Sony's HDR-CX12 HD camcorder is in the top tier of the company's consumer camcorders lineup.

Recording to a SDHC memory card, the Sony HDR-CX12 HD sports a 1/3-inch imaging sensor - a rather large size for a consumer HD camcorder - and HDMI output. It records AVCHD video at a data rate of 16Mbit per second, which is good, but not at the top of the heap.

Overall, the shooting experience with the Sony HDR-CX12 HD is quite comfortable. For manual adjustments as you shoot, Sony thoughtfully included a great control wheel.

Generally speaking, it's much faster and more natural to use an analogue wheel than it is to fiddle a little joystick or click through menus using buttons when you want to manually adjust focus, zoom, exposure, shutter speed, and so on.

The intuitive controls make it much easier to shoot in challenging situations or when you want to do more than just capture basic home movies.

The Sony HDR-CX12 HD doesn't have a viewfinder. Some may say that's a knock against the camcorder, but we think a viewfinder is an unnecessary feature. Most people who use a consumer camcorder such as the HDR-CX12 forget they even have a viewfinder. It's a waste of space.

However, what the Sony HDR-CX12 HD is sorely missing is an external microphone input that would let you connect your own mic. Without one, you're limited to the camcorder's built-in microphone or to mikes that support the Active Interface Shoe, which is on the HDR-CX12.

The onboard mic provides good quality audio and, for many, that will be enough. But if you are thinking of creating your own video podcasts and adding professional-sounding audio to your production, you need a separate mike. The Sony HDR-CX12 HD does have a Active Interface Shoe shotgun mike available (the ECM-HGZ1), but it's not enough for most podcasters.

Sony also has a wireless mike, the ECM-HW2, which uses a Bluetooth receiver that connects to the HDR-CX12's Active Interface Shoe, and a Bluetooth wireless mic with a range of about 100m.

The Sony HDR-CX12 HD also doesn't have a headphone jack. It's a bit frustrating to not be able to hear the audio that's being recorded by the camcorder at times when you need to.

The Sony HDR-CX12 HD comes with a docking base that you must use to connect to your PC to capture recorded video and charge the camera - the HDR-CX12 itself doesn't have a USB port built in. If you are on the road, this will drive you really crazy, because you have to carry the base around with you, and it's not as efficient as simply using a cable and a USB connection on the camcorder.

You can capture video directly from the Sony HDR-CX12 HD's Memory Stick with a reader, but that means you have one more thing in your bag. The dock isn't as much of an issue if you're just using the camcorder at home.

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