John Bosley and I have been actively working on producing our second Level 1: Post-Processing Basics video and we have decided to look into getting a shotgun microphone for the studio environment. While our lavalier microphones have been working great for the most part, they tend to collect ambient noise quite a bit, especially when the subject moves or accidentally touches the microphone. Additionally, lavalier mikes can be painful to deal when there is a lot of interference, particularly in a busy urban environment. When shooting in San Francisco, we experienced some sort of interference practically in every channel, which made it difficult to shoot (and that’s considering that we had two different transmitters at completely different radio frequency ranges). So it was time to look for a different solution that gives us good quality sound without the problems of the lavalier microphones. We decided to evaluate a number of popular shotgun microphones and we came up with the following list: Sennheiser MKE 600, Audio Technica AT897, Rode NTG2 and Rode NTG3. While the first three are in the same price range (around $300) and therefore can be considered direct competitors, the Rode NTG3 was a higher-end unit priced at around $700. The big question was – which of the four microphones would win us over? Take a look at our video below:
As you can see, we ended up choosing the Sennheiser MKE 600 for our needs, based on the following:
- The Sennheiser MKE 600 has superb sound recording capabilities, with excellent audio recording levels. While both the AT897 and the NTG2 are also battery-powered, they seem to draw much less power, resulting in rather low audio output. Even with our audio sensitivity level set to the maximum output (100) on the Zoom H4n recording device, we could not reach the desired recording levels. This meant that the audio had to be increased in post, which is not a good option, since increasing audio levels in post typically increases ambient noise. While drawing more battery power surely decreases the number of hours the microphone can be used for on a single battery, the specs say that the unit will still last over 150 hours, which is way more than what we need in the field.
- Out of the three battery-powered units, the Sennheiser MKE 600 was the only unit that offered an On/Off switch. So the AT897 and the NTG2 constantly draw battery power whether you are using them or not, whereas you can cut it off on the MKE 600. I don’t understand why the other two failed to implement such a simple feature – it is easier to turn the unit off, rather than fiddle with the battery removal process on the field.
- The Sennheiser MKE 600 is smaller and lighter compared to the Audio Technica AT897 and the Rode NTG2.
- We have been heavily relying on the Sennheiser EW112 Wireless solution for our audio needs, which works amazingly well in most situations and it makes sense to continue to work with the brand we trust and rely on.
While the most expensive Rode NTG3 did produce very clear and pleasant sound, the fact that it requires external power was a deal breaker for us, since replenishing a single AA battery is much easier than lugging external battery packs with us in the field.
If you are into video production and you are looking for a reliable shotgun microphone, take a closer look at the Sennheiser MKE 600 – that’s what we ended up purchasing for our needs.
Hi, I have the Sennheiser Mke 600 which I use for film audio. Works a treat even when placed (In Theory) too far from the actors, especially in outdoor shoots. I intend to purchase a second as I’ve some 2 person interviews to shoot in the future.
Could you let me know why you didn’t look at the ntg4+, the comparable mic from rode
Wondering the same?..
Hi Nasim and John
I agree with Ludwig Keck in 3.1.1, in that your positioning is not ideal.
Any off-axis sound will sound weird, plus have the channels reversed if extreme.
Also the lapel (lavalier) mic should point away from the talent, i.e. pointing down and this way it’ll better balance the variation when the talent moves head or fiddles with camera. The lapel (lavalier) can also be off-talent (on the desk but close) as its omni-directional.
Phantom power will give a stronger signal.
Your video proved nothing other than your preference, and I was hoping for some insight.
Andrew, thank you for your feedback! Please see my response to Ludwig – hopefully it clarifies exactly why we setup the mike the way we did.
As for the lapel sound, we have been using it in three different arrangements: mike facing upwards, mike being inside the shirt of the subject and mike facing down. While the latter sounded pretty good, the only way to make it work so that it looks good is to hide it behind the shirt, since the reversed cable looks really weird in video. And when we do that, we start facing new problems – slight movements and shirt rubbing against the mike create noise. Is there a solution to this problem? If the mike is outside, it looks really bad in video (I have never seen anyone with their lav upside down in a professional video).
Phantom power might be an option for studios, but it does not work for us, since we travel a lot and do not want to be dealing with power requirements in the field.
I got the impression that you mounted the mikes too high and maybe even too far to the side. Shotgun mikes work best when pointed at the speaker’s face from a location above and close to the camera to get the direct sound from the person speaking. Too high up and you have the mike “looking” at the ground or some place other than the speakers face.
Ludwig, we mounted the mike right above John’s head, so the proximity was not the issue. We did mount the mike a bit to the side due to the fact that we need the sound to be picked up both when the speaker is facing the camera and when facing the computer.
If you think of the speakers lips as the object to be photographed and the shotgun mike as a camera with a long lens, then you will position the mike much better than if you just see the mike as a sound receiver. Try it. [ I have used mikes poorly some sixty years ago. Gotten much better since then. ]
Ludwig, thank you so much for your input, I really appreciate it! You seem to know about sound much more than we do, so your help is truly appreciated. We played with the shotgun setup before mounting it a bit to the right of John’s face and you are right – pointing it straight at the face did produce much better sound. If John only faced the front, having a setup like you’ve described would certainly work the best. However, for the video that we are shooting, it was important to capture even audio both when John was facing the camera and when he was facing the computer to his left (video right). For that, the ideal setup was to put it a bit off the side and point it at his head. After we did that, whether he looked directly at the camera or at the computer when turning, the audio sounded very even and nice. I am sure we could have gotten better audio with the front arrangement, but it would not have worked for us.
Thanks for this reply (also thank Andrew) With sound I am only doing EVERYTHING wrong. Sigh. More stuff to learn!
For a long time my favorite lament has been “Why does everything have to be a learning experience?!” But, such it is …
Very nice review. Not sure if it was just my ears / sound equipment on playback but the Sennheiser seemed to pick up quite a bit more ambient noise than the other mics, by this I mean there seemed to be some room ambiance (reverb) that you can hear compared with the others. Not so sure therefore how it will work in an outdoor situation….?
Tim, we felt like the Sennheiser gave us the most natural sound. We were not trying to just get speaker voice and nothing else in the room, since we are still shooting in an indoor environment and we want to pass that feeling of the indoor environment to the viewer. The others did not feel like they were giving us better sound quality than a lavalier mic from that standpoint. The Rode NTG3 had amazing sound, but it is just not a practical shotgun to use due to the power requirements. The Sennheiser does a pretty good job at isolating the sound too – we have tested the speaker moving around and it performed well overall. And lastly, the output level of the Sennheiser was very good, while the other two pretty much require external power to get to good sound levels.
Timely post, almost magic. I am looking for a shotgun mike for doing story slideshows. I am having almost the exact same issues with my lav mike. I will get the Stenheiser and use my typical rechargeable Eneloop batteries so I can work for days in the field without worry.
Sceptical, that’s exactly what we are using – Eneloop rechargeable batteries with the Sennheiser. The MKE 600 can operate up to 150 hours on a single charge, which is very nice.