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
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.)
|The Shure 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
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
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
Bob Kovacs is editor of Government
Video magazine. He may be contacted at
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