Not Just a Solid Shotgun Mic, But a Great Value, Too
With video gear, we went from analog to digital, then standard definition to high definition. Now we are looking at going from HD to 4K/UHD and beyond. This leaves lots of obsolete video gear piling up in the attic. But one of the nice things about audio gear is that if it is built well and has high-quality sound you can use it until it dies.
A number of mics I use are going on 20 years old, and others are 15 and 10 years old. Some I started using with my S-VHS Panasonic “Supercam” in 1994, and some with my Panasonic AG-DVC200 DV camcorder in 2001. All were easily removed from the mounts on their original SD cameras and have found new homes on HD cameras or in 4K camera kits.
Perfect Sound Forever?
My very first professional shotgun microphone was a Sony ECM-672 short shotgun mic I purchased for use on my Panasonic Supercam more than 20 years ago. It was and still is a great mic, but it has taken a beating over the years — everything from being dropped from a boom to being hit by protestors while covering a demonstration for a documentary. Some of the audio it picked up was used in a criminal trial, as it picked up the defendant's confession in a crowd. The ECM-672 was a workhorse, but it is showing its age. Every 18 months or so over the last 4 years, it has developed static noise, and the only way to fix it is to take the mic apart and put it back together, making sure all of the tiny screws were as tight as possible. I still worry that it will go wonky on a shoot if it gets banged, and I won't have the time to take the delicate mic apart on location. That said, after 20 years of service it was time to look at a new mic.
Visiting the Azden booth at NAB 2015, I was introduced to their newest short shotgun mic, the SGM-250. I asked what made this mic different than all of the others. After all, mics are pretty much the same. Right? Not so with this one.
The SGM-250 features very good low-end noise rejection. It does this using components similar to those found in Sennheiser's shotgun mics but without the Sennheiser price, which could be triple or quadruple the price of the Azden.
You Can't Be Too Careful
Most of the time, I rely on my wireless system with a lav on the talent or plugged into a board for a feed for my main audio. I use the short shotgun as back-up or to capture ambient audio. Every so often in a busy city like Los Angeles, have interference pop up on a previously clean wireless signal in the middle of a shoot where you can't do a retake. In those instances, you really need a good shotgun microphone running at the same time.
Out of the box, the SGM-250 comes with a protective case, foam windscreen, and cold-shoe shock mount for mounting on cameras without mic holders. All of my Sony cameras have mic mounts that are too wide for the SGM-250, so I cut an old piece of car radiator hose to take up the extra space. There is no XLR cable included, but the XLR connector on the mic is gold-plated for superior conductivity and reliability. There are two switches on the SGM-250. One turns the low-cut switch on and off, and the other switches between battery power and 48v phantom power/off.
On the Job
The first shoot I used it with was a short internet promo video for a chiropractor shot with the Canon XC-10 4K camera. The XC-10 is designed to be more of a “B-Roll” camera, and it's really not set up for serious audio. It has only a 1/8-inch mic input. In order to use it as a main camera and record audio from the lav and the SGM-250, I need a 1/8-inch left-right splitter and XLR-to-1/8” cables to get separate left and right channels. It did seem to pick up a tiny bit of echo, but I'd blame that on the large glass window near the talent. While we used the lav audio in the end, the SGM-250 audio would definitely have been usable with a little post work if we needed it.
The next shoot that I tried it on was a private family history documentary. On camera was the 89-year-old patriarch of a Jewish family who moved to Chicago after living through Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass,” when Hitler held his first official violent anti-Jewish riot, instructing the SS and others in the Nazi party to destroy Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues while emergency services weren't allowed to extinguish flames). While I did have the interviewee wearing a wireless lav, I put the SGM-250 in a mic stand next to the lens of my Sony HVR-Z7u, where I used it as a back-up for the lav and to pick up the interviewer, who was sitting off-camera opposite the the subject. The voice of the older interviewee was not very strong, but the SGM-250 did pick it up, and in post I made it louder to equal the lav. Normally when you do this with a shotgun microphone you need to do noise reduction, as the volume increase also boosts noise. Not here, though. The SGM-250 didn't pick up any of the normal noises you generally hear when boosting volume. At that point I had a tough time telling the difference between the lav and the SGM-250 because of the low noise — and this was without the low-cut filter turned on.
I tested the low-cut feature recently at my nephew's Thursday-morning Bar Mitzvah service in Phoenix, where it was already 110 degrees at 6 a.m. The synagogue, of course, had the air conditioner going full blast. I stood about seven feet away from where he was doing his reading and it was as if he was wearing a lav microphone. Not only was it very clear, but the low-cut switch made the AC noise very faint. I was able to take the rest of the AC noise out using Adobe Audition. Even if I didn't, the sound would have been absolutely fine for many uses.
The Azden SGM-250 is a great microphone. The sound is very organic and natural. It has become my go-to shotgun mic. While I keep the standard short shotgun mics on my Sony HVR-S270 and HVR-z7 cameras for emergencies, I make the effort to switch to the SGM-250 for its better sound. I highly recommend this microphone for its sound; the low cost is a bonus.
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