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Sony Mavica CD1000

Sony packs a 156 megabyte CD-R into a 2 megapixel Mavica. (Wow!)

Review First Posted: 7/17/2000




MSRP $1299 US

 

*
2.1 megapixel CCD, up to 1600x1200 images
*
10x optical , 2x digital zoom
*
Records movies with sound
*
JPEG, GIF, TIFF, and MPEG file formats
 * Built-in CD-R for 156 megabytes of image storage!

Manufacturer Overview
More than any other single company, Sony has dominated the digital camera market the last few years, thanks in large part to the easy computer interfacing offered by their Mavica(tm) line of floppy-disk based cameras. They've also been active at the high end of the market, with products like the DSC-D770 and DSC-F505, which caught the eye of many pros and advanced amateurs for their excellent optics and exposure control.

This spring (February, 2000), Sony stunned the digicam world by announcing no fewer than six new models. Part of this was a significant extension of their Mavica line, bringing the higher end up to the 2 megapixel resolution range, while incorporating a number of enhancements in the basic camera electronics and signal processing as well. This resulted in a significant improvement in image quality and flexibility relative to the prior Mavica models, but the chore of packing 2.1 megapixel files onto 1.44 megabyte floppy disks meant some tradeoff in image sharpness (lots of JPEG compression), coupled with a capacity of only 4 maximum-resolution images per floppy.

Now, Sony's rocked the digicam world again, by incorporating a 3-inch (77mm) CD-R drive into a Mavica body, providing 156 megabytes of removable, archival storage, in a format that's compatible with just about every consumer computer on the market today. The increased capacity has also given Sony the breathing room they needed to really maximize the image quality achievable with their 2.1 megapixel sensor and excellent signal-processing electronics. By allowing much lower levels of JPEG compression (and even an uncompressed TIFF storage mode), the new MVC-CD1000 is finally a Mavica that takes a back seat to no competitor in terms of image quality.

Earlier this year, we were fortunate to receive one of the very first CD1000 Mavicas in the country, and wrote up our experiences with it in our First Look report. Now, we've fleshed out our coverage into a full review of the camera, including our usual panoply of test images, shot under a wide variety of standardized conditions. Read on for all the details on what we called "the most significant digicam development in the last year!"


Highlights


Executive Overview
The arrival of Sony's new Mavica CD1000 is quite possibly one of the most exciting events in the digicam world and probably the biggest news we've heard over the past few months. Building on the already impressive design of the MVC-FD95, Sony simply substituted a three inch CD-R drive for the 3.5 inch floppy drive - vastly increasing the camera's image capacity. Picking up where the floppy-based Mavica line seemed about to leave off, Sony continued with the "no cables" appeal of the Mavicas while integrating the much more versatile CD-R technology. The new drive gives the CD1000 156 megabytes of removable (yet archivable) storage capacity, far surpassing the 1.44 megabyte capacity of the 3.5 inch floppies. Combine this with the abundant features, 2.1 megapixel CCD and 12 bit digitization, and you have what we consider the "Ultimate Mavica."

As with the previous Mavica camera designs, the CD1000 seems like quite a handful at first glance. But the larger size, which accommodates the 10x zoom lens and three inch CD-R drive, is actually lighter than you might think, weighing just 35 ounces (990g). With image storage on the three inch CDs, you're free from the hassles of cables, download software and compatibility issues (although an included USB cable and output jack give you the option of connecting to computers without compatible drives). As we mentioned earlier, the CD1000 comprises essentially the same camera design as the MVC-FD95 (but with a slight rearrangement in control layout to compensate for the hinged rear panel that accesses the CD-R drive), so we'll just give a brief rundown of the camera's features here.

Like the FD91 and the FD95, the MVC-CD1000's "optical" viewfinder is actually a smaller version of the rear LCD monitor, complete with information display and menus. The "optical" viewfinder uses a tiny (and lower-power) LCD screen to show you what the camera's seeing (a little like an "electronic SLR" or single-lens reflex). We like the idea of being able to see the exposure settings, flash, etc. in the viewfinder, but we continue to find it a little difficult to navigate the menu system with your face so close to the camera, preferring the larger LCD monitor for those tasks. The MVC-CD1000 offers a 10x optical zoom with its 6 to 60mm lens (equivalent to a 39 to 390mm lens on a 35mm camera). The lens also features Sony's remarkably effective "Steady Shot" system that helps you hold the image steady when you're shooting at such long focal lengths. Focus ranges from 9.8 inches (25 cm) to infinity in normal mode and from an amazing 0.8 to 9.8 inches (2.0 to 25 cm) in Macro mode. Apertures range from a very fast f/2.8 to f/11. There's even a manual focus mode, where you can focus the lens by hand, using the ridged focus ring on the end of the lens, just like traditional manual focus lenses for film-based cameras.

Although there's no full manual control, Sony does give you both Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority exposure modes. In both, you select one value while the camera chooses the most appropriate corresponding one. There's also a Twilight and Twilight Plus mode that extends low-light performance (although not to true night-photography levels: use Shutter Priority mode for that), and a full Program AE for when you want the camera to do all the work. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and Panfocus allows you to quickly change focus from far away to close-up subjects. Both modes are perfect for fast action shooting situations when you don't have time to wait for the autofocus system. We were glad to see the inclusion of a manual (One-Push, as they call it) white balance mode in addition to the standard Automatic, Indoors and Outdoors options. We also appreciated the spot metering option, which gives you greater flexibility over your exposure in those high contrast situations. The on-board pop-up flash gives you some added control as well, letting you set its intensity level. When combined with one of the semi-manual modes and the capability of connecting an external flash, you have a good bit of control over flash exposure. There's also a sharpness control and an entire menu of picture effects, which lets you shoot images in black and white or sepia monotones, with a solarized effect or as negative art.

Aside from the traditional still capture mode, the MVC-CD1000 has a movie option that lets you record up to 60 seconds of images and sound in a 160 x 112 pixel size and up to 15 seconds at a 320 x 240 size. (Sorry, movie length is limited by onboard memory, which means that the vast capacity of the CD-R doesn't increase the length of movie you can record. - You just get to store that many more of them on a single disk.) Movies are recorded as MPEG files and most of the same exposure options are available as with still images. Additionally, you can record up to 40 second sound bytes to accompany your still images. Under the capture mode menu, the MVC-CD1000 gives you the added option of recording still images as black and white GIFs (good for capturing text or white boards) or e-mail compliant images (320 x 240 size for easier e-mail transmission) at the same time as higher-resolution ones. There's even an uncompressed TIFF option for the 1600 x 1200 and 1600 (3:2) image sizes.

The most exciting feature of the CD1000 is its ability to store images to a three inch (77mm) CD, which offers up to 156 megabytes of image storage. This makes it really easy for users to transfer images to a computer. Simply "finish" the CD, pop it out of the camera, and insert it into your computer's CD drive. If your computer's CD drive won't accept the smaller CD-Rs the CD1000 uses, Sony includes an "adapter donut" that you can clip onto the CD to make it the same size as a normal one. There's no cabling to figure out and you don't have to worry about using the AC adapter while downloading to save battery power. The camera does come with a USB cable for downloading images directly from the camera when you don't want to lose the disk capacity associated with "finishing" the CD. Also packaged with the camera are Sony's Picture Gear Lite and MGI's PhotoSuite and VideoWave, all compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems (except for Picture Gear Lite, which is Windows based). Picture Gear Lite simply allows you to manage and organize images, while PhotoStudio provides image correction and manipulation tools (complete with fun templates and creative image enhancement filters). VideoWave provides similar utilities for your MPEG movies, with the added ability to perform minor editing and add titles or music.

For power, the MVC-CD1000 runs on Sony InfoLITHIUM NP-F550 rechargeable battery packs. What's great about the InfoLITHIUM system is that the battery communicates with the camera about its power consumption. This appears to you as remaining battery time in minutes displayed on the LCD next to a battery symbol. The camera has an auto power-off option which shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity. This is great from a battery conservation standpoint, but we'd like to be able to adjust the timer somehow.

We already heartily approved of the MVC-FD95's flexible and creative exposure options and very nice image quality. In the MVC-CD1000, we see all the features we loved about the MVC-FD95 with the very exciting bonus of a CD-R drive for image storage. This revolutionary camera now provides what seems like infinite amounts of image storage (when compared to the 1.44 megabyte floppy disk) while continuing the hassle-free, "no cables" popularity of the Mavica line. Even more significantly, the enormous capacity of the CD-R has allowed Sony to use much more conservative JPEG image compression, resulting in a significant improvement in sharpness and image quality. Considering the Mavica line's impressive dominance of the digital camera marketplace during the past couple of years, we're certain that the advancement of the CD1000 model will continue in the Mavica footsteps and spark a new trend in the ever-changing digicam world.


Design
As we pointed out in our original "First Look" review, Sony basically took the existing Mavica FD95 design and replaced the 3.5 inch floppy drive with a new CD-R drive, accommodating three inch (77 mm) CD-Rs. Therefore, the two cameras are nearly identical as far as body, electronics, controls and the majority of the operating menus are concerned. Aside from being an ultra-cool new toy to play with, the CD-R design provides enormous storage capacity, with 156 megabytes of space on each removable disk. We were already pleased with the performance of the FD95, and, in our humble opinion, the addition of the CD-R drive makes the CD1000 one of the most important digicam developments we've seen in the last year.

Weighing in at 35 ounces (990 g), including the battery pack, the CD1000 is just one ounce heavier than the preceding FD95 model. The camera's overall dimensions are 5.5 x 5.25 x 8.37 inches (137 x 131 x 212 mm), again, only slightly larger than the FD95. While the CD1000 won't easily slip into your coat pocket, (the size must accommodate the three inch CD-Rs and the very long-ratio zoom lens), the freedom conveyed by the CD-R technology and the camera's bountiful features easily make up for any inconvenience in size. Besides, the accompanying neck strap should quickly ease any portability woes.

Although we stated that the camera body, electronics and controls are essentially the same as the FD95, some things have been rearranged to make room for the CD-R drive and the hinged camera back. Thus, we'll take our usual "virtual walk around the camera" and have a look at the actual control layout.



From the front, the view is almost identical to the FD95, although the right side of the new model bulges a bit more to provide the diameter needed for the CD-R housing. You can't tell in this shot, but the handgrip on the CD1000 is slightly smaller than that on the FD95. The bulge on the left and bottom sides at the end of the lens houses the Steady Shot anti-vibration system used to reduce the effects of camera shake at long telephoto settings. This has been a feature of the top-end Mavicas since the FD91, although we think the Steady Shot system on the new FD95 and CD1000 is considerably more effective. (We haven't been able to test one of the new units side by side with an FD91, this is just our impression based on our recollection of the FD91's performance.)



The handgrip side of the camera is quite plain. On the older Mavica models, the handgrip also contained the opening for the floppy drive. Now it simply serves as the handgrip alone, accommodating the battery compartment which loads from the bottom of the camera. This view also shows the much-elongated top-mounted viewfinder of the CD1000. The new design is apparently to accommodate control buttons located on the other side.



On the opposite side of the camera are the majority of the controls, including the door latch for the CD-R drive. (The drive lives behind the camera's rear panel.) The Program AE, +/- buttons, and white balance controls have moved up from their positions on the FD95, and now live on the side of the viewfinder assembly. The A/V port has moved down to the bottom, underneath the lens barrel, while the external flash connector from the top of the FD95 has moved to just above the rear cover latch.



Many of the controls still remain on the back of the camera, although they've all moved above the LCD display screen. The "Display" button turns the information overlay for the LCD viewfinder on and off, while the "LCD" button does the same for the entire rear-panel LCD itself. (The tiny LCD that drives the "optical" viewfinder remains on at all times.) Also back here are controls for speaker volume, flash mode, spot metering, and macro mode. Menu navigation is controlled by a hemispherical rocker toggle control at upper right. The mode dial formerly on the back has moved to the top, and the power on/off switch is now on the right, where the floppy eject button was on the FD95. Additionally, the dioptric adjustment lever for the "optical" viewfinder has moved from the control side of the camera to a practically hidden spot underneath the eyepiece (we had to hunt to find it).



The top of the camera holds the mode control on the right, where it's easily reached by your right thumb. The shutter button is in the usual place, and the microphone has been moved atop the slanting front of the viewfinder assembly. The onboard flash and flash shoe mount round out the complement of top-panel accouterments.



The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment cover, tripod mount, and (to either side of the tripod mount) side-mounted ports for A/V output and digital I/O (USB). Our one real complaint about the design of the CD1000, shared in common with the FD91 and FD95, is that the bottom really has too little flat area around the tripod socket. (Which at least is made of metal, to give credit where due.) This tiny footprint makes for a very unsteady tripod mount, which is all the more regrettable because it could have so easily been avoided: There's absolutely no reason (other than design aesthetic) for the tripod platform to be so tiny: It could easily have extended at least another half-inch or so in all directions, which would have dramatically improved tripod stability. (I guess we have to find one thing to dislike on every camera, and this is it for us on the CD-1000.)



We're not used to providing inside views of cameras we review, this is some kind of a first: Here are two views of the CD compartment, both with and without a CD in place. The entire back of the camera hinges open to provide access to the CD spindle.

As part of making the CD-R work in a handheld environment, we noticed that the Sony engineers have provided a very compliant mount for the CD: The whole mechanism "floats" on what feels like a stiff rubber suspension system, to reduce the effect of vibration while reading or writing the drive. It's not terribly clear in this shot, but the floating portion of the mechanism is the black-colored area on the right side of the compartment. We confess that the drive is the area of our greatest concern on the CD1000: CD-R technology requires fantastically close tolerances and precise head control. It made us a little nervous every time we inserted or removed a CD, with our fingers so close to the lens mechanism. Still, while we weren't overly rough with it (pretty darn cautious, given that this was one of only a few units in the world at the time of our initial testing), we found that the camera seemed to have no problems writing, even with pretty substantial amounts of handheld jiggling during the process. (I mean, we really tried to make it mis-write, but never succeeded, even when rapping it firmly on the top, sides, bottom, and back with our hand while it was writing a file. - Nary a problem.)


Viewfinder
Similar to the FD91 and FD95 models, the MVC-CD1000 offers both a rear LCD panel and "optical" viewfinder that's perhaps more accurately called an "eyelevel" finder. The "optical" viewfinder actually uses a tiny (and lower-power) LCD screen to show you what the camera's seeing. Sort of an "electronic SLR" (single-lens reflex). What makes the "optical" viewfinder interesting is the internal information display, which is identical to that of the LCD monitor (complete with navigable menus). The idea of being able to see the exposure settings in the viewfinder is a good one, but navigating the menus through this small viewfinder is a bit of a trick (one we weren't able to easily do). We found it much easier to simply switch on the LCD monitor when we needed to change menu options. The optical viewfinder does feature a dioptric adjustment dial on the underside of the eyepiece, which should make things easier for eyeglass wearers. The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is turned on and off by the LCD On/Off button directly above it, and the information display is controlled by the Display button on the left side of the monitor.

The advantage of an eye-level viewfinder, as provided by the "optical" viewfinder is that it both promotes a more secure camera grip (arms clamped to your sides, camera body braced against your face) that helps with long telephoto and low-light shots. It also provides a more natural "look & shoot" operation than when you're forced to rely on a rear-panel LCD display. The downside of having the "optical" viewfinder be electronically drive though, is that you're left with no usable viewfinder option when the light levels get really low: The MVC-CD1000 has excellent low-light capability, and in fact can shoot in conditions about as dark as you're likely to be able to see in. The electronic viewfinder system needs much more light to operate though, meaning that you'll have to either look at the finished shot and readjust the framing as needed, or just shoot at a wider-angle setting than otherwise, and hope to get all of the subject in the frame. We'd really like to see at least some option for optical alignment of the camera, even if only a "gunsight" sort of device that could attach to the accessory shoe. (Are any of you third-party manufacturers out there listening? - This could be a nifty add-on gadget for CD1000 (and FD95) owners!)

We found both of the MVC-CD1000's viewfinders just a bit "tight", meaning that they show less of the subject than appears in the final image. Framing with the optical viewfinder resulted in about 92 percent accuracy at wide-angle and about 94 percent at the telephoto setting, for all four image sizes. Interestingly, the LCD monitor proved to be a little less accurate, which is surprising given that the optical viewfinder is basically a smaller version of the LCD. The LCD monitor resulted in about 91 percent frame accuracy at wide-angle, and about 92 percent at telephoto for all four image sizes (we usually like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent as possible).


Optics
The MVC-CD1000 is equipped with a 10x, 6 to 60 mm lens (equivalent to a 39 to 390mm lens on a 35mm camera). The CD1000 also boasts the surprisingly effective Steady Shot anti-vibration system, which increases your chances of being able to hand-hold exposures with the long 10x telephoto. (The rule of thumb in the film-camera world has always been that you should use a shutter speed of one divided by the focal length of your lens in millimeters, to avoid blur from camera shake. Thus, for a 400 mm lens, you should use a shutter speed of at least 1/400.) As we discovered with the FD91 and FD95, the Steady Shot system does an excellent job of steadying the image in the viewfinder when working at the maximum telephoto setting. While we don't have any objective way to measure how effective the Steady Shot system is, our distinct impression was that like that of the FD95, the CD1000's Steady Shot system is significantly improved over that of the earlier FD91: It really does provide an amazing reduction in the amount of camera shake that makes it through to the CCD!

With a maximum aperture of f/2.8, the CD1000's lens is quite "fast," great for sports and other action shots (the larger aperture letting in more light, and permitting a faster shutter speed), as well as providing an option for isolating your subjects with a shallower depth of field. The lens has 52mm filter threads, which allow you to attach specialty filters and auxiliary lenses. The 2x digital telephoto can be turned on and off through the record menu, and effectively extends the camera's zoom range to 20x. However, quality is always an issue with digital telephoto, as the camera is simply enlarging the center portion of the image and thereby decreasing the image quality (which shows up as higher noise levels or softer resolution). Focus ranges from 9.8 inches (25 cm) to infinity in normal mode and from 0.8 to 9.8 inches (2.0 to 25 cm) in macro mode. Macro mode is controlled by the Macro button on the rear panel of the camera. The MVC-CD1000 performs very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 0.73 x 0.55 inches (18.57 x 13.93 mm). We did notice some barrel distortion in the image at the maximum macro setting, but nothing too extreme. Because the camera's very long lens barrel effectively blocks the flash at such a close range, the onboard flash won't work for extreme macro shots. Regardless, the MVC-CD1000 did a great job in our macro test.

Focus can be manually or automatically controlled, simply by sliding the Focus switch on the same side of the camera (next to the Macro button). Once in manual focus, you control focus by turning the ridged focus ring at the end of the lens. When you do so, the LCD viewfinder immediately switches to a 2x enlarged view, which helps you determine whether you've achieved proper focus or not. When in autofocus mode, the camera continuously sets the focus. The camera lets you know when images are in focus and when the exposure is locked through indicators on the display. When the green circle is solid, the camera is ready to snap the picture.

After we tested the earlier MVC-FD95, we heard from a number of early purchasers of that camera. A complaint many voiced was the cameras tendency to "freeze" the viewfinder display whenever the shutter button is pressed, or when the manual focus bezel is moved. Based on the same optics and camera electronics, the MVC-CD1000 shares this behavior. This is in fact a significant issue when shooting action subjects, as a lot can happen while the display is either frozen or transitioning between modes. Without special handling, this makes the camera of decidedly less value in shooting sports action and other fast-changing subjects. We did find a bit of a workaround to this problem though: It turns out if you just hold the shutter button half-pressed in manual focus mode, the display will revert to normal size, yet you can continue to operate the focus ring manually to follow the action. The on-screen distance display continues to show the distance in real-time, which can help you get the right focus in spite of the smaller screen display. This is still a trifle inconvenient (you have to keep your finger gently pressing the shutter button), but it does seem workable. In a note to the Sony engineers, it'd be nice to have a setup menu option to disable the jump to 2x size when you twiddle the manual focus adjustment. Likewise, why must the display freeze when you push the shutter button? - It sure would be nice if it could stay "live"...

The camera's Aperture Priority mode allows you to manually select the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/11 in 1/2-stop increments, while the camera selects the appropriate corresponding shutter speed. Two quick focus modes, Landscape and Panfocus, allow you to preset specific focal distances for fast shooting situations. Landscape sets focus at infinity for far away subjects and Panfocus allows you to change focus quickly from close-up to far away subjects. We can see how these modes would be helpful at kids' soccer games and other sporting events, when the fast paced action doesn't give you much time to fool with focus.

In our testing, we found slight to moderate geometric distortion at the wide angle end of the lens range, as we measured about 0.4 percent barrel distortion. However, we found virtually no pincushion distortion at the telephoto end (at least none that we could effectively measure). Chromatic aberration was moderate, showing about two pixels of coloration on each side of the black resolution target corner elements. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target). There is also some lens flare in the corners of the image in telephoto mode. Overall, an excellent performance for a lens with such a wide zoom ratio. (Surprisingly, barrel distortion was lower than we measured on the earlier FD95, even though the same lens is used on both cameras, as far as we know.)


Exposure
With its variety of Program AE modes, the MVC-CD1000 gives you a fair amount of exposure control, although it doesn't offer the full manual control that we'd like to see on a high end camera of this sort. In addition to the standard Automatic exposure mode which controls both aperture and shutter speed, the MVC-CD1000 offers Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape and Panfocus exposure modes. Both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over the corresponding setting while the camera controls the other. As we mentioned earlier, aperture can be manually set from f/2.8 to f/11 and shutter speed spans from eight to 1/500 seconds. Manually-selected aperture values are in 1/2 f-stop increments, while the shutter speed step size varies as a function of the speed range you're working in. At very long shutter times, the steps are in full-stop (2x) increments, while at very high speeds, they're in half-stop increments. In the critical mid-range, speeds of 1/60, 1/90, 1/100, 1/125, and 1/180 are offered, giving approximately third-stop increments. The Twilight modes simply adjust the aperture and shutter speed for dark settings like night skylines and fireworks. Normal Twilight mode sets the exposure system to somewhat underexpose the image, so bright lights, the sunset, neon signs, etc won't wash out, but retain their full color. Twilight Plus makes less exposure adjustment, but boosts light sensitivity for taking pictures under darker conditions. As mentioned above, Landscape and Panfocus modes apparently only affect the lens focus, although Panfocus apparently also chooses a smaller lens aperture for greater depth of field.

When shooting in Program AE, you do have control over the exposure compensation through the display menu. You can adjust the exposure from -2.0 to +2.0 EV in 1/3 EV increments. (Each full EV unit corresponds to a doubling of halving of the exposure.) White balance is also easily controlled, by a button on the side of the camera, with options for Automatic, One-Push, Outdoor and Indoor. One-Push lets you manually adjust the white balance by placing a white card in front of the lens and pressing the manual adjustment button until the white value is set. We liked the inclusion of the spot metering mode, which takes the exposure values from the very center of the composition as opposed to averaging values from the entire image. Spot metering is useful for high contrast subjects, where you'd rather have the exposure set for a specific highlight or dark area. A self-timer (accessible through the on-screen menu) gives you a 10 second countdown on the LCD monitor, complete with an audible beep, after the shutter button is fully pressed. There's also a sharpness setting through the capture menu, which allows you to adjust the image sharpness from -2 to +2 levels, although we found differences between sharpness settings to be very subtle.

The CD1000's low-light performance is one of the areas of most dramatic improvement relative to previous Mavica models. In our testing, the camera's Automatic and Twilight exposure modes didn't do extremely well in low light situations (we got barely useable images at 0.5 foot candles, or roughly 5.5 lux), but this was still a drastic improvement over earlier models. We saw the best results when using the Shutter Priority mode, which gave us useable images as low as 1/16 foot candles, or only 0.13 lux (although the image was relatively dark, there's still a good amount of detail). This is really extraordinarily dark, and the CD1000 does as well or better in this category than the vast majority of digicams currently on the market. (June, 2000)

We suspect the exceptional low light performance of the CD1000 has much to do with its 12-bit digitization (most digicams use only 8 or 10-bit digitization). The 12-bit A/D (analog/digital) conversion of the CD1000 also shows up at the other extreme of the tonal range as well: We found that the CD1000 did an unusually good job of preserving detail in strong highlights, as seen in our outdoor portrait test shot, taken under direct sun, and in the strong highlight on the front of the house in our far-field test. The CD1000 showed really exceptional tonal range across the board.


Flash
The MVC-CD1000 is equipped with a handy pop-up flash that Sony rates as effective from 2.7 to 8.3 feet (0.6 to 2.5 m). A flash button on the back panel of the camera cycles through Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed flash modes. You can adjust the flash intensity through the capture menu, with options for High, Normal and Low. We like this flexibility, especially when combined with the Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. By playing with the flash intensity and other exposure settings, we found we could achieve a fair bit of control over the final images, using the flash for "fill" illumination in otherwise brightly-lit situations.

The MVC-CD1000 does have an external flash sync terminal and an accessory shoe mount on top of the camera, and we did try some shots with an external flash unit. At first we were puzzled by the very poor results we obtained--the flash apparently was fooled by the white wall behind the model and thus underexposed everything no matter what setting we used. We later learned to put a small piece of neutral-density gel over the external flash's sensor in high-key settings like this, which produced better looking, much brighter shots. Unfortunately, we learned this trick with another Sony camera, after we had sent the MVC-CD1000 test unit back, so we didn't manage to shoot any good examples of our standard indoor flash portrait test.


Movie Mode
Sony once again included the popular movie mode on the CD1000, which allows you to record both images and sound. You can record up to 60 seconds at the 160 x 112 size and up to 15 seconds at 320 x 240. Within these time frames, the camera records both image and sound as long as you hold down the shutter button. If you just press the shutter button momentarily, the camera records for 5, 10, or 15 seconds, as determined by the Record Time setting on the File menu. Movies are recorded as MPEG files and you have the same amount of exposure control as with still images. Another nice feature is that you can operate the zoom control while recording movies, for more cinematic effects.

A frequent question we've had from readers of our First Look review of the CD1000 has to do with maximum movie duration: The enormously greater storage space available on the CD-R has led many to ask whether that translates into longer movie recording time. Alas no, the movie duration is set by the CD1000's internal RAM memory, so maximum record times are the same as on the FD95. Of course, more storage space does mean you can record a lot more movies per disk, but none of them will be longer than 15 seconds in 320x240 mode, or 60 seconds at 160x112.


Special Record Modes
The MVC-CD1000 also features some additional recording modes for still images. The E-Mail option records a still image at the 320 x 240 JPEG size for easy e-mail transmission, in addition to a full-resolution one, at whatever image size you've selected in the menu system. This lets you capture full-resolution images to keep, while at the same time getting smaller versions that you can just drop into an email to share with others. The Voice option lets you record a sound byte to accompany a still image (up to 40 seconds). Finally, the Text mode records a black and white GIF-formatted image file, perfect for recording meeting notes or whiteboards. The GIF format records a high-resolution black/white image with a great deal of compression (that is, the resulting images take up very little memory space), but the penalty paid is the very long processing time required to reduce the full-color image captured by the CCD to the GIF format. (25 seconds or more for a full-resolution image.) Finally, a TIFF mode lets you capture high quality, uncompressed images at the 1600 x 1200 and 1600 (3:2) image sizes.


Picture Effects
A playful feature also carried over from some of Sony's other digicams, the Picture Effect option in the capture menu lets you get a little creative when composing images. Negative Art reverses the color and brightness of the image. Sepia and Black & White change the image into monochromatic tones. Solarize clarifies the light intensity of the image, making it look more like an illustration. Note that these options are "live" in record mode, so you get a preview of the effect on the LCD monitor before you snap the image and they add a little fun to your shooting.


Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it with an electronic test setup. Likewise, we measure and report on how quickly the camera can take sequential exposures in various capture modes.



Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
n/a
(Sorry, neglected to measure this one in the short time we had the camera. FD95 was 7.9 seconds.)
Shutdown
~0 - 40
No lens retraction to wait for, meaning zero shutdown normally. Max time is time until CD-R finishes writing a TIFF-mode image.
Play to Record, first shot
1.0 - 1.9
Time is delay until first shot captured. Shorter time is with manual focus, longer is for autofocus.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.4, 8.8, 21.0
Shortest time is for image already processed to floppy. Longer is for high res JPEG image just captured. Longest is for text-mode image just captured.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.90
Typical to slightly slower than average.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.58
About average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.22
Fairly typical for cameras we've tested. (Prefocus means half-pressed shutter before shot.)



Like the FD95 it was based on, the CD1000 is fairly typical of digicams we've tested, slightly slower than average in its shutter lag timing in full autofocus mode (0.9 vs roughly 0.8 on average), and about average when prefocused or manually focused. As noted in the "Exposure" section earlier, the CD1000 does have an annoying characteristic in that the viewfinder display freezes momentarily whenever the shutter button is half-pressed. We did find though, that holding the shutter half-pressed (possibly in conjunction with manual focus operation) provided a potential workaround.

From shot to shot, the CD1000 is a bit slower than the fastest digicams, but faster than the floppy-based FD95, and quite surprisingly fast, considering that the CD-R has to spin up and stabilize for every shot recorded. The net result is shot-to-shot cycle times of only 5 seconds in maximum resolution mode, and 4 seconds at minimum resolution. Maximum-resolution TIFF files take quite a bit longer though, nearly 40 seconds to write.

Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 Cycle Times/Frame Rates
Mode
Time
(secs)
Frame Rate
(frames/sec)
Notes
Maximum resolution
5.0/39.6
  Shorter time is that for maximum-resolution JPEG, longer time is for maximum-resolution TIFF
Minimum Resolution
4.0
   
Movie Mode  
15
Frame rate for MPEG movies is 15 fps.




Operation and User Interface
Like a few of Sony's digicams, the abundance of controls and buttons on the MVC-CD1000 may appear a little overwhelming at first, but its user interface is very uncomplicated once you get the hang of it. For the most part, the user interface relies heavily on the LCD display or the optical viewfinder color display as you sort through menu items. The absence of a small, black and white status display panel means you must use one or the other when altering settings. However, both the capture and playback menus are relatively simple to navigate. Overall, the layout of the external controls makes sense, with all the optical adjustments on the side of the lens and the exposure adjustments grouped together on the side of the camera body and on the rear panel. Once you get used to the layout, changing modes and settings is a snap.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on the top right of the camera, this button sets the focus and exposure when pressed halfway and fires the shutter when fully pressed. When using the self-timer, the shutter button triggers the 10 second countdown.

Focus Ring: Located on the end of the lens, this ring adjusts the focus when shooting in manual focus mode.


Zoom Lever: Located on the front of the hand grip, this lever controls the 10x optical zoom and the 2x digital zoom (when enabled).


Play/Still/Movie Switch: Located on the top right side of the camera (behind the shutter button), this switch selects between Playback, Still and Movie capture modes.


Dioptric Adjustment Dial: Located on the underside of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Pop-up Flash Button: Located on the left side of the camera, just beneath the pop-up flash, this button releases the flash into its operating position.


Program AE Button: Located on the control side of the camera, this button sets the following exposure modes:



Program AE +/- Buttons: Located to the lower right of the Program AE button, these buttons adjust exposure settings such as the aperture and shutter speed, depending on the exposure mode selected.


White Balance Button: Located to the right of the Program AE button, this button selects the white balance mode (Automatic, Indoors, Outdoors or One-Push).


One-Push Button: Located directly to the right of the White Balance button, this button sets the white value when in One-Push white balance mode.


Focus Switch: Located on the side of the lens barrel, this switch shifts between Auto and Manual focus modes.


Steady Shot Switch: Located just beside the Focus Switch, this switch turns the Steady Shot function on and off.


CD-R Access Lever: Located on the control side of the camera, on the edge of the CD-R drive, this sliding lever opens the hinged rear panel for access to the CD-R drive.


Flash Button: Located at the top left of the rear panel, this button controls the flash mode:



Macro Button: Located to the right of the Flash button, this button places the camera in Macro mode.


Spot Meter Button: Located to the right of the Macro button, this button turns the spot metering function on and off.


LCD On/Off Button: Located just beneath the Spot Meter button, this button turns both the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder display on and off.


Volume Buttons: Located beneath the Flash and Macro buttons, these buttons control the camera's volume level.


Rocker Toggle Button: Located at the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button has four arrows that navigate through menu screens in both playback and capture modes. Pressing the center of the button confirms menu selections.


Display Button: Located to the left of the LCD monitor, this button turns the information display on the LCD monitor on or off.


Power Switch: Located on the back panel of the camera (to the right of the LCD monitor on the handgrip portion), this sliding switch turns the camera on and off. The small green pushbutton in the center of the power switch is a safety interlock that insures the switch will only actuate when your finger is on it.

Open Batt Switch: Located on the bottom of the camera (on the battery compartment cover), this switch unlocks and opens the battery compartment.


Camera Modes and Menus
The MVC-CD1000 has a number of operating modes, selected via the Program AE button mentioned above. Because the LCD screen displays for them are virtually identical, we won't show the different displays separately here.

Automatic Exposure (no icon): In this mode, the camera controls both aperture and shutter speed, basing the exposure on existing light levels. The user has control over exposure compensation (EV), flash, white balance and metering.

Aperture Priority: This mode allows you to select the desired aperture setting (from f/2.8 to f/11) while the camera selects the most appropriate corresponding shutter speed. As in Program AE, you still maintain control over the flash, white balance and metering mode selections.

Shutter Priority: Similar to Aperture Priority mode, you control the shutter speed (from 8 to 1/500 seconds) while the camera chooses the aperture setting. You control flash, white balance and metering mode, if desired. Note that this mode is the best to use under very dim lighting conditions, as it lets you select very long shutter times.

Twilight: In this mode, the camera selects the best aperture and shutter speed settings for dark scenes like cityscapes and fireworks. It's main action is to prevent bright objects against dark backgrounds from washing out. It preserves color in neon signs, sunsets, etc.

Twilight Plus: This mode performs the same function as Twilight mode, but also increases the camera's light sensitivity, allowing higher shutter speeds under dim conditions.

Landscape: This mode sets the camera focus to infinity for shooting far away subjects.

Panfocus: In this mode, the camera's focus is set to quickly shift from close-up to far away subjects, good for action photography.

Movie Mode: This mode allows you to capture up to a 60 second 160 x 112 or a 15 second 320 x 240 or 320 HQ movie with sound. You have all the above exposure capabilities, including the ability to change from Automatic Exposure to any of the Program AE modes.

Playback Mode: This mode allows you to review captured still images and movies on the LCD panel. An index display puts up to six images on the screen at one time for quick review.

Capture Mode Menu: Pressing the up arrow on the rocker toggle button calls up the capture menu when in Still or Movie capture modes. From there, you have the following submenus:


Playback Mode Menu: Activating the Playback menu pulls up the following submenus:



Image Storage and Interface
As we expounded on earlier and touted as the camera's most interesting feature, the MVC-CD1000 records still images and movies to a three inch (77mm) CD-R. This eliminates a good deal of the hassle of downloading files from the camera to your computer. Instead of messing around with cables and driver software, you just take the CD-R from the camera and slide it into your computer's CD-R drive. An adapter comes with the camera to accommodate computers that don't accept the three inch CD-R format. There's also a USB connection and cable supplied with the camera for USB connections (the USB port is actually beneath the lens, protected by a small plastic cover). A small CD-R icon on the camera's LCD display lets you know how much of the disk is full and how many images have been shot. The MVC-CD1000 allows you to protect individual images on the disk from accidental erasure or alteration through the playback menu. The freedom of a CD-R drive has many advantages over saving images to floppies, the main one being an increased amount of storage space - 156 megabytes.

Using the CD-Rs in the camera is relatively simple. Whenever a new disk (or one that has previously been "finalized" is inserted, the camera will tell you that the disk needs to be initialized. Not being CD mavens, we suspect (but aren't sure) that this involves writing the "lead in" area for the next session, a roughly 9 megabyte area reserved for table of contents information for the session to come. (See Adaptec's CD-R site for information on the whole topic, including an excellent glossary.) Initializing the disc appears to be a more critical operation than normal CD-R recording, as the camera asks you to place it on a level surface and avoid vibration during the process. The series of screens at right step you through the process. Once a disk has been initialized, operation of the CD1000 is the same as that of any other Sony camera, regardless of media.

When you're done with a set of shots and want to set up the CD-R to be read in a conventional CD-ROM drive, you must "Finalize" the session. The camera leads you through a set of screens for this process also, similar to those shown above for the initialization process. Finalizing also appears to be a more critical procedure than normal image writing, since the camera again asks you to rest it on a flat surface. Our guess is that this process writes the lead out for that session, and goes back to fill-in the Table of Contents for the session in the lead-in area. The first lead-out on a disk occupies about 13 megabytes of space, subsequent ones require about 4 megabytes.

You get a well rounded selection of image sizes with the MVC-CD1000, from 1600 x 1200 to 1024 x 768 to 640 x 480. There's also a 1600 3:2 aspect image size which crops the top and bottom of the image slightly and an option for uncompressed TIFF. As noted earlier, a significant benefit of the increased storage capacity of the CD-R on the CD1000 is that Sony could use much lower JPEG compression ratios than on their earlier Mavica models. (For comparison, the maximum-quality JPEG on the CD1000 uses about a 6:1 JPEG compression, whereas the FD95 had to use 16:1 for the same image size. At low resolution the difference is 7:1 vs 19:1.)

Below are the approximate amount of images and compression ratios for the CD-R disc:

Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity
High Resolution
Standard Resolution
Low Resolution
Images
Approx. Compression
Images
Approx. Compression
Images
Approx. Compression
Uncompressed
20
1:1
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Normal Quality
160
6:1
350
5:1
1080
7:1



Notes for Mac owners: In order to avoid a 1-megabyte limit on writeable file size, Sony had to go with the Level 3 ISO CD standard, which supports larger data sizes in packet-writing mode. This means though, that Macs need a UDF format extension to be added to the Mac OS to enable reading of the resulting disks. NOTE that the "UDF Volume Access" extension that ships with OS9 is apparently not adequate to the task. Although Apple's UDF Volume Access claims support for version 1.5 of the UDF ("Universal Disk Format (tm)") specification, the Roxio UDF Volume Access Version 1.04 extension is apparently required to read the version of the UDF format used by the Mavica MVC-CD1000. We can, however attest to the fact that the iMac supports both the 77mm disk size, as well as the Adaptec Volume Access extension, as we were able to successfully read "finalized" CDs from the MVC-CD1000 on our slot-loading iMac. (A 400MHz DV model, running Mac OS 9.0.4.)

Video Out
An audio/video output jack on the base of the lens barrel (just beneath the Focus and Steady-Shot controls) allows you to connect the camera to a television set. Through the capture menu, you can select NTSC or PAL formats. US and Japanese models come with the necessary NTSC cables, while European models come with PAL connectors. All the same image playback capabilities are available when connected to the TV, and you have the added ability to record images to video tape.


Power
The MVC-CD1000 comes with a Sony InfoLITHIUM, NP-F550 rechargeable battery to accommodate the higher power drain of the CD-R drive. InfoLITHIUM means that the battery communicates with the camera to let you know how much power is left (displayed on the LCD panel in minutes as well as with a battery icon). If you need to run the camera for longer periods than the battery pack will allow, the supplied AC adapter should do the trick. There's also an auto power-off function which shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity. The AC adapter also acts as the battery charger. You simply leave the battery in the camera and plug in the AC adapter. If the camera is switched off, the "Charge" LED will light up (located directly over the power switch).

We love the InfoLITHIUM battery technology, because you know very shortly after turning the camera on exactly how much charge/operating time is left. Overall battery capacity is quite good, and the NP-F550 battery gives very good operating life. Finally, the lithium-ion technology used in the InfoLITHIUM cells means that the batteries don't "self-discharge," holding their full charge when not in use, for months at a time. Sony estimates that a fully charged NP-F550 will provide approximately 90 minutes of continuous recording time and about 110 minutes of continuous playback. These are good operating times, and better than we had expected, given the power-hungry tendencies of CD-R mechanisms. (Having fairly powerful DC motors and high-current write lasers.) We did note that the CD1000 uses the much higher capacity NP-F550 battery, as compared to the NP-F330 that ships in the FD95. For a lark (ok, we admit that counting trying different batteries as a "lark" is a little strange), we tried an NP-F330 in the CD1000 camera. Apparently a major difference between the F330 and F550 batteries is the latter's ability to handle much higher current drains comfortably: The CD1000 worked reasonably well in playback mode with the lower-capacity battery, but died quite quickly when the CD1000 was recording more or less continuously. (We didn't time it, but it was noteworthy that the high power drain of record mode also fooled the InfoLITHIUM system of the F330, since the battery ran out of juice a lot quicker than it expected to. - We thus strongly recommend against using less-expensive, lower-capacity InfoLITHIUM batteries in the CD1000: You'll get a lot less operating time than you'd be led to expect by the time-remaining readout!)


Included Software
Included with the MVC-CD1000 are three software CDs loaded with Sony's PictureGear Lite, MGI's PhotoSuite and VideoWave, as well as a selection of drivers, all compatible with Windows 95, 98 and NT as well as Mac OS 7.5 and higher (with the exception of Picture Gear, which is for PC users only). The Picture Gear software basically provides a way to manage and organize images and includes functions for creating labels and 360 degree panoramas. The PhotoSuite software comes in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese versions and provides image correction capabilities as well as a number of creative options for enhancing your images, including fun filters and templates. VideoWave works along similar lines, giving you basic editing tools that allow you to add music and text to your captured movies.


Conclusion
When we tested it, we liked the earlier MVC-FD95 a lot, thanks to its impressive list of features, exceptional low-light capability, and excellent tonal range. It had the typical softness in the images we've come to associate with floppy-based Mavicas, due to the heavy JPEG compression they use, but was clearly a dramatic step up in image quality relative to earlier models in the line. The CD-R based MVC-CD1000 entirely removes the file size limitations of the floppy-based Mavicas though, and we feel its images stand with the very best 2.1 megapixel samples we've seen to date. The MVC-CD1000's combination of excellent image quality, 156 megabyte removable (and archival) storage, a 10x optically-stabilized zoom lens, and universal usability of it's finished media format set a new benchmark for quality and usability in the digicam world. It's clearly not a camera you can tuck in a pocket and carry anywhere, and at an introductory list price of $1300, it's far from the cheapest prosumer model out there. Nonetheless, we view the CD1000 as a true "breakthrough" product, and one that will find a great many happy homes. Very highly recommended!

<<CD1000 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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