Review by Mark Degner
The video quality of digital cameras is getting better and better every year. However, I’ve been disappointed in the audio quality that accompanies these videos; the built-in microphones on digital cameras leave a lot to be desired. These microphones are highly susceptible to picking up camera noise (i.e., touching the camera and focus adjustments) and are somewhat omnidirectional, picking up sounds from all sides, which can increase the amount of background noise in the recordings.
The only way that a photographer/videographer can improve their audio quality is to use an external microphone. There are lots of different types of external microphones covering a vast price range, but for the casual user, like myself, probably the most versatile type is a shotgun microphone. Shotgun microphones are highly directional, with most of their sensitivity concentrated straight forward and having only a slight degree of sensitivity on the sides and to the rear, which greatly helps reduce the background noise in the recording. Shotgun microphones work very well to record voices, wildlife and other sound sources that are in front of the camera.
The Sennheiser MKE 400 ($269.99) is a compact, shotgun-style microphone that might be of interest to photographers that also shoots videos. It has a rugged metal housing and is very compact (11 cm long) and lightweight (60 g without battery). The MKE 400, like most compact video shotgun microphones, is designed to mount on the camera’s flash hotshoe mount and has an integral shock-mount to reduce camera handling and operation noise. Essentially the microphone is separated by two rubber supports from the camera. The MKE 400 is connected to the camera’s microphone input socket via a 200 mm long coiled cable (can be stretched to about 460 mm) with a standard 3.5 mm stereo jack plug.
A single AAA battery powers the MKE 400 and it can be replaced without having to remove the microphone from the camera — a feature I really like. Sennheiser says the operating time on a single battery is approximately 300 hours. I can’t dispute that claim, since I haven’t had the opportunity to use the MKE 400 for that long. On the left side of the MKE 400 are two switches: the “vol” switch and the “on/off” switch. The “vol” switch has two settings that adjust the microphone sensitivity to the volume of the sound source: normal sensitivity or high sensitivity. The “on/off” switch not only turns the unit on or off, but also turns on or off the low-cut filter that helps minimize wind noise.
The MKE 400 comes with a foam windshield that slips over the microphone to help reduce distracting background noise caused by the wind. If a photographer is recording in really windy conditions then I would recommend purchasing the MZW 400 Professional Accessory Set ($47.99) that includes a hairy cover (also called a windjammer or dead cat) and a 3.5 mm jack socket to XLR adapter (used
to connect the MKE to cameras or recorders that use the larger XLR plugs). The hairy cover works a lot better than the foam windshield in windy conditions and it looks cool.
Overall I’ve been very pleased with the sound quality in my videos since I’ve been using the Sennheiser MKE 400 — a significant improvement over the camera’s built-in microphone. It has a very good and even frequency response capturing a wide range of sounds, but I still have to be careful when handling and operating the camera as it will pick up some camera noise. It’s rugged, compact, lightweight and easy to use, making it a great choice for the any photographer wanting to improve the audio quality in their videos.
For more information visit Sennheiser
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