Q As a filmmaker concerned with sound quality, I’m looking to buy a good, all-purpose shotgun microphone. I don’t mind spending some money, but I can’t afford the top of the line. What should I look for, and what are your suggestions for the best value?
A I’ve been using and reviewing shotgun and cardioid-variant microphones that are popular in broadcast/film production for quite a few years, and the amount of choices available in the market can be overwhelming. Without discussing specific price ranges, let’s break down the budget for your microphone into three loosely defined financial strata:
Low cost—under $500
Medium cost—$501 to $1,200
High cost—over $1,200
Based upon your request, I’m going to recommend that you check out a microphone that fits into the medium-cost category, which seems to be a very good candidate for your needs. Shotgun microphones generally are the best choice for exteriors and for interiors that don’t have a lot of reflective surfaces.
THE RØDE NTG-3
The NTG-3 is one of several shotgun microphones produced by Australian microphone company RØDE. With a suggested retail price of $899, the NTG-3 commonly streets for closer to $700. RØDE began offering shotgun microphones just a few years ago, so unless you’ve also worked in studio recording, you may not be familiar with their name yet.
BROADCAST/FILM MIC PRIMER
As RØDE has just begun making inroads into the shotgun market, they have the strategic advantage of shaping their offerings to comfortably fit into niches that the competition hasn’t addressed yet. The most popular microphones used in broadcast and film generally have been of German descent, predominantly manufactured by Sennheiser and Schoeps, although in the last few years, I’ve seen quite a few sound mixers using Sanken microphones as well. Sanken microphones were developed in conjunction with NHK, the Japanese television broadcaster, while both Sennheiser and Schoeps have a long and distinguished pedigree from early in the 20th century in providing all kinds of microphones for various applications.
ThE STANDARD BEARER
In the category of shotguns, Sennheiser’s MKH 416 has been the industry standard for more than 20 years. The simplicity, ruggedness and sound quality have made the 416 very popular with sound mixers all over the world. That said, the MKH 416 is an old design. Sennheiser introduced the MKH 60 as a replacement for the 416 some years ago. While the MKH 60 is an excellent mic in its own right, the popularity of the 416 meant that Sennheiser decided to keep it in production alongside the MKH 60.
While I find the 416 to be an excellent piece of gear, it has two primary limitations. The first concern is the skill level required of the boom operator to use the mic to its best advantage. The 416 exhibits a very sharply defined pickup pattern. It’s common knowledge among sound mixers and boom operators that you must be on top of your game as far as mic positioning when using the 416. The pickup pattern is tight and fairly unforgiving, meaning that if you’re a neophyte or rank amateur as a boom operator, the 416 is probably not the shotgun for you until you polish your boom-handling skills to perfection. The second limitation with the 416 is cost. The suggested retail price on the 416 is $2,040, with the mic typically selling in the $1,200 to $1,400 range.