Not so long ago, Sony unveiled their first hard drive based camcorder with AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition), the SR1E. It was only a mere 4.0-megapixel device with 30GB of capacity. Over the span of a few models, Sony gradually upped the ante such that the new HDR-SR12 now captures up to 10.2 megapixels (still images) and comes with 120GB of storage.
The SR12 is clad in a dark brushed grey and glossy black, which sets a serious tone unlike some fancy and colorful camcorders in the market. Although the SR12 offers almost the same resolution as its predecessors, there is a noticeable improvement in the video bit rate, as there is a newly enhanced CMOS sensor.
A brief note on how the resolutions for camcorders work: the actual resolution of the sensors in most high-definition camcorders are actually half of what is stated as the images are interpolated to produce a larger final image. So even though the Sony SR12 can provide images of up to 10.2 megapixels in size, the true resolution is estimated at around 5 megapixels.
There are also several improvements in imaging quality in the latest SR models. Chief among them is the new 16Mbps bitrate for capturing high-definition videos of 1920 by 1080i. However, this results in a considerable amount of storage required which justifies the 120GB hard drive installed. With that, it's capable of recording up to 14 hours worth of footage in high definition. Less pricy 40GB and 60GB options are also available for consumers.
When we tested the Sony SR12, we noticed that the quality of the video shot at High Quality (HQ) mode was almost flawless, except for a hint of interlacing artifacts in fast moving scenes. These artifacts were spotted only when viewed on a considerably large screen. While shooting at the highest quality setting, known as FH, these artifacts are less visible. Images also turned out more crisp and vibrant in comparison with other modes. The performance of the SR12 under low light conditions was impressive even without Nightshot selected, allowing a reasonable amount of exposure compensation with the Dynamic Range Optimizer. A word of warning though, the grain does get obvious in the lowest lighting conditions. One of the drawbacks on the SR12 is that Sony has not yet addressed the lack of a dedicated shutter speed and manual aperture settings.
Still image quality has also improved considerably. In our tests, we found that the resultant image quality is good and not affected by the interpolated megapixel count, offering us clear saturated images every time. However, there's still work for Sony, such as having a more subtle in-camera sharpening and the Bionz imaging processor should go easy on the reds. On a brighter note, we were very impressed with the minimal purple fringing that this new Exmor CMOS processor produced, which is a step forward for digital camcorders.
Battery life of the SR12 was impressive to say the least, with over 90 minutes of recording time even when the LCD was flipped open. The only power sapping function that you might want to use sparingly would be the Nightshot mode.
Retailing at a price of S$2899, the SR12 is another of Sony's top of the line HD camcorders. In our opinion, this is a worthy purchase, as it has stellar video quality with few flaws.