Sony HDR-SR12 E
- 120GB inbuilt hard drive, memory stick slot for additional recording, vibrant high-definition video quality, 10.1Mp stills mode, solid picture quality in dim lighting
The HDR-SR12E may be a little more expensive than most of its rivals, but it represents a bargain nonetheless. It ticks all the major boxes that make a great camcorder; including superb image quality and ease-of-use.
Price$ 2,199.00 (AUD)
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The hard disk-based HDR-SR12E is the star attraction of Sony's 2008 handycam line-up. With its huge 120GB capacity and maximum video resolution of 1920x1080i, it is more than sufficiently equipped to justify its premium price tag. All the bells-and-whistles that we have come to expect from Sony are also present on this model; including a memory stick slot for additional hybrid recording, 10.2-megapixel still image capture, a user-friendly touch screen interface and an external microphone jack. It also comes packed with the latest in flashy new camcorder trends, including Smooth Slow Recording mode, a zoom microphone and Face Detection technology. With the exception of its slightly underpowered 12x optical zoom (a common fault in high-end cameras), there is next to nothing we can find fault with.
The HDR-SR12 can be seen as the spiritual successor to Sony's previous flagship offering; the HDR-SR8E. In addition to receiving an extra 20GB of inbuilt memory, it also sports a redesigned CMOS sensor and processing chip for the cleanest image yet. In other words, the new model has a lot more up its sleeve than the average nominal upgrade, offering a markedly superior performance across the board. (This is made doubly impressive by the pedigree of its predecessor, which was one of the best camcorders of 2007.)
This latest HDD handycam continues Sony's dedication to the AVCHD format, a high-def rival to the MPEG-2 based HDV. AVCHD is considered superior to MPEG-2 due to its greater levels of compression efficiency. With 120GB of memory to play around with, this equates to an impressive 48 hours of recordable high-def footage, or 14-and-a-half at full quality (not including the optional memory stick). This should ensure that you rarely need to worry about filling up your hard drive while out-and-about; even if you shoot everything that crosses your path.
While we're on the subject of video formats, it's also worth noting that the HDR-SR12E supports non-AVCHD, standard definition recording. Some vendors are excising this option from their high-def models, so it's nice to see Sony's continued support for the old guard. If you've yet to upgrade your TV and DVD player to HD, this makes the SR12 a solid future investment.
As the flagship model in Sony's new handycam range, the HDR-SR12 doesn't pull any punches when it comes to video quality. While it lacks the 'full HD' resolution (1280x1080p) beloved by marketing gurus, it nevertheless delivers some of the sharpest and most vibrant footage from a camcorder in this price range. This is bolstered considerably by the return of Sony's x.v. colour mode; a vibrancy-enhancer that allegedly doubles the colour reproduction in any given image. While we can't attest to the truth in these claims, it certainly did brighten up our footage with an injection of rich, primary tones.
Usually when we get to this point in a camcorder review, we advise that the image quality suffered in low lighting. However, the HDR-SR12 managed to surpass all expectations when it came to shooting in dim environments. While noise was still evident, it was considerably less noticeable than most other high-def camcorders we've looked at, including the HDC-HS9 , VP-HMX10 (XSA) and HDR-SR8E. As such, the HDR-SR12 is an obvious choice for users who habitually shoot indoors or at dusk. (Its night mode, though lacking in colour, is also very impressive; allowing you to shoot in complete darkness.)
With its 560g weight and dimensions of 83x76x138mm, the HDR-SR12 isn't the smallest high-def camcorder on the block. (Compared to Panasonic's HDC-SD9, which weighs in at under 300g.) However, this is necessitated by the unit's 120GB hard drive. It also seems to be a conscious decision on Sony's part, with the HDR-SR12 appealing more to serious videographers who traditionally prefer a bulkier unit. With that being said, novice users are still well catered for, with a prominently marked Easy button switching everything to auto.
Of course, when you're paying over $2000 for a camcorder, you usually want as much hands-on freedom as possible, and in this regard the HDR-SR12 did not disappoint. Its ample assortment of manual settings includes adjustable white balance, focus and exposure, 10 scene modes (Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Sunrise & Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Beach, and Snow), Tele Macro options and a handful of digital/picture effects. Handily, a camera control dial is also included to the left of the lens; allowing you to quickly adjust focus and brightness levels on the fly. We also remain fans of Sony's Spot Focus technology, which allows you to adjust the focus by pressing on an area of the LCD screen. (As always, the touch screen interface is intuitive and user-friendly, with the extra large 3.2in display aiding in menu selections.)
Special mention must also go to the HDR-SR12E's superb photographic capabilities, which has been boosted from a maximum resolution of 6.1 megapixels (as seen on the SR8) to an unprecedented 10.1Mp. This is the highest stills resolution of any camcorder on the market, making the SR12E one of the few models that can compete with a dedicated compact camera.
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