Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: It introduces a good idea.
The Long Version: The Nikon ME-1 microphone is a cute little thing, complete with a foam wind sock and a gold-plated right-angle mini-jack connection. It draws its power from the camera, and it's cheap. It's quite promising on paper, and I wasted no time in trying one out. I've only spent a few minutes with it so far, but I was able to make a few observations.
Microphones are like lenses: they do different things and they cost different amounts. The ME-1 is the 'kit lens' of mics, being better than the built-in type that it supersedes, and can give decent results when used in the right circumstances. But with that out of the way, I have to say that the ME-1 is a disappointment.
Nikon's website says that the ME-1's pick-up pattern is "unidirectional", but testing the microphone through my Sony PCM-D50 shows strong pickup from every direction, including behind. Despite its suggestive shape, the ME-1 is no shotgun, with off-axis sensitivity being greater than my D50 when its microphones are in the classic XY stereo configuration. Its lack of selectivity must be why Nikon will only say that it will "significantly reduce autofocus noise" – not eliminate it.
The other big advantage of having an external microphone is its isolation from handling noise. Here again the ME-1 disappoints, as it still caught every time I shifted my grip on the D7000. (As with the stereo test, the mic was plugged into my Sony D50 field recorder, which lets me monitor the sound in real time. The cameras themselves don't allow this level of self-awareness.) This is quite a bit more objectionable than its failure to reject off-axis sound, and will have a bigger impact on the audio recording.
So the question is: why buy an inexpensive microphone that doesn't focus the audio pickup where the lens is looking, and doesn't get rid of handling noise? I'm not sure I have the answer to that one. The ME-1 is a big improvement in the quality of the audio, even if it doesn't fix the nature of it. When sitting on a tripod with the lens focused on one spot it will do much better for recording interviews, even though it would mostly capture crowd noise at the school play or big game. But then nobody expects a kit lens to do everything – well, some do – so it should be little surprise than an inexpensive microphone isn't the equivalent of a professional lens. Good mics cost more for a good reason.
last updated 18 may 2011