To go along with their existing ecosystem of modular mics, Zoom has made yet another dexterous audio recorder with the Zoom F1 Field Recorder. The Zoom F1 is a two channel field recorder, capturing up to 24-bits at 96 kHz in either WAV or MP3. It includes an on-board limiter, is powered by two AAA batteries and records onto a MicroSD card. The F1 is available in two configurations, the F1-SP, mounted with the SGH-6 mono shotgun mic module, and the F1-LP, with the LMF-2 lavalier. The big trick to the F1 is that it’s compatible with all of the interchangeable mic modules for the Zoom H5 and H6 recorders.
The only difference between the SP and LP models is the included mic. The SP option comes equipped with the modular SGH-6 shotgun mic and is a bit more expensive, at $250. Along with the shotgun mic module, the SP includes the SMF-1 shock mount that attaches to a camera’s hot or cold shoe.
At just $200, the lavalier that comes with the F1-LP connects via the one eighth inch stereo mic line combo input, rather than the 10-pin modular mic connection. The LMF-2 is an omnidirectional microphone.
Our first application was using the F1-SP with the Panasonic Lumix GH4. To start, we tested the F1-SP as an external mic. We captured in-camera using the included eighth-inch coiled cable from the headphone out to the mic input on the camera. To get the best gain, we set our gain in the F1-SP while monitoring through its headphone out. In a perfect world, you would be able to go out from the headphone jack at 100 percent volume. In our case, the GH4 has at best a -12 dB minimum input level, so at 100 percent headphone volume, we experienced clipping in-camera. This caused us to lower the headphone volume out until we had an input amount that didn’t clip. Not the best situation, but easy to work around.
To get the best gain, we set our gain in the F1-SP while monitoring through its headphone out.
Once we set our gain and had a healthy signal, we thought we were ready to go. However, once we pressed the record button on the F1-SP, it gave us an invalid SD card error message. This was confusing since we had just successfully formatted the card in the recorder and even used their internal test to make sure it was okay. Luckily, we have many more microSD cards, though most of our cards are too fast and therefore were not compatible with the Zoom. We have experienced the same issue with the H6 we use occasionally. They require slower, older media: a microSD or microSDHC card class 4 or higher, and up to 32 GB. We swapped out the media for another of the same card and it worked fine. The good part about this is that if you don’t have a card that is supported, they are very very cheap — less than $15 for 32GB.
Once we were successfully recording, we experienced loads of handling noise from the included mount. Whenever we touched the mount, the noise was captured by the mic. The mic is not completely isolated from the connection point. There is a shock mount that dampens the handling noises somewhat, but at gain levels above 5, it is noticeable. This is only if you’re handling the recorder or mount directly — it was not an issue when handling just the camera during normal shooting.
We then moved onto using the lav on the F1-LP. Along with the attachment location, the lav gain control is different than the dial on the mic modules. Mic input is controlled in the menu and we found it to be oddly executed. There are 10 steps of gain, but they are labeled auto, low, mid and hi. Each setting had a plus and minus setting and hi had two plus options. Not only is it difficult to describe, it’s also not the most intuitive input setting menu to use. Why not just give it a 1-10 rating and go from there? Especially since the rest of the mics work that way.
Depending on the kit you get, either the lav or the shotgun will be included. However, there are a slew of mic capsules that work with the F1. Adding the EXH-6, a dual XLR/TRS combo input capsule, allows you to add two XLR or ¼-inch inputs instead of a mic capsule. We like this because it gives you standard inputs and gain control knobs. Additionally, the EXH-6 has a 20dB pad, giving it the ability to capture high-output sound sources. Phantom power is not supplied to these inputs, so condenser mics that require it will not be an option. However, at just $70, it’s a great way to add versatility to the F1.
There are also three stereo capsules to choose from. The MSH-6 for $80 is a mid-side mic capsule. This is the best stereo configuration if the final product is going to be mono, like for TV. The XYH-6 costs $80 and is a X/Y mic that allows for either a 90 degree or 120 degree spread of the stereo image. This will give a great stereo feel. Lastly, is the stereo shotgun SSH-6 at $150. Think of the SSH-6 as a combo between the MSH-6 and the SGH-6. It’s a mid-side configured mic with a shotgun directional center. The SSH-6, like the MSH-6, is a good choice if finishing in mono for TV.
All of these mics have been reasonably priced for what they do, and they give loads of flexibility for the F1. However, like any camera mounted mic, it might not always get you close to the action. When a boom is needed, you can mount the F1 on the end of a boom pole with the SGH-6 and run headphones down the pole — but control will be difficult. Using the the EXH-6 would allow you to use your own mics and cable.
Alternatively, you could use the ECM-6, a 19.5 feet extension cable for the capsule mount. With it connected, you can have the controls at the end of a boom and the mic at the other end. The big question is if the extension is worth the extra $120. That’s debatable, depending on your needs.
To evaluate the marketplace for the F1, we are going to look at one other shotgun recorder and two camera mounted mics.
The first is the Tascam DR10 SG for $200. The mic is attached to the recorder, but outside of that, it’s almost an apples to apples comparison to the Zoom F1-SP.
The next is the Røde VideoMic Pro Plus. It is the industry’s leading camera-top mic and offers some great features like a 100 hour battery life and two channels of the same input, so you can have a safety channel in case of peeking. The drawback for the VideoMic Pro Plus is its price tag of $300 — and it’s just a mic without capture device or modular set-up.
Last, is the Azden SMX-30. At $250, it has both a stereo X/Y mic and a mono shogun in one. However, it is not a recording device.
Both of the F1 kits offer a great value, and the modular design allows for additional flexibility. Using the F1 as a mic only with a camera is a bit cumbersome, but it’s workable. We love the module capabilities. Choose the right mics and you’ll have a recorder with loads of functionality.
The Zoom F1 is affordable, and with the help of Zoom’s modular mics, it’s also quite flexible. The F1 is configurable to just about any need.
PRICE: F1SP $250, F1LP $200
- Modular Mics
- Cheap media
- Gain control for lav input
- Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Online Video Production
- Casual Video Production
Type: 2-channel audio recorder
WAV: 44.1 kHz/16-bit, 48 kHz/16-bit, 48 kHz/24-bit, 96 kHz/24-bit BWF-compliant
MP3 : 48, 128, 192, 256, 320 kb/s Mono/stereo ID3v1 tags supported
Recording Media: MicroSD and microSDHC cards (Class 4 or higher, up to 32 GB)
Inputs Mic In Proprietary 10-pin connector, compatible with all Zoom mic capsules
Mic/Line In Connector: 1/8″ / 3.5 mm stereo mini, with screw lock
Plug-In Power: 2.5 V
Input Gain: -12 to +36 dB
Input Impedance: 2 kOhms or more
Output Connector: 1/8″ / 3.5 mm stereo mini, with screw lock
Maximum Output Level: 2 x 11 mW (into 32 Ohms load)
Shotgun Microphone: SGH-6, mono
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Sensitivity: -39 dB/1 Pa at 1 kHz
Maximum Sound Pressure Input: 122 dB SPL
Construction: Aluminum body
Lavalier Microphone Type: LMF-1
Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional
Plug: 1/8″ / 3.5 mm stereo mini, with screw lock
Sensitivity: -32 dB/1 Pa at 1 kHz
Maximum Sound Pressure Input: 115 dB SPL
Cable Length: 5.2″ / 160 cm
USB Connector: Micro-USB
Mass Storage Operation: USB 2.0 high-speed
Audio Interface Operation: 2 x in / 2 x out, 44.1 kHz/16-bit, 48 kHz/16-bit, USB class-compliant
Power: 2 x AAA batteries, alkaline, NiMH, or lithium, AD-17 AC adapter (available separately): 5 VDC / 1 A
- With SGH-6 Shotgun Mic Capsule (48 kHz/24-bit, Mono):
- Alkaline Batteries: 6.5 hours, approximately
- NiMH Batteries (750 mAh): 6 hours, approximately
Lithium Batteries: 11 hours, approximately
Dimensions (W x D x H): 2.5 x 3.1 x 1.3″ / 64.0 x 79.8 x 33.3 mm
Weight: 4.2 oz / 120.0 g (without batteries)
Chris Monlux thinks mid-side pair and X/Y recording configurations are fun to play with. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.