Holding a boom pole, looks easier than it is.
First, the weight of the microphone, shock mount or blimp, the dead cat (wind attenuator), and the boom pole, can really feel heavy after just a short scene.
Second, you have to learn how not to transfer the noise of your hands touching the boom, the rotation of the pole, and the XLR cable flopping about, (if not secured properly).
Mishandling the boom, can create abrupt low-end, bumping noises, high-frequency shuffling noises, static noise from tugging at the XLR cables, at the connection points, and more, that are virtually impossible to remove from post.
So, DO NOT put an actor, a newbie, or just anyone you find, on your boom. If sound, is half your film, don’t risk ruining your sound, by using some moron, who has nothing else to do, on set, on your boom pole.
If you are shooting a scene where your actors are not moving, or shooting an interview, you might consider mounting your boom on a stand, with a C-Stand boom holder, or simply a microphone boom stand. This is a must, for one man operations.
1. Aluminum vs. Carbon. This is mostly a question of weight, and a pretty big cost difference. Aluminum weighs more, costs less, and maybe offers a little bit more handling noise. Carbon tends to cost more and weigh less.
2. Length (extended and collapsed). Cost is also affected by length. Generally, the longer they extend and the shorter they collapse, the more they cost. Think about the situations you’ll be in and if you’ll need to travel with it when considering what to use. Mine is about 2 feet collapsed, which is semi-packable in my gear travel case. It’s close to 7 feet expanded, which has been fine for most situations I’ve encountered. If I were using it regularly for film, I would have gotten something longer.
3. Internal vs. External Cable. Internal cabling makes my life a little simpler in the field. I don’t need to worry about cable management or handling noise as much if I’m changing the length of the pole on the fly. But having an internal, coiled cable adds significant cost. It’s like laptop vs. desktop. Without the internal coil, you’ll get more pole for your money. If it doesn’t have an internal cable, then you might want to coil the cable around the outside and use some kind of wraps to keep it from rustling against the pole when you’re moving around. I’ve done it both ways, and it’s not a make or break sort of thing. My pole has a mono cable, and when I want to use a stereo mic on my boom pole, I still have to run an external stereo cable.
4. End or Side Exit. If your cable is internal, the female XLR jack will either be on the bottom or the side of your pole. Side exits cost more, but it’s really, really nice to be able to rest the hilt of your pole on your hip or anywhere else in many recording situations (even the carbon ones get heavy). And that’s not a great option if the jack is on the end. If you have an end exit, consider using a right-angle XLR to minimize damage and make the end more usable.
5. Additional cables. This is probably obvious, but the length of your external cable needs to account for the length of the pole + the distance between your pole and your recorder/mixer. If you have an internal cable, you’ll still need a cable to run between you and your pole. That distance is pretty short, so I generally use a short, 3’ cable to minimize unnecessary cable clutter/noise.
6. Handling noise, etc. Adding a boom pole adds more opportunities for handling noise. Here are a few more things that can minimize that in your pole.
- Avoid super-skinny poles. I mention it first because they can be temptingly inexpensive, but potentially problematic. I once used an entry-level Gitzo pole that literally vibrated so much, just from being held, that it created a resonant hum that was audible through the mic, even with a shock mount. It made an impression (not a pleasant one).
- Cover the pole or your hands. You can get poles with foam around the bottom segment to reduce handling noise. Again, this adds cost but works well. Like hand-holding a mic, the trick is largely about using a light touch. But adding some sort of physical barrier is really helpful. Some folks use cotton gloves, but that’s not my favorite option because I’m usually doing more than just holding the pole. Just a guess, but bicycle handlebar tape is probably a good option.
- Get a shock mount. I wouldn’t even consider this an option with a boom. All of your movements are exaggerated by the time they get to your mic, so you’ll want the extra sound isolation. Also, they tend to be a more secure way to hold on to that expensive mic of yours … now dangling … oh-so-far away from you. The mount is also important because it allows you the very useful ability to adjust the angle of the mic coming off of the pole. (Oh, and if you’re like me you’ll be surprised to realize that the screw size on the end of the boom pole and pistol grip is a different, smaller size (3/8”) than what’s on the end of my stage stands/mounts (5/8”). It’s something to pay attention to, but not a big deal. And if you’d like to use your equipment universally, there are lots of simple/small/cheap thread-size adapters out there.)
- You might as well get a pistol grip. You can just leave this attached to your shock mount for hand use and then attach this directly to your boom when you need to. Most have a threaded hole on the bottom for mounting. It adds a few more inches to the pole and it’s nice if you at all need to go back and forth from handheld to boom. They do add extra weight on the end of your pole. So it’s also nice to have a smaller boom mount in your kit, too.
- And a windscreen … and extra long cables. Yata yata. There are lots of related things to think about, but you’ll figure them all out.
8. Start with your price range. There are so many possible configurations out there, I think it’s best to start with what you think you can afford and see what’s available in those ranges. It’s all about tradeoffs. If you can’t find what you want, then look upward. Starting with your ideal configuration will send you pretty high pretty quickly. You’re probably looking at entry level around $150, and from there your possible options and prices head steadily towards $1,000.
Read more about booms…