The Sony Handycam HDR-CX12E camcorder, a cousin of the hard-disk-based , delivers the same mid-level feature set and excellent high-definition video quality in a more compact body that instead records to Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo flash media.
The CX12E is available for around £700.
The gentle upwards curve towards the back leaves your forefinger in a comfortable position to operate the power/mode switch, zoom switch and photo button. It's an improvement on the typical all-one-height design of many flash models. Also on top, towards the front, is the Active Interface Shoe with a sliding cover and the 5-channel microphone.
One disadvantage of the smaller size of the flash model versus the hard-disk-based models is that the LCD is smaller. The CX12E's 69mm (2.7-inch) widescreen LCD isn't nearly as good, especially for touchscreen operation, as the 81mm (3.2-inch) version on the SR-series models. It has the same controls on the bezel, though, for zooming, recording and calling up one of the two menu systems.
On the camcorder body, beneath the LCD, Sony hides the backlight compensation, easy (full auto), info display and play buttons, as well as the NightShot switch for toggling the company's infrared shooting mode. A small door on the bottom covers the media slot.
Behind a plastic door on the back are a mini-HDMI connector and proprietary connector for component output. Sony bundles a component cable in the box, but as is often the case, doesn't include an HDMI cable.
A quick-on button cuts the camcorder's start-up time -- with a partly full 4GB card, it dropped from about 5 seconds to 2 seconds. The battery, which fits into a depression beneath the power/mode switch, is relatively large for such a small camcorder, but doesn't protrude too much.
Unfortunately, the CX12E's svelte design means there's no room for a video light, eye-level viewfinder, or headphone and mic input jacks. Nor is there an onboard USB connector -- you've got to dock in the bundled Handycam Station for that.
The 12x zoom lens has a good electronic lens cover, with a photo flash mounted next to it. Just below is the CAM CTL dial. It has a button on the front of it that lets you activate manual focus, exposure compensation, white balance shift or shutter speed, although you can only assign one such function to the wheel at any given time. You assign the function by holding the button down for a few seconds and choosing from the pop-up menu. It's not terribly obvious -- you've may have to read the documentation to figure it out. The dial works quite well, however, for manually focusing.
For those who lack the tweak-everything gene, Sony includes some of its veteran automation technologies, including face detection with Smile Shutter (for stills only) and D-Range Optimizer. There's also the required handful of scene modes. For more on the CX12E's features and operation, .
There's no built-in memory -- that's fine by us, since memory prices fluctuate so much that it doesn't make sense to pay for its inclusion -- but Sony includes a 4GB card in the box. That can hold about 25 minutes of best-quality video: 16Mbps 1,920x1,080/60i AVCHD format. The camcorder supports several lower HD quality levels of 1,440x1,080/60i as well as three standard-definition options.
Overall, the CX12E performs fairly well. Although there's some pulsing in the focus lock in low light, it's no worse than is the case with most competitors. Otherwise, autofocus works quickly and accurately. The zoom operates smoothly, and it's easy to maintain a steady pace. And the SteadyShot optical stabiliser, as always, does a good job of minimising jitter all the way out to the end of the zoom range.