batteries, but is not supplied with the microSD card. The VP83F will work with cards up to 32 GB, and it consumes memory at the rate of about 1 GB for every two hours of audio.
Despite having controls and an LCD display, the VP83F takes a bit of setting up to get the levels right for recording and headphone output. If you are a certain age or older (and you know who you are!), you will need reading glasses to see the small LCD display. There is a bit of space for a larger display, and I wish Shure had built in something just a little bigger.
Making initial adjustments, and later adjusting levels on the fly in the field, were simple enough once I climbed the short learning curve. I must admit that, after several uses and a few hours of recording, I never did quite get the hang of stopping the built-in recorder. I could pause it and I could turn the mic on and off, but never was sure how to stop recording without checking the manual.
Shure describes the electret condenser mic element’s response pattern as “supercardiod,” which is perhaps a notch down from “shotgun” in the directionality department. As compared to a much longer shotgun mic that I own, the VP83F didn’t have quite the same reach or side-rejection capability, but we’re talking about the difference between a 4.5-inch mic (the LensHopper) and an 11.5-inch mic (my traditional shotgun).
That size difference also works for the VP83F, as mounting it on a camera is far less awkward than using a long shotgun. The small Shure LensHopper never got into my wide video shots the way that my traditional shotgun mic often does. The VP83F’s sound quality and directionality is quite good, too. It recorded clear, natural sound from interview subjects that ranged from three to six feet from mic.
I used the VP83F on several shoots, both for interviews and for nature sounds. It does a good job with both, supplying crisp and clear interview audio with a natural balance of bass.
In one shoot, I interviewed both a man and a woman who were near loudly roaring river rapids, and the VP83F punched both voices out of the noisy background. One of the features in the setup menu is a low-cut filter that rolls off below 170 Hz. That helped to mute the river’s roar and bring up the voices.
Using the Shure mic on several one-man-band shoots, the simple technique was to record the audio on my camera and not bother with the mic’s internal recorder. However, one of the shoots involved a speaker at a podium and two-camera coverage. Instead of putting the VP83F on a camera and shooting from 15 feet away, I got out a tiny tabletop tripod and screwed the mic to it. I then placed the tripod on the podium and started the mic’s internal recorder.
With its small size, the Shure VP83F was not distracting, and it recorded perfect sound. All I had to do was spend an extra minute during editing to sync up the sound with what the camcorder captured. I got clear voice without any distracting room ambience; exactly what I wanted.
I did another shoot in an auditorium where I was about two-thirds of the way back in the room. The on-stage presenter was amplified, and the VP83F gave me pleasant, intelligible audio without a tiring amount of room ambience.
Compared to my much longer traditional shotgun mic, the Shure VP83F didn’t quite have the same reach. One other drawback of the VP83F is that it cannot be angled or aimed in its shockmount—it points only straightforward. The mount for my regular shotgun can be positioned, and the traditional shotgun can be easily handheld as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the VP83F has a 3.5 mm consumer-style connector. It’s actually a tip-ring-sleeve (three-conductor) connector, and has identical audio on both tip and ring contacts. In other words, it’s a monaural microphone, but it supplies the same monaural audio on the left and right channels when plugged into my camera’s stereo input. Having a stereo mic would be nice; however, lacking that, it’s good to have identical audio on the left and right channels.
One very good feature of the VP83F is that you can set its gain to compensate for either low or high ambient audio levels. This mic level setting is independent of the headphone jack level, allowing you to lower the mic audio without changing the headphone audio loudness. It’s surprisingly easy to adjust both mic and headphone levels in the field—this mic is quite a capable device.
If you’re using a small camera that doesn’t scream “I’m a professional!,” the Shure VP83F LensHopper is a shotgun mic that will allow you to continue to fly under the professional radar. Although it looks unusual, it won’t immediately flag you as being part of a news or documentary crew.
As with any shotgun mic, it will let you get good run-and-gun sound from an interviewee standing at a comfortable distance. The big benefit of the VP83F is its internal recorder, which provides both backup audio, as well as enabling the mic to work as a completely independent recording system.
The Shure VP83F is a good-sounding shotgun mic that’s well made and easy to handle. With its built-in recorder, it adds a new dimension to field audio capture, making it quite a bit more flexible than a traditional shotgun mic.
Live news, events, sports interviews
Features: Small profile, high-quality audio, “F” model has built-in digital recording capability
Minimum advertised price: VP83, $229; VP83F, $349