Sony HDR-CX12

Great HD handycam with Smile Shutter technology

Sony HDR-CX12
  • Sony HDR-CX12
  • Sony HDR-CX12
  • Sony HDR-CX12
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5


  • Excellent AVCHD video quality, good performance in dim lighting, 10.1Mp stills mode, Smile Shutter technology, camera control dial for 'hands on' adjustments


  • No inbuilt memory, not as compact as other flash memory–based models, inclusion of superfluous buttons

Bottom Line

The HDR-CX12 is a brilliant high-def handycam that is almost impossible to find fault with. It improves on its CX7K predecessor in nearly every area and is easily a match for Sony's high-end HDR-SR12 model. If you don't mind the lack of an inbuilt hard drive, it won't disappoint.

Would you buy this?

The HDR-CX12 is the latest — and shiniest — addition to Sony’s high-definition handycam range. Featuring a redesigned CMOS sensor with a gross pixel count of 5560k, a camera control dial for added manual precision, Sony’s new Smile Shutter technology for instant fuss-free photos and a 10.2-megapixel stills mode, it is one of the more consumer-friendly camcorders on the market. While the lack of an inbuilt hard drive may irk some users (instead, the CX12 records directly to Memory Stick), it remains an excellent, feature-rich model that won’t fail to impress.

Last year, we reviewed Sony’s HDR-CX7K, which this model is an updated version of. Despite looking nearly identical to its predecessor, there are many improvements to be found on the HDR-CX12, including a redesigned 1/3.13in ClearVID CMOS sensor. Built with low-light performance in mind, the sensor’s new Bionz processing chip produces a much cleaner image than Sony’s previous generation of handycams. Furthermore, its effective pixel count has been boosted from 2280K (as found on the HDR-CX7K) to 3810K. Interestingly, this makes the CX12 virtually identical to Sony’s top-of-the range HDR-SR12 E model, which sports exactly the same components.

Like its SR12E cousin, the CX12 produced some of the sharpest and most vibrant footage we have seen from a camcorder in this price range. This is bolstered considerably by the return of Sony's x.v. colour mode: a vibrancy enhancer that allegedly doubles the colour reproduction in any given image on the screen. It gave a particularly strong performance in low light, with images remaining finely detailed and relatively noise-free. When we compared our test footage to Sony’s other flash memory–based AVCHD camcorder, the HDR-TG1, the level of improvement was quite significant.

In addition to its enhanced sensor and pixel count, the CX12 offers a range of valuable improvements over its CX7K predecessor. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is the inclusion of Smile Shutter technology. Smile Shutter is a new innovation from Sony that automatically captures a still image whenever your subject smiles. We have seen this feature previously on some of Sony’s still cameras (including the Cyber-shot DSC-W110), but this is the first time it has appeared on a handycam.

With a maximum image resolution of 10.2 megapixels (Mp), the HDR-CX12 is one of the few camcorders on the market that can successfully double as a still camera — which makes it perfect for Smile Shutter. If you prefer your photos to have a candid, true-to-life feel, this feature will be indispensable.

We found the Smile Shutter mode worked pretty well, particularly when it came to close-ups and portrait shots. Whether your subject sports pearly-white teeth or coffee-stained chompers, it will deftly recognise a smile for a smile. Naturally, you can also use Smile Shutter while simultaneously recording video, although the pixel-count will be reduced to 7.6Mp (this will still be suitable for making medium-sized prints).

With its dimensions of 129x69x67mm, the HDR-CX12 isn’t the smallest flash memory–based camcorder on the market, but it remains quite portable nonetheless. It also has a fair sense of heft, which should help to keep your footage nice and steady. Navigation remains as intuitive and user-friendly as we have come to expect from Sony, although for a touch-screen camcorder it does have a surprising number of buttons (the majority of which are replicated on the LCD screen).

Rounding out the package is the usual range of Sony modes and features, including four white balance modes, adjustable focus and exposure, Tele Macro options, a touch-screen Spot Focus mode, digital and picture effects, Smooth Slow Recording and Face Detection technology. Handily, a camera control dial is also included to the left of the lens, allowing you to quickly adjust focus and brightness levels on the fly.

All up, we have very little to say against the HDR-CX12. It marries impressive high-def visuals to a slew of user-friendly features — all at a semi-affordable price. The inclusion of Smile Shutter technology and a camera control dial make it a worthy successor to the HDR-CX7K.

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