A DSLR with several on-camera microphones

The Great On-Camera Mic Shootout 2010

I tested out seven different microphones on a Nikon D300s shooting 720p 24p HD video. I pitted consumer microphones with mini-plug connectors against professional location microphones going through a juicedLink DT454 adapter. These are the microphones involved in the test:

I intended on including the Rode Stereo VideoMic, but unfortunately the brand new unit I acquired for the test did not operate. It was dead on arrival out of the box. This is unusual for Rode, but still really disappointing.

I’m curious what you think of these mics. I was really surprised at the results. One of the mics that I thought was going to be among the worst turned out to be my favorite, and one of the mics that I liked turned out to preform really poorly.

Here are my complete thoughts on these microphones:

Sennheiser MKE 400

Sennheiser MKE 400

Without a doubt, this turned out to be one sweet little mic. It has a very alive sound, and despite its ultra-compact size, it has an impressive amount of reach. The build quality is pretty nice, and it’s easy to use. The downside of this microphone is how it preformed outdoors. The included foam windshield did very little in terms of protecting the audio from wind noise. I took it outside on a calm evening, and a gentle breeze wreaked havoc on the audio. If you choose to use this mic, you definitely need the additional MZW400 windscreen that Sennheiser makes for it.

Another downside to the MKE 400 for me is that it has such a distinct sound, that I don’t think the footage that you shoot with it would cut very well with footage shot with the other microphones that I own. Plus it needs an AAA battery to operate.

Rode VideoMic on a Canon DSLR

Rode VideoMic

The Rode VideoMic is a really popular model, and I’m guessing that it would win the prize as the most favored mic in this test. When I first started using it, I was really pleased with its performance. However after a few days of hearing it, my opinion started to change. After a while it started sounding boxy to me. It’s got a similar over-hyped presence that the MKE 400 has. I just feel like the VideoMic is overdoing it. It’s got a loudness that immediately appeals to the ear, but it’s not a very natural sound.

The microphone and its built-in shock mount have a very plasticy feel. It doesn’t seem like the kind of gear that would survive for very long in a tightly packed case. The built-in shock mount is a bit wobbly. It needs a 9-volt battery in order to work. All in all, after this test I don’t think I’ll be purchasing this microphone for my DSLR.

Sony ECM-CG1 Shotgun Microphone

Sony ECM-CG1

You don’t hear about this mic very often, but you should. I’ll go ahead and say it now… This was my favorite mini-plug microphone used in the test. I felt like it had a pretty natural sounding response, especially for a plastic mic. I feel like if I shot some footage with this mic, and then cut it with footage shot with better quality mics, that it would blend together decently.

The ECM-CG1 requires “Plug In Power” to operate. Not all cameras supply Plug In Power. The Nikon D300s obviously did, and so did my Panasonic PV-GS200 miniDV camcorder (which I used to shoot the “final thoughts” segment at the end of the video). Most Sony cameras supply Plug In Power. The Canon 5D Mark II supplies Plug In Power as well. Hopefully all of the Canon DSLR’s with mic inputs supply it.

The downside of the ECM-CG1 is that it doesn’t come with a shock mount. If you get one, buy a Auray DUSM-1 to go with it. It will also need additional wind protection for outdoor use. At this time I don’t have a specific model of softie that I can confidently recommend, but I imagine I will be buying one of these in the near future, and I’ll have to figure it out then.

I love the fact that you don’t need to pump batteries into this thing!

Sony ECM-MS907Sony ECM-MS907

Let’s face it, this one didn’t sound very good in this test. It’s a bit unfair because both the ECM-MS907 and the Audio-Technica PRO-24CM are not intended for capturing on-camera dialog. They’re stereo microphones that are better suited for recording ambient sound and music.

If you own or have access to an ECM-MS907, now you know that it can at least be adapted to  a camera. With a little force, I made it fit inside of my Auray DUSM-1 shock mount. I coiled up and wrapped its one-meter cable and made it work. I was also able to fit a WindTech MM-1 softie around the MS907’s included foam windscreen.

Audio Technica PRO-24CMAudio Technica PRO-24CM

This microphone was by far the biggest disappointment of the shootout (not counting the dead Rode Stereo VideoMic). It just didn’t sound very good, even for an ambient mic. The ECM-MS907 kicked its butt—even though the 907 is still a bad choice for an on-camera mic.

When I shot the “final thoughts” segment, I plugged every mic into a Rode VC1 mini-plug extension cable. None of the mics seemed to mind this, with the exception of the PRO-24CM. You can hear a pretty loud noise floor when the PRO-24CM comes on during its portion of the “final thoughts” segment. That’s not good. Sorry Audio-Technica! I love you guys, but you need to make a better mic than this.

Audio-Technica AT4053BAudio-Technica AT4053a

This is the first mic you hear in the shootout, and also the one I used for the intro and outro segments of the video. It’s a Hyper Cardioid Condenser, and it’s the mic I use on location sound jobs for interior boompole work. It’s a great choice for those of us who can’t afford a $2000 Scheops microphone.

I attached the 4053a (and the 4073a) to the Nikon D300s through a juicedLink DT454 XLR adapter box. After a rather involved but of tweaking, I was able to record the scenes I used in the video. The DT454 was incredibly complex. It’s a subject I’m going to cover in detail in future blog post.

Audio-Technica 4073aAudio Technica 4073a

The Audio Technica 4073a is the last mic you hear in the shootout portion of the video. It’s a shotgun style microphone with a long interference tube. Even though it was the longest microphone used in the shootout, it still did not appear in the frame of the shot on the Nikon D300s.

I personally thought this mic sounded great. I connected it to the camera through the juicedLink DT454.

Final Final Thoughts:

If you can deal with it, get an XLR adapter like the juicedLink or a Beachtek DXA-SLR and get a professional mic like the 4053a or 4073a. That’s the sound you want. I think it’s also wise to have a small mic in your bag for when you need to travel light. In this case, my choice would be the ECM-CG1.

Thanks for checking out this blog post! It turned out to be an incredible amount of work. If you got something out of this, I would love to hear from you in the Comments section. Thanks and happy shooting!

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

17 thoughts on “The Great On-Camera Mic Shootout 2010”

  1. It’s wild to hear the Rode Video Mic in there. It didn’t do as well as I thought it would. It was a little hot in the test, but it didn’t sound like it was distorting. Hmmm….

  2. Hi Omar. Sorry it took me so long to reply to your post. As far as the AT4053 vs the AT4073 goes, I own them both. Generally, I use the 4053 for interior boompole work, and I use 4073 for exterior boompole work. I think they’re both great mics. Occasionally I’ll use the 4073 indoors, if it’s a wide shot with a high ceiling. If I could just have one? Hmmm. Tough one. I use the 4053 more, so I would likely go with that. You can’t go wrong either way.

  3. I have a portable recorder (Alesis ProTrack) similar to a Zoom, in an ENG or one-man-band solution, do you think it would be preferable to use this with my 7D instead of a JuicedLink solution?

  4. “What do you think is better the Beachtek or the JuicedLink?”

    I’m torn. I like the simplicity and the ergonomics of Beachtek better, but ultimately I think you can get a better sound with juicedLink.

    “I have a portable recorder (Alesis ProTrack) similar to a Zoom, in an ENG or one-man-band solution, do you think it would be preferable to use this with my 7D instead of a JuicedLink solution?”

    I’ve never used the Alesis ProTrack, so I can’t speak first hand about its sound quality. Unlike a Zoom H4n, the ProTrack records audio onto an iPod. One limitation from this is that you can only record 16-bit 44.1 kHz sound files. This is CD quality audio, so it’s going to likely sound better than what you could record into a camera with juicedLink, but the Zoom would allow you to record at 24-bit 48 kHz (or higher), which will give your recordings more headroom.

    The trouble with being a one-man-band shooting ENG style with a HDSLR camera like the 7D, is that everything is going to be a little difficult. You would be better off using a real video camera like the Sony EX1. Anything you can do to simplify the process is going to help you, and using a juicedLink may be slightly easier than using an external recorder of any kind.

  5. Your reviews are quite good but getting dated. The Sony ECM-CG1 no longer exists. I am looking for an on camera mic that will be used to pick up my son’s school band concert. I cannot get close and will be using a Canon HF R11 for the recording on a monopod. I have a hard time justifing paying more for the mic than the camcorder itself. I thought the Audio Technica PRO-24CM or the Rode VideoMic might work pretty well. Your reviews don’t support this too much. I don’t really want to pay more than the Rode costs and I thought directional stereo would provide the most pleasing sound. I want to pickup the orchestra and cut down the crowd noise.

    Any suggestions you might have would be great!

  6. Hi Roquey. Sorry some of this info is dated. However, this is the shootout I did in 2010. You should also check out The Great On-Camera Mic Shootout 2011. We made it in the Fall of 2011, so it’s still pretty relevant.

    Recording live music is tricky in general, and a school band concert is even more challenging. The trouble is that if there is noise around you in the audience, just about any kind of microphone will pick it up. Shotgun microphones are better at rejecting sounds from the sides, but if you’re not right up at the front of the stage, you will pick up noises in front of you.

    I like a lot of the stuff that Audio Technica makes, but the PRO-24CM falls short (in my opinion). The Rode Video Mic is good, but it’s not stereo, and it’s a bit large and wobbly. A mic you should consider is the Azden SMX-20. Azden doesn’t have a great reputation, but I tested out this mic and it sounded pretty good. It’s stereo, and it’s a shotgun. It’s marketed toward DSLR cameras, but it will work fine on a camcorder (providing that the camera has a hotshoe for the microphone to mount onto).

    Do your best to get as close to the musicians as possible. Proximity is everything. The closer you are, the better it will sound.

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