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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hi-Tech Studio: Mics For DSLR Rigs

Add an auxiliary microphone to your setup, and you’ll see the difference good sound makes

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Sennheiser MKE 400
The Shotgun Approach
Perhaps the most common microphone used in film/video work, shotgun models are highly directional transducers that operate through the magic of acoustical cancellation. In a shotgun mic, the pickup element is placed inside a long interference tube with slots or openings along its length. Sounds entering the tube from sources directly in front of the mic are essentially unchanged, while off-axis sounds (those entering the tube from the sides) are delayed slightly via the tube geometry and effectively canceled out or substantially reduced in level. The result? A mic that's highly sensitive to sounds from the front, with a high degree of off-axis rejection.

The degree of directionality is based on the length and design of the tube, and shotgun mics can range from six inches to more than two feet in length. Models designed for on-camera use fall in the shorter end of the range, which makes them less unwieldy, while offering a good balance of increased frontal pickup without becoming so directional that pointing the mic even slightly away from the subject could cause a noticeable loss of signal.

Most shotgun mics—including all the models listed here—are monaural, single-channel devices. All of these mics terminate in an 1⁄8-inch "stereo" plug, but route an identical signal to the left and right inputs of your DSLR.

The Azden ECZ-990 has a six-inch body with a variable supercardioid pickup pattern offering a choice of narrow and wider settings. The ECZ-990 operates on a single AAA battery. Estimated Street Price: $69 (with shock-mount/shoe adapter and foam windscreen).

The Q DSLR Video-Kit from Que Audio (www.queaudiousa.com) combines an ultralightweight, mini-shotgun mic with an assortment of accessories. The mic is self-powered via two AG4 button cells and has an 1⁄8-inch output, but an optional adapter provides a professional XLR output and the ability to power the mic from a high-end camcorder, wireless rig or mixer. Estimated Street Price: $249 (with two cold-shoe adapters/one with a gimbal for 360-degree rotation, shock mount, Wombat fur-style windshield, foam windscreen and carry case).

The RØDE VideoMic has an integrated shock mount that attaches to the camera's shoe and operates for 100 hours on a 9-volt battery. The base of the mount is threaded for standard 1⁄4-20 and 3⁄8-inch mounts for use with tripods or RØDE's Mini Boom. The mic also has a switchable low-cut filter to reduce frequencies below 80 Hz. Estimated Street Price: $149 (with foam windscreen).

Also from RØDE, the VideoMic Pro has a larger, 1⁄2-inch-diameter supercardioid capsule. The rear panel has power and 80 Hz bass rolloff switches, and the same -10/0/+20 dB sensitivity controls as the new Stereo VideoMic Pro model. The mic has a standard shoe mount for on-camera use, while a 3⁄8-inch thread in the base allows boom-pole mounting. A 9-volt battery provides 70 hours of operation. Estimated Street Price: $229 (with integrated foam windscreen).

Built into a rugged, all-metal housing, the MKE 400 from Sennheiser (www.sennheiserusa.com) features a selectable low-cut wind noise filter and a sensitivity switch that boosts the mic's signal for capturing quiet/distant sounds or use with DSLRs having low sensitivity. A single AAA battery provides 300 hours of operation. Estimated Street Price: $199 (with foam windscreen).

The Sony ECM-CG50 (pro.sony.com) includes an AMC auto-lock accessory shoe and a general cold-shoe mount for use with Sony Alpha-series cameras, as well as other DSLRs. It can operate via a AAA battery or plug-in power and has a switchable low-cut filter. Estimated Street Price: $169 (with shock-mount holder and fur-style windscreen).

The Bottom Line
An external microphone can make a huge difference in your DSLR's ability to capture sounds that stand up to the high-definition video you're shooting. And here, a relatively small investment provides a big payback in production quality.

George Petersen is a noted audio journalist and special contributing editor to HDVideoPro magazine.


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