As one of the founding fathers of the AVCHD format (Panasonic is the other), you'd expect Sony to offer something special to the camcorders that carry its name. The Sony HDR-CX11E doesn't disappoint.
The Sony HDR-CX11E's key selling point is the inclusion of Face Detection and Smile Shutter - two features that can already be found in Sony's range of Cyber-shot camcorders.
Face Detection helps optimise colour, contrast and so on, so skin tones in your video footage and photos look natural (the Panasonic HDC-SD100 also includes this). Smile Shutter works with face detection to identify when a person smiles - and then takes a photo automatically. There's no need to press the shutter yourself. Video and still images are all recorded to same Memory Stick Pro Duo card, with a 4GB version included in the Sony HDR-CX11E's price.
Such niceties highlight Sony's focus on consumer-friendly features for its camcorders, the aim being to offer point-and-shoot simplicity with none of the pain and hassle. The down side is that Sony camcorders often lack the kind of features - manual focusing, electronic viewfinders and so on - that enthusiasts love. Happily, the Sony HDR-CX11E offers a decent compromise in the shape of a manual focus knob that sits below the lens.
In the hand, the Sony HDR-CX11E feels light and well balanced, the major controls - including mode selection dial - within easy to reach of fingers and thumb. The zoom control is a little too small for our tastes, but we had no problems using it in practice.
The Sony HDR-CX11E's other controls, however, seems less successful. Some are located inside the LCD cavity, while others are only accessible via software tabs on the 12.7in LCD touchscreen. Selecting a tab can be a bit hit-and-miss, while successfully choosing ones reveals further buttons to press - often with cryptic names - before you get to your menu of choice. Somehow a joystick seems simpler, quicker and easier.
Using touchscreen controls highlights another problem the Sony HDR-CX11E has, which lies with the LCD's brightness. We found it almost impossible to frame shots accurately in bright sunshine - the touchscreen menu system only serving to add to our frustration.
Luckily, the Sony HDR-CX11E fares much better when it comes to picture and sound quality. The presence of a single large CMOS image sensor helps the HDR-CX11E serve up better quality pictures than the Panasonic HD-SD100E. Sony even seems to have scaled back on its traditional tendency to over-saturate images on its camcorders, only red hues seem excessively vibrant.