We've given up following who's got the world's smallest high-def camcorder because a millimetre here or there just isn't enough to get our blood rushing anymore. And, anyway, we actually prefer the large form factor of the tape and hard-disk models, as we find them easier to hold for long periods. Additionally their greater surface area allows for more logical button and knob placement, as well as the inclusion of an electronic viewfinder. The latter, we believe, is an essential feature if you're going to be hand-holding the camera for extended periods without your recording turning into the Blair Witch Project XLII.
That said, others will appreciate the light weight (370g, compared to 560g for the hard drive SR12) and the petite dimensions — at 69x67x129mm, it actually occupies a little more space than its predecessor, the CX7. The CX12's design is almost a spitting image of its forebear with the key design changes being the piano black finish which, although smudge prone, actually succeeds in giving the CX12 a more premium look, and the manual control switch pilfered straight from the SR11 and SR12.
Sited to the bottom left of the lens barrel, the switch allows for easy control of manual focus, exposure, auto exposure shift or white balance shift. Otherwise everything is fairly much as it was on the CX7, so there's a centrally mounted mode/power switch, and a raised rear hump featuring the zoom toggle and photo shutter. Although some functions — such as Nightshot and Easy Mode — have hard buttons nestled in the LCD's hidey hole, most of the manual controls are in the camera's menus, accessed in true Handycam style, via the 2.7-inch flip-out touchscreen LCD.
An AV port, which supports both composite and component cables, as well as power and mini-HDMI jacks, are present on the CX12's body, but transferring footage over USB to your computer requires the camera's docking station. As is the norm all cables, apart from mini-HDMI, are included in the box. Old Sony stalwarts, such as slow motion recording (still limited to four seconds and low res) and videos indexed by either face or still capture, are present on the spec sheet.
The stand-out feature, however, is smile detection, which was first introduced on Sony's point-and-shoot Cyber-shot range. When turned on the camcorder will take a, literal, happy snap when it detects anyone smiling. And because the camcorder is capable of taking photos while recording video, smile detect will still work when you're busy filming your opus.
Like its name suggests, the CX12 takes the 12x optical zoom lens and 5.6-megapixel CMOS sensor — the 10.2-megapixel figure proudly displayed on the LCD is the interpolated still image resolution — straight from the SR12. Image quality is nigh on indistinguishable between the two cameras; that's to say, excellent. Recording is now 1080i and, when lighting conditions are good, images are detailed and crisp with only the slightest hint of artefacting; colour response is good too. Low light response is marginally improved from before, with less apparent graininess; focus, though, is still frequently lost when subjects move around.
Our biggest bugbear with the CX7 was its limited storage capacity. Out of the box that camera was supplied with a 4GB Memory Stick that was good for 30 minutes of top quality footage, which, if you're straying far from home, is but a drop in the vast ocean of time. This year's model has been bundled with both a 4GB and an 8GB stick. By Sony's calculations this should be good for around 75 minutes of highest quality filming — better, but an investment in extra cards is a must. With the supplied battery good for around 110 minutes of shooting — adequate for a day out — a spare battery should be on the shopping lists of all CX12 buyers.
When all the extra cost items are taken into account the CX12 looks less and less like good value. Although should space and weight be your priorities, and you're willing to fund the camera's memory card habit, then the CX12 is the high-def camcorder to have, otherwise the SR11/SR12 twins get our vote every time.