For the consumer user wishing to improve on the quality of the camera's built-in mic, while reducing zoom and focus noise, the Nikon ME-1 stereo microphone offers some real potential.
Nikon ventures into new territory with its ME-1 stereo microphone for DSLR cameras. DSLRs of all makes have long been plagued with sub-par audio performance. The ME-1 is a step in the right direction but is it a step far enough?
The ME-1 comes with a wind screen, soft carrying case and a simple instruction sheet. Its mounting foot slides into the camera's accessory shoe and tightens into place with the usual lock ring mechanism. The attached cable, which terminates in a 3.5mm stereo mini-pin jack, is a bit long for on-camera use but does allow some room to move the microphone further off the camera using an accessory arm. Excess cable is controlled using a channel molded into the back of the microphone mount helping to prevent excess noise caused by the cable rubbing against the camera body.
The mount is equipped with a locking screw that may be loosened to allow the microphone to tilt up or down. This is useful for directing the microphone to an audio source that may originate from somewhat above or below the camera. The microphone sits inside a rubberized shock mount to reduce vibration and the resulting excess noise. The rear of the microphone is fitted with a rotary dial for switching on and off the device's low-cut filter whose purpose is to cut out low frequency noise from wind and other sources.
Initially designed for photographers, DSLRs naturally focus on image excellence, with audio being a secondary consideration. Furthermore, there simply isn't enough room to cram a pair of XLR connectors onto their small frames. Various work-a-rounds have been conceived but all add up to additional bulk, greater expense and/or increased complexity. Devices abound that can adapt your professional XLR microphone to a standard 3.5mm mini-pin jack but you can expect to spend up to several hundred dollars depending on which bells and whistles are included.
If your DSLR doesn't have an audio jack at all then you have a different problem altogether. In this case you'll need to invest from one to a few hundred dollars in a portable audio recorder. On the low end you'll only have the device's built-in microphone to record with while higher end solutions provide XLR connectors for balanced, professional microphone use. In either case you'll still be faced with the task of syncing the audio in post.
Nikon has introduced the ME-1 stereo microphone in an attempt to meet the need for improved DSLR audio without the aforementioned problems. It doesn't take up much space, weighs very little and "connects to compatible DSLR cameras that have a 3.5mm Mic jack." The real questions though are, "How well does it perform, " and, "Is it worth the price?"
I'd call it the best camera for that price. I'd go for it.
FYI, Downsides are:
* Limited lens compatibility (no autofocus motor, so many Nikon lenses won't work)
* Autofocus is slow enough to be completely useless in live view mode (try it in a store)
* Video mode isn't up to par with Canon and friends. You get limited resolution, awkward frame rate, horrible audio (11kHz with low quality built-in microphone, and no microphone input, and the kit lens will give you lots of image stabilizer noise).
Stepping up, Canon 550D is an amazing camera (albeit without the pivot LCD)