Being a top-of-the-range camcorder, the SR12E is gratifyingly well-equipped with features. There is no lens ring, but Sony has supplied the next best thing – a little dial adjacent to the lens. Simply press the button in the middle to invoke manual focusing, and the on-screen readout also tells you current focal distance in metres. As with all consumer-focused Sony camcorders these days, the accessory shoe is Sony’s proprietary AI version, although in the case of the SR12E it’s protected by a very neat little sliding door. Minijacks are available for an external microphone and headphones, whilst the built-in trio of microphones are spatially mixed to provide 5.1 surround sound recording. The 3.2in LCD is extremely high resolution, too, with 921,600 pixels. But Sony also includes a standard viewfinder with 123,100 pixels, for those who prefer shooting through an eyepiece.
With its latest camcorders, Sony now provides two parallel menu systems. The simplified version offers basic choices between movie, photo and smooth slow record modes, plus assistance for hooking up via USB and other connections. This menu system also has submenus, such as Movie Settings, where you can toggle the x.v.Color expanded dynamic range system. You can also turn on Sony’s new face detection system, a technology we first saw in Panasonic’s HDC-SD9. Sony’s version recognises up to eight faces and adjusts focus, exposure and white balance accordingly. It can get a little confused with lots of subjects turning their faces to and from the camera, but is pretty good at picking up backlit faces and adjusting balance so you can see their features.
The other menu provides access to the more detailed configuration settings. Five tabs divide up the options in a relatively logical fashion. The first tab houses slider-based manual focusing, spot focus, and tele macro. The second provides the exposure control, which is a simple slider with 34 settings, but no obvious connection to F-stop or shutter speed. You can also use the spot metering – just touch the part of the frame you want to use as reference. AE Shift is another kind of exposure control, but there is no manual adjustment of shutter available.
The second tab also provides access to the 10 scene modes – Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Sunrise&Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Beach and Snow. The remaining three tabs offer white balance, white balance shift, colour slow shutter and Super Nightshot. However, regular Nightshot (an infrared mode which even BBC nature documentarians use) has its own separate button.