I'm in the market for a quality shotgun mic for field recording, foley, ADR, etc.... Budget: less than $1,200. I really like the Sennheiser MKH 416, but haven't had a chance to try many others. I currently use a Zoom H4n, but plan on upgrading to a Sound Devices 702.
I didn't read the other answers, so I may just say the same things as them:
First, having a $1200 for a mic is a great place to be in. I always tell people to buy the best mic they can afford as it will be with you long after your recorded is obsolete.
Second, you are looking for a field mic, so you need wind protection. A Rycote system is going to run $700ish new. The Rode systems are around $300ish. I've never used the Rode, but it seems like a good deal for the money.
Third, you can't go wrong with a Sennheiser MKH 416. It was my first field mic and I still love it. At the time (10 years or more ago) I was thinking of buying a less expensive mic, but I opted to go for the mic I wanted, and I'm glad I did. I would also look at the MKH60-1, it may end up more versatile a mic for you. If you don't need a shotgun, the MKH40 and MKH50 are great as well. The Neumann KMR81 is another shotgun to consider, or the Neumann KM100 series if you opt for a non-shotgun.
Fourth, ebay is your friend. Buy used. You can get crazy deals quite often. If you can't find a crazy deal, you should be able to get a used MKH416 in good shape for at most $600. You might even find an MKH60 for a similar price.
Hope that helps. Sorry if I just repeated everyone else, I wanted to give you my input, but don't have a lot of time for reading these days....
Different types of microphones have different uses, obviously. Here is what I have found works best in various situations. Before delving headlong into shotgun mic comparison shopping, ask yourself what will suit your needs the best.
If you want to record specific point sounds at a distance outdoors, including outdoor boom mic dialog recording for film and TV, a short shotgun such as the Sennheiser MKH 416 and friends is going to be your best bet. I wouldn't recommend the Rode NTG-2 unless you're really on a budget, but the Rode NTG-3 appears to have nearly identical specs to the 416. The NTG-3 is a relative newcomer, while the 416 has been the short shotgun mic for at least a couple decades or so now.
If you want to record interior dialog for film and TV, and do a passable job at exterior dialog provided you get the mic a little closer, then a hypercardioid mic is your best bet. Shotgun mics have weird off-axis frequency response as you go farther down the spectrum. Basically the shotgun pattern is only for mid to high frequencies, while the lower frequencies still come in from nearly all directions. Indoors in a normal untreated room, you end up with weird boominess in a lot of cases. This is just down to the various pickup patterns and physics.
Sennheiser MKH 50 Polar Pattern http://www.sennheiser.co.uk/sennheiser/products.nsf/resources/C96939268CC4941EC125743200802EF7/$File/MKH50-P48_ClockfaceDiagram.jpg Sennheiser MKH 416 Polar Pattern http://www.sennheiser.co.uk/sennheiser/products.nsf/resources/B905568D10D34331C125743200802EDD/$File/MKH416-P48U3_ClockfaceDiagram.jpg
If you are recording a scripted independent film and just need a single mic, I would go with the hypercardiod. The Schoeps CMC641 seems to be the gold standard, but it's about $2000. I got an Audix SCX1-HC and have been very happy with it. For indoor dialog I think it sounds better than a Sennheiser 416.
Depending on what field recording means to you, exactly, you may also want a stereo mic of some sort to record ambiences and the like. The Rode NT4 is pretty good at this, and there are several other pricier options from other manufacturers as well. The NT4 is essentially two cardioid mics in an X/Y pattern, so it picks up a much wider field of sound and is less directional than a hypercardioid or a shotgun mic. This sort of mic does a pretty good job of getting a "you are here" sort of ambience with great stereo imaging.
One more note about the Rode mics... their true condenser mics are generally very quiet. The NTG-1 and NTG-2 (but not the NTG-3) are electret condenser mics though, which generally results in higher noise. If a microphone can be powered by a single AA battery, it's generally not going to be a true condenser. Accept no imitations!
Make sure and check out this video by Ty Ford where he compares various types of microphones. You can get an intuitive sense of a lot just by watching it.
Are you looking for a stereo shotgun mic or a mono shotgun mic?
I'm assuming mono, but let me know if otherwise...
The 416 is a fantastic mic, plus the price just dropped to $999. Great deal! It's incredibly durable, so you can put it through some tough stuff and not worry too much about it. It's not quite as versatile as some of the other ones though, plus it's not very flat. It's got that permanent bump in the 2k-6k range, which sounds fantastic on dialogue, and some sfx, but if you have a particularly bright sound effect, it can really exaggerate the sound.
If you want to go for something flatter, the MKH60 is awesome, although slightly above your price range, although you could probably find a used one for $1200. Nice thing about this mic is that it has a built in HPF, pad, and presence filter. The main purpose of the presence filter is to negate the effects of a zeppelin with a dead cat on it, however, it does make the mic sound a bit more like a 416. The flatter response of this mic makes is a bit more versitile. It's a bit more fragile than the 416, but not extremely fragile like, say, a Schoeps CMIT 5 U or something.
I also like Sanken's stuff. The CS1 and CS-3e are nice mics. Very tight polar patterns for their size, so you get a lot of side rejection, which is useful for recording in louder areas. The CS-3e actually uses 3 microphone capsules and a lot of phase cancellation techniques to achieve this, so it's incredibly effective, even with rear rejection.
Before buying, I would try to see if you can rent or borrow some shotguns to try out. A lot of it comes down to personal preference and what works for you with your specific technique.
Hope this is helpful. Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with! And thanks for reading the blog!
There's so much science being dropped it's like the Nobel awards in here! :-) Awesome responses thus far. Mic choice is such a personal thing, but notice the consistency of opinion here! I wholeheartedly agree with everything stated here, with only a few other bits to add.
A photography mentor once told me, "Camera bodies are expenses, and lenses are investments." The same can be said for recorders and microphones, as per Chuck and others above. Sage advice.
Josh: Tim brings up the point of flexibility. Unless you throw down for the spendier shotguns, they'll often sound tubby indoors in acoustically "live" spaces due to how they're constructed. I personally got an NTG-2 as my first field mic, and upon reflection, I would have gotten more use and value out of a hypercardioid for my first mic. The MKH 50 has turned into an incredibly versatile mic for me. But that's because I record a LOT of stuff, including very quiet, small sounds, where the MKH series excels (also has major low-end whomp when needed). (Yer gonna plotz when you step up to the 702, by the way. It's Awesome.)
Matt: The NTG-2 and NTG-3 are widely seen as screaming values for the performance they offer among the "prosumer" market. Pair this with a Blimp and you've got money to spare for cabling, boom pole/mic support, etc. IMO, though, the lower cost usually brings a higher noise floor, which is basically the worst thing ever. :-) Caveat: I've neither traveled with them nor used them in high-humidity conditions.
In some ways the mic is a more important investment than the recorder, because as technology advances the price & facilities of recorders will continue to evolve, whereas a good mic will last a long time. So five years from now you may well have replaced even the 702 that you haven't bought yet, but you may still be using the same mic.
The 416 was my first mic and its ok but I grew to dislike it, as it has a bump in its frequency response, as Colin mentions... the MKH60 is a nice idea and if you were to buy one I'd look at buying an M/S(mid/side) Rycote for it, even if you can't afford the S (side/figure of eight) mic immediately... that would give you a great upgrade path as funds allow... I like single point stereo mics, whether they are a stereo shotgun mic (like my Sanken CSS-5) or an M/S rig....
I'd also look out for secondhand mics eg I bought a Sanken CSS-5 stereo shotgun mic immediately after the Americas Cup yacht race finished in NZ, as the mic was apparently a spec mic for some foreign crews, so the local rental company bought lots of them, rented them out & then sold some of them off afterwards... It was still quite an investment.
Similarly I recently picked up a Sennheiser MKH70 (long, very directional shotgun mic) in a Rycote with windjammer secondhand for US$600 - BH list the mic alone for US$1,750! Sennheiser MKH70-1 http://www.sennheiser.com/sennheiser/products.nsf/resources/51355EBF284F5B5BC125743200802F30/$File/MKH70-1_ProductImage.jpg
My last advice would be to spend a little money renting (or borrowing) a few mics & do some test recordings (eg some dialogue, some quiet ambiences, loud FX etc) so that you know what to expect before you part with serious $$$... Someone gave me good advice a long time ago: trust your own ears only!
As far as shotguns go I've used the Sennheiser MKH-60, 416, and a few AT's, and the Rode NTG-3. It seems that a lot of people dismiss the Rode because of it's a lower cost and they knock it without trying it.
I prefer the Rode because the sound is so clean and present and it has an extremely low noise floor unlike some of the AT mics. it doesn't have a pad or roll off but if you have a decent preamp it will likely have those options, plus I can afford two NTG-3's for around the price of one 416.
Great question. You beat me to it, Josh, verbatim. I'm also wondering about even less expensive shotguns, like the Rode NTG-3 or even the Audio Technica AT8015. Is it another case of "you get what you pay for", or are there some winners among the cheaper mics?
This is an old topic but I'll chip in with my thoughts about the AT8015. I own it and have used it in various situations, for dialogue and sound effects recording. I'm afraid my recording technique is not yet mature and I couldn't tell how it compares to the famous ones.
However, I have tested it against an NTG-3 and an AT835b. The NTG-3 is more present and I prefer it to the AT8015. The 835b has a higher bass response which I prefer. I don't believe it is worth trying. I wish I could have raised my budget to £400 to get the NTG-3, and for about the same price I wish I had got the AT835b.
I own both an Audio Technica BP4071 which I think fits around your price range £750 and the shorter AT897 at around £250 which is a fantastic mic for the money. The BP4071 has been a great shotgun mic to use and have got great results for sound effect gathering, wildlife recording, use with boom etc. In regards to stereo mics I have a Rode Nt4 which is simply a great mic. I can also recommend a cheaper option which still gets decent results. Check out the Superlux E523/D. It is basically a carbon copy of the AT825 stereo mic but is about a third of the price, you can probably get even cheaper on ebay too.
I found something more on the NTG-3, hopefully this will be useful to other people! I just noticed that Rode had an article on a BBC guy who used te NTG-3 inside a Blimp on a year-long shoot in Indonesia and the outcome of this is that the mic held good despite the horribly extreme weather. See by yourself, I haven't looked for other testimonies that'd allow me to discuss this.