camcorders

Sony Handycam HDR-CX12 Camcorder Review

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Performance

Video Performance* (10.25)*

The Sony HDR-CX12 comes equipped with a single 1/3.3-inch CMOS sensor. This is the same chip as the Sony HDR-SR11 and HDR-SR12, but significantly larger than the 1/5-inch CMOS in its DVD-based cousin, the Sony HDR-UX20. The gross pixel count on the CX12's sensor is 5,660,000. The effective pixel count is 3,810,000.

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Sony HDR-CX12 at 3000 lux in auto mode
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Canon HF11 **at 3000 lux in auto mode
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Samsung SC-HMX20 **at 3000 lux in auto mode

Overall, the HDR-CX12 produced a great looking image. The colors are strong without being too saturated (for a consumer camcorder, at least). The colors look very similar to last year's HDR-CX7—the CX12's predecessor. The picture is identical to the HDR-SR12. We were also impressed with the sharpness. Every bit of fine detail was rendered smooth and clean. We loved the SR12, and we love the performance from the CX12. The sharpness of the Sonys couldn't quite match the Canon HF10 and HF11, but the Sonys had noticeably less noise than the Canons. We liked the color on all these camcorders, though the Canon showed a bit more saturation. And Canon cannot be beat for sharpness by anyone this year, except the anomalous Samsung SC-HMX20—the surprise killer for 2008.

Out of lab, the Sony HDR-CX12 performed very well. The sharpness was good, though not quite matching the Canon HF11. The Canon produced more noticeable noise than the Sony, which is certainly a point in Sony's favor. However, when we put the charts and ad hoc footage side by side, it was impossible not to side with the Canon. The Canon HF11's video is sharper and has a generally better looking color, particularly in the midtones. This is not to say that the Sony CX12 is a slacker—far from it. The CX12, along with the Sony HDR-SR12, are exceptional performers in their own right. If you're a Sony loyalist, or if you just don't like Canon, you can purchase these Sonys with confidence.

Video Resolution* (18.75)*

The video resolution was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. The playback footage is then analyzed on an HD monitor. We found the Sony HDR-CX12 to produce an approximate horizontal resolution of 625 line widths. The vertical resolution measured approximately 600 line widths.

This score, not surprisingly, is the same as the cousin model, the Sony HDR-SR12.

Low Light Performance* (4.77)*

The low light performance of the Sony HDR-CX12 was tested in three stages: comparative analysis, sensitivity, and color accuracy/noise/saturation testing. Stage 1: Comparative analysis. We shoot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compare the results with similar camcorders that have come through our labs.

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Sony HDR-CX12 at 60 lux*in auto mode*
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Canon HF11 at 60 lux*in auto mode*
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Samsung SC-HMX20 at 60 lux*in auto mode*

At 60 lux, the chart looked quite good. The visible noise was relatively low, and nearly all of the fine detail on the chart was still visible. Comparatively, the Canon HF11 at 1080/60i is a bit darker. Of course, Canon has a major advantage in its ability to record at 1080/30P and 24P, while Sony only offers 60i. Canon's alternate frame rates produce some amazing results in low light, which factor very clearly into its final score for this section of the review.

Under the same 60 lux conditions, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 is brighter, but lacks the color saturation and strength that we see in the Sony and Canons. The Samsung SC-HMX20 is a little brighter than the Sony HDR-CX12, and arguably better looking color. In fact, the Samsung's colors tested more accurately according to our software tests (discussed below), but the Sony's increased saturation may appeal to more people.

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Sony HDR-CX12 at 15 lux*in auto mode*

At 15 lux, the Sony HDR-CX12 lost a lot of color and saw a substantial increase in noise, which is to be expected in even very good camcorders. Under this low light, the Canon HF11 was better in all of its frame rates. The Samsung SC-HMX20 was also better. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 was the dimmest.

The second stage of testing examines color accuracy, noise, and saturation. We shoot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then export frame grabs to Imatest imaging software. According to Imatest, the Sony HDR-CX12 produced a color error of 11.5. This score was statistically identical to its cousin model, the Sony HDR-SR12 (no surprises there). This score was a little better than the Canon HF11, and much better than the Panasonic HDC-HS100. The leader in color accuracy was the Samsung SC-HMX20.

The noise from the Sony HDR-CX12 measured approximately 1.0925%. Again, the score was very similar to the Sony HDR-SR12. The Canon HF11 was much noisier—something we were able to confirm with our eyes. The Samsung SC-HMX20 produced about the same amount of noise as the Sony CX12. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 produced the best score in this test. Finally, the Sony HDR-CX12 produced a saturation level of 69.69%.

The final stage of the test examines sensitivity. We slowly and steadily lower the light while the camcorder is attached to a waveform monitor, which determines exposure (expressed in IREs). The light is lowered until the camcorder is producing a peak of 50 IRE. Ultimately, the Sony HDR-CX12 was able to produce 50 IRE at 14 lux. This was identical to the Sony HDR-SR12.

Comparatively, the Canon HF11 only required 10 lux of light to produce the same exposure levels. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 required 16 lux, and the Samsung SC-HMX20 was simply amazing, requiring only 5 lux.

Overall, the low light performance of the Sony HDR-CX12 was excellent, making a strong case for the CX12 in your camera bag.

Stabilization* (7.5)*

The Sony HDR-CX12 is equipped with the SteadyShot optical image stabilization (OIS) system. We tested the effectiveness of the system using our special shake device. At speed 1, which roughly approximates standard hand shake, we found that the camcorder's OIS reduced visible shake by 75%. At speed 2, a shake closer to something you'd experience in a moving car, the shake reduction was 75%.

These scores were statistically identical to the Sony HDR-SR12. This makes sense, as both have a similar size and body shape, as well as an identical stabilization system.

Wide Angle* (9.8)*

The wide angle of the Sony HDR-CX12 was measured at 49 degrees.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sony HDR-CX12, take a look at these other camcorders.

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Auto / Manual Controls
  4. Still Features
  5. Handling and Use
  6. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  7. Other Features
  8. Conclusion & Comparisons
  9. Photo Gallery