Where Canon and Panasonic camcorders are focusing on flash memory, and JVC is sticking with hard disks, Sony continues to release products in every possible format. With the largest range in the market, Sony likes to cover all bases. So the HDR-SR12E is Sony's latest addition to its hard disk camcorder range, but new flash and disk-based models are still to come.
When we reviewed the HDR-SR12E's predecessor, the HDR-SR8E, it was the best AVCHD camcorder we'd seen. However, Canon, Panasonic, and JVC have all released new models since then, and Toshiba has joined the fray as well with its Gigashot A100FE. So the SR12E needs plenty of new tricks to maintain the top slot.
A first glance at the specifications shows promise. The CMOS sensor is actually slightly smaller than the SR8E's - 1/3.1in rather than 1/2.9in. But this sensor offers a whopping 5.7-megapixels gross, allowing still images up to 3,680 x 2,760 (with a bit of interpolation thrown in for good measure). Best of all, this is an Exmor CMOS, as found in Sony's latest professional camcorders such as the HVR-Z7E. Exmor is designed to reduce noise. Image quality is further enhanced by Sony's Bionz image processor, which first arrived in its digital cameras. To round off the optics, the SR12E uses Super SteadyShot, which is Sony's version of optical image stabilisation and very capable. It also offers a reasonable 12x optical zoom.
As with Canon and Panasonic's latest top-end models, the SR12E supports a higher AVCHD data rate than previous models, although in this case 16Mbits/sec, not the 17Mbits/sec of Canon's HF10 and Panasonic's HDC-SD9. This is recorded at Full HD 1,920 x 1,080, but with 50 interlaced fields and no progressive scanning option. Less data hungry 1,440 x 1,080 formats are also available, and you can record SD as well at up to 9Mbits/sec in MPEG-2 format, which not all AVCHD camcorders offer. The huge 120GB hard disk is enough for 880 minutes (14.5 hours) of footage even in the top FH quality mode. You can also record movies onto MemoryStick, which wasn't possible with previous models.