The recipe for Sony’s new SR12 camcorder is simple: take last year's chart-topping SR8, add more megapixels, extra gigabytes, a larger screen and a longer zoom, then top it all off with an improved sensor and better processor. The result? The SR8 on heat.
With a 120GB hard drive on board it can shoot full 1920x1080i HD video at top quality for an incredible 15 hours. You'd need thirty MiniDV tapes or 15 8GB memory cards to match it. If your home movie memories are of the tape cutting out just as it came to blowing out the candles, this is the camcorder for you.
Spoilt for choice
The small downside is having to edit down 15 hours of probable fluff into something watchable. Thankfully AVCHD isn't the monster format it once was and most software packages will cope, but you'll still need a fairly hardcore PC to crunch all those frames. Once it's on your machine, Sony makes it a pain-free experience to burn up to an hour's AVCHD to plain-old DVD for watching glorious hi-def on a PS3 or dedicated Blu-ray spinner.
The SR12 looks great and is a winner in function too. From the solid build to the well-concealed doors that hide the headphone, mic, USB, HDMI and component-out ports, it oozes quality. You also get a hot-shoe for attaching Sony mics and video lights and a lens thread for screwing on lens adaptors.
The controls are well laid out. Sony's touchscreen menus and cam control dial still take getting used to but, once mastered, you can really start to see the benefits. The screen is now an envy-inducing 3.2in with a boosted res to match, making it one of the best camcorders around for reviewing footage on the fly.
The SR12 isn't the smallest 'corder money can buy but it sits well in the hand. In action we happily lined up shots on the giant screen while noting with cooing appreciation each time the face detect spotted a mug in shot and drew a box round it. Good camcorder.
It may be the new 12x zoom or it may just be our poor luck, but the SR12 seems to struggle a tad more in the auto focus department than previous Sony camcorders. It's not the worst we've seen, just not quite what we've come to expect from Sony.
That aside, the footage it pulls is nothing short of fantastic. Sony’s dropped in a new CMOS sensor and included the same Exmor and Bionz noise reduction tech it uses on its top-line DSLRs. Video is sharp and the colours fantastic. Ugly digital noise is all but banished and even in low-light the Sony now comes out fighting. Still photos don't quite live up to the 10.2MP billing but then stills aren't really what this cam is about.
We'll raise a small flag too about the 5.1 surround audio, which incidentally only comes across as stereo if you playback directly from the camera to your TV. It doesn't quite match the surround we've heard from Panasonic and tends to pick up a tad too much of the background when the lens is at its widest, but you can always switch the 5.1 off.
But these are minor issues – the SR12 is a thoroughly polished effort. To say that the picture quality is noticeably better than last year's SR8 is serious testament to the work Sony's done. Is it the best consumer camcorder of 2008? Let's just say it'll take an awful lot to beat it.